November 2009

Writing for children is certainly multi-faceted. There’s probably almost as much to remember not to do as there is to do! Today we’ll look at some of the top things you need to remember whenever you write for children. On my next post, I’ll tackle 5 things you should never do when writing for children.

First, the must-dos:

1. Clearly identify the market and age you are writing for. There are  board books, picture books, activities books, chapter books, young adult novels, graphic novels, and more. It’s critical to keep a clear focus of what exactly you are writing, and therefore, the age you are targeting. Learn the typical word count or page count for what you want to write once you select your market.

2. Read everything you can for the age and market you have selected. Find out what current children’s authors are writing. Learn the style, tone, wording, and topics of what publishers are looking for. Additionally, ask children what they are reading. What works for them and what doesn’t. I guarantee they will not be shy in telling you! Reading what you want to write will help you enormously in the long run.

3. Carefully choose the ages of your characters. It’s best to have your main characters a couple years older than the age of your reader. Children like to read about other kids a little older than they are. Of course, your main characters can have younger siblings, and it’s OK if your main characters are sometimes the same age of your readers. But, never make your main characters younger than your readers. They will lose interest in a hurry!

4. Let your child characters solve their own problems. It’s tempting to have adult characters come to the rescue when your children get into a dilemma in your story, but resist that urge. Kids want to feel empowered when they read your book–whether it’s a picture  book or a graphic novel. They don’t want to feel like an adult always needs to save them. Allow your child characters to be the heroes.

5. Field test your work on appropriately-aged children. Aside from having your writers’ critique group review your work (and you always should; see my blog post on critique groups to learn why), it’s equally as important to have children the same age as your target market read your work. They will find things in your story, characters, and dialogue that you would probably never see. Even if you’re writing a board book or picture book, sit down with a few children at different times and read your story to them. Note their reactions to different parts (Did they laugh when they were supposed to? Did they laugh when they weren’t supposed to? Did a certain part maybe scare them too much?), then ask what they liked and didn’t like. This is the best way to see if you are on track with your writing.

By the way, if picture books is an area of writing for children that you are either currently pursuing or would like to learn more about, I would highly recommend checking out Nancy I. Sanders website. She is an award-winning children’s author who has many picture books under her belt. She’s great at walking authors through the publishing process.

Remember, next post we’ll discuss what you definitely do NOT want to do when writing for children. Some things may surprise you!

Just a short blog today to wish everyone a fun, safe, peaceful, and bountiful Thanksgiving. Hope you can spend  it with loved ones and friends and remember how truly blessed we are. I’d like to share a proclamation from Abe Lincoln regarding the very first Thanksgiving. I believe this captures the real heart and essence of this holiday and how it was meant to be carried out throughout the years in America. Too bad, like most things, its true meaning has gone by the wayside in favor of commercialism and secularism.

I pray that you will always remember the reason our country continues to be the most prosperous and blessed this world will ever know: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).

Remember, if you count your blessings, your problems are subtracted and your peace is multiplied!



What’s the first thing you do when you turn your computer on in the morning? Check email? Scan the news headlines? Log onto Facebook or another social network? Have you ever stopped to actually log the amount of time spent on the above activities or similar activities during the course of your day?

Time management is probably one of the most difficult aspects of a writer’s job, especially freelance writers who work from home. With never-ending deadlines and typically several projects being juggled at once,  having a time-management plan becomes critical.

Here are a few things I’ve discovered that help keep me on track:

1. Log your time. When you first attempt to get a plan together, spend the  first week logging how much time you’re spending on various activities. If you’re like me and you have small children at home, the time you spend with them would get included in your log. Track  actual writing time, family time, marketing time, time spent emailing and Facebooking–everything. Do this for a whole week to get an average of how much time you spend on each activity during a typical work day.

2. Eliminate time wasters. When I worked as a commissioned retail associate, I would sometimes get customers who asked question after question about a product, wanting to know every minute detail. They continued to act very interested, so I appeased them. Then, after  sabotaging my time with other customers, they’d decide they’d have to “think about it.” These people were affectionately called “time wasters.”

So what are time wasters for the writer? Continually checking email or a social networking account while you’re writing, answering your phone and/or texting, and, in general, getting caught up in any nonwriting distraction. This is the main reason for logging your activities. Find out exactly where your time is going and which activities you can eliminate or drastically decrease to free up your time.

3. Block your time. I find it more difficult to write when I only get 15 or 20 minutes here and there, although I’ve learned to capture every possible moment I can.  It’s much more effective to block off hours at a time to do nothing but write. Then have other hours devoted to marketing and promoting your work. Block more time for blog and website maintenance, and additional time for reading and returning emails. You’ll have to test your time blocks for a while to see what’s realistic, but it’s better than grabbing time whenever you get it,  because most likely, you won’t ever get it.

4. Make daily and weekly plans. At the beginning of your week,  plan everything you hope to/need to accomplish during that week. Next, break the plan down into daily chunks, leaving yourself some cushion for life’s inevitable emergencies and distractions. Each evening prioritize the  following day’s list. If you’ve come to the end of your day and your list is not as exhausted as you are, move the remaining items to the next day, making sure they are top priority.

5. Take advantage of downtime. Even though you may feel like you have zero downtime, you can capture more than you know. You just have to be creative! I have learned to use time spent in the carpool line at school, time in the library while my kids are book browsing, time at Chuck E. Cheese–any place where I don’t have to be actively involved in an activity–to get productive.

I’ll typically use this time to catch up on industry reading, jot down ideas for writing pieces I’m working on, organize outlines, etc. I usually need extreme quiet to actually write, so I have to save that  for my office, but there’s a lot of preliminary work I can do from anywhere.

Don’t you just feel more organized already?

For tips on building cushion and rest into your busy schedule, see this week’s Inspirations blog.

In today’s tough job market, having a top-notch resume is more important than ever. But as society moves into a “Twittering” world, some of the rules for resume writing have changed. Let’s look at 5 notable trends in designing resumes:

1. Pump up the white space. Think of writing your resume as you would write your blog–short sections with plenty of white space surrounding each chunk. Gone are the days of 8-point font and .25″ margins just to squeeze  30 years of experience onto one page. Employers want to quickly skim your resume to see if they should actually read it. White space helps them do this.

2.  Keep it short. Along these same lines, less is more. While I don’t agree that resumes must always, under every circumstance, be limited to one page, I do think they should be limited to two. And, if they go over one page, there better be a very good reason for it. Make sure that only your most relevant experience makes it onto your resume. Each position should generally have no more than 5 or 6 bullet points. Speaking of bullets…

3. Use bullets, not paragraphs. Bullets help aid employers with their quick scanning. Even if you only have a couple of sentences to share about a position, break them into short, bulleted phrases instead of long sentences built into a paragraph. This increases your white space and makes for a quicker read.

4. Have a targeted approach. With today’s market, every resume you send out must be customized to the job you are targeting. It used to be you could have 2 or 3 different resumes  with slight variations and then blanket the world with them. Now, it’s not unusual for every job you approach to have its own resume. Use the job description to tailor your resume to it, complete with key words, even phrases, used in the description. More about key words…

5. Be conscious of key words. As you prepare your resume, think about the key words offered in the job description  to which you are gearing your resume–then use them often. (Again, think blogging.) It can be  helpful, especially if you’re in a technical field, to have a Key Word section at the top of your resume. Most resumes are electronically scanned as a screening method, and having key words pop up that the employer is interested in will help get your resume in front of a real person.

For a FREE resume consultation or evaluation,  or with resume design help, contact me at

Perhaps one of the hardest things about writing is coming up with new material. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, having a good, salable idea is everything. So, where might these ideas come from? Here are just a few starting spots that might spark some creative flow.

1. Real life!Take a good look at your family, your friends, your co-workers, even yourself. You’re bound to find humor, human interest, and perhaps even horror material right in your own backyard!

2. Strangers. If your family and friends aren’t quite interesting enough to provide you with writing material, become a people watcher. Hang out at the mall, your kid’s school, the airport, etc. It won’t take long for ideas to start popping.

3. News sources. What’s hot right now, and from what angle has it not yet been covered? Start seeing news from a fresh perspective and add your own twist to it.

4. Your children. Talk to your kids and listen closely to what they’re really saying. Chances are you’ll learn a lot about what’s important, or at least interesting to their peer groups. Even if you’re not writing for children, getting their perspective on issues can help you see things from an entirely different viewpoint.

5. Travel. In your mind, that is. Mentally go to another country, another culture. If you don’t know much about that country, do a little research. Use the differences in culture and setting to generate ideas for either a fictional story or  a nonfiction piece on history, people, climate, activities, etc.

How about you? What’s the most unusual place you’ve ever gotten a writing idea from?

For specific help using writing prompts, check out Imagination Prompt Generator and The Story Starter.

In case you happened to miss my blog tagline, it is: “Encouraging and equipping those who love to write. Rescuing those who don’t.” This post is one of those “rescue” moments.

I know of many people who have been forced into writing on their jobs for one reason or another. Sure, many of us love expressing our thoughts on paper (or computer) and going to great lengths to find the perfect word to say what we mean, but there are just as many others who didn’t plan on actually having to write for a living–and hate it!

I’m thinking of engineers, business owners, health care professionals–you name it–who started out not having to write a word during their daily jobs, but because of promotions or maybe company cutbacks, they are now expected to handle various forms of corporate correspondence. This post is for you!

Today, let’s tackle the company memo. Writing a memo sounds easy enough, right? Just write a quick letter to your customers, employees, or boss. But make sure you say exactly what you mean, don’t offend anyone in the process, and say it quickly but thoroughly. On top of that, you need to sound like you really know what you’re talking about. Maybe this is why memo writing causes so much anxiety!

For today’s purposes, let’s look at 5 must-have characteristics of any memo you write:

1. Memos must be brief. Memos by definition are “short notes designating something to be remembered.” Memos should ideally be less than one page. Otherwise, call it something else. To accomplish this, don’t use unnecessary words (adjectives and adverbs can typically be eliminated), watch out for redundancy and repetition (hope you caught that!), and write in succinct sentences, using bullets where applicable. Read over your memo several times, and trim back as much wordiness as you can.

2. Memo must have effective formatting. In your memo you should always state your most important points first. Don’t “bury your lead” (as journalists love to say) somewhere deep in the heart of your memo. If it’s key to your message, be sure your reader won’t miss it. Also, set off any important points you have by using bullets or by bolding key phrases.

3. Memos must be precise. Avoid ramblings, tangents, and vague statements that don’t really mean anything. Leave all that to the politicians. (Unless, of course, you are a politician, then you can ignore this point.) The goal of your memo is to cut to the chase, say what you need to say in as few words as possible, then get out. Make sure every sentence or bullet has a precise meaning and isn’t just a waste of words.This is especially true when you are making directives or requests of your readers. Be certain that your words are conveying exactly what you want them to do and that there’s no chance of them misinterpreting what you want.

4. Memos should be simple. Again, leave the big words for the politicians (or professors) and don’t try to impress anyone with how well you can use a dictionary. Say whatever you have to say as simply as you can with common language. It has been said that when we write (unless we’re writing to a specific technical audience), we  should aim for a 5th or 6th grade reading level. That doesn’t, however,  give you license to use words like “dude” and “whatever!”.

5.  Memos should not use sexist language. Some companies are more sensitive about this than others, so you have to gauge where your company lies on the “politically correctness” scale. But, for the most part, make sure your memos don’t always talk about “hes” and never any “shes” or make any reference whatsoever to inequality between the sexes one way or another. You’d think this is a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at the things some people write! Just look over your memo before you send it out, and make sure you haven’t written anything that could be inferred the wrong way and that you’ve given both sexes equal time.

There is much more that can be said about memo writing (believe it or not!). If you need more pointers I suggest checking out the following books:

Get to the Point! by Elizabeth Danziger; 135 Tips for Writing Successful Business Documents by Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts; Write First-Class Business Correspondence by Sue Baugh; and The Elements of Business Writing by Gary Blake and Robert Bly. All of these authors have many other books covering various business writing topics that are worth looking into.

Happy memo writing!

In a word, YES. Whether you’re just starting out as a writer or are already a veteran, critique groups can provide many benefits. Let’s face it, critiquing your own work is useless. You’re either going to love everything you write, or you’ll be so hard on yourself that you’ll never make any progress. You’ll stay stuck in the mud, constantly revising your work. Critique groups can provide just the jump start you need to give stale ideas a breath of fresh air, help you figure out an ending to your mystery story, or find just the right word to appeal to the four-year-old audience for your picture book.

Good critique groups offer the perfect balance of constructive criticism and encouragement. In addition to editing and critiquing each other’s work, they are also great places to network, gain new leads, and learn about market trends.

Some words of wisdom when hooking up with a critique group: don’t be in the same group as writer friends, unless you are very good friends who are able to be honest with each other. It’s not worth ruining a friendship over differences in plot line. Also, learn to be open to constructive criticism, and don’t take negative remarks about your work personally. Remember, the idea behind critique groups is that your work will be critiqued! Get used to it!

Once you start looking, you’ll realize that many critique groups exist. If you’re part of a writers’ group, that’s a great place to start your search. If your group doesn’t have one, considering starting your own. You can also check with colleges, libraries, or bookstores in your area.

Another great option is finding or starting an online group. I used to be involved with a local critique group that met twice a month at a coffee shop. But with kids’ activities and my own busy schedule, it didn’t last long. An online group was perfect for me. I now facilitate an online picture book group with members from all over the U. S. We even have one member from the U.K.!

One other tip for being involved in critique groups. Most will focus on a particular genre: children’s, youth, nonfiction, fiction, sci-fi, etc. Even though you may classify yourself in a certain genre, it may be worth your time to check out a critique group that’s outside your niche. I’m pretty much a nonfiction writer, but I once joined a fiction group to learn about writing dialogue, how to pace a story, and how to liven up boring facts! This one group added invaluable tips for my nonfiction writing.

Be adventurous and try something new. A critique group is the perfect, safe place for doing just that!

For aditional tips on starting or being a part of an effective critique group, check out these articles from Chip MacGregor’s blog and Blogs about Critique Partners.

If you’ve been in the writing world for any length of time or have even attended one writers’ conference, you have heard that you MUST have a niche. Then, once you find your niche, you MUST brand yourself. Ouch!! That sounds painful!

The truth is, there’s a lot of truth to that. You want to be known as the guy who writes for the youth market about aliens who take teens to their planets temporarily so when they return to Earth they appreciate their parents more, or the gal who writes humor stories for single moms so they don’t go insane and do something to their children they might regret later.

It’s good to be specific so you can begin to build your brand, and therefore your platform, and therefore sell your books. But wait…

What if you’re new to writing and you have no idea what you want to do? Or, what if, you always have a million ideas floating through your mind of things to write about–and they cover a thousand different topics? Should you only go with those topics that fit your niche?

In today’s tough writing market, my opinion is no. I think it’s good for writers to occasionally step out of the box they’ve created for themselves (or their agent or publisher has created for them) and try something new. I’m not saying totally re-create yourself as a writer, but if you’ve only done fiction for 20 years, why not write a how-to book, or nonfiction articles? Unless you’re one of the few writers who is actually making a decent living solely from your writing, it’s good to be flexible.

Today’s economy is a great excuse to go a different route. There are many markets waiting to be conquered! And with the advent of new technologies affecting the writing industry as well as so many new online options, I encourage you to jump out of the box you’re in, close the lid for a while, and go searching for some new boxes. It may just open up a whole new writing career!

If you happen to be in central Florida the first week of March 2010, stop by the Florida Writer’s Conference where I will be teaching on this very topic: Off the Beaten Path Markets. In this workshop, we’ll discuss some markets you may have never considered or possibly don’t even know about. We’ll also look at how you can transition your current niche into other areas that capitalize on your strengths. And, we’ll learn from each other what has and has not worked in the  attempt to venture into new markets. I’m looking forward to seeing you there!

Hope to see you there!

I’d like to start off our discussion by thinking about success. It’s better than thinking about failure, right? But what is success anyway? What does success mean to you? I’m a firm believer that if you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there? So, what does success look like to you–becoming a bestselling novelist, writing hit TV shows, publishing a gazillion children’s books? Success is different for everyone, and it should be.

One of the hardest things as writers is to resist the urge to compare ourselves–and our successes–with others. The remedy for this? Find out what you do best, what you believe God has called you to write, and run your own race. When you get to the finish line, you will be successful because you followed your heart and ran your course well, regardless of what anyone around you was doing.

So, if you haven’t thought about it, do so now. When you think of being a successful writer, what comes to your mind? Write it down and make goals for yourself. As God spoke to Habakkuk, “Write down your vision and make it plain…though it tarry, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay” (2:2-3).