Uncategorized, Writing for Children

Novel Revision: First Steps

A few weeks ago I announced I was beginning a long-overdue middle-grade novel revision. Every journey begins with a first step, so I’m checking in today to talk about my first steps and why they are important to my overall process.

First, I read the beginning chapters of Novel Metamorphosis by Darcy Pattison. In her novel revision guide, Darcy recommends reading two other books before starting the exercises in her workbook. These two books are:

  • SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS, by Renni Browne and Dave King, Harper Collins, 2004.
  • THE FIRST FIVE PAGES, by Noah Lukeman, Fireside Books, 2000.

I’ve started the first book and am re-learning and being reminded of many things. It’s always good to refresh your editing skills, especially if you are timid with the delete button and tend to hang on to words that need to be let go. Thankfully, I’ve become pretty ruthless when it comes to self-editing over the years. That means I’m rarely married to any sentence, paragraph or section; my chopping block is no respecter of words. So rather than digest the entire book before diving in, I decided to read the rest of it as I go and use it primarily as a reference tool. I have not yet started reading the second book.

The main reason for putting off reading the second book was because one of my long-time critique partners and friends asked if anyone in our critique group would be interested in swapping middle-grade manuscripts. We are a picture book group, but a few of us also dabble in middle grade, so I decided it was perfect timing for me and said, “Yes!”

I was so nervous. It’s been years since anyone that I’m close to has read my novel. Years! I had an agent interested last year, which is part of the motivation for this revision. So showing it to someone I trust as both a writer and a friend, was a huge step for me. We swapped, and within a few days she sent me her critique, and her comments have boosted my confidence in a huge way as well as helped me see the areas that need the most work. Whew! I could finally exhale, knowing I wasn’t wasting my time and that the story still had merit and was worth working on. I didn’t realize it at the time I sent it to her, but this was probably the best way I could have started this revision.

The second thing I did was take time to actually read my book again. I didn’t read all of it, because that’s what I’m doing as I go through and make changes, but I read enough. I needed reminding that what I started 10 years ago during that dark time wasn’t just therapy or a way to deal with emotions. I needed to see it with the fresh eyes of today’s me rather than the me of that time in my life. And you know what I discovered? I really like it. I’m excited to spend time with the characters and help them grow stronger and change where change is needed.

Without pausing for these few weeks of reading and reflection, I would have come to this project as just another task in my writing life. I would have opened my workbook with a sigh rather than a spark, and that would not have worked over the long haul. Revision takes time, and if you’re not motivated by a love of the work, it will quickly turn into drudgery and you’ll never finish.

So here’s to finding the path into the process that works for you. I’m glad I was able to see my way clear to doing these things before I ever added or deleted one word from my WIP. I hope today’s thoughts encourage you to find the just-right way to begin your next big project!

Sensibility- Take time to fall in love with your WIP again. You must be willing to spend time with the characters you’ve created, no matter where they are on their journey.

Sense- Not every path to revision looks the same for every writer. If you find yourself stuck in someone else’s process, stop, think, breathe and reflect on what you need to do to move forward.

“If we are not willing to fail we will never accomplish anything. All creative acts involve the risk of failure.” -Madeleine L’Engle




The Journey Begins. . .

Happy October, and welcome to all my new subscribers!

A beautiful scene from our recent trip to Beaver Island, Michigan!

I hope everyone is well and staying safe during these challenging times. Finding ways to encourage you in writing and in life is what this blog is all about, and I hope you come away from each post with joy and hope.

I’m beginning a personal and professional journey this week by turning my attention to a long-overdue middle-grade novel revision. I wrote this particular novel almost 10 years ago from an idea I had while sitting in my son’s hospital room after he’d had a lengthy and dangerous surgery to remove a large tumor from his abdomen. He was home from his first year of college for Thanksgiving break, and what was a routine physical turned into something none of us were expecting. If you’ve ever had something like that happen to you, you know the feeling of all the oxygen being sucked from the room and the sheer effort it takes to remain standing while you learn your next steps. It’s a journey I hope I never have to take again with one of my children. But God works in mysterious ways for sure. In the middle of all of that unknown, I got the clearest story idea I had ever had to that point. So, what does a writer do when something like that happens and you just don’t have the time or the strength to even think about starting a new project? You get the idea down in your notebook and start the new project anyway😊.

Right now, we’re all living our days in a situation none of us ever expected. There’s a heaviness that surrounds us we can’t explain as we work to keep life moving forward and feeling as normal as possible. But it isn’t normal, and we have no idea when things might be again. That’s how we felt 10 years ago, and it may be why I feel compelled to blow the cobwebs off a book I haven’t touched in a few years and do the work it takes to breathe life into it and make it shine. Maybe God is using that moment in time, that story idea, to remind me of his presence and not be afraid; to help me walk through these days of social distancing and quarantine with grace and peace.

So, I’m inviting you along for the journey. I’m using Darcy Pattison’s, NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS, as my primary guide. I love Darcy’s work and look forward to diving into the exercises she’s provided in the workbook as well as the other resources. I’m also doing a manuscript exchange with one of my long-time critique partners and friends so I can have fresh eyes on my work and provide fresh eyes and perspective to her work as we go. I’m using this blog as a way to keep myself accountable by sharing what I’ve learned on a bi-weekly basis, and as a space to flesh out ideas and have conversations with all of you about this process.

Now the only thing left to do is take the first step…here goes!

Sensibility- Even in the darkest times, we can hear God whisper peace to our hearts if we are listening.

Sense- If you’re feeling extra stressed or worried as the days grow shorter find a new project to energize your mind and improve your focus. Use this time to be as creative as you can possibly be.


Writing for Children

Introducing Sandy Carlson, Children’s Author

Today I want to introduce you to my friend and amazing children’s author, Sandy Carlson. Sandy’s most recent book, War Unicorn (MuseItYoung, an imprint of MuseItUp) was released on September 2, 2014. So let me start by saying “Congratulations Sandy!” I’m so happy you took the time to stop by my blog to talk about your writing journey. Welcome!

Author Sandy Carlson shows us where she’s from using the famous Michigan “hand map!”

First of all, tell us a little about yourself- where you’re from, we’re you’ve been and where you’re going- you know, that kind of stuff:

I was born in Michigan, but lived in six other states before coming back here ten years ago. Woodlands-wetlands Michigan is so home to me. I was teaching and raising two boys and moving around the country with my hubby and going on many adventure. But I credit the Internet and SCBWI’s connectivity in keeping me writing through the years.

I know how difficult the writing journey can be, so can you tell us how it feels to have this newest book out? 

My latest book is a tween fantasy called WAR UNICORN about a 14-year-old apple farmer magician on a mission with an ancient war unicorn while war threatens the nation. It is published through MuseItUp, but is now available on just about every eBook format. I had some wonderful editors who knocked my socks off as far as pointing out things I had given no thought to – like using specific coin measurements v.s. “three coins.” Details like that are very important in a story, you know. Their eyes and working with me made my words shine. I am grateful to them. I also love the story myself and the characters.

Talk a little bit about what got you interested in writing in general and in particular, writing children’s books?

I have been a storyteller my entire life. It was only when I realized I could reach a larger audience that I started seriously writing for others. And as far as writing for kids…I’m a kid myself in heart and soul, no matter what my physical age may seem to indicate.

The writer world seems to be broken into two categories these days: traditional publishing and non-traditional publishing. Can you tell us why you chose the non-traditional route for your books and what the experience has been like?

I decided to go the non-traditional route after thirty years of being published in small publications, but without a book contract. And then came a health issue and I knew I just had to get my stories out there for others to read. I self-published three middle grade books in 2013 and three in 2014, plus my eBook with Muse. There are many other “finished” novels in various places, but I don’t think I’m in as much of a hurry to get them out in any sort of publication. I’m more willing now to take my time – along with the thousands of things I could and should be doing with marketing and promotion.

If we writers are paying attention, story ideas can jump out at us from some crazy places. Where did the idea for War Unicorn come from? 

I have always been interested in fantasy, whether it was popular or not. Most unicorns I’ve read about are cutey critters which are fine for the preschool crowd. But I wondered what it would be like to meet an ancient unicorn with an attitude, one who was seasoned in battles. My war unicorn is rude and demanding, but still an ancient and magical creature who develops a friendship with the boy.

So Sandy, along with being a children’s book author, you’re also a busy speaker and blogger in the world of kidlit. Talk to us a little bit about the kinds of presentations you do and about your blog!

Without an agent or editor to gently guide me, last year was a crazy year. I really didn’t know what I was doing, so tried to do it all—school visits, booksignings, festivals, author fests, presentations to retirement homes, etc. For my Michigan historical fictions angle, I do a presentation about Victorian Michigan, about the fires of the late 1800’s, and of logging and sea travel on the Great Lakes. You can’t take the teacher out of me. I love history. As a former literacy coach, I also want kids to learn how to become better writers. I love encouraging writing in general, but if I can help others write well, I feel I’ve accomplished something good. (I also have a Writing Well Workshop for school visits.)

I always like to leave my readers with two take-aways from each blog post…a little sensibility and sense for the journey. What sensibility and sense would like to leave our guests with today?

Sensibility Develop your writing. Learning how to better your craft is a thousand times more important than getting your name on a book cover. Go to conferences, read books on craft, become part of critique groups, read-read-read all sorts of things, and send out your manuscripts to editors and agents. Keep reading and writing, and never, ever give up.

Sense- I’d honestly encourage people not to rush into non-traditional publication. It’s a hard-hard route and you end up spending far more time with non-writing elements than writing.


You can learn more about Sandy at her blog, www.sandycarlson.com. WAR UNICORN is now available for Kindle on Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/War-Unicorn-S-L-Carlson-ebook/dp/B00MV8VDYG






Welcome to Teen Talk Tuesday on Sensibility and Sense!

I’m so excited to introduce my readers to a new feature on Sensibility and Sense! I’m calling it Teen Talk Tuesday, and it’s all about tweens and teens telling writers, editors and agents whey they really think of the books being written with them in mind! So if you’re a person in the publishing industry and wonder what’s working and if you are hitting the mark for your audience, stop in and check out Teen Talk Tuesday! I think you’ll be glad you did!

Our first book is The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green (Speak Paperback Reprint Edition, April 2014)

And here’s a little big about our first reviewer:

Name: Julia

Age: 17

Year in School: Senior

Hobbies and Interests: Playing the violin and piano, drawing and painting, reading and writing.

Take it away Julia!


What About The Fault in Our Stars? 

By Julia

The Fault in Our Stars is a fantastic story of young love, trials, and cancer. The book features two dynamic characters, Hazel and Gus, who both struggle with the effects of their disease, or as they put it, “the side effects of dying”. To be honest, I’m not one to fall for the average Young Adult romance, full of sappy words and one-dimensional characters, but something about this book appealed to me. The novel is fast paced and each character has their own set of anxieties, causing a sense of urgency because the audience knows one of the characters could die at any time. John Green is able to convey this urgency through quick, easy-to-read sentences and a lot of philosophical passages discussing death and dying. The problems these teens face are realistic, not some made up magic sorcerer or vampire, which makes for a refreshing, heart-wrenching read.

However, when I finished reading the novel, I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about it. I know I loved the characters and the story was riveting, but something kept me from saying “I love it!!” One thing about this novel which really put me off was the language of the characters. Some of the words they used, especially curse words, seemed out of place. I could obviously tell it was an adult trying to sound like a teenager. I don’t know what it is about young adult novels, but a lot of them seem to be written by ‘actual adults’ causing them to sound stuffy and very unrealistic to actual ‘young’ adults. This book is no exception. The main character Hazel has been homeschooled for years and has had limited contact with kids her age; the only real conversations she has had is with her parents. So, it is very unrealistic that she would use words like ‘piss’ or ‘douche’ in her line of thinking.  Another issue is the character Gus. He uses an extreme amount of metaphorical and philosophical language, making his character very unbelievable. I think one of my friends said it best, “It was so strange because nobody talks like that!”

Overall, it was a very enjoyable read and I must admit, I did cry a little at the end of the book. I’d encourage anyone to read it because the story is fantastic and I really liked it, but I won’t go as far as to say I loved it.


Sensibility: Remembering what it’s like to be a teen reader can help you find the right voice for YA and Middle Grade Novels.

Sense: Take time to listen to what teens are saying and how they say it to make sure your voice is authentic for today’s teen reader.

What are some of your teen’s favorite books?


The Chicken or the Egg? Character Building vs. World Building in Middle Grade Fantasy

Let’s face it…we’ve all asked the question, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” And when it comes to character building vs. world building, the perspectives are as individual and numerous as there are breeds of chickens. If you’ve ever been to a state fair and visited the poultry barn, you know what I mean. So does it really matter where you begin- with the world or with the character- when writing middle grade fantasy? I think it does.

The more I read in this genre, the more I believe writing a character-driven manuscript that happens to play itself out in another place and time is the way to go. I think about Meg in Madeleine L’Engle’s, “A Wrinkle in Time.” Meg wants what all young girls want: to be understood, loved and accepted for who she is,  in spite of or because of her quirky family. She is fiercely loyal, unfailingly frank and incredibly brave in the face of a crazy-scary adventure. And she comes out of it smarter and stronger, but at her very core, she is still  Meg.

When I took on writing my first middle grade fantasy, I knew I wanted it to be sometime far in the future. I also knew the girl at the center of it all needed to want what all 12-year-old girls want: love, acceptance and security, with a little adventure and romance thrown in. Ada (my MC) could just as easily be in the Old West, the Dark Ages, or flying around in the Enterprise as long as she knows her mother will live, her brother is safe and she can bring something precious back to the people she loves. Does it really matter that society has taken to living in dense forests away from the sun because it’s against the law to cut the trees? Or that an evening of fun for Ada means shadow games with her mother as she rests in the glow of her light therapy bed, instead of going to the movies with friends? Not really. At the end of the day, what matters most is that Ada loves her home, that her mother is sick, and that she has to find a way to save them all.

I know what you’re thinking, “Fantasy that works must have a world that works.” And that’s true. But when I think about Ada and her family, they’re not very unlike my great grandmother, who rode onto her land in a covered wagon, or my Cherokee ancestors for whom staying alive was a daily battle.

I don’t claim to know the perfect answer here. Remember, this is a blog for imperfect writers! But I know that for me it just feels right to create a memorable character- human and real to her very core- and build a world around her.

All those chickens at the state fair want the same thing: a little food, a little water, a place to scratch, and a cozy roost to sleep in and lay their eggs; no matter how fancy their feathers or how loud their cluck. And whether it’s yesterday, now, or in the future, most of your characters need, want and search for the same things.

Sensibility- Creating a fantasy world can be fun, but take care not to get lost in the fantasy at the expense of the characters who live in the world you create.

Sense- Always start with the chicken. If you start with the egg, you never know what you’ll get.

What is your favorite way to start writing a novel?