Late Frost

When you live in the Mitten, late frost is more the norm than the exception. We never, EVER plant annuals until after Mother’s Day, and sometimes even then I find myself covering up my blooming beauties, “just in case.” But cooler temperatures in late spring mean strong roots and beautiful blooms all summer and even into the fall. I promise you, it’s worth the wait.

We get examples of what late frost can do to fragile flowers every year. Case in point: the current state of my magnolia.

My tulip magnolia a few years ago.

She stuck some of her petals out a wee bit early this year and now they are brown and burned from a zap of cold weather. I still have hope that she’ll put on an incredible spring show like the one in this picture from a few years ago, but the many dark, unopened buds make me doubtful. It’s important for writers to beware of “late frost” in the writing life as well. Even though it may feel like your manuscript is ready to submit, if you don’t have many revisions, some honest critiques from critique partners and even a professional conference critique or two, chances are your manuscript is in danger of catching a “late frost” from editors and agents.

It’s not that there’s some kind of hidden secret agenda in publishing- a type of literary hazing if you will- but these proven steps work. Here’s a personal example that I’m excited to share…

Last week, I received a contract for a story from Highlights Magazine! This was a dream come true for me since I’ve wanted to have something published in Highlights since I was like 8 years old. I wrote the story, “The Christmas Candles,” about 15 years ago. The first version was over 2000 words (now that’s funny:), and that was the first version I submitted to Highlights (I’m so embarrassed). Of course I received a rejection straight away. In the meantime, I joined a critique group and worked on a revision based on my group’s suggestions. I then submitted the story to their yearly fiction contest and got no response. Fast forward a few years and many, many revisions later, and I submitted the story to the fiction contest again (their contest subjects are often cyclical). And I didn’t win…again! But this time, I got a letter saying they loved the piece, and if I’d be willing to do a few revisions, they’d like to consider it for regular purchase.

I was overjoyed! Of course I had already sent them what I thought was my best work, so I knew I needed the help of a professional editor to get things just right. I hired a friend of mine that I trust and admire, and she gave me wonderful suggestions that made the story even stronger (thanks Lorri Cardwell-Casey)! About six months later, I received an email from the editor telling me they had loved the revisions but needed one more thing. Because my story was historical fiction, they asked me to find a university professor to do a quick fact check and write a short review of the piece. If I was willing to do that, then they would offer me a contract. It took a few weeks, but I found just the right person for the job and the editor loved the review. The entire process from entering the contest to signing the contract took a year and a half. But the entire process from writing the first draft to signing the contract took almost 15 years! Wow!

Through this process, I learned first hand how sending out a story too early is never a good idea. You’re more likely to get burned by a late frost than land a contract if your story isn’t ready. Would I change this journey if I could? No, not at all. I’ve learned so much and am a better writer because of it. And I can’t even describe to you the joy of delayed gratification. It makes the victory all the sweeter.

So watch out for “late frost” in your writing life. Take your time and make your stories the best they can be! It’s more than worth it!

Sensibility- Delicate new blossoms need lots of TLC to grow into mature flowers. Think of your stories in this way and take proper care of them in the early days of inspiration.

Sense- Drafting, revising, re-writing, critiquing and rewriting again may seem like a waste of time, but it’s the only way to make your story the best it can be.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12

What are some examples of “late frost” experiences in your writing life?


Daylight Savings Time?

Really? Is there really a way to save daylight? Or is that name just a ploy to make us all feel better about springing forward?

Public Domain Photo

Daylight Savings Time was first introduced in the United States when Woodrow Wilson signed it into law in 1918 to support the war effort. The seasonal time change was quickly abolished just seven months later. However, some cities continued to use Daylight Savings Time until FDR signed year-round DST into law again in 1942. Talk about confusing to the people who lived in the holdout cities! It wasn’t until Congress signed the Uniform Time Act of 1966 that the entire country got on the same page, er, um, clock.

You’re probably wondering what saving daylight has to do with writing. I know that happens a lot here on Sensibility and Sense, but humor me for a minute, K? As writers, we have a unique struggle when it comes to using time wisely. I am blessed to be able to write full time, from home, in my little corner office in the dining room. But even I have trouble balancing work, home and me time each day. I know you’re shocked, but it’s true. Your vision of a full-time writer is probably one of hours of uninterrupted time to hone craft and flesh out every idea your muse kicks into your head. Sorry guys, it’s not nearly that glamorous. Sometimes I envy my husband who goes to an office each where there are secretaries, receptionists and random bowls of candy…but I digress. Working from home I AM the secretary, receptionist, chief of finance, investment specialist, pet sitter, cook and transportation secretary. Daylight savings time? Are you kidding me?

How can we make the most of writing time in the middle of everything else? Here are a few suggestions (or reminders):

  • Set office hours. I know it sounds like a no brainer, but if you don’t set office hours, you’ll never get anything done. My official office hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. I work many more hours a day/week than that, but these hours are my framework.
  • Let others know your office hours. If you don’t, it won’t work. Get in the habit of returning phone calls and emails outside of writing time, and your kids and extended family members will quickly get on your schedule. (Unless it’s an emergency).
  • Replace interrupted writing time. A flexible schedule is the best part of working from home. I schedule things during the day so it keeps my afternoons clear when my kids are home. But that also means I’m working while they do homework or after they go to bed. Don’t give away your writing time. Trade it.

Don’t let Daylight Savings Time fool you. There aren’t more hours in the day. That’s why learning to use the ones we have wisely is so important.

Sensibility- Use the first few minutes of your writing time each day to take a deep breath, slow down and get into the writing zone.

Sense- Schedule some “me time” into each writing day. Exercise, read for pleasure or take a brisk walk to keep your mind fresh and your spirit free.

How do you protect your writing time?




Water Under the Bridge!

As I mused about my first post for this brand-spanking New Year, I thought of my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Smeltzer. Mrs. Smeltzer was old school in every way, and as tough as nails when it came to helping us live up to our potential. She walked to school every day, regardless of the weather- and in Michigan, that’s quite a badge of honor. We learned handwriting with fountain pens. If you blobbed ink on your middle finger, she knew you weren’t holding your pen correctly. She rewarded success, pointed out failure and gave each student a way to do better and achieve more. She read aloud each day after lunch, and introduced me to Laura Ingalls Wilder, Sterling North, James Whitcomb Riley and many other amazing authors that I still read today. She loved poetry, politeness, accuracy and creativity and I loved her for it.

“It’s water under the bridge!” was Mrs. Smeltzer’s favorite saying.

Mackinac Bridge. Image courtesy of Gregory Varnum/Wikipedia.

When we took her famous timed math facts tests, and one or two students tried to write the problems down and finish them before she called time instead of memorize the answer, she’d say, “Pass your papers forward. It’s water under the bridge!” When anyone got less than a favorable mark on a writing or reading assignment and asked for another chance or for some extra credit she’d crow again, “It’s water under the bridge!”

The bell where this saying was concerned finally went off in my head years later in college. I was used to getting good grades without working hard, and when I got my first “F” on a test I heard Mrs. Smeltzer’s voice, “It’s water under the bridge!” And what it meant was, “You blew it. You should have worked harder. It’s no one’s fault but your own. Next time, do better because you can!”

Is there anything in your writing life that needs to become “water under the bridge?” How about that one story you just can’t get right, or the response from that longed-for agent you’ve been waiting to hear from for more than three months. “If I just give them one more day, things will be different!”

Maybe your “water under the bridge” is wondering whether or not you’ll ever make it in this business! But what does “make it” look like anyway? Who else can judge your success but you? Are you writing every day? Are you a better writer than you were last year? Are you meeting with your critique group or partner and making hard changes based on the comments you read? Have you set reasonable and reachable goals for yourself? Are you creating something of value that brings beauty to this world? Then you are a writer my friend, and a successful one!

Let all that self-doubt and loathing be your “water under the bridge” this year. I’m putting mine in a big old basket and sending it down the river- once again- as I write this. If I don’t, I’ll never move forward, and I know Mrs. Smeltzer would not approve- not for a minute. And that’s enough to keep me going- for today anyway…

Happy New Year, and as always, happy writing!

Sensibility- You are a writer! Say that five times out loud before writing today.

Sense- After saying the above, get back to work. It’s the only way to move forward in writing and in life.


What needs to be your “water under the bridge” this year?




Ho-Hum Days

I’ll admit it…today I have the “Ho-Hums” when it comes to my work…

Photo courtesy of Ontley (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
After a season of no responses and rejections, sometimes it’s like pulling teeth to sit down and write anything. These days come to all of us. But not writing, at least a little each day, is not an option for me. I’ve got weekly deadlines that won’t wait. No, it’s not the fun stuff I’d like to be doing –working on new pictures books, doing research for my class, revising my novel— but it’s all good. So how do dedicated writers stay focused when there’s no wiggle room? Where does the drive come from when the gas tank is empty? Here are three things that help me on days like this, and I hope they inspire you to turn your writing “Ho-Hum” into a writing “Hey Ho!” today!

  • Get organized. If you aren’t inspired to write something new or write something at all, take a few minutes to organize your desk. File things that need filing, pay bills that need paying, put things away and wipe off the dust. You’ll be amazed at how an organized work space can lift your spirits.
  • Keep inspiring quotes handy. I’ve got one on my desk by my computer screen that reads:

“Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel.” – Pablo Casals

Another one I like is by Thomas A. Edison:

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

These two quotes, as well as hundreds of others, can provide hope and encouragement when your writer ego is taking a beating.

  • Be aware of the need for rest and refreshment. Along with the general ups and downs of the writing life, parenting and spouse-ing, I also deal with rheumatoid arthritis. It is well controlled with medication, and I feel blessed each day that the disease does not currently interfere with daily activities. But during my RA journey, I’ve learned the importance of listening to my body and recognizing when I need rest. So if I need an extra hour of sleep after I get my kids off to school, I take it. If I need a short nap in the afternoon to finish the evening strong, I give myself permission. Giving in to rest and refreshment isn’t weakness or laziness. It’s helping your body and mind—and your writing– be the best it can be.

Sensibility- Writing is a joyful, happy and even holy pursuit. Take a moment at the beginning of each writing day and give thanks for the gift.

Sense- Writing is hard work. Recognizing that truth will help you keep going when ideas don’t flow and creativity seems thin.


What do you do with your “Ho-Hum” days?


It’s a Back-to-School Writer Giveaway! And the Winner is…

Thanks to all of you for your great writer-education ideas and for sharing your experiences! Along with all the amazing educational opportunities out there, learning from other writers is probably the best way to increase your own writer knowledge!

So without further delay (drum roll please)…the winner is Danielle Hammelef! Danielle wrote about her experiences taking the Institute of Children’s Literature writing courses. Thanks so much Danielle for sharing your insight about this great opportunity. Please email me at info@pgwrites.com and let me know where I can send your prize!  And for everyone else, stay tuned to Sensibility and Sense for more great give aways and more advice from one imperfect writer to another!

Sensibility- Adding knowledge to your writer arsenal is like adding fertilizer to your plants.  A few drops at the right intervals can make bigger blossoms and better stories.

Sense- Choose writer education that increases your knowledge of craft and boosts your personal creativity.


Happy First Day of School!



YeeHaw!….Back in the Saddle

The entrance to the Charleston City Market.
The entrance to the Charleston City Market.

I’m just getting back from a lovely vacation with my family to beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. Ah, Charleston, where ocean breezes blow (really hot ones), palmetto trees sway, and history is in and around every corner. Since I’m thinking about taking children’s author, Kristen Fulton’s nonfiction writing course, Charleston piqued my author interest at just about every turn. I was also doing some research for another project I’m working on, so I guess you could call this kind of a working vacation. But don’t get me wrong, I did more relaxing, enjoying my kids and my husband, eating and exploring than I did working. So now that I’m back at my desk, how do I take all the things I learned as I was letting my muse rest by the pool with me and turn random thoughts into something productive? I mean, vacations are amazing, but Monday always comes. It’s time to hitch up my big-girl overalls, tighten my saddle and get back to work.

So here are a few suggestions for getting back in the writing saddle and turning all that R&R into something productive:

  • Ease back into your writing schedule. I tend to let the work take over, and before I know it, I’m just as tired after two days back at my desk as I was before I took time off. Take baby steps after a vacation and give yourself at least two days to ramp up to full speed unless you have a looming deadline.
  • Organize your vacation thoughts. Many writers carry notebooks with them wherever they go. I do not do this. My brain stores lots of information and so far, my memory hasn’t failed me (for the most part). If you are a notebook carrier, then this will be easy for you. If you’re like me, you’ll need to sit quietly at your desk for a few minutes each day as you get back to work and write down thoughts, experiences and places as you recall them. I do this right from my keyboard and into a computer folder.
  • Give yourself a break. If you’re having trouble getting back into a writing rhythm, stop beating yourself up. It could be that your muse needs a few extra days to rest. While you’re waiting, find other productive, writing-related tasks that need attending to. Read a new book on plot or characterization. Organize your desk. Answer your backlog of emails. Send out some queries or submit a few manuscripts. Take the opportunity to do some of the things you’ve been putting off while your creativity revs back up to before-vacation mode.

Whether you’re just getting back from vacation or looking forward to a few days off, enjoy the moment, knowing that time away is sometimes just the boost you need to get back in the writing saddle.

Me and my husband at the Charleston waterfront park.
Me and my husband at the Charleston waterfront park.

Sensibility- Vacations are gifts. Use yours to heighten your senses and enjoy the life that is happening all around you.

Sense- Rushing creativity when you get back from a much-needed break can increase writing anxiety and derail the writing process.


How do you “get back in the saddle” after a vacation?


A Room With a View

226290_1856956235756_4879800_nI’m really bad about sitting in my writing cave, aka my dining-room office corner, and hacking out copy or prose or poetry for eight hours a day. But once a year I treat myself to my own personal writing retreat. It’s really me tagging along on one of my husband’s continuing education conferences, but hey, I can call it what I want- I am a writer after all. So today, instead of sitting at my desk trying not to be distracted by the dyer buzzer, I’m looking out the big windows in my room on the eighth floor of one of my favorite spots in the world, Traverse City, Michigan. The windows overlook the Grand Traverse Bay, and the view comes complete with rolling hills and trees just beginning their spring fling. One year we got in on the cherry blossoms, and it looked like snow spread out over the orchards with splashes of yellow dandelions thrown in for good measure. Beautiful!

But I digress. This place does that to me. Today’s post is about finding a new place to write at least once in a while. It’s so refreshing to look out and see something different. We need that in ours lives- whether you’re a writer or a doctor or a mom- in order to stay fresh and remember there are many lenses through which to view the world. It’s good for your manuscripts too, because finding a new place to write every now and then may just help you see your work with the fresh eyes we writers so desperately need at times.

So get up from your desk and find a new place to write from today. Right now! Just unplug your chord, pack up that laptop and go! Buy yourself a cup of coffee as a treat and invite your characters to come out and play. You may be surprised at how far you can go just by changing your view!

Sensibility- The imagination needs feeding. If your muse seems hungry try getting out of your writing cave for some fresh air and fresh perspective.

Sense- Choose one day each week or month and go somewhere else to write. Coffee shops, the local library or the park are great choices to jumpstart your creativity.


Where do you go when your writing needs a change of scenery?