2017 Successes

I haven’t written on here in ages. Call it what you will: a move, a new job (2 years ago, I know) my kids’ lives are getting busier and busier, and lots of writing happening. I have spent less time updating the blog and more time in focused writing.

Each year, I love to reflect on all the things that I’ve done. For the past several years, I have participated in Julie Hedlund’s 12 Days of Christmas for Writers program. It’s a great way to reflect on the year that has passed. Each year we make a list of SUCCESSES instead of resolutions. To see previous posts from years past, click on the year.

2016–I skipped this year.





1. I read a LOT. There are still a few days left in 2017 and I’m mostly done with several more books, so these numbers are likely to go up this weekend. But…

  • 492 picture books
  • 119 middle grade novels
  • 9 young adult novels
  • 29 adult fiction
  • 10 adult nonfiction
  • 3 craft (writing, that is)

2. Anyone that knows my writing really well knows that my writing is all over the map. I write fiction picture books, nonfiction picture books, middle grade, YA, and poetry. I sent out 76 submissions. This includes submissions from all of my writing, and it includes things like conference critiques as well.

3. I received 34 rejections. The good news is that many of these have been very specific rejections. Some have even been “revise and resubmit” requests or “send me something else, but I’m not buying this” notes.

4. I revised a middle grade novel. Or I actually rewrote it completely from the ground up. While it didn’t feel like a first draft because I finally know these characters, it still needs a LOT of work. More revising to do.

5. I drafted a historical fiction novel-in-verse. The draft is one. A lot more work remains in revision.

6. I continue to participate in a picture book critique group.

7. I continue to participate in a middle grade critique group.

8. I meet with a friend for a “write-in” at least once a month (sometimes more, depending on our schedules).

9. I text an accountability partner/friend every day to talk about what we are writing. This was a new thing for 2017, and it was a fabulous addition.

10.  I’ve been invited to speak in 2018 at a education conference on writing, and I’m so excited and honored!

11. I did a presentation at Virginia Association for School Librarians along with Moira Rose Donohue about helping kids write nonfiction.

12. My co-director, Meighan and I, completed our 4th year as directors of Hollinsummer, a writing camp for teenage girls.

13. I attended 14 conferences/workshops, both big and small this year including a yearly writing retreat, a poetry workshop with Carole Boston Weatherford, nErDcamp MI, Long Road from Brown (NEH weeklong workshop), Mid-Atlantic SCBWI annual conference, and events at the National Archives.

14. I took 15 research trips to various museums and sites to help with my ongoing projects. Most of them were close by, but I have learned a TON this year.

15. I have some freelance work coming up that I’m excited about.

16. I went to numerous book launch parties and children’s book events in the DC metro area. There is a vibrant group of writers here, and I love being a part of the community.

17. I have a consistent daily writing routine.


There are always a lot of stumbling blocks in the writing life, but like I say at the end of every year. I am a better writing now than I was on January 1.


Mentor Texts for Writers: Picture Book Refrains

Mentor Texts for Writers 2015 image for blog



I wrote a guest post at Meg Miller’s ReviMo site over the weekend. If you are interested in picture book refrains, be sure to check out that post. I touch on nonfiction and fiction picture book refrains.

Mentor Texts for Writers E-Book is Here!

Last year, I put together an e-book for teachers on tips for using mentor texts in the classroom. I’m pleased to announce the my newest e-book is for writers. I hope it is one of several to come.

Mentor Texts for Writers, Book 1 is a compilation of many of the posts I’ve written on using mentor text to improve your writing.

Mentor Texts for Writers Book 1 Cover

Mentor Texts for Writers: Book 1

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Click here for a preview

This 90+ page downloadable e-book features:

* Tips for using mentor texts to improve your writing.

* Mentor Texts Lists for:

* Character-Driven Picture Books

* Word Choice

* Word Play

* Second Person Point of View

* Poetic Picture Books

* Nonfiction Picture Books

* Nonfiction vs. Historical Fiction

* Picture Book Biography: Unique Structures

Buy Now


This book and other products are archived at the book page.

Mentor Texts for Writers: First Chapter Makeover by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Mentor Texts for Writers 2015 image for blog



By day, I am a teacher who uses mentor texts with students. I also help other teachers utilize mentor texts in their classrooms. By night, I utilize mentor texts myself in an attempt to improve my writing by studying from the best.

One of my favorite books on writing process is CHAPTER AFTER CHAPTER by Heather Sellers. I’ve recommended it many times, but there’s so many useful tips in there. She recommends reading 100 books like the one you want to write before you begin the actual writing.

I’ve read hundreds of middle grade novels as a whole. But as I revised my own middle grade novel, I realized I needed to hyper focus.

With the middle grade novel in revision, I knew the pacing in the first half of the book was off. I needed to cut a lot and readjust some things—including the first chapter. So I gathered some new middle grade titles that are either in the genre I’m writing or in an adjacent genre. I made a list of books I wanted to study.

MG Book list

I selected books that had been recommended by friends or in reviews. Most of these I’d either already read or they were on my to-be-read list.

Then I read chapter one ONLY in each book. I made actual notes about each book. Here is an example of some of my notes:

First chapter analysis

For each book, I tried to pay attention to:

* Genre

* Point of View

* Style of writing

* Characters introduced

* Actions or plot introduced

* My reactions

* Notes of how I could try this in my own writing

* Did I want to keep reading?

* How much information was revealed in the first chapter?

Taking it to the Next Level

I always encourage teachers and students to not only study  and read mentor texts but actually try some of the techniques out on their own. It help to absorb those skills or styles by trying them out.

Once I made notes, I reflected on my own story and I wrote. I wrote several different opening paragraphs. I tried different techniques, and I rewrote the first chapter once again.

Have I nailed that first chapter? I don’t know. But I do know that it’s better now that it was. And I’m one step closer.

New Teacher Resources


Mentor Texts for Word Choice Downloadable

My most popular post on my blog is my “Top 10 Mentor Texts for Word Choice.” I took the bones of that post, expanded it, and turned it into a downloadable PDF. You can get it for FREE if you sign up for my newsletter (sign up is to the right).


New Books Page

I have added a books page to my website. I will keep this page updated with any resources that I have written or contributed to. Right now there are two new items on there.


Mentor Text Tips E-Book

The “Mentor Text Tips” e-book is now available for purchase.

Screenshot 2014-10-08 16.29.50







Haiku Educator Materials

The amazing Laura Purdie Salas is releasing several e-books and paperback poetry books this fall. I contributed educator materials for one of the books, Riddle-Ku.

Riddle-Ku is now available on Amazon. 

RiddleKu Cover

Help Me, Help You (Mentor Text Resources Survey)

Summer is approaching, and while I’m knee deep in deadlines at the moment, I’m still thinking about what cool mentor text resources I can start providing. I have ideas about mentor text resources I’d like to create, and I’ve even started on many of these ideas. However, with time short, I’d love to have a VOTE. What mentor text resources would you like?

If you are a WRITER or a TEACHER (or both), please fill out this two question survey. I will use the results to help me develop future mentor text resources.

Survey Link


Feel free to pass this link on to other teachers and writers also. I need all the feedback I can get.

Writing Marathon Resources

Do you want to host a Writing Marathon of your own at school? Last week I posted about some information about the Writing Marathon I did in February. I’ve also posted about how the Writing Marathon helped me as a writer. This week, I’m focusing on the technical aspects and resources that I used. I’ve even included sample printables you could use.

Technical Aspects

We used Google Docs for students to write. More and more students are expected to compose on the computer, so this provided an opportunity for them to become more fluent with it. They shared their folders with me.

We used laptops, but if you have access to Chrome books, that would be even better.

I had a few students who didn’t have access to computers at home, and they chose to work at home. I gave them a folders with paper in it. They had to work the “old-fashioned” way—by hand. Writing is still writing.

 Tracking Sheet

At the beginning, I had students set word count goals. They had to write for 26 out of 28 days. They kept track of this on their tracking sheet. I used the tracking sheet also and found it very helpful. Next year, I might consider developing this on Google Sheets so that it would calculate totals for them, but for the first time, I thought paper/pencil worked pretty well.

picture of tracking sheet

 Download the Tracking Sheet Here

Writing Prompts

Everyday I posted Writing Prompts. Not every kid needed them, but I did post one everyday.

screenshot of lesson plans


I also posted them on a Writing Marathon blog so students could access them from home each day. On the weekends, I had special links where they could go to find interesting story prompts.


Student Folders

picture of folder

We gave each student a folder. I made stickers for the front. On the inside front cover, there was a sticker with the Writing Marathon web address. In the prongs of the folder, I included the tracking sheet, hard copies of a few prompts, and looseleaf paper. I also printed Kim Norman’s story cards for everyone and put them in the pocket.

Links for the folders

Front Stickers

Tracking Sheet

February Writing Prompts

Kim Norman’s Story Cards



I provided journals and nice pens for the finishers. I bought the pens at Target. I bought journals at Staples, Target, and Michael’s. Michael’s had pretty journals for a dollar, but I had to go elsewhere for more boyish looking journals.

writing books as prizes

We bought books about writing for the finishers.


I created certificates for finishers and winners. I used Publisher templates and changed the information for my school and students.


Other Resources

Sample Informational Letter

Sample Contract

I Have Mentor Texts, Now What?

Last week, I posted about where to find mentor texts to use to improve your writing. Today I’m over at the GROG BLOG again talking about what you do with mentor texts.  Stop over there and tell us how you use mentor texts to improve your writing.

Our new GROG BLOG also got a mention by Tara Lazar. Check out her blog post about us here.

Writing Marathon: The Method

During the month of February I hosted a Writing Marathon for 4th and 5th grade students at my school. We (yes, I wrote with them) wrote for 26 out of 28 days, at least 30 minutes a day.


Writing daily, like any other habit, takes time to develop. It takes getting into a routine. And when it gets hard, it means you just have to keep going.

I came up with the idea because I thought it would help students develop writing fluency and stamina.


1) Build it into the day.

For us, it worked better to do it before school started. Kids could come in at 7:30 and work until 8:00, when class started. Many kids have sport and other activities after school. Not every student was able to come in early, so we allowed them to work from home.

2) Provide an atmosphere.

We provided granola bars, in case kids didn’t get breakfast on the rush to be at school early. Each day I provided a writing prompt, if they wanted to use it. Others didn’t really want to. They busied themselves writing chapters books of their own. I even provided low music. I prefer classical music that just soothes them as they write. It also keeps them from engaging in conversation instead of writing. I also wrote with the students. I made daily and monthly goals, and I outlined a particular project I wanted to work on. I worked on it during that time. Typically all you could hear in the room was the quiet music and the soft tap-tap-tapping of the keys.

3) Provide incentives.

I’ve never run a marathon, but I can’t imagine that you run one just to get a medal in the end. The medal itself probably doesn’t motivate you to keep going through months of training or even keep going after a few miles. Something more must make you keep pushing. However, when all is said and done, it’s nice to have something to show for you work. In the same way, I thought I needed to have some reward for students who participated. Finishers all received a certificate, a journal, and a fancy pen. Top word count and top time in each grade level received a book about writing.

Stay tuned next week when I’ll share all of the materials I used (including printables) for the Writing Marathon.

If you’d like to read about how this Writing Marathon affected me as a writer, see Monday’s post. 

Writing Wednesday: Using MARTIN AND MAHALIA as a Writing Mentor Text

martin and mahalia


By Andrea Davis Pinkney

Illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Little, Brown 2013


This book moves me to tears every time I read it. The beauty of the words and the illustrations feel like a song and celebration. The Pinkneys have woven two important people with amazing gifts together in this nonfiction piece about Martin Luther King Jr’s and Mahalia Jackson’s impacts on the Civil Rights Movement. It is the perfect book to read to celebrate Martin Luther King day, but it’s also the perfect book to study as a nonfiction writing mentor text.


Writing Skills:

* Leads (beginning lines)

* Vivid Verbs

* Metaphor

* Adjectives

* Sensory Words

* Rhythm

* Use of poetic language in a nonfiction text

* Use of a refrain in a nonfiction text

More Mentor Text Resources

A few weeks ago, I introduced my teacher useletter. I will feature writing tips and mentor text tips in this free useletter for teachers. Also, if you sign up, you get a FREE 50 page MENTOR TEXT TIPS printable e-book. Sign up on the sidebar to the right.

Mentor Text Resources

Mentor Text Lesson Plans

Mentor Text Tips