Celebrating 2015

For the past several years (2012, 2013, 2014), I have kept track of the accomplishments for the year. Last year I kept a monthly celebration page, which I called my “Book of Stars” (I originally posted about that here). This year was particularly challenging for me, which I wrote about yesterday, so I’m particularly excited to look back on all I did accomplish. I didn’t meet every goal, but I know I’m a better writer on December 31, 2015 than I was on January 1, 2015, so that is something that I can be excited about.


Bookish Things

  • 1st book published—Ancient China (ABDO, 2015)

ABDO Cover

  • As a result of that, I got to sign my first books, see my book in a public library, and speak at a literacy conference.

2015-04-23 15.29.24

  • Mentor Text E-book published and up for sale on my website

Mentor Texts for Writers Book 1 Cover


  • Writing Marathon–February
  • ReFoReMo—March
  • Poem a Day—April, I completed 30 poems alongside Linda. Many thanks to Renee for teaming us up!
  • PiBoIdMo—I was not a winner, but I did work on getting ideas down in November.
  • Write Daily 30—December, I worked on revising a middle grade in 45 minute sessions each day. Thanks to Linda Urban for organizing this!
  • 12×12—All year. I wrote 6 new PBs and did 25+ revisions.

Guest Posts


  • Read 423 picture books (this does NOT include the books I read for my job at my job, just the ones I read at home for personal writing growth)
  • Read 47 longer works—novels and adult NF

Writing Workshops

  • Luray retreat with Candace Ransom
  • SCBWI MD/DE/WV Conference
  • WOW Conference
  • SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Conference

Book Events I Attended

2015-03-19 20.48.00

  • Kate DiCamillo at Virginia Festival for the Book
  • Cece Bell (at Hollins)
  • Maggie Steifvater (at Hollins)
  • Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Politics and Prose Picture Book Panel
  • National Book Festival—so many authors
  • Margarita Engle
  • Duncan Tunatiuh
  • Natalie Lorenzi

Middle Grade Novel Writing

  • Revision in progress since November

Other Writing

  • Got back into the submission game again after a hiatus
  • Received several helpful critiques from agents and editors at various events

Keeping track of the things I DID accomplish definitely does make me pumped to do more writing. So here’s to 2016!

What are you most proud of from 2015?


How to Survive a Move with Your Creativity Intact

It’s no secret that we moved this year. I’ve moved a lot in my life, having grown up in Thailand and Malaysia, and moving multiple times in my adult life. But this one was different. This time I said good bye to a place I’d lived in longer than any place else in my life. And this time I had kids.

Before the move, I had a great writing routine.

Then we put our house on the market, and I started job hunting. We sold our house, and moved into my parents’ condo. Then we had to find a new house and I had to make decisions about my new job. I had a summer full of temporariness. We moved into our new house, but I still had commitments for the summer to keep, so we were back and forth across the state all summer.

I’m now a few months on the other side of the move, several months into my new job, my kids are settled, and I am back in a good writing routine.

Looking back on the transition makes me absolutely exhausted.

One of my biggest fears was not being able to hang onto my creative life in the midst of it all. I definitely don’t think I excelled at it, but there were some things that keep me afloat during a stressful time.

Postpone Goals

I had big plans to revise a novel in March-May of 2015. That was right in the thick of my house selling, me getting job offers and having to make decisions, and us buying a house.

For me, I have to be in a book, really in it, almost every single day when I’m drafting and revising a novel-length project. I just know that’s how I work best. Otherwise, I spend a lot of time trying to remember where I last left off.

When all of the major decisions hit at once, I abandoned that novel-revising goal, and I told my writing friends I abandoned it. You know what happened? They wholeheartedly supported my decision and they helped validate that decision. They helped me give myself permission to take a break from it.

I picked it back up in November and December of 2015. And that time away was actually so helpful. I ended up cutting characters, cutting chapters, rewriting big chunks of it. I’m still working on it, but I am sure that it’s a better revision that I could’ve done in the spring.

Morning Pages

I realized during all of those times I was trying to separate one decision from the other one, I needed to write. I process things both verbally and through writing them down. So, as my husband and I talked over our choices, I also wrote down pros and cons and my feelings, those intangible things that still played into my decisions.

Once we moved, I had a thousand things on my mind. I had my to-do lists and I also had my emotions, and my children’s emotions, and the emotions of reuniting our family after living apart for nine months.

Moving takes up a lot of headspace. I wasn’t coming up with the most stellar writing at this time and I was having trouble focusing on the writing at hand because I had all of this junk in my mind. I also had new job stress and the kids’ new situation stress.

I brought the morning pages back out. There were some mornings that all I could do was morning pages. But it was okay because it helped me free up some of that creative energy.

Eventually, I was able to do more than just morning pages.

Stay Organized

My life was upside down for many months—basically from February-August. I used a bullet journal to help keep all of my to-do lists organized. It helped me keep all of my writing goals and my life transition mess organized. For more information on how I do bullet journaling, read this.

Small Victories Matter

Last year I wrote about my Book of Stars. This year, I incorporated it into my bullet journal.

Bullet Journal: Book of Stars page

Bullet Journal: Book of Stars page

When August rolled around, and I was feeling pretty depressed about all of the goals that had derailed, I flipped through my “book of stars” pages for each month. When I saw the books that I had read and book that was published and the speech that I delivered and so much more, I began to get out of my funk.

No, I didn’t accomplish all of my goals in 2015, but dang it, I did a lot!

Revise Your Goals

For me, I had to pare things down to what was really, really important. My day job hours changed, my commute increased, and I wanted to make sure that our family time was intact. That meant, I had to be strict about my writing hours and really keep them to the morning only.

That meant, some things had to give. I blogged less. I tried not to be scattered in a million different directions. I tried to be focused on what I really, really wanted to do.

Embrace Setbacks

As you’ll see in my post tomorrow, I’m excited about all that DID accomplish. I did way more than I gave myself credit for. However, one of my big, disappointing setbacks was not being able to draft a new novel.

However, I am embracing it. I realize that this got put on the back burner NOT because of procrastination, but because I made a conscious decision to hold onto my sanity and put that goal off for a few more months.

It’s on my list for 2016. Am I disappointed? Yes. Do I regret it? No.

I’m a type A, driven person. Sometimes it’s harder for me to say NO to myself than to push myself.

So, I think this setback was, in fact, a victory. I learned to recognize when I’d taken on too much and that I needed to re-evaluate.


Trust me, the move wasn’t perfect. The transition to my new schedule required some adjusting. But I’m happy to say I found my way back to my writing.

What life transitions have derailed your writing? How did YOU find your way back?

Best of 2014: Most Popular Posts

Looking back over 2014, I wanted to take note of my most popular posts on my blog. It helps me see what posts are most helpful to my readers. The shocking thing for me was that all of the most frequently read pages of 2014 were actually posts I wrote and posted in 2013!

That’s good because it means that much of my content is evergreen. And it also helps me to see what types of posts they are. Six out of ten were mentor texts posts aimed at teachers. The other four posts were posts on organizing your writing life.

1. Top 10 Picture Books for Word Choice

This has consistently been my most popular post for 2 years. I decided to create it into a printable PDF. You can access it two ways: 1) by signing up for my writing teachers’ newsletter (in the top right hand corner of my website) and 2) by getting it for FREE at my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

2. What To Do About To-Do Lists

3. Personal Narrative Mentor Texts

4. Mentor Text Lesson Plan on Onomatopoeia

5. Over and Under the Snow Mentor Text Lesson Plan

6. Keeping Track of Submissions

7. Quarterly Goals Template

8. Mentor Text Spreadsheet: Picture Book Month in Review

9. Mentor Text Tip Tuesday: Scavenge the Books

10. Goal Setting Re-Vamped

What Do You Need?

I think these posts became the most popular because people googled for these exact needs–organization in their writing life OR mentor texts lessons.

I would like to create more evergreen posts in 2015. What do you need? If you are a teacher, what mentor text lists or tips do you need?

If you are a writer, what kinds of organization help do you need? I am also very passionate about helping writers make time to write. What do you need help with?

Comment below OR e-mail me with your specific need and I’ll try to create a post about it, if I can.

Ode to Scrivener

Writer friends often hear me talk about my love for Scrivener. In fact, on several Facebook writing groups, I profess my love for Scrivener often. Here’s the thing, I still haven’t mastered Scrivener, but I’m overwhelmed with the sheer possibilities that it offers.

What do I use Scrivener for?

Blog Posts

This very blog post was first created in Scrivener. I am able to organize all of my blog posts into folders in Scrivener, color code them as “posted” when I’m done, create different folders for different topics and more.

I even have a Scrivener Project for my Writing Goals

I even have a Scrivener Project for my Writing Goals


I have written three novels on Scrivener. I tried writing in one long Microsoft Word document, but it can get a bit crazy scrolling through 200 pages. And did I mention Scrivener has color-coding? So I can color-code by plot thread, setting, point of view, or anything else that is unique to my novel.

Nonfiction Projects

For nonfiction, especially with many sections, the ability to organize the writing and research is so helpful. You can bring in your research so it’s all in one place. And Scrivener is highly customizable, so the document can be specific to your project.

Picture Books

I haven’t done much with this yet, but I have some ideas of how I want to incorporate it.

Claire O’Brien recently made this Scrivener Template for picture books. It’s a great way to layout your picture book.

I’ve also been toying with the idea of putting together all of my picture book writing resource templates into a Scrivener template. I’ve taken several classes on picture book writing, read several books, and read many useful articles. I use some things from all of the resources. I’d love to incorporate it all into one template that could be used for most picture books.

 Learning More About Scrivener

I recently took a Scrivener class with Gwen Hernandez. It’s very reasonably priced, and you’ll get 20 downloadable, walk-you-through-every-step lessons. She introduced things I never even knew were possible! I highly recommend the course, if you want to really get into Scrivener. I printed the lessons and put them in a binder for future reference and I worked my way through all of the lessons. It took me more than a month, but it was well-worth the time investment. 

She’s written a book called SCRIVENER FOR DUMMIES. It’s also a great reference source.

I’ve also signed up to take her Advanced Compile Course that only runs one week. There are so, so many options in Scrivener that I wanted to take this course as well. Again, it’s very reasonably priced.

More Visuals and Tutorials

Check out how Barbara O’Connor organized her book by POV. She gives you a screenshot!

Michael Hyatt shares how he uses Scrivener for everything.

Erin Bowman’s Scrivener tutorial video on outlining.

Erin Bowman shows how to do character worksheets on Scrivener.


Are You Scrivening?

Are you a Scrivener geek? If so, I want to know how you use it.

Picture Book Status Updates

I’ve been involved with Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Challenge for 2 years. In that time, I’ve written, revised, revised, revised, and revised. However, I realized recently that I have a ton of different picture books, all at different stages, and I really needed to get a handle on what I have and what I need to work on, and honestly, what I need to put away for awhile. I’m getting ready to participate in ReviMo, and I wanted to prioritize what I am going to work on.

I created this Picture Book Status Form and spent some time going through my picture books and evaluating their “status” on my to-do list.

Click on the image to download the PDF of this form.

Click on the image to download the PDF of this form.

In each section, I make various notes.

TITLE: Write the title or working title of the manuscript.

IN DEVELOPMENT: If I’m still working on the idea or working on a draft, like ideas I got for PiBoIdMo, I just put a check mark in this box.

IN REVISION: If I received notes from a critique partner or revision suggestions from an editor or agent, I make notes to myself here and who made the suggestion (especially if it’s an editor or agent who wants a rewrite).

PUT IN A DRAWER FOR NOW: There are some books I’ve tried to make work and I just can’t figure out how. So if I’m putting them in a drawer, I either check off this box or I write down a date to let it emerge from the drawer. If in 3-4 months, when I pull it out, I still think it’s non-workable, I may put it back in the drawer. However, sometimes 3-4 month wait time might jiggle something loose. I actually make a note to myself on my Google calendar (under my writing calendar) about when I need to pull it back out.

SUBMISSION READY: These are the manuscripts I hope to send out in the next few months. I put a checkmark in this box or write down a name of an editor or agent I’d like to send it to.

Download the PDF of the Picture Book Status Form

Download the Google Docs version of this form to make changes yourself 



Mentor Text Marketing

I have a new mentor text article that just came out in the SCBWI Bulletin. It’s called “Mentor Text Marketing: Getting Your Book into the Hands of Young Writers and Their Teachers.” If you are an SCBWI member, you can access the article online.

For mentor text article links, you can see the mentor text resource page.

Picture Book Challenges: Get Ready to Run



If you are a picture book writer, there are many places you could hang out to find your picture book tribe. One of them is in Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 group. The challenge is to write one picture book draft per month. This year, you have to pay for membership (there are three levels), but the benefits are nice. There are editors and agents providing feedback, there is a forum, and there is a Facebook book page. If you need or want a group of people to support you, this is a very good group of writers to hang out with.



If you are interested in a group that is ready to submit picture books, then I suggest you join the Sub Six group. It also has a very active Facebook group that is sharing information about picture books submissions. Our challenge is to submit at least six picture books in 2013.

Picture Book Marathon

If you don’t have the time to make a year-long commitment, but you like to write in spurts, then you might consider the Picture Book Marathon coming up in February. I know I’ve mentioned 12×12 and Sub Six before, but new information is just coming out about the 2013 Picture Book Marathon. They have a website, a blog, and a Facebook page. The challenge is to write 26 picture book drafts in 28 days. It’s more like a sprint. You can hardly breathe in the month of February. But you just might produce enough material to revise for quite awhile.

What’s New in 2014

January is an exciting time—a time for new things. So on this blog, there will be some new things rolling out in 2014. Here are some of the things I have planned.

For Teachers

 Teacher Useletter

I am introducing my useletter for teachers. I will include links to things from my blog and other information that I find. At most, it will come out monthly. If you sign up for my newsletter, you will get a 50 page e-book (printable PDF form) called MENTOR TEXT TIPS. Much of the information in the book was featured on my blog at one time, but I have restructured it, adding new information, and made it easy for you to download and print a copy for yourself.

ebook cover


If you sign up, the e-book will be sent to you within a few hours. Sign up on the sidebar to the right.

Teacher newsletter sign up screenshot


Writing Wednesdays

In addition, I will be featuring writing ideas and mentor texts for teachers more often this year. Every Wednesday will be Writing Wednesday. I will feature books, lesson plans, tips, or printables on Wednesdays.

For Writers

 Making Time to Write Mondays

I will be continuing my Making Time to Write feature for writers on Mondays that will include productivity tips, writing tips, and more.

Mentor Texts for Writers

In 2014, I will also be spending some time exploring mentor texts for writers. Stay tuned for more information about this upcoming series.


12×12 in 12 Blog Party–12 Resources for the Picture Book Writer


It’s time to celebrate a completed (or almost completed) 12 x 12 in ’12 picture book challenge. To celebrate, I’m posting 12 resources for picture book writers.

1. Rob Sanders’ blog–Check out Rob’s site. He often posts good writing tips for picture books writers and this year has even featured some picture book editors.

2. Kim Norman’s picture book blank storyboard template. If you need a great template for storyboarding on paper, check out Kim’s site.

3. Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul. If you don’t own this gem and you write picture books, you are missing out. Go buy it before 12×12 in ’13 is here.

4. Using PowerPoint to make a picture book dummy. Fellow picture book writer shares how to make a book dummy using PowerPoint. I tried this with a picture book this week, and it was so helpful.

5. Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 site. I am going to be writing a lot more about this in my Making Time to Write Monday post on  12/17.

6. Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo site. This will also be featured on my post on 12/17.

7. Picture Book Marathon site. Several years ago I found my picture book critique group through this adventure. It’s not for the faint of heart (28 picture books in one month).

8. Hollins University Children’s Literature Program. I know, I know. This may be far away for some of you, but I have learned so much from the graduate programs (M.A. and M.F.A) in children’s literature, including two picture book classes I took with Candice Ransom and Ruth Sanderson.

9. Darcy Pattison’s picture book resources. Darcy Pattison’s site is a wealth of information no matter what type of books you write for children.

10. Katie Davis’ podcast. Honestly, I have learned so much by listening to the authors and illustrators on her podcast. There’s no better way to enjoy your time driving.

11. SCBWI membership. Worth the $60 a year to stay in touch with what’s happening in the world of children’s writing. I have learned a LOT from getting critiques and attending conferences.

12. Your local bookstore or library. Reading picture books is the best way to learn about what works and what doesn’t work.


Stay tuned until next Monday’s Making Time to Write post. I will be talking more in depth about PiBoIdMo and 12×12 in 12. 

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