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.


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?

Looking Ahead: Mapping Out 2015

I know we are smack in the middle of two holidays. I’m in the middle of a break from work. But this is the time of the year when I start to get antsy about what’s going to happen in the next year. I start to make my goals and really outline how I’m going to accomplish them. Last year, I shared two new sheets (quarterly goals sheet and monthly focus sheet) I created to help with my goal implementation in 2014. While I liked the focus for the month page and not planning too far ahead by creating quarterly goals, this year I’m modifying things a little.

Look Back to Make Changes

First, I reflected back at 2014. I was able to accomplish a lot, but I spent a TON of time taking classes (both for my library certification and in writing for self-growth). I don’t think I’ll ever be done taking classes, but in 2015 I want to take the time to implement that which I have learned in my MFA, in workshops, and in online classes I’ve taken. This year my craft focus will be lighter on taking online classes and more on utilizing craft books and notes from classes already taken.

Make a Dream List

I know this post is about goals, but when I looked at what I would like my year to look like, as a writer, I started listing all of the things I would like to accomplish this year. It’s a big list.

Then I organized my list by topic. Everyone’s topics will be different. But mine were:

  • Picture Books
  • Chapter Books
  • Middle Grade Novel
  • Educational Writing
  • Business

Share Your Goals

I think it’s really important to share your goals with a few close writer friends. I’m not sharing them on here because many of them involve specific book subjects and titles that I’m not ready to share publicly yet. But I do think it’s a good idea to share them with some writers that you trust. You can encourage one another toward those goals in that way.

Block Off Your Calendar

You can use a pre-printed calendar or just a blank calendar printed from Microsoft Word. I went ahead and marked off the times I knew would affect my writing.

For example, in July I will be attending a week-long writing retreat in Georgia, then I’ll be teaching two weeks at Hollinsummer. I’m not saying I’m not going to be writing then. I probably will be. However, I will NOT be trying to restructure a whole novel during the month of July. That would be setting myself up for failure.

In February, I will be doing the Writing Marathon with my students, just like I did last year. I wrote with them and got a big project outlined and started writing sample chapters during that month. So, knowing that the marathon is coming up, I went ahead and planned out what I’d be working on for that extra writing time in February 2015.

Map Out Your Goals

Then I started plugging in the major projects I want to accomplish in 2015 and mapping them out. For instance, I actually have two middle grade novels I want to revise in 2015. Can I do that? Of course, I can—with proper planning. I have to be realistic about how long it will take and map out specific tasks to get those revisions done. I’m blocking off time to plan for the revisions and time to actually revise each chapter–all mapped out on the calendar.

Minimize Distractions

I have an issue with time wasting–especially on the Internet. This year, I’m trying something new. I’m not sure if it will work for everything I need, but so far, I like it. I’m trying the new Google Chrome extension Dayboard. You can plug in the 5 most important tasks of your day. Whenever you open a new browser, the tasks come up first–before anything else. It’s a good reminder of what you really need to be doing.

Right now, I’m using it to plan my next day. But it doesn’t go out any farther than “tomorrow.”

Evaluate Your Season

Each year I feel like I need to evaluate my season in life. What will my schedule look like? I always have a set time that I write each morning for an hour that doesn’t get affected by job or kids (usually). But there are pockets of other time that I can use. But I have to be intentional about them.

For example, my daughter has violin lessons and both kids have karate each week. During those times, I’m able to get a ton of stuff done. The key is planning for that time. I have a hard time writing fresh during that time (I do that in the morning). But I’m writing in the violin schedules and karate schedules on my calendar for January-May. I’m am planning how I will use that time at least a month in advance.

That 45-minute violin time is an excellent time to brainstorm and draft blog posts or articles. The two-hour karate time gives me time to research nonfiction picture books that I want to write.

This year will mean big changes for our family. I think they will positive changes, but they will affect my schedule. For this reason, I’m only planning for the first half of 2015 right now. But I also want to be intentional about not overusing my weekends for writing. I just can’t do that right now. I am blocking off one weekend a month to do extra writing, but that’s planned in advance.

What If I Get Derailed?

There’s a good chance something will come along to derail my carefully laid out plans. In the past, some of those derailments have been excellent for me. If they come along again in 2015, I’ll probably shuffle my schedule to accommodate them. I’m writing my plans on my calendar in pencil for a reason.

I anticipate change.

I anticipate that I’ll need to move things around. Something will take longer than expected.

But without a roadmap, I might be wandering aimlessly.

What About You?

What are your goals for 2015? Are you planning for success? Share how you map out your goals for the year.

Looking Back at 2014

For the last two years (2012 and 2013), I’ve done a post at the end of the year to celebrate what I’ve actually accomplished. I think I always get weary in December and wonder: “Did I get anything done?” While I knew the answer was “Yes.” I did have to prove it to myself.

Last year, I started a Book of Stars to record the little things that happened that were good. I taped in the nice things editors said, the the nice things other writers said. Writing can be a discouraging job. When I opened up my book to look back over 2014, it lifted my spirits.

Book of Stars

Published Works

* Educational book coming out in early 2015. This book pushed me to research and write fast and took over my life for a few months.

* Opened up Teachers Pay Teachers store

* Opened up my Books Page

* Wrote “Top 10 Books for Word Choice” and put it up as a freebie for signing up for my newsletter

* Mentor Text “E-Books” on sale at TpT and on my books page

* Wrote Educator’s Guide for Laura Purdie Salas’ Riddle-Ku Book


* “A Postcard and a Dream” appeared in Hollins magazine

* “Fran Cannon Slayton: Balance in the Writing Life” appeared in Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Highlighter

* “Teacher’s Pet: How to Get Your Book in the Hands of Teachers” appeared in Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Highlighter

* “Writing Picture Books with Kim Norman” appeared in Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Highlighter

* Freelance work for Interactive Achievement

Guest Posts

* “Overwhelmed? Overworked? Overcommitted? How to Keep Focus in 2014” DIYMFA 1/9/14

* Kidsarewriters coach


* 12×12 participant with new manuscripts and a ton of revised ones

* PiBoIdMo—came up with 35 ideas

Classes Taken

(Note: If you love a writer, all of these classes would make excellent gifts)

* Making Picture Book Magic with Susanna Leonard Hill

* Lyrical Language Lab with Renee LaTulippe

* Julie Hedlund’s How to Make Money as a Writer

* Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen’s Plotting Picture Books from A to Z

Workshops Attended

* Candice Ransom’s retreat in Luray on revision

* WOW Retreat

* Picture Book Workshop with Lola Schaefer and Rebecca Kai Doltich

* SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Conference

Workshops Organized through SCBWI and Glenvar Library

* Fran Cannon Slayton

* Kim Norman

Workshops Taught

* Mentor Texts for Writers Webinar for WOW

* Mentor Texts for Writers workshop for NoVA writers

* Mentor texts for the classroom at local division level professional development and VSRA


* Got an agent! I’m now working with Jodell Sadler of Sadler Children’s Literary


* Taught a writing camp for high school girls at Hollins in summer 2015

* Received Teacher of the Year at my school


* Started and finished my library media endorsement at UVA and UVA Wise

Whew! Looking back at the makes me tired. But it is also testament to how much you can accomplish by setting aside a little bit of time for your writing each day. I still teach full-time and have two young kids. Most of the writing was done between 5-6 am daily.

As I think about what I want to accomplish in 2015, I look at the big picture and big goals. But I also want to focus on: What is the next step I can take to further my career. It might be as simple as revising one chapter. Each small step adds up to bigger ones.

Learning Never Stops

My brother teases me that I’m a perpetual student. I never seem to quit going to school. It’s true. I have a MFA, MA, and soon an endorsement in Library Media to prove that this statement is true. But I think the more I learn the more I realize I have so much left to learn.

At the beginning of 2014, I made a promise to myself that every month I’d be busy learning something, reading something, and writing something.

Some of the things that have impacted me the most in 2014 include the following:

Making Picture Book Magic with Susanna Leonard Hill

I’ve been in several graduate picture book writing classes, so I wasn’t sure if I would learn anything new, but I did. Not so much new things about picture books, but a new process. Susanna broke down the process in a way I’d never done before.  And sometimes, when you approach things in a new way, it helps you write things in a whole new way.

I’d recommend this to newbies and advanced pre-published picture book writers. In fact, I’ve been recommending picture book writer friends to give this class to themselves as a gift. It makes a great birthday present or Christmas present for a writer. It’s far cheaper  than graduate school and it comes right to your inbox. Even better.

I was able to write a picture book in this class that has a lot of promise.

Lyrical Language Lab with Renee LaTulippe 

I’ve never really written picture books in rhyme. I do enjoy writing poetry, but I was struggling with really understanding the ins and outs of rhyme. This online class was a gift. I learned a LOT about poetry and Renee is a girl after my own heart. She made these reference charts that made so much sense to my brain. Plus her feedback was so fabulous and detailed. Lyrical writing is a strength of my prose, but this helped me make it even better.

If you want to challenge yourself to dip your toes into the world of rhyme, or if you just want to use language more effectively,  then go for this class.

I was able to write a picture book in this class that is totally in rhyme. I also composed several poems as exercises. The best part? I now have the tools to continue this on my own.

WOW Retreat

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to go to the WOW retreat—time wise, money wise, kid-care wise. But somehow, it all came together, like it was supposed to happen. Why was I glad I went? 1) I love small conferences where you actually get to know the attendees and make connections with them 2) I got to chat with agents and editors casually and formally 3) I learned a ton at this conference. Each session was packed full of good information, 4) I got my agent as a result of this conference—need I say more?

Books that Impacted Me


Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less 

by Greg McKeown

I’ve been too busy. Busier than I’m comfortable with. I think some of it has paid off but I see a need to give myself some more margin in my life and start pursuing where I really want to be in a few years. This book makes it clear that some of the most successful people in life are not the people who say yes to everything. They are the people who cut their lives down to the most important things. I listened to this on audiobook on one of my many solo trips this summer. It’s not just for writers. In fact, it’s probably intended for those in business, but it has great implications for writers. This is a book I will return to again and again because I’ll need to be reminded of what I need to keep in my life and what I need to shed.

wild things

Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature

by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter Sieruta

I have an MA and MFA in children’s literature, and one of the books I wished I’d had during those years was the new book by blogger-extraordinaires, Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and the late Peter Sieruta. I had to take History and Criticism during graduate school, but this book is like history and crit with a bit of scandal mixed in. It’s fun, it’s serious, and these authors know their stuff. If you are a kidlit aficionado, then you need to get this book.

What about You?

What classes or books have impacted you recently? Maybe I will add them to my learning for 2015.

The Halfway Mark of 2014: Are You Where You Want to Be?

Halfway There

It’s the end of June. We are officially halfway through 2014. The question is, are you pleased with where you are as a writer this year? Are you working toward your goals? Are you making time to write? If so, keep going and planning out the rest of your year. If not, it’s not too late. Time to get working.


It’s the end of the month, so I always plan my next month’s focus. Here is the template I use for that task. For me, July is going to be busy with me working and writing. But I still have several writing tasks needing to be accomplished.

We have finished two quarters of the year. Each quarter, I look at my goals again. If you want to plan out your next three months, here is a template that I use.

At the beginning of the year, I created a book where I could write down my accomplishments–big and small. If I get an encouraging rejection letter or a request to revise and rewrite, it goes in the book. Read more about my book here.

Book of Stars

I’m sorry my posts have been missing lately. I was working on a big project with a very tight deadline.

How about you? What are you proud of accomplishing so far this year? What do you want to do in the remainder of 2014?

Reminder: April Focus and 2nd Quarter Goals

Three months in 2014 are already gone. Tomorrow we start the second quarter of the year. For me as a writer, that means it’s time to start a new set of goals. It’s also time to set up my monthly focus for April. If you are doing this in 2014, this is your reminder.

If you’d like to know more about it, here are the links:

Quarterly Goals

Monthly Focus

First Quarter Report

I have not accomplished everything on my list. However, I think breaking down the quarterly goals into focuses for the month have really helped me. I think I underestimated how long book revisions would take me. I also underestimated how much time classes would take me. But I think it’s always better to aim high. So aiming high is what I’m continuing to do. I think it’s totally fine to carryover goals to the next quarter or to do list items to the next month.

One thing that I’ve really like is having my focus for the month posted behind my computer. I can see it everyday. I keep telling myself that these are the items that are most important.

How about you? How are you moving along on your 2014 goals so far?

Making Time to Write: A Writing Marathon

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be posting on Writing Wednesdays about setting up a Writing Marathon for students. During the month of February, I did this at my school with fourth and fifth graders.

The goal was to write for 30 minutes a day for 26 out of 28 days in the month of February. We opened up the library before school every morning for students to write. I’ll write about all of the details on Wednesdays, but I wanted to share how this helped me as a writer.

I did the marathon with my students. I wrote when they wrote. Here is what I learned from the Writing Marathon.

1) The collective can be helpful.

I do find writing energy in a room filled with people tapping at the keyboard. When the room was quiet, and we were all working, I got a lot of writing done. I’ve also done this with my critique group at various venues. We’ve scheduled times to write together from a couple of hours to an entire weekend. In all of these situations, I’ve been able to get focused and get a lot of writing done. Not everyone can work that way, but for me, it does work.

2) Have a plan.

I made a goal for myself before the Writing Marathon. I knew I couldn’t just go in and sit at the keyboard with no plan. I work better with a plan. I had a project in mind. It was a project that was school-related and writing-related, so the Writing Marathon seemed like the perfect venue for working on it. I outlined it and jotted down notes to myself before it ever began. When I got stuck, I just moved on to the next piece that sounded interesting to me.

3) Keep track of your progress.

I created a tracking sheet for the students, and I used it myself. Every day, I logged my time and my word count. While this seems a bit tedious, it actually helped me.  I made a goal of 250 words a day. I thought there was no way I’d have time to do more than that. I figured students would need more help and I’d end up doing my 250 words at home. However, I was pleasantly surprised. By keeping track of my daily word count, I was able to watch the words stack up. I exceeded my goal every day but two days. I projected that I’d do 6.500 words for the month. I ended up with 14, 454 words. If I hadn’t been keeping track, I probably wouldn’t know how I did.

My tracking sheet for February

My tracking sheet for February

With revising projects, I don’t find it helpful to keep track of words because there are some days I end up with less than I started with. However, when revising, I like to keep track of tasks completed. But keeping track of word counts is extremely helpful when trying to move forward on a new project that just needs to get down on the page.

4) You can accomplish a LOT in a little bit of time.

I hear people tell me all of the time that they don’t have time to write. I’ve been writing an hour a day, before I go to work, for a couple of years now. I’ve been amazed at how much progress I have made. What shocked me is how much I was able to accomplish in 30 minutes a day. With the internet turned off and eyes watching to see if I’m writing, then I was able to get a ton of writing done.

One month, 30 minutes a day. Try it. You’ll be surprised at how much you can actually do.

Focus on March

In 2014, I vowed to be more focused in my work. I wrote about quarterly goals and monthly focus. Now that the month of February is almost over, it’s time to start looking at March. I’ll admit, I overshot what I thought I could get done in February. But I’m still proud of all that I accomplished.

If you are working on a monthly focus each month, time to start writing down what you are planning to do in March. If you haven’t been doing it yet, it’s not too late.

Template for Monthly Focus (Click on the image to download)

Template for Monthly Focus (Click on the image to download)

Monthly Focus Reminder

Template for Monthly Focus (Click on the image to download)

Template for Monthly Focus (Click on the image to download)

January is officially over. The newness of the year is worn off and the exhaustion of getting things done is setting in. How did you do in January?

I accomplished almost everything on my focus chart for January. I have one thing not finished, but I have started on it. I planned for this thing to take a couple of months, so I’m good. I tried to look at my focus chart before starting any additional tasks. I definitely think having it right in front of me each day was helpful.

With January almost over, it’s time to start looking at your February focus. What needs to be rolled over from January, and what do you want to accomplish in February?

For me, I have a couple of nonfiction writing projects–both very different–that I want to work on.

Quarterly Goals and Monthly Focus

In case you missed it, here are the original posts on Quarterly Goals and Monthly Focus that I’m implementing in 2014.