Research Site and Instagram

Research Site

I have a number of nonfiction writing projects going on right now. I found myself trying to organize the sites I go to often in the research process. For most projects, I often start with Google and Amazon to find out what books are already out there, but there were places that I went to consistently no matter the project.

For about a year, I’ve been using a private Google Site to curate these links and use them myself. However, I thought it might be helpful to put it out there into the world so others could use it as well.

Link to Research Site

If you have suggestions or favorite sites you think need to be included, comment below or email me with suggestions. It’s a work-in-progress.


I’ve been on Instagram for awhile, but I’ve never been very active on it. I got inspired last weekend to post a little more often. I’ve decided my Instagram (for now) is all about showing daily ins and outs of a writer’s life. Feel free to follow me over at my Instagram page.

Writing Hacker Tip #2: Double Duty Reading

I love doing things efficiently, and I’m always looking for new ways to do more work in less time or at least do double duty with one task. I’m sharing some of my crazy writing hacker tips, and I hope you will share some with me too.

Double Duty Reading (a.k.a. Killing Two Birds With One Stone)

One of the things I love about being a children’s writer is that it’s required to read children’s books. Same goes for being an elementary school teacher. And a parent. I’m lucky enough to be all three. So it’s no wonder I pretty much ONLY read children’s books. An occasional adult novel will sneak it, but it has to come highly recommended.

Last week I talked about market research and reading professional magazines and how I keep up with that. But there is another side to market research—knowing the market and what’s being published.

Our latest library stack

Our latest library stack

So, I try to expose my kids at home and my students at school to the latest and greatest children’s books. I try to read books so I can recommend them to my students. But all of this day job work and parenting work is also doing something else—feeding my writing work.

Have no time for market research? Read the books to your kids that you want to study yourself. Lately, my son’s bedtime stories have been interesting point of view picture books and concrete poetry picture books. He’s pretty happy and I’m learning something about craft.


Writing Hacker Tip #1: Researching the Market

I’m a big fan of learning tips for making jobs easier. I like reading through cool tips on LifeHacker or this packing post by Michael Hyatt. I’m a “behind the scenes” junkie. I want to know what works for people and why. While I may not do things exactly the same way, I often find that I learn something I can use. So I’m going to share a few of my own writing hacker tips, and I hope  you’ll share some with me.

Researching the Market

I love getting magazines about writing. I subscribe to many newsletter and magazines. The problem is: when to catch up on reading them and mine them for their great information?

I’m busy with my full-time job, kids, and actually writing. When do I have time to read craft magazines?

Take Your Research on the Road

I’m really not a Thirty-One consultant, but I find this product works well for me. I also have seen metal and plastic products similar to this at Staples (or any other office supply store).


Research on the go

Research on the go

As I get newsletters and magazines, I print them (if I get them digitally) or put my latest copies in this mobile file organizer. It fits in my car or in my trunk. It hasn’t turned over—yet. If I have a few minutes before yoga class starts, or I’m waiting for a kid to get out of practice or activities, I read an article or two. If it’s something I want to keep, I mark it or write in the margins. I tear it out of the magazine and stick it in a file folder in the organizer.

I find it helpful if my notes to myself give me a *hint* as to why I marked it. Sometimes it’s several weeks before I process them (more on this in a minute). For example, I read about a publisher that I thought would be perfect for my friend, Bekah. So I wrote in the margin: “Bekah.” When I went through the file, I knew I needed to e-mail Bekah about the publisher. If it’s an editor or agent that mentions something about a particular topic they want to see, I write the title of my pertinent manuscript in the margin, so I can submit it after doing some more research. It saves me from staring at it and looking at it wondering why I saved it.

I’m also not too worried if I rip apart my magazines. I’ve always torn out what I wanted to keep and recycled the rest. If you like to keep your magazines together, then you can use sticky notes for this part.


Processing the Notes

Every few weeks, or once a month, I take the folder of “keepers” out of my car. Then I go through each one. Often, it’s a magazine, publisher, or an agent I want to research. Sometimes it’s a contest I want to enter. I take the time to go through each one and put it on a to-do list, write a deadline on the calendar, enter publisher or agent information on a spreadsheet, or send an e-mail to a friend.

Each task takes a short amount of time. I spend my big chunks of time writing. I spend the little chunks of time working on things like researching the market.


How do YOU fit in market research? Do you have  cool tip about your process? Leave me a comment. I love “behind the scenes” information.

Artist’s Date: Research Trip

I went on a hunt for a tree. With my kids.

BRP kids

My daughter brought a sketchbook and a field guide to trees. My son brought four plastic screwdrivers.

BRP Mushrooms


My WIP has a Hawthorn tree that’s important in the story, and a friend brought me a Hawthorn branch last winter. But I really wanted some leaves because the leaves are also important in the story. So are these mushrooms.

We hiked on a few different trails on the hunt for the Hawthorn tree, even looked for some park rangers, but we didn’t find either one.

BRP rock


But we did spot some really interesting things on our walks, even if they weren’t what we were looking for.

Mentor Text Lesson: NOAH WEBSTER & HIS WORDS by Jeri Chase Ferris, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch

noah webster book cover


Jeri Chase Ferris recently won the 2013 SCBWI Golden Kite Award for non-fiction for her picture book biography, NOAH WEBSTER & HIS WORDS. This book is illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch.

This mentor text lesson plan for writing will assist teachers with teaching the following writing skills:

  • Specific vocabulary
  • Good word choice
  • Research
  • Writing poetry
  • Show, Don’t Tell

Mentor Text Lesson Plan for NOAH WEBSTER & HIS WORDS


Want to find other mentor text lesson plans? See the mentor text lesson page. 


Making Time to Write Monday: A Virtual Research Trip

Last week I shared a few pictures from my research trip to Emerald Isle, NC. I spent several days there gathering a few details for my young adult novel.

At the exact same time, my parents were visiting Bangkok, Thailand. They live in Thailand, but were visiting Bangkok for some vacation time. My young adult novel is set in Bangkok, a place I’ve never lived, but have been to many, many times. It’s a place that’s seared into my memory. However, I still did research while writing.

I had just a few things I needed pictures of, and I had a few questions I needed answered. I sent my questions and my request for pictures to my parents. They took dozens of pictures for me. And they even tried out a few things my protagonist did in the book.

While I’d love to go back to Thailand at some point (the last time I was there was 2007), I knew it wasn’t on the horizon for the next couple of years. So having my parents do a little bit of the research for me was a huge blessing.

Fried Bananas on the streets of BangkokCopyright 2012 Mike Flinchum

Fried Bananas on the streets of Bangkok
Copyright 2012 Mike Flinchum


Holiday Inn PoolCopyright 2012 Mike Flinchum

Holiday Inn Pool
Copyright 2012 Mike Flinchum


Lumpini Park, BangkokCopyright 2012, Mike Flinchum

Lumpini Park, Bangkok
Copyright 2012, Mike Flinchum

All of these places are important in my novel, but I can’t reveal how–yet. You can get photos on the web, but there is nothing like personal photos of exactly what you need. Thanks, Mom and Dad!


Making Time to Write Monday: Research Trip

The protagonist in my young adult novel is from Emerald Isle, North Carolina though very little of the book actually takes place there. I’ve been working on this book for awhile (gulp, years). I’ve tried on a few occasions to make a research trip to Emerald Isle. I did a lot of research online before I went and while I was writing the book, but there are some things that can’t be captured via Internet.

Like this foam from the ocean that looked like snow….

2009-07-06 01.30.30

Emerald Isle Beach
Copyright 2012, Marcie Flinchum Atkins


Like this bike trail that I’m sure my protagonist would run on…

Emerald Isle Bike Trail, Copyright 2012 Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Emerald Isle Bike Trail,
Copyright 2012 Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Or the way a cold sunset feels…

Emerald Isle Sunset, Copyright 2012 Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Emerald Isle Sunset,
Copyright 2012 Marcie Flinchum Atkins

I spent all of high school living at a beach–in the tropics in Southeast Asia, but it’s a very different experience being at a North Carolina beach in December. While I’m sorry that I waited so long to take this trip, I knew what types of details I needed to revise since I was so far into the book. I didn’t write very much while I was there, but I walked several miles a day, took hundreds of pictures, and soaked up as many sensory details as I could. And I can’t wait to go back in a warmer season.

And I’ll tell you a little secret:

The first person I met in Emerald Isle had the same name as my protagonist’s mother in my book.

And I wrote that character into the book a couple of years before I ever set foot on Emerald Isle. How’s that for serendipity?

Making Time to Write Monday: If You Only Have 15 Minutes

I am a teacher by day. It just hit me this week that I think teaching has forced me to master efficiency. On any given day, I typically have between 0 minutes-60 minutes of planning time. The average is 30-50 minutes. However, there are many days that I’m lucky if I have a solid 15 minutes of time to really get things done. Having to do this day in and day out and still accomplish something has made me race against the clock. I often find myself thinking to myself: I have 12 minutes until I have to pick up the kids, what can I do? I always have little piles of things separated into tasks.

Because of that mindset, I find that I do the same thing with my writing and writing-related tasks. I try to spend some time (usually on the weekend) reorganizing the paper clutter on my desk. I separate my personal life (mail, bills, kids’ stuff) from my writing life, and I separate my writing tasks into piles.

Here are some of the writing tasks that I can do in 15 minutes. I realize yours might not look like mine. However, think about what you current work-in-progress looks like. What are some of the things that you need to do that are writing-related?


* Research something for my WIP. Setting the clock for 15 minutes helps to keep me from wasting a lot of time on the Internet. But there are times (many times) when you do need to do research for your book or fact check. I make a list of these fact-checking things and do them all at once or a few at a time.

* Brainstorm ideas for your next project. For the last two years, I’ve participated in PiBoIdMo, the picture book writer’s solution to NaNoWriMo. Every day in November I work on brainstorming an idea for a picture book. I never spend more than 15 minutes on this. This is NOT writing the draft, just brainstorming the idea.

* Write a poem. I know, I know. I mentioned this in my last week’s post about what you can do in 30 minutes. But truthfully, you can write a draft of a poem in 15 minutes. I do it all the time. It’s a draft. It’s rough. But I can go back and revise and revise again (in other 15 minute spurts). My current WIP is a novel in verse, so I am finding it is possible to break it up into smaller chunks.

* Revise a poem. (See above)

* Shrink your manuscript. Darcy Pattison recommends doing an revision technique called “The Shrunken Manuscript.” In 15 minutes you can’t revise your whole novel. But, you can reformat your manuscript into a shrunken manuscript  and print it out for a day when you have a longer period of time to actually revise and make notes.

* Color-code/Highlight your picture book manuscript. Ann Whitford Paul’s book Writing Picture Books, gives great advice for analyzing the elements of your picture book using colored highlighters. She calls it “Color Testing the Dummy.” The “dummy” refers to the mock-up book you make of your picture book manuscript where you test out pagination and other key elements. You can “color test the dummy” in 15 minutes.

* Complete a “Creep Emergency Antidote.” Heather Sellers refers to these in her book Chapter After Chapter.

When you get discouraged, it’s easy to step away from your book and let doubt set in. She says you must “tether yourself to the book everyday.” When you feel those doubts creep up, pull up one of your “creep emergency antidotes.” These are writing tasks related to the novel at hand that you write up ahead of time on index cards. It’s something simple that you can do in a 15 minute stretch that keeps you with your book. I have mine handwritten on index cards in an old envelope box. This has been especially useful to me during really busy times in my life when I know I will only have 15 minutes a day to work on my book. When I know life is going to be busy, I create twenty or thirty cards with tasks written out related to my book. Then each time I feel that sinking feeling that I don’t have time to work on my book, I pull one out.


My Creep Emergency Antidotes Box


* Write to a writing prompt. Are you stuck in your writing? I have a few great places to get you unstuck:

1) Miss Rumphius Effect’s Monday Poetry Stretch—She gives a brief explanation of a type of poem each Monday and challenges her readers to write a poem.

2) Teachers Write Prompts on Kate Messner’s site. This summer Kate Messner and several other children’s and young adult writers hosted Teachers Write. They posted writing prompts, revision ideas, and more. You don’t have to be a teacher to find it useful.

3) WFMAD—Write Fifteen Minutes a Day. Laurie Halse Anderson hosts WFMAD on her blog every August. Every day she posts a prompt that can be completed in 15 minutes. I know it’s not August, but the prompts are still available for you to peruse.

When I e-mail my critique group and whine about how I only got one or two poems written in that day and how much more I have to go, they always pick me up and dust me off through cyberspace. They keep reminding me about that story in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Her brother had a project to complete for school on birds. He had no idea how he was going to get it done. Their father said they would take it “bird by bird.”

So everyday, even if I only have 15 minutes, I tackle my writing work “bird by bird.”