Learning New Tricks: Keeping Sources Organized
By Peggy Thomas
I am a file by the pile person. I keep my research in a big tote, and never can decide how to organize the material because I never know exactly how I’m going to use it. But over the years I've learned several ways to keep my reference citations, especially for quoted material, accurate and accessible.
Going old-school has kept me organized for many years, but I am always eager to learn a better system. Thanks to Pat Miller, fellow NF Chick and creator of the NF Fest, I now use OneNote, which came with Windows 10 and Microsoft Office. It’s a computer program that lets you gather info from all types of media. The ones I am supremely giddy about are video and audio files.
For my new biography, I’ve been viewing dozens of documentaries, TV news clips, old radio interviews, and promotional videos. Much of it has not been transcribed, and it’s annoying trying to type and listen to a video or audio tape. I, for one, have a crappy memory and I can’t type fast enough. By saving the clips on OneNote I have all my quotes in one place regardless of the medium, and I can transcribe them at my leisure.
What is brilliant, is OneNote is also on my phone. I can be in a museum or archive, snap a photo of an exhibit, record my thoughts, and add them to OneNote. All my info will be waiting for me when I get back to my office.
OneNote is organized with files, and pages within the files. To add new info, open a page and click on Insert and then choose image, video, audio, screen shot, etc. OneNote automatically adds the link (also brilliant!). Here are a few examples: a passage cut and pasted from a website; a magazine article from a digital archive; an audio file; and video file.
What are your favorite ways to stay organized?
by Susie Kralovansky
When I’m stuck on a word, line, phrase, or rhyme to improve my writing, my first instinct is push onward until I’m totally frustrated. This pressure totally eliminates my usual “I love my job!” vibe. To get back to my happy place, I force myself to loosen up by taking a walk, or a nap. And magically, as I relax, those elusive words pop into my head.
Wondering what other writers do when the words have stopped flowing, I’ve queried my very best ninja author buddies for their solutions to getting stuck. Here are their suggestions:
Pat Miller’s strategy for dealing with the danger of being stalled is a digital tomato timer. It goes off every 20 minutes for a mandatory 5 minutes away-from-the-desk activity. The mini deadlines keep her focused and the breaks give fresh eyes.
Peggy Thomas switches projects. Having more than one manuscript going at a time allows her to shift gears. While she's actively working on another story, she knows her subconscious is busy thinking about the first problem. She also agrees that a nap helps.
Nancy Churnin and Michelle Medlock Adam’s favor music – Nancy likes songs that tell a story, and Michelle is a Sinatra fan. Also, hot cocoa and fresh popped popcorn are big hits.
Stephanie Bearce loves sewing and making up her own patterns. "If I don’t have some sort of craft or creative element in my life - I have a much harder time writing."
Wendy Lanier prefers making lists and brainstorming with her husband when they’re eating out or running errands.
Linda Skeers plays Tetris. “I'm doing something with my hands and one part of my brain, but the other part can wander and work on plot points, phrasing, new ideas, etc. It's my go-to for relaxing and pondering. That and taking a shower. I get my best ideas in the shower!”
Christine Liu Perkins digs deeper into research. “I've made some terrific serendipitous finds this way.”
So, the next time you’re stuck, frustrated, or pounding on those computer keys, the ninja consensus - finding what relaxes you is the key to creativity. Whether it’s listening to music, crafting, taking a walk, a talk, a break, a nap, or a shower: find your happy place and the words will flow.
What techniques work for you? Please share in the comments.
originally appeared 12/18/2018
When I started writing for children, I wrote pretty good first drafts. But when critiques came in, I didn’t know how to address the issues they raised. I could make minor tweaks in wording and add or drop sentences here and there. But I couldn’t figure out how to rework what I had written, how to see it differently, how to imagine something new.
One strategy that helps me get beyond seeing only a single way to write a chapter, article, or story is to brainstorm multiple openings. For thirty minutes or so, I push myself to keep writing until I’ve created five or six different beginnings.
Writing multiple openings lets me experiment with the tone, focus, structure, etc. It eliminates the pressure of "getting it right" the first time. Also, this process usually clarifies which opening is most promising: the one that makes me want to keep writing—and hopefully, makes the reader want to keep reading.
The first chapter in one of my works-in-progress describes the early life of the First Emperor of China (the one often known for his army of terracotta warriors). How could I start the chapter in a way that would draw readers in? Here are several openings I drafted:
Question: which opening do you think works best?
One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever received came from author Candace Fleming. This advice transformed my picture book process and made my writing much stronger. What was it? Look at your book as a series of scenes.
When I’ve discussed this light-bulb moment with illustrator friends, they look perplexed. They naturally see their stories as a series of scenes—perfectly illustrated in full color, of course—and assume everyone else does too. Sadly, my author brain doesn’t work that way.
So what is a scene? Most of us are familiar with the idea of a movie scene, or a scene in a play. But if you’re not an illustrator, you may have never considered scenes in a picture book. Here are a few basics.
To determine if your scenes need work, try paginating your manuscript or making a dummy. This will help you more clearly assess them. If you have trouble figuring out where to add page breaks, your scenes may need work. Another trick is to make a list of the scenes in your story. Summarize each with a sentence. Can you boil your story down to 12-14 sentences?
Once you get the hang of seeing in scenes, you’ll look at your picture book in a whole new light. Give it a try!
Lisa Amstutz is the author of 100+ children’s books. For more about her books, mentorships, and critique services, see www.LisaAmstutz.com.
originally posted 4/3/2019
Fiction writers can keep readers on the edge of their seats and flipping pages by creating exciting and compelling page turns. They do this by making sure there’s drama and tension and suspense throughout the manuscript.
But how do nonfiction writers do that when they are dealing in facts and information? The same way – by borrowing a few fiction techniques!
1. Ask a question
Readers are curious little beings and if you pose a thoughtful question that intrigues them, they’ll keep reading to discover the answer. Tease and tantalize them into wanting to know more and they’ll be hooked! Don’t rehash what they probably already know about your topic – dig deep for a tidbit that will surprise and amaze them. And then keep doling them out!
2. And then what?
Think about page turns and use them wisely. Mention a problem or obstacle and make readers wonder IF it can be resolved. Raise the stakes. Hint at what could happen if the problem isn’t resolved.
3. Make it fun
Use descriptive and lyrical language whether you are talking about rocks or rabbits. Sprinkle in action verbs and sensory details – make each scene come alive for the reader. Try to create compelling scenes that draw a reader in and keep them interested. Great nonfiction should be as exciting and interesting as fast-paced fiction! Avoid passive language and bland verbs. Reading it aloud can help you “hear” where you can punch up the language.
4. Use the element of surprise!
Forget the nonfiction from your youth – it’s a bright new day! Steer clear of dry, textbook explanations and find a unique way to present your information and your readers will be hooked. What about a unique narrator? Or unusual format? Fun sidebars? Activities? Humor? Look at your topic sideways and upside down – find a new angle or perspective that hasn’t been done before. Be adventurous! Be daring!
5. Kindred spirits
Remember what it was about your topic that first caught YOUR attention. That passion (and sometimes obsession) will shine through your manuscript and will spark the same desire for knowledge and need to know more about your subject in your reader. Enthusiasm is catching!
originally posted 12/4/2018
Writing nonfiction requires the skills of a ninja.
You must be great at tracking your quarry, skilled at telling a story, and able to slice and dice words at a moments notice.
Today I am going to equip you with one of the Nonfiction Ninja’s best secret weapons – Primary Sources.
Primary sources are documents or artifacts closest to the topic of investigation and were often created during the period you are writing about. Diaries, newspapers, government documents, letters, memoirs, and oral histories are all examples of primary sources.
These days the life of a Nonfiction Ninja is a little easier because there are some amazing websites that bring the primary sources right to your Ninja Lair. You can sift through facts and files with out ever breaking a Ninja sweat.
Here are some of the best websites for primary sources dealing with American History:
100 Milestone Documents
Includes documents that chronicle United States history from 1776 to 1965.
Eyewitness accounts of North American exploration, from Vikings in Canada in 1000 AD to the diaries of mountain men in the Rockies 800 years later.
Documents related to historical and current U.S. presidencies, such as speeches, official papers, and executive orders.
American Life Histories
Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940.
Full text of North American periodicals from 1740 through the 19th century.
Search and read historic newspapers published from 1690 to the present.
Scanned and redacted – images of FBI files of famous individuals and groups.
New York Public Library
30,000 images of New York City, costume, design, U.S. history, etc. from books, magazines and newspapers, as well as original photographs, prints and postcards, mostly created before 1923.
Advertisements, forms, programs, catalogs and time tables that capture the everyday activities of ordinary people.
Primary documents and personal narratives, 1960–1974
World Digital Library
Collection of print and visual resources
Originally posted 10-27-18
The writing community is the most generous bunch of people on the planet. In the last three weeks they have made available teacher's guides, virtual author visits, story time videos, activities, and more. And so have my fellow Nonfiction Ninjas.
Here is just a sampling of the educational materials you can find for our nonfiction books. We invited you to dive in and explore the real world with us. Stay Safe!!
Amazing Amphibians by Lisa Amstutz
Spring is the perfect time to explore frogs and toads with Amazing Amphibians which has 30 fun activities.
Applesauce Day by Lisa Amstutz
An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
A is for Apples
Find more at Lisaamstutz.com
10 Learning Activities for At Home in her Tomb by Christine Liu Perkins
For more information go to christineliuperkins.com
Activities for Dinosaur Devotions
Listen to the author read I Will Not Be Afraid
For books and videos visit michellemedlockadams.com
Learn how author / illustrator Susan Kralovansky created her newest book How Fire Ants Got Their Fire
And more at susankralovansky.com
Teacher's Guides for the picture book biographies by Nancy Churnin
And more at www.nancychurnin.com
activities, reader's theater, and teacher's guides for the books of Peggy Thomas
More at www.peggythomaswrites.com
Like most Americans, I am hanging out at home to avoid spreading the coronavirus. But I don’t think it’s fair that everyone else is out of their office, and I am still stuck in mine. The problem is that I have all the time in the world to write, but I’m doing everything BUT writing.
After speaking to many writer friends, it appears that I am not the only one. Maybe it’s having the kids home, or having your spouse home, or maybe there is just too much home home. Whatever it is, here are a few things you can do to keep your writing career moving forward during this difficult time.
1. Practice your online skills. There are tutorials about how to share screens, set up lighting, etc. but you can also practice with a virtual family dinner, or virtual critique group.
2. Tidy your computer files. I don’t know about you, but my computer likes to hide drafts in odd places. Occasionally I have to ferret them out and put them where they belong. There are probably documents you can delete, too.
3. File papers. (Yes, I still use paper. And it tends to grow like mold on my desk, side table, shelves, floor….)
4. Create your own mentor text reference list with the books you have on your shelves.
5. Spruce up your website. Update your info, add more content.
6. Connect with other writers – Starting this Thursday - KidLit Distance Social, or on NF Fest Facebook page.
7. Type out a picture book to learn about its structure and story arc.
8. Attend a webinar or virtual conference – SCBWI Regional Webinars
9. Check out a fun activity from the NF Fest chart.
10. WRITE! Pat Miller, author of The Hole Story of the Doughnut, challenged me to write for 10 minutes every day. It may sound insignificant, but it gets your butt in the chair and creates the habit. So, I pass on that challenge – write for 10 minutes every day and tell us about it.
Stay Safe, Stay Healthy, Stay Writing!
Weeks later, we were acting out the choruses of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt when it struck me. I could write an orientation book called We’re Going on a Book Hunt! The structure of the classic rhyme was a ready framework for my own bouncy tale about a class of bears who learn to use the library, complete with original choruses.
Tweak the tried-and-true to make them your own. Library shelves are home to a plethora of piggy-backed productions--Little Red Cowboy Hat and The Wolf Who Cried Boy are two more.
2. Get Emotional
My two-year-old granddaughter wanted to help make a shopping list. As I said peanut butter, eggs, bread, she made a squiggle for each. When I added tiger toes, monkey milk, and boo-boo fruit, she calmly added each to the list. Her bit-lip intensity and self-confidence charmed me. That emotional *ping* signaled to me that this incident was worth writing down.
Negative emotions *ping* as well. Recently, we received a fancy invitation to the anniversary party of a couple I didn’t know. But my husband said he was a great guy, new to their golf group. So we went. We gave them a gift, signed their bridal book, and shared a lovely dinner with a table of strangers. When we finally asked someone to point out the special couple, we realized that neither of us knew them! How did we get invited?! As we slipped out undetected, I was confused and embarrassed. *Ping!* I added the incident to my idea notebook.
Build a stockpile of emotional *pings* in your idea file. Cull them from real life and from your memories. An emotional connection helps kids identify with your character. But it can be difficult to generate while pressured by a blinking cursor. Stored episodes of affection, anger, admiration, embarrassment, etc. can be the yeasty starter for developing similar emotions in your work.
With everything that’s going on in the world right now – coronavirus, school closings, library closings, social distancing, conferences and workshops cancelled… it’s hard to focus on writing. Here are some quotes to make you smile, laugh, ponder and encourage you as you forge ahead on your writing journey.
One of the signs of Napoleon’s greatness is the fact that he once had a publisher shot. ~Siegfried Unseld
You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. ~Jack London
The best kind of writing, and the biggest thrill in writing, is to suddenly read a line from your typewriter that you didn’t know was in you. ~Larry King
The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon. ~Robert Cormier
A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove… but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child. ~Simone Weil
There are days when the result is so bad that no fewer than 5 revisions are required. In contrast, when I’m greatly inspired, only 4 revisions are needed. ~J.K. Galbraith
Anyone who says he wants to be a writer and isn’t writing, doesn’t. ~Hemingway
So, you want to be a writer? Ok. Be one. ~Ed Wood
You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try. ~Beverly Sills
I am a great believer in luck, and I find that the harder I work, the more I have of it. ~Thomas Jefferson
An editor is a person who knows precisely what he wants but isn’t quite sure. ~Walter Davenport
You can’t be that kid at the top of the water slide overthinking it. You have to just go down the chute… You have to let people see what you wrote… Perfect is overrated. Perfect is boring. ~Tina Fey
What’s the thing that’s not in the world that should be in the world? ~Lin-Manuel Miranda
No one else knows what they are doing either. ~Ricky Gervais
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. ~Helen Keller
DAILY MANTRA: Today I will write on the edge of my ability.
We are nonfiction authors who support readers and writers through our writing, author visits, and workshops.
The Nonfiction Ninjas are a group of writers with diverse ideas and a strong belief in The First Amendment. The views expressed in each post are those of the author and may differ from others in the group.