Lately the Ninjas have been discussing middle grade nonfiction, specifically word count. How long is the typical book? It depends on what you call typical. Is it trade nonfiction, or a title in an educational series? To start with, the middle grade reader is considered 8 – 12 years old, or in 3-6 grade.
To blog or not to blog, that is the question.
For many of us, our time to write is so limited or constricted, it seems crazy to take on one more writing obligation. And yet, in addition to the Nonfiction Ninjas blog, where I share a nugget of hard-earned writerly wisdom once every three months, I started a blog, THE KIDS ARE ALL WRITE, on my website nancychurnin.com.
And I made it weekly.
My motivation at the start was to give back to the writing community. When my books came out, writers, educators, book-loving folks with blogs hosted me – reviewing my books or doing interviews that gave me an opportunity to talk about my writing journey – what inspires me, what challenges me, what my hopes for my books are.
This would be my chance to do the same for other writers.
That’s a good enough reason to host a blog. But in doing it, I found an unexpected reward. I got to ask other writers all the things I wanted to know about what inspired them, what challenged them, what their hopes for their books are.
We talk about craft, about what we include and leave out of the narrative, about the surprises and the discoveries. In short, not only have I made marvelous friends through these interviews, they’ve become weekly dives into craft and motivation sessions that remind me why I love living in a world of words.
So yes, since time is finite, the hours I spend on the blog take away the time I have to write and promote my books. But there are wrinkles in time and tesseracts and the time I spend shining a light on others and learning from them deepens my work, makes it better and makes me better.
So, do you have the time to start a blog? Maybe the better question is whether you can come up with a better way of learning, growing and giving back.
My favorite book on writing nonfiction is Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction—and Get It Published by Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato. One key concept they discuss in Chapter 2 is the importance of having a question that drives the book: "Every work of serious nonfiction begins with a question the author has about the topic and ends with an answer the author wants to provide." (p. 77) That question determines how interested editors and readers will be in the book.
I find that asking an overall question also focuses my writing. Knowing what question I'm trying to answer helps me decide how to structure the book and helps in making those many decisions about what to keep and what to leave out. For At Home in Her Tomb, my question was, What do the tombs and their artifacts tell us about life in ancient China?
Sometimes authors reveal in interviews, Author's Notes, or blogposts what question(s) inspired them to create their books. Here are a few examples:
To identify the question driving your own project, Rabiner and Fortunato recommend recalling what originally captured your interest in the subject "and why you find it compelling enough to write a book to answer it . . ." (p. 78).
What's the question driving your work-in-progress? Defining that question will help you research, write, and market your book.
As writers, we spend so much time agonizing over our words that we tend to get attached to them. It’s hard to look at them critically when it comes time to revise. Here are some tips to help you edit your own fiction or nonfiction picture book in three simple—though not necessarily easy!—steps.
Step 1: The Big Picture
Before you worry about the nitty-gritty, make sure your story works at the “big picture” level. Ask yourself the following questions about your story.
Step 2: Scene by Scene
Now let’s zoom in a little closer. Start by breaking your story into spreads. You can do this by making a dummy or by simply leaving an extra space between spreads in your manuscript. You’ll need 12–14 spreads for a traditional 32-page manuscript.
Step 3: Polish Your Prose
Now that you’ve looked at the big picture and the scene by scene view, it’s time to zoom in even closer and scrutinize each sentence.
Lisa Amstutz is the author of more than 100 books for kids and many magazine articles. She also offers critique and mentoring services for writers. See www.LisaAmstutz.com for more information.
We are ten authors who support readers and writers through our writing, author visits, and workshops.
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.
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