On Being A Writer


Writing is my passion, and if you share it, then I think you are truly blessed! Here are some thoughts I have about being a writer:

  1. Noted children’s author Jane Yolen has a slogan for writers: BIC. It stands for “butt in chair”, and it helps to remind me that I need to write in order to be a writer. Even when white paper stares me in the face, I must start somewhere, with a word, a phrase, a sentence. Pretty quickly the words add up. But unless I’m writing, nothing gets written.
  2. Persistence is the most important quality in a writer. It may even be more important than native talent. Some very talented people have never been published. Why? Because after a few fits and starts their writing languishes in a drawer. I’ve never had an editor come knocking on my door, asking to see my latest work. I have to be persistent, learn the craft, and send my work out.
  3. I never assume that my first draft is gold. I rewrite everything. I take my work to my critique partners. I write, then let the work sit. Sometimes, I actually throw things out. Well, I don’t throw them out…I file them away. They are, after all, my children, and I love them even when they’re really ugly.
    critique group 06
    Me with Kathy Whitehead (on the left) and Shirley Hoskins (right), my critique partners for the first ten years I wrote for children. We met weekly, and I credit these ladies with all my early success. I now have a wonderful new group of writers in Montana, and we meet twice a month. A critique group is a crucial aid to writing success.
  4. So what’s the best way to become a writer? “Read, read, read.” I try to read everything, especially things in the genre in which I work.
  5. Joining a group is a great motivator. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is a nationwide professional support and information group. I’m a member; in fact, I have been both a Regional Advisor and Assistant Regional Advisor for the local affiliate when we lived in Texas, and I’m still very involved here in Montana. This brings me closer to what’s happening in the industry. I treat myself as a professional, and I take my own work seriously.
  6. As part of taking myself seriously, I believe you are never too old and never too “good” to learn. The craft of writing is rich and I feel I’m still scratching the surface of skill. Part of my time learning was spent at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and my time there were two incredible years working with some of  the best writers in the industry.
  7. There are many resources for children’s writers. Check out Children’s Writer’s & Illustrators Market as a starting point.
  8. I love to write, I live to write. There you have it.

Hot Spot!

This article first appeared in Highlights for Children, May, 2006

“Here it comes!” my son Kevin shouted.

We felt a rumble beneath our feet. We heard a noise like a roaring train. Boiling water shot out of the ground and blew high into the air.

We were watching a geyser in Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone covers a big part of Wyoming, plus parts of Montana and Idaho. Geysers, hot springs, and mud pots fill the park. That’s because much of Yellowstone sits on a giant volcano! (more…)

Why Dragons Don’t Have Handkerchiefs

This children’s short story first appeared in Spider Magazine, September, 2003

Dudley Dragon came home from school one afternoon and said, “Mom, my throat hurts.”

“Have you been eating ice cream again?” asked his mom. “You know what that does to you.”

“No,” said Dudley Dragon. “See?” And he blew a flame just to show her his fire hadn’t gone out.

“Hmm,” said his mom. “All the same, your fire looks a little blue. I think you’d better rest.”

Dudley felt so bad that he didn’t argue. He curled up on his pile of plundered gold and went to sleep.

When he woke in the morning, his mom took his temperature. “Oh, dear,” she said. “Your temperature’s too low. No school today.”

“But, bob,” said Dudley.

“And your nose is all stuffed up! This is bad!” His mom backed out the door in such a hurry she tripped over her tail. “I’ll make you some nailhead soup. Try not to sneeze!”

Dudley felt the tickle start in his nose. He tried and tried not to sneeze, but… “Achoo!” Flames came shooting out of Dudley’s mouth!

Up went an ax handle in a puff of smoke.

Dudley held up a tissue, but the next sneeze burned it to a cinder and singed several suits of armor.

“Helb!” said Dudley.

“I’m here, dear,” said his mom from outside the door. “Aim away from your favorite things if you can!”

“Achoo!” His bedside treasure chest smoldered.

“Baby I should go outsibe,” said Dudley. And before he knew it he had sneezed a hole right through the wall.

He crawled out the hole. “Achoo!” Yikes! His mother’s favorite thorn bush burst into flames.

Dudley tottered forward. “Achoo!”

He scorched a fleeing flock of crows. “Sorry!” he shouted.

“Achoo!” The drawbridge was toast.

Dudley spread his wings and took to the sky. Everyone below could see great tongues of shooting flame as he flew around in circles.

“Achoo!” Dudley’s flames toppled a turret.

“Achoo!” Dudley withered a windmill.

“ACHOO!” Dudley popped a whole field of corn!

At last, when he felt all sneezed out, Dudley staggered back to earth.

“Here’s your soup, dear,” said his mom. “Isn’t it a good thing that dragon colds are short?”

Dudley ate his soup, got a good night’s sleep, and was back in school by the next day.

“Today we’ll discuss fire safety,” said his teacher, Miss Dingle.

Dudley’s best friend Darius raised his hand. “I deed to go to the durse. I doad feel so good.”

Dudley backed away in a hurry.

“Whad’s your probleb?” asked Darius.

Then Darius sneezed. “Achoo!”

And up in flames went Miss Dingle’s desk.