Are You Up for a Challenge? A Writing Challenge, That Is…

As we look ahead to 2017 and to a new year of writing, I want to recommend two excellent challenges to get your creative juices flowing and your pen flying over the paper (or your fingers flying over the computer keys).

If you write picture books, author Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 challenge is designed for you. Not only does it encourage participants to write a new picture book manuscript draft every month (thus the name — 12 drafts in 12 months) but there is a lively online community (both at a members-only Forum and a members-only Facebook Group), there are monthly blog posts and exclusive-to-members webinars with writers, editors and agents.

There are two levels of membership — the Shel SILVERstein level for newcomers and for those who won’t be seeking an agent during the year, and the Little GOLDen Book level (open only to members from the previous year) which provides an opportunity to submit to one agent per month and bypass the slush pile. Here is the link to find out about the two levels, as well as to see testimonial videos from current and former participants, and learn more about 12×12.

There is a cost involved, but the cost is more than compensated for by all that the challenge offers to participants.

Registration for 12×12 begins on January 10th and is only open in January and February each year. After the end of February, you have to wait until the following year. Check it out and see if it’s for you!

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The other challenge I want to be sure you know about is the upcoming StoryStorm!

Several years ago, author Tara Lazar started a challenge called PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) in which participants came up with a story idea each day for the month of the challenge. Until this year, the challenge took place in November, and focused on picture book ideas (hence the name, PIcture BOok IDea MOnth).

This year, Tara has broadened the challenge, and moved it to January, and will be for writers of all genres, not just picture books. So middle grade and YA novelists, get ready to join the newly named StoryStorm and enjoy not only the challenge of coming up with a plethora of new ideas, but also all the other things the challenge offers!

This challenge is FREE, and features daily blog posts from authors, illustrators, editors and agents. It is a fabulous way to learn, stretch your imagination, become part of an active, vital writing community, and get ready to start the new year WRITE!

Follow Tara’s blog for more details as they are released, about how to register, etc., and be sure to follow all the posts in January — even if you don’t “win” the challenge by coming up with an idea every day you will benefit greatly just from reading the posts.

Note that StoryStorm is entirely on the honor system. You are trusted to report your idea total truthfully at the end of the month. You don’t share the ideas publicly, they’re just for you and your imagination. Take a look at Tara’s website — even if you don’t participate in the challenge, there is a ton of information there for writers.

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The Flubs2Fixes blog, and my editing service, will be taking a break over the holiday season.

I’ll be back to editing as of Monday, January 2, 2017 and will be back to blogging on Friday, January 6.

I hope you have a joyous holiday season. Happy ManyDays to you! See you in the new year.

And furthermore, let’s go farther this time — a Grammar Owl post

One of my readers — I should say OUR readers, as I see the Owl flexing his talons — One of our readers asked about the words further and farther, which are so similar that it’s easy to get confused about which to use in which instance.

Grammar Owl to the rescue!


Farther refers to physical distance. It’s the comparative form of far. (Farthest is the superlative.) For example: I walked farther today than I did yesterday.

Further refers to philosophical/metaphorical distance. It means more, additionally, extra. For example: I thought further, considering my aching legs, and decided to walk a shorter distance tomorrow. Furthermore, I decided to warm up better before my next walk.

The Grammar Owl just prodded me with his beak to remind me that he’s come up with a memory trick that may help you. He calls it the Do-Re-Mi trick. If you’re thinking of length or distance, think “Fa — a long, long way to run.” Fa (that is, far) is a long, long way to run. Fur isn’t.

I hope this helps you (earworm at no extra charge 😉 ).

If you have a grammar or word use question for the Grammar Owl and me, please leave it in the comments. We’ll be back with another Grammar Owl post on January 20, 2017.



The many thesauri of Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

The phrase Words Have Power  on a BlackboardAny of my editing clients can tell you that I often comment “use more vivid language,” “use vivid verbs,” “let your readers SEE what your characters are experiencing,” “let your readers FEEL what your characters are feeling.”

But how do we find those vivid words? How do we make sure we aren’t repeating the same words over and over, or resorting to clichés?

Well, we could just use a regular thesaurus, like the tried and true Roget’s, or one of the thesauri (trust me, that’s the plural) online. OR, as I often suggest to my editing clients, we can consult the many collections of words that Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi have put together.

These books (available as print books or ebooks) are specifically designed for writers, and they target areas that writers often find challenging.

There is a thesaurus for practically anything and everything that a writer might be puzzled by, with more coming out as the authors complete them. Their offerings include The Emotion Thesaurus, The Positive Trait Thesaurus as well as The Negative Trait Thesaurus and such in-depth subjects as The Emotional Wounds Thesaurus, The Symbolism and Motif Thesaurus, and The Talent and Skill Thesaurus, plus many more. You can read about them and learn where to purchase them on Angela and Becca’s website.

But that’s not all these two powerhouse writers and resource people offer to their fellow writers. Their website is a treasure trove of information, tips, advice; a blog that covers practically anything a writer might want to learn; two newsletters packed with tips; tools like setting planners, checklists and exercises or character questionnaires; webinars and workshops and more. Take some time to check out their website, Writers Helping Writers, and bookmark it for future reference. You’ll be glad you did!

Further Reading — Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul

Asian woman reading at a tableIf you write picture books — or, really, any other kind of book — and you haven’t read Ann Whitford Paul’s excellent overview of the writing craft, then I highly recommend you get yourself to a bookstore or library and get yourself a copy!

It is packed with information, from her advice that before you start writing, you need to read, read, read, to creating characters, plotting and the basic three-act structure that most stories follow, making your writing as strong as it can be — it provides a complete breakdown of the process of writing a picture book.

Not only does she explain all the building blocks that go together to create a picture book, but she includes examples and best of all, many writing exercises at the end of each chapter that allow you to work through the steps and try for yourself whatever she has taught. When I was a kid in 4-H, we knew that we needed to “learn to do by doing” — Ann Whitford Paul knows that, too.

And, as I’ve said, much of the book can help writers for other age groups as well, although it’s geared for picture book writers. It’s really a course in writing contained in one affordable book.

Here’s the basic information about the book to help you find it:

9781582975566_p0_v2_s192x300Title: Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication

Author: Ann Whitford Paul

Publisher: Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2009

ISBN:  9781582975566 (paperback)

Here’s a detailed review of the book from a top-notch children’s book editor, Harold Underdown (if you write for kids, and you’re not familiar with his site, this is one to bookmark!)

Here’s the Writer’s Digest page about the book, with the full table of contents and even an excerpt to read.

And here’s Ann Whitford Paul’s website (note that there’s a section of writing tips).

Happy reading! Happy writing!

Than or Then? A Grammar Owl Post

The Grammar Owl is clicking his beak and flexing his wings. He’s excited to be starting another year of posts about grammar and word usage questions.

Something both the Owl and I have noticed is that many people have trouble knowing when to use the word “then” and when to use “than.” It seems as though they see the words as twins, and can’t tell the difference. Which word is which?

We often see sentences like “I’d rather have ice cream then sour pickles.” They mean they prefer eating ice cream to eating sour pickles, but by using then, they’re actually (inadvertently) saying, “I’d rather eat ice cream first and have the sour pickles afterwards.”

But how does a person know to say “I’d rather have ice cream than sour pickles” instead?

It turns out that then and than aren’t identical twins. They’re more like fraternal twins. There is definitely a similarity, but if you know what to look for, you can tell them apart. Here’s the trick:

Than is used for comparisons. In the example above, we’re showing which food we prefer. We’re comparing the two. You can easily remember the connection of than and comparison because thAn is spelled with an A and so is compArison. “I like ice cream more than sour pickles.” Not “more then.”

Then is never used for comparisons. Then generally refers to time in some way. If it answers the question “When?” you use the word “then.” “I’ll go for a walk then reward myself with ice cream.” That isn’t a comparison. It is explaining when I will have the ice cream: after the walk.

Then is also used as a partner to “if.” “If I go for a walk, then I can have some ice cream.” In that case I’m not talking about the time I’ll have the ice cream, I’m talking about the condition I have to fulfill before I can justify the ice cream.

Comparison? A! THAN’s what to say.

If and when? Then use THEN.

I hope this has helped clarify when to use THAN and when to use THEN.

The Grammar Owl and I would love to answer your grammar and word use questions. Either pop us an email at mail (at) flubs2fixes (dot) com, replacing (at) with the @ symbol and (dot) with a . and removing the spaces. OR simply ask your question in the comments below.