By Susan Wroble

Photo: “Cocoon” by Dawn Huczek is licensed under CC BY 2.0


I was born with a hip that didn’t fit quite right, so I always knew I was going to be a candidate for an early hip replacement. The past few years gave a steady decrease in the things I was able to do. When I stopped being able to ride my bike around the neighborhood, I knew it was time to talk to an orthopedic surgeon.

The surgery was scheduled for early January. Our neighbors graciously loaned us every conceivable type of device I might need, from a cane to a shower stool to an amazing walker. Our daughter set up a Meal Train account, and emailed the link to friends, so we had meals delivered a couple times a week for a month.

Surgery was easy, with no complications. But recovery was a fascinating period. For the first few weeks, I was simply exhausted. I couldn’t wait to go to bed. Each night, I’d throw the covers over my head and think: “Cocoon!” Yet even as I thought it, I had no idea why.

The surprise to me was that it was indeed a cocooning period. The me that emerged was different. With all my normal activities on hold, my attention was increasingly focused on writing. It was the one thing I could still do.

A month after surgery, we went to a party, and someone asked the standard “What do you do?” question. For years, my typical reply has been that I volunteer too much. This time, however, what came out was completely unexpected. “I’m a writer,” I said, surprising myself with the answer.

For years, I’ve wanted to make that switch to writing. I just never expected hip replacement surgery to be the precipitating piece. My nighttime cocooning was indeed transformational, and I emerged feeling incredibly blessed.




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Lessons From My Accordion

Three years. Three teachers. I guess I should be embarrassed that it took this long for me to find an accordion teacher. I’m not. I’m thrilled! My search had nothing to do with the teachers. I knew my needs and was determined to find “the” teacher who was just right for me. Of course, I didn’t plan on it taking three years, but WOW, it was worth it!

Every teacher had a different expertise and passion. Teacher No. 1 filled a wipe board with scales and loved expounding music theory. I was lost; I was bored. Teacher No. 2 devoted a lot of time to practicing scales and reminding me to do so 30 minutes a day. I wanted to quit and sell my accordion. Teacher No. 3 said, “Quit worrying and let’s just play,” within a few minutes after I entered her studio and unpacked my accordion (and after I rambled off way too many questions). I laughed. She laughed. I relaxed. She said my fingers even began to relax on the keys.

I can’t explain why Teacher No. 3 is just right for me. Maybe it’s her hearty laugh or, her authenticity and pragmatic instruction; maybe it’s because time flies and I disappear during our lessons. I have fun and want to go home and practice – and learn more. And, she’s in love with playing the accordion. What could be better?

The day after my first lesson with No. 3, I had a revelation and shared it with a close writer friend: Everything that No. 3 said is exactly what we strive to do as writers. It’s what I want to do more of in my writing practice. My friend commented, “Sounds like an essay on lessons from an accordion.” Great idea!

It also gave me another idea. I committed to practicing my accordion every day for 30 days. My goal was to do what my teacher said, just play. I didn’t set a time for each practice session. After all, No. 3 never said how often or long she wanted me to practice. She just expected it.

Here’s what my accordion taught me about writing over the 30 days:

Quit worrying and just play.

Lesson: Just sit down and write. When I play a wrong note, I usually keep going and make up my own song and just let it rip. Then, I go back and learn the correct note. When I’m stuck on a scene, I go much deeper in my writing if I simply type “STUCK” and move on. Even if I get off track as I keep writing, I always discover something new about a character or what’s off or on in the scene. Yay!

Don’t think so hard when learning to simultaneously play the bellows, chords and keyboard. Take your time.

Lesson: Yes, it takes crazy concentration to play all three parts! But, when I relax my fingers and keep moving on after a mistake, it happens. Suddenly, I’m playing the ENTIRE accordion. When I’m trying to balance a zillion parts of a scene – voice, personalities of characters, tension – I eventually find “it”. Lately, I’m delighting in the tiny pieces that work and smooth out after long revising sessions. Perhaps, I’m finally learning patience with my writing process and finding the fun.

Practice every day.

Lesson: On busy days, I practiced accordion right before going to sleep, even if it was only 10 to 15 minutes. I also started carving out more writing time. For example, I printed pages and started carrying a chapter or entire picture book manuscript in my purse, so I could revise anytime anyplace.

Trust yourself. You’ll figure out how far to open the bellows.

Lesson: I assumed there was a golden rule on how far to open the bellows. Wrong! No. 3 told me that I’ll feel it and slowly find what works for me. Whether writing a first draft or revising, I find not only what works, but what doesn’t work. Lately, I’m finding entire chapters and characters that need to be cut. Oh, it’s painful to say goodbye to a character! But, nothing beats seeing the other characters rise, take off and move the story ahead.

Listen and you’ll hear when a note is off.

Lesson: No. 3 says, “It’s a good sign when you know a note is off; it means you’re listening and learning.” That’s exactly what happens when I read my work out loud! Lately, as I revise my young adult novel, I have to remind myself to stop and read an entire chapter out loud before moving on. Immediately, I hear what’s off. Magic!

After my 30 day commitment ended, I kept practicing every day, except when I had to travel by plane. I need to figure out how take my accordion with me. I miss it!

For now, no time to worry. I’m off to just play my accordion and write. Oompah!

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The Tuesday Writers

By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

Every Tuesday morning, I clear off my dining room table, plug in my laptop, and wait for the writers to arrive. They bustle in around 10:30 carrying cups of coffee and bottles of water along with their computers and notebooks. After putting their lunches in the fridge and setting containers of nuts and assorted baked goods on the table, we settle in. Mostly, we sit in the same chairs. Some add a pillow, while others lower window shades to block the sun’s glare. Then, after a bit of schmoozing and noshing, we set the timer. Our chattering stops and the room becomes quiet. It’s time to write.

Three of us met a few years ago at a “Write-In” during NANOWRIMO – National Novel Writing Month. Although we were complete strangers, we were all determined to write a 50,000-word novel in a month. Then, on the last day, after we had all become “Winners,” someone suggested we keep going. We hardly knew each other’s names. We certainly didn’t know much about each other’s books. But we had something very important in common. We were passionate about writing.

We decided to continue working at our local library every Tuesday morning. We reserved a conference room for two hours, kept our voices down, and got to work. It was wonderful. So wonderful, that when the library decided to do a major remodel and close their meeting rooms, we knew we had to find another location. I volunteered my dining room table.

Our group of three has now grown to five. Other writing buddies pop in now and then, but the core group is extremely reliable. Frigid temperatures, snowy roads, and needy relatives cannot keep us away from our beloved writing projects! And, when I’m out of town, others host at their dining room tables. On some days, we even write remotely, and text each other when timed writing sessions are about to begin. We typically get in three, forty five-minute sessions. And here’s the best part: the discipline of writing consistently has spilled over to other days of the week. I now find myself carving out short writing sessions almost every day.

Our projects span the genres. Two of us are writing MG fiction and picture books, while the others are focusing on women’s fiction, murder mysteries, and science fiction/fantasy. Although our content is widely varied, we often share information about local classes, conferences, webinars, and books on craft. We sometimes read paragraphs aloud, give each other immediate feedback, revise, and read again. We talk about query letters, character arcs, plot twists, even murder suspects! One member has been independently published and we all cheered when her cover designer came up with Book Two’s gorgeous graphics.

But most importantly, we write. Every Tuesday, no matter what, we set aside other commitments and scribble “10:30-2:30-NANOS” on our personal calendars. We put our work ahead of doctor’s appointments and lunch dates. I even had my hairdresser stop me when I was about to set up my next visit on a Tuesday. “Isn’t that your writing day?” she asked. “It is,” I replied. “It most definitely is!”


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Submission Schedule

With the start of a new year, comes resolutions. One of my writing resolutions was to be more consistent with submitting my polished stories. To help me achieve this goal, I decided I needed an organized way to manage submissions. That is when I first developed my submission schedule and broke it down into three parts.

First, I decided that since I had put time and energy into writing my manuscripts, I owed it to myself to set them free into the querying world. I picked a time frame that felt comfortable for me and put it on the calendar. Submission Sunday was born. That is when I either spend an hour researching or writing queries to send out.

Next, I needed a way to track my submissions. There are many resources that writers can use, Query Tracker, spreadsheets, or a simple spiral bound notebook, which is what I decided to use. I’ve tried to maintain tracking on the computer in the past and I haven’t followed through. Using a simple spiral bound notebook that I keep close to my computer is something I will be more diligent in maintaining.

Finally, I set goals. It was important to me to decide on a number of queries I wanted to send out each week which felt attainable. Two weeks in, I am right on track. I know there may be weeks where I won’t be able to send as many or weeks where I may send more.

Do you have a submission process?

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My NaNoWriMo

“You’re a WINNER!” I entered my official work count into the NaNoWriMo website on November 30 and was treated to triumphant music and a blinking WINNER message.

I had done something I was sure I could not do. I had written whole novel in one month.

Friends in the writing community had participated in National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo, which  is a national movement that challenges writers to complete a 50,000 word novel during November. I listened to them and shook my head. No, I write too slowly, my ideas don’t arrive fully formed and I get off-track too easily. After all, it took me over two years to complete my 40,000 word middle grade novel and it still isn’t quite what it should be.

No, I could never do NaNo.

It was in mid- October that I wrote and rewrote a sentence in my new novel. I had been working on the sentence for days. I realized that I hadn’t moved my book forward in over two weeks. I wished that I could free myself up from the constant perseveration that dogged my writing. My need to make things perfect before I moved on. My discouraging experience of spending so much time on an interesting scene that even I was bored.

People around me were deciding whether or not to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. I had never really considered it. Dejected, I thought, why not give it a try?

I set aside my current novel and spent the rest of October outlining a book that I had thought about writing for years. I needed to have a whole new book for  this frantic, blast-out-the-words NaNo style of writing.

To complete a 50,000 word novel in a month, I needed to write 1,667 words a day. I am certain that I had never written 1,667 words in one day. In fact, there had been days when my daily word count was in the teens. I usually wrote a couple days in a row, then took a break for a day or two. There would be none of that with NaNo. It would be 1,667 words every day or failure.

But I didn’t want to fail. As I prepared, I realized that I wanted, more than anything, to write a whole novel in a month. Just to prove to myself that I could do it.

I woke up early on November 1st. I honestly had no idea how long it would take me to write 1,667 words. I figured it could be anywhere from an hour to four hours. I had set aside the entire day.

I set an alarm for one hour. I started to write. When the hour was up, I had written about 1,000 words. At the end of the next hour, I almost had 2,000 words. Only 48,000 more words and 29 more days to go. And it was just 8:30 am. I entered my word count into the NaNoWriMo website and went about my day, just like usual.

Except that I thought about my story and characters all day long.

The next day, I knew exactly what I was going to write. I’d move the story forward by writing the scene that I had thought about the day before. And I did.

So it went. Every day I’d write, two to three hours, then I’d imagine all day long what could happened next. The next day, I’d consult and revise my outline, read the last page that I had completed the day before and just write. All I needed was to find two hours to spend on my novel, one way or another, before I went to bed. Soon enough I had written close to 200 pages and was drawing the story to an end.

Doing NaNoWriMo felt like being on a long and challenging hike that took me to a place I had never been before. Sometimes, I was astounded by my own ability and energized by being in this unexplored territory. And sometimes I felt lost and exhausted and didn’t want to take another step. But like the hiker, I continued to put one foot in front of another and kept on going. When I was finished, I was thrilled to have had the adventure and wanted to do it again.

Participating in NaNo taught me that I could write faster. I needed to learn that if I felt paralyzed, I needed to keep going and not to stop. Sooner or later, I found, I could write my way out of stuck.

Realistically, I only wrote a DRAFT of a 50,000+ word young-adult historical fiction novel about a young woman and her friends growing up during World War II. It certainly is not a polished word-perfect story, at least not yet. But, I have something, something large and complete, a book with a beginning, middle and end that embodies the story I want to tell.

There are parts of the novel that are just what I want them to be. There are other parts that need a lot of work. And there are entire parts missing that still need to be written. But what I wrote for NaNoWriMo in November, 2016 was a whole book.

I don’t know what I will do with the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo. I may decide to leave it in its draft stage forever while I focus on other projects. Or I may decide to recommit to it and do the hard work to revise it and bring it to completion.

Either way, I’m glad that I did it.

As November drew to a close and Thanksgiving arrived, I found myself brimming with thanks that someone out there had the idea to challenge writers to complete a 50,000 word novel in one month. The experience set me on a better course as a writer and taught me lessons about myself that I could not have learned any other way. NaNo on!

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Giving Away Treasures

By Susan Wroble

I love thrift stores. Once a month, I choose one and treat myself to a long perusal of its shelves. I love the excitement of not knowing what I may find. But I do know that having explored the rest of the store, I’ll always end up in the book section. Like all children’s authors, I can’t get enough of books.

And when that perfect award-winning book sits forlornly on the shelf, I buy it. How could I not? At thrift stores prices of a quarter for a paper-back, or two-for-a-dollar hard-covers, I’ve found true treasure. My own bookhelves, of course, are bursting. I can’t keep these books. But I’ve found a solution. I give the books away.

My thrift store treasures go into one of three boxes. One box is for a small library in rural Indiana, a library my great-uncle helped build. At the start of each summer, I mail this library a box of books, from readers to middle grade, that they use as rewards for their summer reading program. Each year, I’ve gotten a card signed by all the kids in the program, and I’ve been thrilled to see the list of names get longer each year. It is because they are getting great quality books at the end of their program? I don’t know, but I can only hope…

The second box is the hardest, but the most satisfying. To fill this box, I need to find, on my thrift store adventures, twenty-four pristine, un-marked holiday books – books like The Polar Express or The Night Before Christmas. Typically, it takes a few years to fill this box. And when I’ve finally found the last one, I wrap each book and tag it with a number, 1-24. The collection becomes a magical advent gift for a special child, with a different book to unwrap and read each night on the count-down to Christmas.

The third box is new, and its contents will stay closer to home. My own street is too quiet for a Little Free Library, so my church is allowing me to set up a Little Free Library on their grounds, near a city bus stop. This Little Free Library won’t be installed until this spring, when it’s warm enough to dig and pour concrete more easily. With an inner-city location in a primarily minority neighborhood, I’ve been able to start collecting books for a different demographic and age spectrum than those aimed for school kids in the mid-west. I can’t wait to become this library’s steward, and see which types of books will best serve the community.






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NaNoWriMo – 2016

nano_logo-830912ef5e38104709bcc38f44d20a0dNaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it happens every November. One novel, one month, fifty thousand words. For all of you who completed NaNoWriMo this year, including one of our very own Story Spinners, congratulations!

This was the year I was going to do NaNo. I had a genre, and a working title. A concept for a story. A beat outline I had shared with other writers for feedback. I had set up my story in three acts, knew my main characters and knew the major plot actions. The turning point! The climax! The resolution! An inciting incident, a problem with stakes, and everything. A setting that I really liked and was going to have fun exploring. NaNo, here I come!

And then I started. So far, so good. Slight derail due to a stomach bug that whipped its way around the house, taking down my kids and my husband consecutively. I was still writing, still working my way through. But then I realized that my outline wasn’t as complete as I wanted it to be, that I actually needed some more things to happen before I hit my inciting incident (or what I thought was my inciting incident). But I still needed to write – write something. Write anything. NaNo!

As I kept going, I started to realize that I was just writing for speed, and while my word count was increasing, I wasn’t really sure that my book was developing the way I wanted it to be. I was afraid that if I kept writing what I had, I would look back and need to change an awful, awful lot.

So I stopped, and reassessed. Did I want to succeed at NaNo? Yes, I did. But what I really wanted was a strong, well-written, first draft that made sense logically. I realized that the planning I had done wasn’t actually enough. I didn’t know enough about some of characters, and while I had plot goals and motivations, I didn’t have enough of the emotional arc figured out to go along side it.

So I didn’t finish NaNo this year. But I did get three great things out of it. The first is that some of my free form writing was really helpful. I journaled as one of my characters, and getting their voice and having them talk about the other characters actually brought out some nice mannerisms and physical descriptions. And it was fun! I will look to do that more as I work on this next project. The second is a much stronger understanding of how much I want to plan in advance before I start writing. While I want room for discovery writing, I also want the major threads to be determined and available to me, to give me focus and a path. Even if I then choose to veer from it. And the third is that if something doesn’t feel right, I can figure out what is better for me and move on in that new direction.

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My Writing Log


By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

After assigning a page of math homework to my first graders, one of my students said, “I might not be able to do this tonight.” When I asked her why, she said she had soccer practice and play rehearsal after school. I told her it sounded like she had too much going on in her life. She smiled and said, “Oh no, I love being busy.” I smiled back. I totally understood. I love being busy, too.

As a teacher, I usually operated on high-speed. My classroom was a bustling whirlwind of dynamic lessons and activities. We always got a lot done. And I had my plan book and assessments to prove it. At home, my family kept track of our plethora of commitments on a large, color-coded calendar. I also made personal to-do lists on yellow legal pads, scribbled reminders to myself on post-it notes, and rolled into bed each night, ready to do it again in the morning. It was a fast, over-scheduled pace, but I reveled in it.

Today, I have a new life. I’m a full-time writer. My children have flown the coop, and except for hanging out with my retired husband, my time is my own. I can slow it down, write for hours on end, read books on craft, drink lots of pumpkin lattes. My only problem is that the over-scheduling person inside me is still there. She constantly nags me to get more done, check things off my list (I still make them), get published already. Hop, jump, repeat! Man is she annoying. But I can’t get rid of her. She is a big part of who I am. I just have to figure out how to deal with her.

At first, I tried integrating techniques that worked for me as a teacher, into my life as a writer. I made schedules, set goals, took classes, read books, attended conferences, workshops, and writing groups. I still do these things. But something was missing. I didn’t feel like I was accomplishing enough. Especially when I veered from my “plan” or failed to achieve my goals.

One morning, as I sipped a homemade latte and stared at my computer screen, a radical idea popped into my head. Instead of planning out my week of writing, I would reflect on it. I would  do something EVERY SINGLE DAY (even for a short amount of time) to further my life as a writer and record these activities in a daily log. Not a plan-book, a logbook. I immediately went out and bought a calendar/notebook with large 1½ inch squares and decided to get started. (You can also use the new RMC-SCBWI calendar if you order your copy ASAP!) And here’s the key: I only record writing activities in it. No dentist appointments or lunch dates allowed.

I’ve been logging for a month now and I’m pretty excited about how it’s going. At the end of each day, I jot down anything I’ve done that relates to writing for children. I’ve included: worked on my novel, did a character exercise, talked with a picture book collaborator, listened to a webinar class on revision, read a book in my genre, went to hear an author speak at Tattered Cover, sent emails to SCBWI volunteers for an upcoming conference, attended a critique group meeting, made notes for my works-in-progress, wrote this blogpost, and did research at a museum. It’s amazing. I can now see, in black and white, that I am living a writer’s life. Every single day. Well, almost.

Becoming a great writer takes time. And there is more to the journey than the actual writing component. But now, when I look at my writing log, I see that I’m really trying. I’m doing all kinds of things to move this new life forward. And when that ever-present “busy teacher” is nudging me to get things done, I open my logbook and say, “I am. I totally am.”

Author’s note: If you try using a writing log, let me know how it goes!



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5 Ways to Work Through Writer’s Block

write-800pxStaring at a blank screen or page can evoke a similar response from me, unproductivity. What is the cure for lack of inspiration? For me  it can be different things on different days. Here are a few suggestions to help you work around writer’s block when it strikes.

1. Walk if off

Often times my best ideas come to me when I’m not sitting down to write. Take the dog for walk, go for a run, or hit the gym. The benefits are twofold.

2. Talk it out

Two heads are better than one! If you are a part of a critique group, you can put your creative minds to work and overcome the obstacle. A spouse or trusted friend can provide the same support.

3. Read! Read! Read! 

Take a trip to your favorite bookstore or library and fall into a good book or check out a book on the craft of writing. Browse the web and visit other writing blogs. Hit up the newsstand for something unrelated.

4. Write something else

If you like to journal or keep a diary, write a new entry.  Visit a website for a daily writing prompt. Write the same scene in a different point of view.

5. Change the scenery

Bring your laptop along to a coffee shop, park, or your back porch. Sometimes, seeing new sights, smelling new smells, or tuning your ear to new sounds can help to jump start creativity.

What about you? How do you overcome writer’s block?

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Bedtime Story

blog-graphicAs a writer, I hold tight to the belief that the stories we tell our children help shape them and teach important lessons. The ways that adults and children share the stories- bedtime and naptime stories, post-recess read-alouds, road trip audio-books or the retelling of family lore, influence their lives. Stories and the way they are told help children know who they are and who they can become.

A Memory:
We were snuggled together on the yellow flocked sofa. Steve, wearing his spaceship pajamas to Dad’s left, Martha clad in frilly yellow babydolls on his lap and me, leaning in on his right, wore a pink acetate nightie. The new baby Paul had finally stopped screaming from his daily bout of evening colic and he lay peacefully in Mom’s arms. His angelic presence defied his rather loud and demanding daytime personality.

Mom had settled into the rocking chair and had closed her eyes, wearing weariness, but also contentment, on her face. Dad smelled of pipe smoke and wore his plaid smoking jacket- a robe-like wrap with satin lapels and deep pockets. We settled comfortably in… it was time for our bedtime story.

“Chug-a-rum,” croaked Grandfather Frog. Dad’s rich baritone brought the character to life. Old Mother West Wind’s children, the Merry Little Breezes, flitted through the moralistic tales and we lived vicariously in the land “when the world was young and all.”

Dad’s voice changed with each new character. His theatrical nature, subdued at his 50’s style doctor’s office, found a perfect stage in the well-lit living room of the little suburban house.

The antique pages of the book, shared from Dad’s own childhood, took us all on an adventure, to a place where problems were huge, but it all worked out in the end. In the course of a chapter, wrongs were set right and errant creatures got what they so deeply deserved.

That memory defies the darker times that lay ahead. Even then, I knew that life’s challenges were never summed up neat and tidy at the end of a chapter. As the family ventured beyond the familiar vistas of the Smiling Pool and the Laughing Brook for the Great World Beyond, life became much more complicated.

For now, I bask in the warm glow of that living room, in that atmosphere of love and imagination, where Reddy Fox is out-tricked and Hoppity learns a valuable lesson, where mothers snuggle their perfect babies and where little heads fall comfortably against a Daddy’s broad chest.

I believe that the lessons my siblings and I learned so long ago on that couch infused each of us with the belief that, no matter how bad it seemed, it could perhaps, all work out in the end. And from that brief time we spent snuggled on that yellow couch, we also know the mystery of love and what being a family can be.

As children’s book writers, what we do is important. We should persevere with our calling and tell the stories that will influence the lives of children and their families

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