Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Our Favorite Writing Resources

Writers are always learning, growing, and developing their craft. So as part of the five year anniversary celebration, the bloggers of Middle Grade Minded have compiled a list of their favorite writing resources to share with our readers.And if you haven't done so already pop over to our blogiversary post and enter to win free books and critiques!

Stefanie Wass
  1. Highlights Foundation writing workshops 
  2. Local SCBWI conferences and workshops  
  3. The Emotion Thesaurus, by Angela Ackerman 
  4. Wired For Story, by Lisa Cron 
  5. Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook, by Donald Maass
Kim Ventrella
  1. Writing Excuses podcast: Great 15-minute podcast with all thirteen seasons online. Focuses on adult fantasy/sci-fi, but applicable to all writers:
  2. Brandon Sanderson posts all of his lectures on YouTube from his course at BYU. They’re not all in one place, so the best way to find them is just to go to YouTube and search for ‘Brandon Sanderson lectures.
  3. Scrivener’s ‘target word count’ function. This brings up a box where you can enter your target word count for the session and the overall manuscript, and Scrivener tracks your progress with an amazing color-changing bar.
  4.  Word count tracker spreadsheet by Justin Mclachlan. It allows you to set a monthly word count goal and update daily. It’s on Google Sheets, so your friends can create their own sheets and view yours, giving you an extra boost of accountability, and everything is customizable:
  5.  4 the Words is a website that challenges you to battle monsters and complete quests, all by writing more words. I like that it adds a timed element, so I’m not only pushing myself to write words, but I’m making myself do it within a certain time limit: https://4thewords.
 Shari Green
  1. Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert ( – so much in this book resonated with me and encouraged me.
  2.  Grammar Girl (, because even though I understand the whole lie/lay thing, there are other grammatical puzzles I have to look up _every_ time. 
  3. The SCBWI “blueboard” forum ( – I haven’t been very active on there lately, but this forum has been a fantastic source of info and a welcoming community of writer-friends for me. 
  4. A.S. King’s “Writer’s Middle Finger” blog series (part 1 is here: – I read this series of blog posts when I most needed them, when I was struggling to find my place as a writer, and they helped me write what I needed to write, how I needed to write it. They helped me be me.
  5.  Literary Rambles ( – I used this site a lot when I was querying agents. Great interviews, info, and link 
Tom Torre
  1. Middle Grade Minded ( :
  2. Absolute Writer Water Cooler - not sure how it is now, haven't stepped in in awhile, but I used to frequent this in my early days and it helpded me out a ton. 
  3. Query Tracker - no better way to track your queries and stalk your 
  4. Writers Digest - I used this a lot when I was just looking through a bunch of web sites for tips and tricks 
  5. Twitter - i say this only because you find everyone and everything you need on twitter just by talking to people! Use the hashtags! #amwriting #amediting #MG etc. You'll find so many helpful folks 
 Jamie Krakover
  1. Query Tracker for finding agents in my genre and reading about response times
  2.  Absolute Write for researching agents to see if they might be a good fit, or if they might be a bad agent 
  3. My Critique Partners. Good Critique partners are worth their weight in gold. Not only will they point out the good, the bad, and the ugly, but they are there for you in the good times and the bad. They can talk you off a ledge if need be. So if you don't have good critique partners, I recommend finding some. The SCBWI forums, Pitchwars Forums, Write On Con Forums (in January/February) and some of the twitter critique partner matchup hastags that happen periodically throughout the year are all great resources for finding critique partners. 
  4. The St. Louis Writers Guild It was the first group of writers I found and they're local to me. I met a core group of writers that I meet up with weekly to write, share ideas, successes, disappointments and advice. They also hold monthly workshops (that are frequently live tweeted on #slwg), the Gateway Con yearly writer's conference, and also do some virtual writing advice sessions. 
  5. TWITTER, no seriously, I've learned so much from following writers and agents and editors. They share some amazing advice via tweets and blog posts they share. I've probably learned more on there than any other place.
Wendy McLeod MacKnight 
Besides all the great choices above I’d add:
  1. One Stop for Writers:
  2. Martha Alderson - AKA The Plot Whisperer - wonderful website and newsletter and
  3. Mary Kole’s wonderful website: Mary is the author of Writing Irresistible Kidlit
What an awesome list of resources! What are some of your favorites writing resources?

Monday, August 27, 2018

Successful Critique Groups

As a writer, it can be difficult to gauge how your words will impact readers. This is where critique groups come in. Critique groups can be a great way to get reader feedback before sending your manuscript out into the big, bad world. Here are some tips to make your critique group great.

Startup, Meeting, Brainstorming, Business, Teamwork

When you’re the one providing the critique:

1. Focus on first impressions. Put yourself in the shoes of a reader, encountering this manuscript for the first time.
·       How do the words on the page impact you?
·       Do you feel grounded in the character and setting?
·       Do you connect with the character enough to want to keep reading?
·       What emotions are you experiencing as you read?
These first impressions are so important, because, especially starting out, it’s hard for writers to know how their words will affect readers. You may have intended your latest scene to be a tearjerker, but does it fall flat or come off cheesy? As a critique partner, you are the test group, and your honest emotional responses have value to the author.

2. Avoid playing doctor. Your job is to serve as a test subject, not a doctor. Share when and how the story isn’t working for you as a reader, but avoid phrases like, “Here’s how I would have written that.” Remember, this isn’t your story, and the purpose of the exercise isn’t to reshape everyone else’s stories into your own. You can certainly pass along strategies that have worked for you in the past or share tips, if solicited, but the best gift you can give are your first impressions.

3. Sandwich maker. Be honest, but kind and constructive. Sandwich your discussion of what’s not working for you inside truthful, positive feedback.

4. Read widely. The best way to become better at critiquing is to read widely. You’ll get a sense of what works and why. Bonus: this will make you a better writer too!

When you’re the one receiving the critique:

1. Listen. In my critique groups, we have a rule that, when you’re receiving feedback, you can listen, but not respond or defend. Remember, we’re aiming for first impressions. If someone completely misunderstands your story, that doesn’t automatically make them an idiot. In fact, they are providing you with valuable insight, i.e. your words are not translating to readers in the way you intended. Rather than arguing, absorb their feedback and see how you can revise so that your words successfully convey the story that’s trapped in your head.

2. Possibilities, not requirements. Over time, you will learn how to identify and apply only feedback that is useful to you. In the early days, you may feel the urge to incorporate every piece of feedback you receive, even when it conflicts with other feedback or your gut feeling. Learn from this mistake. The purpose of a critique group is to show you how well, or poorly, your story translates to readers and to help you become better at conveying meaning as you learn and grow. Feedback should open your eyes to new story possibilities, but never be seen as a requirement.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Top Five Reasons We Love Being Writers

We all love to write. That's why we're here. So here's our top five reasons we love it so much. And if you haven't done so already pop over to our blogiversary post and enter to win free books and critiques!

Wendy Mcleod MacKnight
  1. Telling stories has always bound us together 
  2. The books I’ve read in my life have lifted me up when I needed lifting, filled me with hope when I was lost.
  3. Books give me comfort when I'm sad. 
  4. Stories help us make sense of the world. 
  5. I love it!
Tom Torre 
  1. I love being able to escape the confines of a poop-filled world and enter a world where I control the good and the bad.
  2. Being part of the writing community is a reward by itself. I have gained some irreplaceable friendships and have teamed up with some amazing people over the years since becoming a writer. 
  3. It's a way of venting out the excess creative goo that settles in my brain juices.
  4. The feeling of finishing a book and saying "I did that." is amazing.
  5. The constant struggle and challenge of the writing industry, while overwhelming at times, just makes me want to keep trying harder and harder. We'll each make it - one day. It's not a matter if, it's just when.
Jamie Krakover
  1. I love exploring the what if.
  2. I love the community writers have built, the people I've met, and the connections I've made.
  3. It's a challenge that allows me to exercise the other side of my brain. It balances out my engineering side.
  4. Because the more I write, the more I discover things about myself.
  5. When you write, literally anything is possible. There are rules, but some are made to be broken.
Shari Green
  1. Because stories connect us.
  2. Because I love words/sentences/books, and writing lets me live in words/sentences/books, lol.
  3. Because creating something that someday, somewhere, a child may read and either feel a little less alone or grow in empathy for someone else, or a child may read and think "this was written just for me"…well, how amazing would that be? the possibility both overwhelms and inspires me.
  4. Because it’s fun (sometimes).
  5. Because it’s hard (sometimes), and I do love a good challenge.
There's our reasons for loving to write, what are yours? 


Monday, August 20, 2018

Interview with Jonathan Roth, Author of BEEP AND BOB BOOK THREE: TAKE US TO YOUR SUGAR

One of the most delightful chapter books series I've read in a long time is the BEEP and BOB series by author Jonathan Roth. 

And guess what? He's back with book number three: BEEP AND BOB: TAKE US TO YOUR SUGAR this September, so I decided I needed to catch up with him and get the low down on this wonderful series!

The Description:

Beep and his best friend Bob hatch a plan to save Halloween—and their school—in this third book in the hilarious, action-packed Beep and Bob series!

It’s October in space, and Bob is getting excited for his favorite holiday: Halloween. When Bob tells Beep that soon they’ll get to dress up like monsters and get as much free candy as they can carry, Beep thinks he has gone to heaven. But Lani informs them that Halloween isn’t celebrated at Astro Elementary.

Bob cannot imagine life without Halloween! He appeals to Principal Quark, but with no success. Determined to save Halloween, Bob and Lani organize a secret club: SCARES (Scary Costumes Are the Right of Every Student, or, more truthfully, the Society of Candy Addicts who Rely on Energy from Sugar).

As the secret club grows, Halloween fever invades Astro Elementary. Unfortunately, a horde of grotesque aliens, attracted by the treats, also invades the school on the last day of the month. With everyone in costume, no one can tell who’s who. Beep and Bob may have saved the holiday, but can they somehow use their sugar-addled wits to save the school?

1.    Hi Jonathan! I’m so excited that Beep and Bob are back! My first question: how did you ever come up with these wonderful characters?

I wish I knew! It all began when I was struck by the emotion of a boy who appeared to me who was torn between his joy at being chosen to attend a select school in space and his pure terror of everything space related (the tension between joy and fear is a big theme of my series, but I didn’t realize this until much later). I also knew, very early on, that this boy (Bob) would only find the help he needed by helping someone even more in need than he was, and that’s when little lost Beep appeared.

2.   The newest Beep and Bob book takes place at Halloween! Can you tell us about it? What did you dress up as for Halloween when you were a kid?

The first two books featured black holes and the Starship Titanic, but book 3 (TAKE US TO YOUR SUGAR) gets really horrific: the sugar machine in the school cafeteria breaks, and Bob has nothing sweet to eat at all! To make matters worse, he discovers Halloween isn’t celebrated at Astro Elementary, so no free candy in sight. Luckily, they make up a new holiday – Astroween – in which free candy is also passed out. Not so luckily, just as all the kids are dressed like aliens, real aliens attack the school. 

I don’t remember ever dressing as an alien for Halloween when I was a kid, but I did go as Batman, Spiderman and one year, I can’t remember why, as a postal carrier (though I knew it also did make me feel kind of heroic).

3. The Beep and Bob books are early readers, a category of children’s books I particularly love. What made you decide to write for younger elementary school kids?

Writing for that age wasn’t so much a conscious decision as what came out of me when I got frustrated with years of rejections of picture books and middle grade novels and just sat down to write something silly and fun from my heart. It was definitely not something I had any plans of submitting, and when I saw the final word count (around 10,000) I didn’t even know where it would begin to fit. But after some great positive response from first readers, and researching genres, I realized it would work perfectly as a chapter book series (which I would also illustrate) and that’s how I pitched it. To my surprise and gratitude, I soon landed an agent (my second) and about a month into submissions she got us a four-book deal.

In retrospect, I think I benefited from both the power of letting go and from all the practice I had put into my other projects. My voice and humor level also lends itself best to the 6-9 year old crowd, and this project really brought that out.

4. Are you already working on another Beep and Bob book? And hints?

Book four, DOUBLE TROUBLE, releases this December 11. In that one, Beep and Bob accidentally make evil duplicates of themselves while working late at night on a homework assignment. And though the evil duplicates are nice enough to finish the project, they also then try to take over the Earth (like everything, evil duplicates have their pluses and minuses).

5.     Finally, have you ever seen an alien or a UFO?

Only in movies and dreams…but I have seen the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle fly overhead (as bright, fast moving points of light) which was very cool. And I’ve met a number of astronauts, including four from the Apollo moon trips, who I guess would count as a bit other-worldly.

Want to know more about Jonathan and where you can buy BEEP and BOB?

visit Jonathan's website here.

Thank you Jonathan!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Top 5 Favorite Pieces of Writing Advice

This week our 5 year blogiversary celebration continues with some of our favorite pieces of writing advice! And if you haven't done so already pop over to our blogiversary post and enter to win free books and critiques!
What are you top five favorite pieces of writing advice?

Shari Green 

  1. First, a quote – not advice, really, but something I hold close as a children’s author: “We have been given the sacred task of making hearts large through story.” (Kate DiCamillo)
  2. Writing a first draft is making clay (so it's okay if it's messy!). Revising is sculpting something worthwhile out of that clay.
  3.  Keep showing up. (Do the work.) 
  4. So much of publishing is out of your hands. Don’t spend your energy on things that are out of your control.
  5. There’s always more to learn. 
Jamie Krakover

  1. Just because something works for someone else doesn't mean it must work for you. You do you! 
  2. You don't have to write every day to be a writer 
  3. Remove aspiring from your profile, if you write you're a writer, not an aspiring writer 
  4. Kill the filter words, it strengthens your writing. Not he heard the car horn blare, just the car horn blared. 
  5. Keep moving forward. Find good writing buddies that wont let you quit.
Tom Torre
  1. You are your own writer - it's good to be inspired by other authors, but find your own voice. That's where you'll find the most success.
  2.  Can't stop, won't stop - write when you can, as much as you can. But don't force it. Let it come when it feels the most natural. 
  3. Always keep an open mind to critiques. Your beta readers, critique partners, editors, agents, whatever, all want what's best for you and want to help you improve your craft.
  4.  KEEP READING!!! The most important part about writing is reading. 
  5. Ignore the "no's" and focus on getting that "yes" - as writers we will experience ten million no's before we get that magic yes. The yes will come, as long as you're in it for the long haul. 
  6. BONUS - never give up, never surrender

Tom Mulroy
  1. Don't compare your progress to others.
  2. Read.
  3. Give yourself time away from a project when you need to.
  4. Remember most of the work is done in revision.
  5. This is more of an industry thing that a writing thing, but all the same: Be nice to people.
  Kim Ventrella
  1. Every great book feels like a failure at some point. If you can remember that, and remember what it felt like to move past that failure, you'll likely be able to make a career as a writer.
  2. It’s about emotional connection. If readers relate to your character, then they’ll care what happens to them, and you’ve just won the biggest battle of good storytelling.
  3. Back on failure If you can embrace it (i.e. allow yourself to experiment and fail) you’ll grow much faster as a writer, as opposed to always trying to be perfect.
  4. Take every opportunity you can to remind yourself why you started writing. Push yourself to constantly rediscover that magic.
  5. Step out of the high-stakes performance zone on occasion and take time to study great books, analyze what makes them great and then experiment with what you’ve learned in your own writing.
There's our writing advice. What's some of your favorite pieces of writing advice? Let us know in the comments!