Monday, September 30, 2019

Writing Naysayers: A Guide for the Perplexed

“How’s your writing going?” Depending on the speaker, it’s either a stock small
talk question or a pot shot. 

It’s the 900 lb elephant in the room we in the writing community don’t discuss:
The family/spouse friends who Just Don’t Get It - and in some cases will actively work
to sabotage your writing. 

Not only do I have two kids in a space (software applications development) where most
of my female coworkers have Margaret Sanger bobbleheads on their desks, but now I think I
can write books too?
I want this sign for my writing alcove. 

It’s made for some teary, angry conversations over the years.

Kelly wants to write books because...  
I’m selfish. 
I’m ungrateful for my education and career. 
I think I’m too good for a traditional job. 
I don’t love my kids enough if I need something besides them to feel fulfilled. 

Kelly should stop writing because… 
Middle Grade is not a real genre because kids change so much from eight to twelve.

There is “too much competition” and I can’t possibly be a good enough writer if I got
a job doing something else.

I’m invading the space of stay at home moms (let’s ignore that I was one when I started

My book probably sucks if the first draft wasn’t a bestseller already.*  

My health insurance covers (albeit very poorly) counseling for these alleged delusions.

For some time, I internalized all this somewhat. I caved to the pressure and tried to please
the friends and family speaking. 

Spoiler alert: It didn’t help my writing. 

There truly is something about being hit by a truck and having many of the people around
you concerned about how much work you’re missing instead of your
physical and mental well-being, to make you question your choices up to this point. 

In fact, some were absolutely furious with me - how dare I put my health before my job? I've
lost friends and many family relationships over that choice; yet I'm likely still alive as a result
of it.

Given the new backdrop, their objections seemed less about doubting I’d succeed in a highly
competitive field, and more about “How dare you pursue success and happiness on your
own terms”?

It’s probably a hybrid, to be honest. Personally, I can’t emotionally afford to put myself into
haters’ heads. Your mileage may vary; I’m in INFJ and we’re weird.

Obviously, I strongly recommend you do everything in your power to avoid getting hit by a

Thanks to I suspect this is the root of naysayers' beef. Not just in writing.

But looking back, here’s how I would have managed the message and consequently, others’

Remember writing/getting published is a non-linear process.
It’s not an industry most people understand, which makes “SMART” goals… impossible.
Nobody outside the factory wants to see or hear how the sausage is made.

Don’t promise overnight success. To anyone.
While there are exceptions, there is a 99% chance that your first several years of writing,
your book will suck. You’re still finding your voice, learning the craft. According to my mentor
Joyce Sweeney (who’s helped 60+ writers become authors, hopefully most of them less
angsty than I) you can be looking at ten years to see your book published.

Go to as many SCBWI meetings as you can.
Whether you’re into mirror neurons, karma, or “You are the Average of the Five People
You Spend The Most Time With”, you need your squad of nerdy, eccentric writer friends
who understand the process. Get a mentor, get a critique group, get on writing Twitter.
These may be the only people who get it. 

Don’t engage with those calling writing “your little hobby.”
The stereotype of a writer is a mashup of Guy in Your MFA and some talentless but loaded
social media influencer. Ten bucks says nobody would be saying that if you were taking steps
toward more boring career goals, say, studying for your CPA or something. 
Visualize throat-punching them, exhale, and move on. 

Remember most people hate their jobs.
85 percent if Gallup is to be believed. Their crabs-in-the-bucket failure to look for
professional fulfillment for themselves, is their problem. 

Trust your gut and know your own value.
Writing is a landscape where perseverance is the most important skill, and you have to be
in it for the long game. If you stick with it, you’re probably writing because you have to just
as much as you have to breathe. Honor it. 

Last but not least: Don’t quit your day job.
Just don’t get caught up in its tunnel vision if writing is what you really want.  Protect your
writing time. Invest your extra cash, into developing your craft and into a nest egg for if/when
you do start writing full time. Hire an IP attorney (contact your state Bar Association; this is
out of my league) to look over current and future employment agreements no matter what
you do for a living right now. 

I will say people can come around. Since getting a substantial scholarship to a Highlights
Foundation workshop and getting selected as a Cybils panelist, I’ve heard less skepticism.
Either I've worn people down, or they're getting that somebody has to succeed, even in
the face of stiff competition.

But don’t wait for feathers in your cap to pursue your dreams. Boo to the haters. You’re
worth it. The world needs your words. 

How do you combat the naysayers? 


*Fine, my first draft really bit. But fast forward a few years and a few revisions, and I’m
knee-deep in an R&R, so… there! 

Friday, September 27, 2019

25 Writing Prompts for Middle Grade Readers

It can be tough persuading young people to write. Most would rather play video games, surf social media (even if they’re “officially” too young), watch netflix, or snap selfies. Yet writing is an essential skill that translates into increased knowledge and understanding of the world, better, more secure jobs, and higher income. When people write, they also improve their ability to think, to articulate their beliefs, needs, and goals. 

But simply telling middle grade kids how important writing is won’t get them writing. You’ll need a bit more persistence (require them to write 😏), motivation (bribes…ahem, rewards…are always welcome), and inspiration (writing prompts!). Here's a few themed prompts to stir up those creative juices. Use them for flash fiction, stories, poetry, or even journal entries.


  • When the leaves start changing colors, so do you.
  • Why does your family pick pumpkins at midnight, under a full moon?
  • Only one person showed up to your Halloween party, and it's a ghost.
  • Your parents make you wear a weird Halloween costume.
  • When you make Halloween cookies, they come to life - are they friends or foes?
  • Your school field trip to an apple orchard takes an unexpected turn.
  • What happens when your school lunch tries to eat you?
  • Write ten things you are grateful for and ten ways you could make life better. 

 Travel Tales

  • Your family moves to a foreign country where you don't speak the language.
  • You take a trip to Disneyland and end up in a movie.
  • Your train trip is hijacked by circus performers.
  • You swim in the ocean for the first time and find . . . 
  • You take a hot air balloon ride with 3 strangers.
  • What happens when you go ziplining in the jungle?
  • When you go down a covered slide, you come out somewhere you've never been before.
  • You learn to fly a rescue helicopter and save....who?

Animal Antics 

  • A dragon moves into your bedroom.
  • You bring a mouse to school in your backpack.
  • Your neighbor gets a pet monkey.
  • Lizards invade your classroom.
  • A frog offers you three wishes.
  • Your pet goldfish teaches you how to breathe underwater.
  • Your neighbor's cows end up in your back yard.
  • You bring a pig to school for pet day.
  • A stray dog has puppies in the crawlspace under your house, but you're not allowed to have pets.
And if that's not enough, here's a few resources for even more prompts!
Journal Buddies
Fun Writing Prompts for Kids
Writing Prompts for Elementary Children
Writing Prompts for Elementary and Middle School Students

Enjoy all the new stories your middle graders write!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Oven Told Me I Should Write Middle Grade Fiction

Though I started writing at a young age, it wasn’t until after I was married and found my fourth child eating one of my many scribblings that I thought, “Hey – maybe I should submit some of this work!”

I started with non-fiction freelancing, because those pieces were faster and easier for me to pound out, allowing me to gain experience and publishing credits while I was slogging away at my fiction ideas. As a teacher, I consider myself to be a patient person multiplied by 1,000. As a writer? Not so much.

At the same time, I was also reading a lot of short stories because they fit in better with my mom-of-young-children attention span and exhaustion level. I had been buying The Best American Short Stories since college and eagerly awaited the new editions each year. The stories were (and still are) surprising, heady and intelligent, and though they could be funny, they were mostly what I thought of as “serious writing.” And I wanted to be a “serious writer.”

So, in between my freelance gigs, I started writing a short story called, “The Oven’s Reflection,” which was about a young woman named Margaret who had been fired from her high-power executive position amidst a backdrop of scandal. As a result, Margaret suffers a sort of breakdown and becomes convinced that her brand-new oven -- the Gustaver 5000 -- is speaking to her. (I know. Don't judge!)

There was a lot of intended DRAMA and SYMBOLISM and THEME packed into this story, as well as “unique” one-liners coming from a sarcastic cooking appliance who was decidedly not a feminist. At the end of the story, Gustaver calls Margaret an “Imposter!” to which Margaret’s response is to finally cook a meal in the oven, silencing Gustaver forever. (You're still judging!)

Since this was my very first fiction submission, I naturally sent it out to five of the tougher markets of the day – which were also the ones most frequently cited in my beloved short story anthology.

Because, why not?

The bad news was that all five publications rejected my story. The good news was that they all included hand-written personal responses. (This was right before the dawn of email submissions. Yes, I’m *that* old.). All the notes said something kind about my writing and/or the story premise (Fools!), but the final reply which changed everything was:

This was well-written. Interesting/quirky story. I’m not sure the voice is right, though. Submit again. Cheers!

I must have read that note fifty times, dissecting each short phrase to determine the level of positivity or negativity attached to the words. I was also fixated on the comment about “voice” – individual writing style – and believed the editor was correct. The voice wasn’t right, because it wasn’t mine. Instead, it was the voice of a writer who was trying to write in a certain way. It was a voice that was pretending to be something it wasn’t.

“The Oven’s Reflection” had been born from the question, “What type of story will they want?” And not, “What type of story do I want to write?” It was like hearing that wretched metal-mouth Gustaver yelling, “Imposter!” all over again.

So, I thought about the types of stories, language, dialogue and humor I was conjuring in my head vs. what actually ended up on the page. 

They didn’t match. 

And, as a huge reader, I thought about all of the books to which I consistently found myself returning. Sure, there were “grown-up” books I loved, but the ones I read again and again were all middle grade.

That’s not to say that middle grade literature is less intelligent, important, entertaining or deep than what’s written with an older audience in mind. MG literature is all of those things and more. But it does have a distinctly different voice -- a voice that welcomes in readers who span an age range of great change, new experiences and feelings of being in-between. Middle grade works were what excited me as a teacher, a reader and a writer.

So, I sat back down and then followed the observant editor’s advice to, “Submit again.” But not to their publication.

Instead, I submitted a story to a middle grade magazine -- a story that had been dancing around in my head for a while called, “The Misadventures of Average Girl,” about 11-year-old Sophie who likes to write comic books, has a female cat named Mr. Fur, and who always feels she is left behind. When American Girl called to let me know they wanted to publish it, one of the first things the editor said was, “We loved your voice!” I knew then I had found my niche.

All because of an encounter with a sarcastic kitchen appliance.

Thanks, Gustaver.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Fun Times with Between-Projects Funk (a post for writers)

For the writers among you, some thoughts on Between-Projects Funk.* (Tell me I’m not alone in experiencing this!)

*Funk, as in 


Do you know what I mean? That angsty, restless feeling that hits after you’ve sent off the project that has consumed you for the last several months (years?), and before you fall headlong into whatever new project will captivate you next.

For me, it happens Every Single Time. And every single time, it catches me off guard. You’d think I’d learn. Instead, a few days or weeks after the high of hitting “send” on that last project, the Between-Projects Funk creeps in like a thick coastal fog, swallowing up joy and energy and creative drive. It feels like a combo pack of boredom and trying-to-latch-onto-me depression, with a side of anxiety about the fate of that recently sent project. Fun times!

I found myself in the midst of this funk recently, but here’s the cool thing: after only one miserable day, I recognized it for what it was. Between-Projects Funk is simply the fuel light flashing on creativity’s dashboard. Time to fill up!

Oh, sure, sometimes there’s more to it. Some grief about letting go of beloved characters, maybe. A shot of fear. A truckload of existential angst. (And if it really hits hard and lingers, maybe it's time to talk to someone, yes?) But I find that, more often than not, Between-Projects Funk is mostly about fuel. Fortunately, I’m learning to embrace that flashing fuel-light, and for me, that’s the key.

Embracing this between time is all about savoring filling the well days, and making the most of them – reading, going on “artist’s dates” (art galleries, concerts, museums, whatever floats your boat), getting out in nature, making music, sleeping, walking, dancing, trying something new, indulging in a creative pursuit that isn’t writing. Embracing between time is exciting, really, because refueling fires you up! 

I know another story will comethe seeds are already sproutingand I want to be rested and refueled and ready for it when it does.

How about you? Do you struggle with restlessness between projects? How do you refuel?

Wishing you good creative health…

putting the funky in Between-Projects Funk

Friday, September 20, 2019

Why Middle Grade?

The middle grade years – the time of life when your body revolts, your friends get weird, and your parents stop being the all-knowing beings you thought they were.  The middle grade years are tough to navigate and sometimes they down right suck. But middle grade is also a time of wonder, a time when the world starts to expand beyond the nuclear family and there are glimpses of future adventures and a testing of independence.

Middle grade is the audience I love.

Middle graders are reading to learn about the world around them and figure out their place in it. Reading allows them to experience cultures and situations that are vastly different from their everyday lives. It also helps them deal with problems in their own lives by reading about how others have handled similar adversity. Middle grade books allow kids to explore and grow and to confront scary subjects from the safety of their classroom.

Writing for middle grade is important.

As an author I want to connect with both middle grade readers and the adults in their lives. I love the librarians, teachers, and parents who seek to guide and love these kids. I want to write books that these adults will urge the children to read. I want to write books that kids will want to steal from the library. (And then feel guilty enough to return the book…)

Middle grade readers are special.

It is important to connect with kids in middle grade. This is the time when life-long readers are born. Connecting with middle graders and drawing them into the world of books and stories is critical. Giving them stories that challenge, educate, entertain, and create wonder is work that is worth doing. That is why - 

I am a middle grade writer

Why do you love middle grade? Please let me know - I want to engage with others who love this age group.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Interview with S.A. Larsen of Motley Education + Giveaway

Today, I'm thrilled to welcome author S.A. Larsen to Middle Grade Minded to talk about the re-release of her middle grade fantasy, MOTLEY EDUCATION. Without further ado, here's the beautiful new cover for the updated edition:

Quiz time! I know, so soon. Can you pitch MOTLEY EDUCATION to me Twitter-style (i.e. in 280 characters or less)?

A misfit spirit tracker & her skittish BFF must elude one ornery school headmistress & brave beasts of Norse mythology to retrieve a relic vital to saving the spirit world, only to discover the true meaning of her quest has been inside her all along. #motleyeducation #mglit

Excellent pitch! Now let's find out more about the world of MOTLEY EDUCATION. Sheri, can you finish these sentences, pretty please?

My main character Ebony is…sweet at heart, feisty when cornered, and more courageous than she knows. Her favorite place is the Boneyard, the cemetery between her family’s house and Motley Junior High. It’s where she can be herself. She hangs out there with Fleishman and the only three ghosts she can see – Mayhem, Mischief, and Meandering. She loves them, but they are a constant reminder of how her spirit tracking skills don’t work as they should; her fellow students don’t let her forget it, either. She doesn’t walk around looking injured, though. Instead, she wears a tough exterior – fingerless gloves, miniskirt, tights with skulls on them, and blue and pink strips in her hair. One thing she can’t hide is the guilt she feels for constantly disappointing her mother. See, her mom is gifted. So is her father, younger brother, and weird twin aunts. It’s not fun being different. At least, this is what she thinks at the start of her story. 😉    

Ebony’s best friend Fleishman is…the best friend everyone wants. He’s honest, loyal, kind, and ridiculously smart, which is convenient during homework study. When Ebony gets a bit too feisty, pushing boundaries, Fleishman is there to reign her in. But he’s not without his own issues. He’s too uptight, needs facts to believe anything, and fears pretty much everything . . . with one exception – his legless lizard Nigel that he carries with him everywhere. Oh, and he rarely laughs at Ebony’s jokes. But she figures he’s missing a funny bone, so she lets it go most of the time.

Motley Junior High: School for the Psychically and Celestially Gifted is…a centuries-old school, where kids with special skills related to Norse mythology can develop, grow, and learn in the proper environment. Once a student is accepted and signs the Terms of Enrollment agreement – which is vital because there are instructions on how to avoid a fire giant attack – he or she is assigned to one of the two school groups. The Sensory group explores the realm of psychic abilities, while the Luminary group charts astrology, the stages of the moon, and creates potions, spells…even a hex or two. *Mankind has drifted so far away from its origins that it has completely forgotten about the World Tree – Yggdrasil and the Nine Worlds. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, MJH has lots of educating to do.

Don't miss S.A. Larsen's awesome giveaway happening now on Twitter (ends 10/2/2019):

S.A. Larsen is an award-winning author, childhood apraxia of speech advocate, and major ice hockey fan, who has watched more hockey games than she could ever count. Her favorite stories open secret passageways and hidden worlds to inspire and challenge the heart. She’s also the author of the award-winning young adult fantasy romance Marked Beauty (Ellysian Press 2017). She lives in the land of lobsters and snowy winters with her husband and four children, where she’s writing Ebony and Fleishman’s next adventure. Visit her cyber home at

Get your copy of MOTLEY EDUCATION today at: Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Smashwords IndieBound 

Read a longer interview with S.A. Larsen at: