Posted by: nancyisanders | October 7, 2019

Writer’s Journal: Journaling an Event


During the 2 1/2 year journey it took me to research and write my newest book, Jane Austen for Kids, I kept different types of handwritten writer’s journals. In the photo above you can see most of them.

I created one journal as an overview of my project.

I filled up two journals with my research notes.

I made an event journal for an important event I attended.

I kept a travel journal, a daily diary of a research trip I took.

I also filled up 2 entire journals of scenes I wrote to include in my nonfiction book. I wrote the first draft of each scene by hand in these notebooks before typing it into the computer and polishing it to perfection.

Next up on my blog, I’m going to share with you how I created an event journal to document an important event I attended to help me with my research (as well as networking with fellow Janeites for future marketing connections).

Stay tuned for fun!

Posted by: nancyisanders | October 3, 2019

Writer’s Journal: Additional Pages


Part of the fun of creating homemade writer’s journals for my research as I wrote JANE AUSTEN FOR KIDS was to add additional pages into my notebooks.





Some pages I Xeroxed from books and taped across the top to flip up as I referred to the information.





Some pages I Xeroxed and glued right onto my pages of my writer’s journal.



Some pages I taped together along the left and taped them into my writer’s journal to open and read like a mini-book.



And some pages were things I had handwritten without my journal. (I might have been away from home when I suddenly got an idea or a concept such as this concept I had for the timeline I wanted to include in my book.) I just grabbed any piece of paper I could find, jotted down my idea, and when I got back home I glued this into my research notebook.

This also works well if you’re writing chronological notes and you want to plug an event in between two pages you’ve already filled in your journal. Just cut full pages to size and tape them in between the two pages they fit in, taping as close to the spine as possible. Number them 16b or 22b and make a note of this in your table of contents.


Posted by: nancyisanders | September 30, 2019

Writer’s Journal: Research and Tracking Notes


If you’ve been following along with my posts, you know that I opted to keep handwritten research notes in homemade journals during my two-and-a-half-year journey to write my newest book, JANE AUSTEN FOR KIDS.

One of the challenges in keeping a handwritten journal is tracking the research notes. And as one of my online writing friends, Annette, posted in a recent comment, she asked, “When you are taking notes from various sources, how do you keep track chronologically?”

There are a couple of ways I track my research, whether it’s chronological or topical.


One way I track my research is to be very careful in my table of contents. If you zoom in closely to the photo right above, on page 25 I added a note to (See also p. 66). This was because I ran out of room in this part of my journal, so I added another page later on to include more information on that topic.

Some research entries I had to continue in a separate research journal because this one filled up. Again, in my table of contents I made a note.

Alternately, I would make a note on the page when I turned to it in my journal. I would write: For more info on this topic, go to Journal #3, page 44 etc.

I also like to create and use outlines as I research a manuscript I’m writing. Since I was writing a birth to death plot for Jane Austen in my book, my outline was in chronological order.

I didn’t create an outline in my writer’s journals. My outline stayed on my computer so I could quickly and easily type in new details where they needed to go. I would print this out occasionally as I was working, to refer to it while I was reading my research books in a comfy chair.

So when I’m using multiple sources, such as I did when I wrote Jane Austen for Kids, here’s my general method for keeping track of chronological events.

I frequently read one chapter or section in my research book. Such as the chapter on Jane’s birth. I took notes in my journal and then picked up another research book and read the section about her birth, adding more notes or backing up notes I already write with the page number of that research book, too.

For example, I created a page in my writer’s journal for:

Jane is born.

On that page in my writer’s journal, I wrote down all the facts from that research book regarding Jane’s birth. My entry reads:

Jane is Born
Born December 16, 1775 MEM1, CH249, CW68, GT6, BCA21,
Born at Steventon Rectory CW68, GT6
Details of birth EJ9, DLFR27
Father baptized her the next day GT6, IC2, HW23
Mrs. Austen write to her relatives a letter to quote AL571

As you can see by my entries, I include with each note I write the secret code I assign to each different research book, along with the page number where that fact was found. I usually like to back up each fact/note with at least 2 sources and hopefully at least 3.

As you can see by the last entry I included, I only have one research source for that. It’s because that particular research book is a primary source (and it’s in the public domain), so I only have to have one source listed for a primary source that is in the public domain.

Do you have any more questions about this process I use? Let me know before I move on to more info about keeping a writer’s journal!

Posted by: nancyisanders | September 27, 2019

Writer’s Journal: Research Code


In the photo above of my research journal for Jane Austen for Kids, you can see some of my favorite research books, along with the secret code I created for each one.


In this photo above, you can see the notes I took about Jane’s character. Since my entire book would be about her life, I decided to just do a section here on her CHARACTER, her personality, and her faith.

Typically, what I did, was I sat down in a comfy chair. I held my research journal in my lap. I held my research book in my hands (some books were on my iPad Kindle).

As I read my research book, I’d just down a note.

For example, I discovered Jane had a “keen sense of humour.” So I wrote that down. Next to it, I also wrote down the secret code for the research book I was reading: MEM.

And next to that I wrote down the page number of that book: 88

As you can see, my entry looked like this:

MEM88 keen sense of humour

I didn’t have to write down the entire title of the book…the code keeps my notetaking much simpler and quicker.

And if I find more than one source that says the same thing, I can easily add that code and page number to back it up. I hardly need any extra space.

I can’t tell you how much using this method of research makes my life as a nonfiction writer so much easier in so many countless ways! I hope you try it and find it helpful too!

Posted by: nancyisanders | September 24, 2019

Writer’s Journal: Research Code

P1080450 stacking the books favorite

Okay, I’m going to share a strategy that I use that changed my life as a nonfiction writer. If you use it, I hope it will change your life too!

I create a secret code for nearly every research book I use.

See that stack of research books I used during my 2-year journey to write Jane Austen for Kids?

I created a secret code for most of them!

Here’s how I did it:

First I gathered totebags of research books from a local university about Jane Austen.

I sat down over several sessions and typed up a bibliography of all those books. (I always like to do this very first thing during the writing journey so all those titles are handy to grab when adding footnotes on my manuscript or adding research notes in my journal)

Then I gave them each a code.

For library books I borrowed, I write this code on a sticky note and stick it inside the front cover.

For research books I bought (which I did for my favorite ones I liked from the library) I just write this secret code inside the front cover.

I type this code on my bibliography. (I make sure to delete the code when I copy and paste bibliography entries into my actual end-of-the-book bibliography.)


But as you can see here in my notebook, after my table of contents, I write my FAVORITE research books here in my writer’s journal, along with their secret codes.

I also included some of my favorite INTERNET resources with their secret code on this page, too

I also glued a sturdy piece of paper up at the top right so I could flip back here often.

What do I do with these secret codes you may ask?

I’ll tell you in my next post!!!!

Posted by: nancyisanders | September 19, 2019

Talk Like a Pirate Day

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Ahoy there, Mateys! Today be the official “Talk Like a Pirate Day”!

And what better way to entertain yer scalawag crew than to read them these rollicking fun poems based on familiar tunes and nursery rhymes. A Pirate’s Mother Goose is a must-have fer every young pirate!

For free printables, coloring pages, and pirate crafts to celebrate this international holiday, be ye certain to check out my book’s website, A Pirate’s Mother Goose.

And for all ye teachers and homeschooling families who want an entire unit of piratey fun, visit my store at Teacher’s Pay Teachers to get YO HO HO! A PIRATE UNIT WITH LOTS OF FUN.

Avast me hearties, yo ho!

Posted by: nancyisanders | September 17, 2019

Writer’s Journal: Research Notebook TOC


As I explained in an earlier post about creating writer’s journals, one of the first things I do is make a 4-page TOC or Table of Contents. I’m posting images of all 4 pages so you can zoom up close to see (if you want to know something I don’t really mention here in these posts).

First it’s just blank numbers from 1-75 or 90 or so (depending on how many blank pages I leave in the front).

Then I go ahead and number all the pages in my blank notebook in the bottom right corners.

As you can see by this first page in my TOC, I’m pretty much following the chronology of Jane’s life.

First I created page 3 about Jane herself.
Then page 4 was about her father.
Page 5 was her mother’s background.
Page 6 was about her mother.
Page 7 was her parent’s wedding, etc.
Page 8 was about when her parents moved to the home she was born in.

Then on Page 9, I took a side trail and created a page about George III and the Prince Regent because they were the rulers when Jane was born/growing up.


On the second page of my TOC I just simply continued to add research notes in a chronological order of Jane’s life, adding pages of research notes about the times she lived in such as the politics and fashions and recipes of the day.

Page 39 was about her last days of writing.
Page 40 was research notes on her death and what happened after she died.


My third page of TOC included notes on various biographies about Jane.

Then I included sections to add research notes about what was happening all over the world during her day. She lived during an amazing time!

I continued these types of notes onto the last page of my TOC.


Once again, I just want to emphasize that this was all a work-in-progress. I didn’t add entries to the TOC until after I created a page for those notes inside my journal. Then I’d come back here to the TOC and mark where that page was.

Posted by: nancyisanders | September 13, 2019

Writer’s Journal: Research Notebook

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One of the first things I do with all my writer’s journals is start decorating the cover. I love wide-rule composition notebooks right now for my journals, and I got these for a dollar each at Walmart. I covered the front and back with scrapbooking paper and Scotch Quick-Drying Tacky Glue. (It dries in less than a minute so I use it for creating my journals.)

Then I typed a title and taped it on the spine. This notebook is called: JANE AUSTEN RESEARCH NOTES #1. It was for my book, JANE AUSTEN FOR KIDS.

As you can see, I also taped a sample of a cover design for how I envisioned my book. It’s working title was JANE AUSTEN AND HER CRADLE OF GENIUS. It would be the 200th Anniversary Edition since her death. I designed this “fake” cover on Inkscape, the free graphics/drawing program I like to use.

I’m telling this to you for a couple of reasons. Reason #1 is to show you that it’s important to take time to have fun. I didn’t design this cover right away. In fact I probably didn’t design it until I was about 6 months into the project. It’s just that one day, I wanted to have fun and create a cover to hang in my office and tape on my notebooks and even glue inside. So I took some time away from my writing and designed the cover. I encourage you to take the time to have fun with your writing project, too!

The second reason I’m telling you this is because these writing journals are a very fluid work-in-progress over the entire journey of writing my book. I had already decorated my notebook’s cover, but later after I designed the cover, I added it to my notebook.

I’m constantly adding things to my notebooks all the time. It keeps me inspired, among other things.

Posted by: nancyisanders | September 11, 2019

Writer’s Journal: RESEARCH!


As you may remember from earlier posts I made about the writing journals I kept during the 2 year journey I took to write my newest book, JANE AUSTEN FOR KIDS, I decided to keep handwritten journals because of a couple of reasons.

One reason was that Jane, herself, didn’t have access to a computer as she wrote and I wanted to immerse myself in her world. Another reason was for health. I knew I’d be spending hours staring at the computer and typing away each day, so I wanted to take a break from eyestrain, wrist strain, and back strain in as many ways as possible. A third reason was that I’ve fallen in love with writer’s journals in this stage of my career.

Above is a picture of my RESEARCH journal. I took it with me camping at the beach this last weekend because Jane loved to escape to the beach instead of spend hot days in Bath. It’s been so hot in southern CA this past week, that the beach just seemed to be the right place to go. So I took along my journal of my research notes to get some photos to share with you.

Yes, that’s right. I challenged myself to keep my research in a handwritten journal.

Imagine! Two years of research notes by hand…I was so worried I would lose notes or get mixed up or some other disaster!

But I’m here to tell you now that didn’t happen! Instead, I now have a wonderful memento of the journey I took to discover “all things Jane” along with the same handy notes I would have if I’d just done everything on the computer. Ready to find out how this was done, so you can do it too? In upcoming posts, I’m hoping to share with you all about the process I took to create a journal of research notes…because it worked!


Posted by: nancyisanders | July 30, 2019

Writer’s Journal: Fun Stuff

I thought you might want to see some of the fun pages and fun stuff I put in my journal. These images are all from pages in my first journal I’ve kept when I wrote Jane Austen for Kids.


I like to glue tickets from key events I attend related to my research. This was a play of Pride and Prejudice acted at a local college…and it was EXCELLENT!


Sometimes I photocopy stuff and staple together and make little books and glue in my journal or tuck it into a paper pocket I glue in my journal.


This was a list of hard-to-find images I wanted to find…all in one place! So I just photocopied the list and put it in my writer’s journal to help me track my progress.


I love to glue in theme-related photos from calendars and cards that I find. Jane loved flowers and gardening, so when I started planning a trip to visit her very own garden in England, I glued in this pretty happy flower as a tab (so I could flip here easily) to decorate this page.


Sometimes I like to create a working cover of my book, just to help me focus and keep the inspiration flowing. As you can see here, I glued this working cover and working title in the back of my journal to flip to often when I needed to regroup and get re-energized to keep on writing!

Posted by: nancyisanders | July 26, 2019

Writer’s Journal: Topics Included


In the center of the photo is my first writer’s journal I kept while working on Jane Austen for Kids.

As I work on my writer’s journal, the topics I include in each journal vary with each different project. I thought I’d share a little bit about the topics I included in this particular writer’s journal, because it includes the same I generally put into most of my book project journals.

I often include a timeline and leave several blank pages for this to fill in. This is a timeline of the progress I’m making on my book. Such as when I got the idea. When I submitted it to my critique group. When I finished my first draft. When I submitted it to the publisher. When the publisher accepted it. Etc. It’s just kind of fun to go back and look at the time it took to go through various stages. Plus, it gives me great content to share on my website or when teaching a video class or when speaking at a conference or retreat.

(Or first line and last line) or start and finish. I like to bring my ending round to my beginning, so sometimes I include a page in my journal to keep track of ideas for how I will do this.

I jot down ideas I’m thinking about including in a proposal if I’m writing a proposal to either pitch the idea and land the contract or pitch the finished book.

Lots of brainstorming goes into a working title for a project, and this is the section I jot down some of my favorites.

When I pitch an idea to a publisher to land a contract to write a book (Like I did for this one) or if I am submitting a finished manuscript to a publisher, I usually include a market analysis. This is a comparison to several competing titles to show the editors how my book fits in. This is where I jot down notes.

Usually when I travel to do research or take photographs for my book, I create a brand new writer’s journal just for that trip. But sometimes I keep general ideas for planning the trip in my main journal. Like in here.

While I’m writing a book manuscript, I’m always thinking about what I can put on a website to help market it after it’s published. Many of my books have their own website, too. This is the place I jot down ideas of content I want to add when I come across it so that after the book is published, I’ll be sure to check back here to see if I added in everything I wanted to.

Some of my books have teacher’s guides. I write some and for some the publisher has them written. Here is where I keep a list of potential ideas. Right now I’m still working on the teacher’s guide for Jane Austen, using ideas from this journal.

This is where I keep my master list of big and little tasks I want to remember to complete as I’m working on the project. It keeps these all in one handy place, which is essential for really big projects like this one.

While I’m working on a manuscript, I’ll often get ideas to help market the book after it’s publisher. I keep these listed in here.

Posted by: nancyisanders | July 22, 2019

Writer’s Journal Table of Contents


When I add my Table of Contents to my writer’s journal, I like to write it on the right-hand side of each spread. That’s because in many of my journals I like to add information on the left side that I want to keep up front and center in my mind.

The Table of Contents covers 4 pages in the 100-page wide-ruled composition books I like to use.

On the first page of my TABLE OF CONTENTS, I like to include a piece of scrap from my scrapbooking paper or sturdy cardstock. (See it in the top right corner of the photo?) That’s cause I flip constantly back to this page as I’m filling in and I like to get right to it.

After the Table of Contents, on the following pages I start numbering my pages in the lower right corner of each page. I usually do this over 4 or 5 sittings as I’m waiting for my e-mails to load or sitting in the car waiting in the drive-through of Carl’s Jr. for my Beyond Meat burger. (Yummy, but kind of pricey!) Once the page numbering is done, however, it’s done, so I like to get it done right away when I prepare my journal.

In photos below, I’m including several pages of my Table of Contents from this journal just so you can zoom in and see what topics I covered in this journal. This was my first journal that I started, so as it took shape it gradually became my “BIG PICTURE” notebook. Meaning I didn’t take detailed research notes in it or write any first drafts of pages in it. Some of my writer’s journals I include all these things in just one journal, especially if the project I’m working on is a stand-alone picture book.

But in this one, I wrote down more general notes such as title ideas, market analysis (for preparing my proposal) and favorite quotes of Jane’s I wanted to collect.




Posted by: nancyisanders | July 18, 2019

In Honor of Jane Austen July 18, 2019


Today, to honor Jane Austen on the 202nd anniversary of her death, you can discover more about the story behind the story behind my book JANE AUSTEN FOR KIDS.

Stop by the blog of amazing nonfiction author, Peggy Thomas to read an interview she posted about my book. Be sure to post a comment and say hi!

CLICK HERE to visit Peggy’s blog, Anatomy of Nonfiction.

Posted by: nancyisanders | July 18, 2019

Writer’s Journal: The Format

Jane Austen for Kids official cover

Before I start writing in any of these handmade writer’s journal that I was creating after I landed the contract to write JANE AUSTEN FOR KIDS, there is a little bit of prep I do. For starters, as I’ve learned from my earliest journal adventures, a Table of Contents is ESSENTIAL, and this requires me to number all the pages of my blank notebook.

Without a Table of Contents and without numbering all the pages, you’ll be lost rowing up a creek without a paddle. But with a Table of Contents and corresponding page numbers, any research note you need to find is always handy at your fingertips, even 2 years later when an editor e-mails to ask a research question that one of your readers contacted them with.

You might not be a crafty person and that’s okay. You may not want to decorate your writer’s journal with scrapbooking supplies or brochures/tickets from events and historic sites you attended during the writing process.

That’s okay. The key is to make your journal fit YOU.

I’m just sharing what works for me and hopefully you’ll figure out some great ideas to personalize your own journals.


I like to open my journal and get inspired. So I always leave 1-4 blank pages in the beginning of my journal before I start the Table of Contents. My favorite source of inspiration is quoting Scripture. In the photo above and below you can see some of the Scriptures I found during the writing process, or thoughts I had along my writing journey.


I also leave room for a title page before I start my Table of Contents (with more inspirational quotes!). As you can see in the photo above the title that is written in this notebook (which is the very first notebook I started working on) is the actual title of my book.

That means I didn’t write it in here until after about 2 years of working on this project. In other notebooks, I might write the working title but in this one I waited until the publisher picked the actual title. And that also goes along with these inspirational quotes and illustrations I decorate these with. I don’t add these in until the mood strikes me somewhere along my journey. This entire journal is a work-in-progress.

But first, I just leave 1-4 blank pages before I start my Table of Contents.


Posted by: nancyisanders | July 15, 2019

Creating 3-D Characters


When I was working on my nonfiction book, JANE AUSTEN FOR KIDS, I was researching a woman who is known as a genius in literature for character development.

I knew I really really wanted to develop her character, even in this nonfiction title, so that she was a truly unique and identifiable personality…in other words I wanted her to come alive on the page as a living and breathing individual.

It’s so easy to produce flat, cardboard characters that are one-dimensional. Jane Austen is famous for creating three-dimensional characters that feel so real people can still identify with and relate to them today.

Over my years of writing for children’s fiction series as well as picture books and nonfiction for kids, creating 3-D characters has been key. They catch the editor’s eye and touch the hearts of young readers.

I’m excited to share with you a brand new audio/video class that I’ve created as one of the instructors for SERIOUS WRITER ACADEMY. I recently joined this academy as an instructor and this is my very first class! SERIOUS WRITER ACADEMY is the place you can purchase a la carte writing courses to fit your career needs!

My course is called DEVELOP YOUR CHARACTERS WITH TOP SECRET DETECTIVE FILES. Each video is bursting with information about techniques I actually use as a career author to bring my children’s characters to life. You’ll also get handouts and worksheets to fill in to help you during the writing process.

With 6 videos and a total of 75 minutes of instruction, you’ll be equipped to develop 3-D characters whether you write fiction or nonfiction, picture books or novels, magazine articles or online stories!

CLICK HERE for more information and the link to purchase my brand new class.

Posted by: nancyisanders | July 13, 2019

Writer’s Journal: Jane Austen


When I wrote my newest book, JANE AUSTEN FOR KIDS, I made the decision to keep many of my research notes in a handwritten journal.

I didn’t realize at the time that I would be creating SEVEN handwritten journals along my 2 1/2 year journey, lol, but I knew I would need certain supplies to get the process started.

Since I’m a children’s writer, I love to PLAY as I write, so I already have a little kid’s backpack filled with the basics. Several years ago I spotted this one with a purple, pink, and green butterfly design and got it for all my crafty supplies. This backpack is handy to carry around with me as I decorate my journals, which is an ongoing process while I’m writing and working on my manuscript. When I travel, however, I leave this backpack at home and just take along basic supplies such as my scissors and glue and pens.

When I want to create my research journals for my writing projects, my favorite book to use is a wide-ruled blank composition notebook with 100 pages. I get them for about $1 each at Walmart. You can purchase some with cute designs, or (as I like to do) decorate your own.

I love to decorate my own journals because I can make each one really support the theme and purpose that I’m using it for. For example, one of my journals for this book project covered an event I attended called the JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY OF NORTH AMERICA’S (JASNA’s) ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING. I used images from the brochures to decorate the cover and interior of my journal.


Basic supplies for each book include:

* Quick-drying glue that dries in less than a minute. The brand I’m currently using is SCOTCH QUICK-DRYING TACKY GLUE. I love gluing the cover design or interior pages, letting it dry for 30 seconds, and then moving onto the next page. This is especially important when I’m creating a travel journal as I’m visiting historic sites or places pertinent to my research and documenting information in my journal on the go. I don’t have time to let things dry overnight in my frenzy to document key events as they are happening. (When I fly, I pack this glue in my check-in luggage or carry a glue-stick on the plane.)

* Scissors: a nice, comfortable pair is a must to save your hands and wrists. When I travel, I pack a small but good pair. Even flying international, no airport has ever made me leave it behind.

* I also have a set of cheap decorative scissors when I want to put a pretty edge on things.

* My favorite pens for writing in my journal plus fine-tip permanent markers for writing over glossy paper such as tickets or brochures that I glue into my journal.

* Portable mini-paper cutter. I use this a lot, actually, and keep it closed with rubber bands. It’s so handy for cutting things really straight.

* In a separate totebag I have several large square books of sturdy designer scrapbooking paper that I cut to cover my book’s covers.

* Not shown that I keep inside my backpack is my collection of scrapbooking stick-ons available at Walmart or most craft stores. I also keep birthday cards and collect pretty magazines or calendars related to my project. Plus I like to collect different fonts of alphabet stickers to use for writing my notebook titles or other titles in the interior. Most anything related to scrapbooking supplies can be used in your journaling adventures!

If you already keep handwritten writing journals (or plan to) are there any other types of essential supplies you recommend?

Posted by: nancyisanders | July 12, 2019

Writer’s Journal

Jane Austen for Kids official cover

As many of you know who follow my blog, my newest nonfiction for young readers was released this year, JANE AUSTEN FOR KIDS.

What you may not know is that this book took me over two years to write and during that time, I kept hand-written journals to track my research, brainstorm ideas, and write first drafts. (See the stack of 7 composition notebooks in the center on the top bookcase? Those are the journals I filled up in my 2-year journey!)


Why hand-written? In this modern age when there are amazing computer programs out there to help a writer stay organized and keep all your information at your fingertips?

For several reasons!

#1 I knew I would be married to my devices and staring at computer screens for hours upon hours upon hours. I opted to delegate specific tasks to hand-writing in journals to promote my physical health. This gave my eyes a break from the glare of the screen. This gave my wrists a break to avoid carpel tunnel. This gave my back a break to allow me to sit somewhere other than my computer chair and desk. This even gave me a mental break because I could literally go unplugged on a short vacation here and there and still have my main project notes with me.

#2 Call me sentimental, but since I was writing about the great literary giant Jane Austen who had to write everything she did out by hand, I just wanted to use this experience as part of the whole soaking up process of getting to live, eat, and breathe (and drink tea!) with my subject.

#3 As a children’s writer, I love to “play.” I think it helps me stay connected to the kids and young readers who will be reading my books. So keeping hand-written journals also gave me the freedom to “play” with my pages. I decorated with scrapbooking supplies as my creative heart led me each different day. I used markers and staples and glue and tape and scissors just like kids do when they make a research project.

One of the amazing benefits I discovered along the way was that as I stepped away from the computer to add content to my journals, I could literally feel a different part of my brain unlock and open up. My creative juices at these times flowed in absolutely amazing ways!

In the posts ahead and I want to share a little bit of my journey with you about my experience–I even kept my key research notes in hand-written journals! Shocking, isn’t it?! I was shocked at how well it worked and at how rich of an experience it was.

I hope you might be inspired to do this as well if you haven’t yet. Or if you already keep hand-written project journals, I hope you’ll get some ideas to take your experience to the next level.

(Here’s a close-up of my 7 journals to give you a general idea of each one’s content)



Posted by: nancyisanders | June 6, 2019

Author Interview: Peggy Thomas

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Meet Author Peggy Thomas!
Website: Peggy Thomas Writes
Blog: Anatomy of Nonfiction

Peggy Thomas is the author of 25 award-winning books for children and young adults, and co-author of Anatomy of Nonfiction, a guide to writing true stories for children. Her newest book is George Washington Carver for Kids. Check out her website for more information.

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Featured Book
George Washington Carver for Kids
by Peggy Thomas
Chicago Review Press, 2019

George Washington Carver was a scientist, educator, artist, inventor, and humanitarian. Born into slavery during the Civil War, he later pursued an education and would become the first black graduate from Iowa Agricultural College. Carver then took a teaching position at the Tuskegee Institute, founded by Booker T. Washington. There, Carver taught poor Southern farmers how to nourish the soil, conserve resources, and feed their families. He also developed hundreds of new products from the sweet potato, peanut, and other crops, and his discoveries gained him a place in the national spotlight.

George Washington Carver for Kids tells the inspiring story of this remarkable American. It includes a time line, resources for further research, and 21 hands-on activities to help better appreciate Carver’s genius. Kids will: •Turn a gourd into a decorative bowl• Construct a model of a sod house• Brew ginger tea• Create paints using items found in nature• Grow sweet potatoes• Build a compost bin for kitchen and yard waste• Learn how to pickle watermelon rinds• And more!

Q: What drew you to George Washington Carver?

A: Honestly? Market research. I received a great tip from one of my favorite authors (Nancy) that Chicago Review Press For Kids series liked to cover the basics, even if there were dozens of other books on the topic. I’ve always admired the series, so I analyzed their list, and discovered that they did not have a book on Carver who is commonly featured in teachers’ units on inventors, agriculture, and for Black History Month.

Q: What was your research process like?

A: I began on the couch surfing the net, making lists of books I needed to read and places I wanted to visit. In Diamond, Missouri, on the site where Carver was born, is the GWC National Monument. I walked the woods he played in as a boy, and visited the one-room schoolhouse he attended. The park ranger Curtis Gregory pulled out interview transcripts of people who remembered Carver, and guided me to the most reliable sources.

My next stop was Tuskegee University Archives where I held a slice of the Carver meteorite, and saw what remained of Carver’s research notebooks after his lab burned down. Dana Chandler, the archivist, helped me keep Carver in the proper perspective. Carver was a product of his time, but after his death, he was portrayed as a scientific genius. Hopefully readers will find a balanced portrayal and learn a few new things about him.

Q: How is writing mid-grade different from writing picture books?

A: I forgot how much I missed writing mid-grade and YA nonfiction. My 48-page nonfiction picture books typically have 3000-4000 words. George Washington Carver for Kids has ten times that amount. It felt luxurious. I could explore tangents, flesh out characters, and even speculate. My favorite part in the book is a sidebar called “Rock City — Did he or Didn’t He?” I had found out that Carver, a serious rock-hound, once lived 3 miles from an amazing geological site called Rock City. In the middle of a flat prairie sit these massive spheres that look like giants just abandoned a game of marbles. There is no evidence that he visited Rock City, but as I say in the book, surely one of his many friends must have mentioned it. And how could he have resisted? I didn’t know if the editors would like it or not, but they did. I think it’s fun to do things like that, to peak a child’s sense of wonder.

Q: Is there a word of advice you’d like to share with other writers?

A: Find your tribe. When I was starting out, I was spoiled to be in a critique group with my mother, an accomplished author, and several of her amazing writer friends. I soaked up every word they uttered. After my mother died, I floundered on my own. I missed having that knowledgeable sounding board to bounce ideas off, learn from, and gripe to. Now, I feel twice blessed to have found another stellar group of writers (the Nonfiction Ninjas) who continue to help me grow. It’s hard to do this job alone. Find a critique group that works for you. There is strength in numbers.

Posted by: nancyisanders | June 3, 2019

Oldie But Goodie: Sensory Details

Here’s another post from days gone by on my blog. I hope you can get some good strategies to use if you didn’t yet read it:


We can make our story 3-D by adding sensory details.
Sight: What does our character see?
Smell: What does she smell each time she walks into a certain room?
Touch: What does she feel brush across the back of her neck or poke her in the ribs? Hear: What does she hear going on in the background of the scene?
Taste: What yummy treat does she eat at the circus?

When I write, I write in layers. Meaning that first I just need to get the story that is in my brain and in my heart out on paper.

Then I go back in and plug in important things like sensory details.

I just go through and find several key spots (in a picture book) where I can plug in a sensory detail–in space this tight with limited word count–hopefully in just a word, a phrase, or a short sentence.

Go back through and check your manuscript for sensory details. It will really make your story come alive!

And if you’re not sure how to plug in sensory details, just look at your mentor text(s). Read through them and see how they plugged in the sights, sounds, and smells of that topic.

Posted by: nancyisanders | May 31, 2019

Oldie But Goodie: Plot Worksheet

Right now I’m working on a brand new picture book concept. And I’m plotting it out using a worksheet I love to use. Here’s a former oldie but goodie post I made awhile back on my blog to share this worksheet with you. Enjoy!

Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, magazine stories or picture books or chapter books or novels, brainstorming a basic plot structure to use will improve your manuscript guaranteed.

I often use a worksheet, “The Basic Plot Worksheet A,” I created for my own writing projects. The results have been amazing! For the first time EVER I’m getting feedback from editors that my manuscripts are much stronger…and sometimes don’t need major edits at all!

You can download and print out this worksheet by visiting my site, Writing According to Humphrey and Friends. Scroll down the page to CHARTS AND WORKSHEETS TO GET ORGANIZED FOR SUCCESS and click on the “Basic Plot Worksheet A.”

Here’s how to fill this out:

* Fill in the stats in the left column. If you don’t yet have a title for your article or story, just write down a keyword.
-Write your name as the Author.
-Write the name of your target publisher if you have one, otherwise leave blank.
-Write the year as the copyright date. You won’t know until you get a contract whether your publisher or you will own the copyright.
-Write the age of the reader as the Target Age.
-Write your estimated word count of the finished manuscript.
-Add any notes you want to add.

*Now let’s look at the plot chart.

Notice how each story or article has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The middle is divided into two halves.
1st half of the Middle
2nd half of the Middle

On your chart in the “Beginning” column under “How does the story start?” write down how you want your story to begin. If writing fiction or creative nonfiction, be sure to introduce your main character and the main problem she’ll be battling with throughout the story. If writing nonfiction, be sure to include a hook to grab your reader’s interest.

On the line for “Change 1:” write down a significant change (either emotionally or in the action or in the progression of information) that happens to the character or topic to start the middle of the story or article.

Then under the “1st Half of the Middle” column, write down 3 examples or anecdotes you want to write about in this section to show your MC trying to solve her problem (fiction) or that presents the information you want to share (nonfiction).

On the line for “Change 2:” write down the significant change that moves your character or topic into the next section.

This “middle line of the Middle” of the story or article is the turning point of the plot. It’s the place something important happens in fiction or creative nonfiction that moves the character toward the finish line with no turning back. It’s the place in nonfiction that the information you present is crucial to how your piece will wrap up at the end.

Next, for the “2nd Half of the Middle,” find 3 examples or anecdotes that I want to include here that propels your reader toward the ending. The obstacles should be getting bigger and bigger. The tension should be building.

On the line for “Change 3:” write the single incident that launches your character (fiction or creative nonfiction) or information (nonfiction) to the climax of your manuscript. Then in the column for “How does the story end” list 3 elements to wrap your story or article up with a satisfying end.

This exercise will go quickly for you if you already have solid ideas for your story (fiction and creative nonfiction) or have researched your topic (nonfiction) and already have the basic facts in your head. If you haven’t yet brainstormed your story or researched your topic, don’t despair! Just take your time and enjoy the process of filling out this form. Then take time to brainstorm your story or dig around and research your topic until you have the information you need to fill out each part of the chart.

When you’re done with the worksheet, make a file folder for it and label it “Plot Worksheet” so you can keep it in one handy place in your file pocket of folders.

This worksheet will really pay off at the end. Your writing will be tight and to the point. It will help you not get writer’s block because you will already have a roadmap to follow when you sit down to write.

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