Writer’s Block (Don’t Fall for It!), by Anthony D. Fredericks

Navigating clip_image002[2] (1) Nonfiction

A monthly column by Anthony D. Fredericks

thinking manI don’t get “writer’s block!” Never have, never will.

Why? Because I believe writer’s block is a personal exemption—a “get-out-of-jail-free” card. It’s an all-too-common fallback; a walled defense against discipline; and a self-imposed pardon for the sins of inaction. It’s a cheap way to justify a writer’s lack of incentive, drive, or passion.

It’s an escape clause for the unmotivated.

Wikipedia defines writer’s block as “a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown.” I’m OK with that definition as it offers the uninitiated (the nonwriter) a way to compartmentalize and clarify an apparently common “affliction” of the writing class. My degree of uncomfortableness comes from the overt tendency of many writers to give in to this “disease.” As stated above, it’s an excuse the brain buys into—a way to justify that what you are facing is insurmountable, unconquerable, or unimaginable.

woman writerWriter’s block may be something dancing among the brain cells of other writers; but it’s something I refuse entrance into my cranium. I do that by engaging in any number of creative measures that prevent either its birth or its influence.

The list below includes a few strategies I’ve incorporated into my writing regime. Some of these are done on a regular basis as elements of my daily activities, rather than at times when I might be struck with this insidious disease. In short, I take a proactive stance to writer’s block, believing that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. My secret: Make some of these suggestions a regular part of your time in front of the computer—well in advance of any potential onset of the disease. Use them before you get the disease, not when you might be face-to-face with this monster.

  1. Visit a library – Spend some time and read the good, the bad, and the ugly.
  2. Write in a different place – The laundry room, a closet, the basement, in your car—it doesn’t matter. A new environment always stimulates new thoughts.
  3. Start in the middle of your book, not the beginning – Beginnings are always tough; middles are much easier.
  4. graphic man at laptopUse a different writing tool – A pencil, a crayon, a paint brush—anything that takes you out of your comfort zone.
  5. Set the timer – Write as much as you can about anything for two minutes, five minutes, ten minutes.
  6. Freewrite – Write about anything bouncing around in your head.
  7. Browse photos – Access those photos from your vacation last year. Any book ideas there?
  8. Copy and type the first paragraph from a favorite nonfiction book. Close the book and pretend that that paragraph is yours. Now write the rest of the story.
  9. Listen to two different types of music – Smooth jazz and classic rock and roll always energize my brain cells.
  10. Do a different kind of writing – Write a memoir, a racy narrative, a letter to your congresswoman, a complaint to the electric company, a science fiction tale.
  11. writing deskRead some quotes about writing – Click on brainyquotes.com and look for writing quotes.
  12. Watch some funny YouTube videos – Laughter always changes your mindset.
  13. Write at a different time – Very early in the morning, very late at night, just after dinner, during commercials on TV, while folding laundry.
  14. Take a trip – Around the block, to a neighboring city, the beach, a friend’s house, a new grocery store.
  15. Paint – Pick up a paintbrush and paint a picture of your concept. It doesn’t have to be pretty—no one will see it.
  16. Write a letter to your audience – Tell them why you are writing this book.
  17. Have a long conversation with someone under the age of sixteen.


WritingChildrensBooksTony is an award-winning author of more than fifty children’s books, including the 2018 Outstanding Science Trade Book Tall Tall Tree (https://amzn.to/2KDjDyg). He also authored Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published [“This book contains everything you need to know and understand about writing children’s books.” – 5 stars] (https://amzn.to/2tREKCa).

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Eastern PA SCBWI Meet & Greet on November 12 in Newtown, PA, by Virginia Law Manning

frank and kathy

Please join author Frank Murphy, store owner Kathy Tholey Morrison, and fellow authors and illustrators at the Newtown Bookshop on Monday, November 12, for an evening of book talk and networking. Frank will speak to attendees about writing nonfiction for children. Then Kathy and Frank will discuss the dynamics of a healthy author/independent bookseller relationship. This free event is open to SCBWI members and nonmembers. Together we’ll celebrate Love Your Bookstore Week, and attendees can take the Love Your Bookstore Challenge.

BenFranklinFrank Murphy is the author of fun historical fiction/biography books for children, including five leveled readers published by Random House in the popular Step into Reading series. In July 2019, Sleeping Bear Press will publish A Boy Like You written by Frank Murphy, illustrated by Kayla Harren.

Here’s what Frank has to say about The Newtown Bookshop:

“I love The Newtown Bookshop. It’s nestled in a row of stores in a strip mall in Newtown, PA. It doesn’t matter who is working there when I walk in—each person is friendly and so ready to talk books. Kathy Morrison, the owner, is really supportive of local authors, and her knowledge and love for children’s books make her that much more of a true book aficionado. From the window displays as you approach and the literary knickknacks they feature as you walk into the shop, to your journey to the back of the shop where the large children’s book section rests, you will always find a new book you didn’t know existed. The Newtown Bookshop is nestled right in the corner of my heart!”


I hope you’ll join us for this free event! Here are the details:

Eastern PA SCBWI Meet & Greet

When: Monday, November 12, from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m.

Where: Newtown Bookshop, 2835 S. Eagle Road, Newtown, PA 18940

LoveYourBookstorelogoPlease RSVP to Virginia Law Manning at epa-ic@scbwi.org.

Store’s website: https://www.newtownbookshop.com/

For more information about Love Your Bookstore Week and the Love Your Bookstore Challenge, please visit http://www.loveyourbookstore.com/.


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A Critique Group Update & Something New! by Heather Stigall

As I approach my one-year anniversary as EPA’s Critique Group Coordinator, I want to take this time to congratulate our members. I have met many of you at local events, and we have connected through e-mail and social media. We are writing and illustrating and achieving our goals. We are evolving and growing and making books. I can see our growth in one area in particular—critique groups.

achievement-3390228__480In the past year, I’ve added ten new groups to our Critique Group page. Ten! That is a lot. And that means we are working on our craft. We are supporting each other. We are teaching and learning and putting ourselves out there. We want our work to shine and to be worthy of the young readers who will someday be hugging our books to their chests.

If you are not yet in a critique group, but would like to be, please look at our site’s listings on our Critique Group page to see if there is one open in your area that meets your needs. If there isn’t one in your area, it’s time to step up! To borrow a phrase from the movie Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.” I can help guide the way, but it’s up to you, dear members, to build your critique groups. If you are asking yourself, “Why would I do that? How do I do that? What do I do once I get started?” I encourage you to check out my previous blog posts that answer these questions (The WHYs of Critique Groups; The HOWs of Critique Groups; The WHO, WHERE & WHENs of Critique Groups; and The WHATs of Critique Groups). Or, just e-mail me! My contact information is on the Critique Group page.

epa critique swapAnd now for something new!

You know I am a huge fan of critique groups, and I encourage every writer to be part of one. But what if your group genre, location, and meeting times are perfect, but no one else writes fantasy? Or your group is only a group of two (or even one) right now, and you’d like more (or any!) eyes on your manuscript? Or your group has seen so many versions of your manuscript, they are all blurring together? Maybe you’d like the opportunity to swap manuscripts with a set of fresh eyes; with someone you can trust, because they are local members of SCBWI who are dedicated to honing their craft. Now there’s a place just for you.

selection-64197__480I have created a new Facebook group called EPA Critique Swap. Like other manuscript swap groups already out there, this is a place to connect with other kid lit writers and illustrators to swap manuscripts and dummies. But this group is ONLY for SCBWI members in the Eastern Pennsylvania chapter. You must request to join, and acceptance will only be granted if you are an EPA SCBWI member. You may join and use the group whether or not you are already in a critique group. Rules for posting are listed in the group, but here are the basics: Post what you write, the word count you want read, and what kind of feedback you are looking for. Interested parties then private message the author/illustrator, and both make arrangements for swapping work. The expectation is that members will exchange critiques, not just request and receive feedback on their own work.

My hope is that this becomes an additional way we, as creators, can continue to support each other on our journeys. Who knows? Maybe one set of fresh eyes will be just what your manuscript needs to whip it into shape. Maybe a new critique group will form out of connections made on EPA Critique Swap (If that does happen, please tell me so I can add your group to the CG page!). Maybe you’ll make a new friend.

Now, go create!

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Where Do You Get Your Ideas? Part 3, by Anthony D. Fredericks

Navigating clip_image002[2] (1) Nonfiction

A monthly column by Anthony D. Fredericks

mindmap-2123973__480Getting new and exciting ideas for writing children’s books—particularly nonfiction—is a constant challenge. In both the August and September columns we looked at some common sources for ideas and how those ideas could be reconceptualized to help us generate some incredible new writing possibilities. This month, we’ll look at additional possibilities that will get your fingers dancing across your computer keyboard like never before.

Consider these options:

Junk mail

mail-truck-3248139__480I often discover many “nuggets” in the junk mail that arrives every day. A postcard about why I need a new set of kitchen windows might evolve into a story about how the Romans were the first to use glass for windows in 100 AD. An envelope with an offer for life insurance may stimulate an idea about how to relate to a relative with Parkinson’s disease. An ad about a sale at a local furniture store might generate an idea about unusual forms of furniture from around the world. Or, a flyer about the discounts available at the grocery store may create a story about how various foods make it from the garden or field to one’s dinner table. What you discover in your mailbox can be a daily reminder of some incredible writing opportunities.

Talking with kids

grandmother-1822564__480A very simple way of getting new ideas is to talk with kids. Your kids, kids in the neighborhood, kids in your child’s class, or kids you see at the local playground are all potential sources of information for book topics. If it’s a nice Saturday, I’ll take a book and visit a local park. I’ll find a bench near a playground set and settle in to read for an hour or two. But, I’ll listen carefully whenever any children swing on the swings, slide down the slides, or climb over the monkey bars. What do they share with each other? What do they say, and how do they say it? What topics command their interest? Here is a good place to collect terms, phrases, and sentences that might drive a nonfiction story.

Exploring online communities

Finding inspiration and support can also be accomplished via several online communities. For example, LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) offers a host of writing groups, support organizations, and instructional forums directed specifically at both novice and experienced writers. I’ve found that a few minutes perusing one of those groups can help me work through a “mental block” or a writing challenge with a new sense of creativity and originality. I’ve also discovered a few new ideas to add to my notebook.

Watching TV

Tall tall treeThe TV can be a constant source of inspiration and creativity. What shows are “hot” right now? What are some of the most popular shows watched by your children or the friends of your children? What are the topics or subjects you are drawn to? What gets you excited, enthralled, or enchanted? Did you learn something new in a particular TV special that might be a topic for a future nonfiction book? Don’t forget the videos you watch on YouTube or Netflix. What strikes your fancy? What keeps you “glued” to the screen? My latest children’s book was the result of a documentary about redwoods (and a subsequent trip to the redwood forests of Northern California).

I’ve learned that ideas can pop up at any time—in the doctor’s office, in line at the grocery store, at a concert, while walking through the neighborhood park, or while at a movie. My job is to be ready for those ideas whenever they may appear. In essence, I don’t just write when I’m at my desk in the morning, I’m prepared to write at almost any time of the day or night. Writers live, breathe, and exist to write. Ideas may surface at any time … any place. It takes discipline to be ready and waiting for them.



Tony is an award-winning author of more than fifty children’s books, including the 2018 Outstanding Science Trade Book Tall Tall Tree (https://amzn.to/2KDjDyg). This blog post was excerpted and modified from Chapter 9 in Tony’s latest writing book: Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published (https://amzn.to/2tREKCa).



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A Cafe Chat with Hilda Eunice Burgos and the Lancaster Avenue Writers’ Group, by Laura Parnum


The Lancaster Avenue WritersGroup is a middle grade and young adult SCBWI-affiliated critique group that I belong to. Today Ive invited some of our other members here to the Eastern Penn Points Café for a very special occasion. One of our members, Hilda Eunice Burgos, just had her debut middle grade novel, Ana María Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle, release last week, and we couldnt be more excited! The book has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal and has received praise as A Latina Little Women with a modern Washington Heights Flair.

chocolate-chip-cookies-940429__480Joining Hilda and me today at the café are Amy Beth Sisson and Susan North. Weve just settled into our booth. Hildas got her herbal tea, Susans drinking coffee with cream, Amy has a nice strong drip coffee, and Ive ordered a tall glass of apple cider and a plate of chocolate chip cookies for us all to share.

Laura: So, Hilda, first off, CONGRATULATIONS! It’s so great that young readers can finally get to know Anamay and her whole family. How did you feel on release day? Nervous? Excited? Or both?

Hilda: Both! I had to go to work that day, so I’m glad I had something else to distract me.

Ana Maria Reyes

Laura: Can you tell us how you got your book deal with the Tu Books imprint of Lee & Low.

Hilda: I submitted my book to the Tu Books New Visions Award contest, which is a writing contest for YA/MG novels and graphic novels by authors of color and Native nations. The book was selected as one of five finalists. It did not win the award, but Lee & Low nevertheless offered me a contract after the contest was over.

Amy: You started this novel before your son was born and completed it after he was grown. How would it have been different if you had finished it then?

Hilda: I originally wrote this as a chapter book, so it was much shorter and had a simpler, more streamlined plot. When I pulled it out again about 16 years later, I had just returned from an inspiring EPA SCBWI conference, and I decided that there was a lot more I could do with this story. I’m glad I expanded the book to a middle grade novel, and I probably wouldn’t have done that when I first wrote it all those years ago.

Garcia GirlsSusan: Did you have any mentor texts or middle grade novels that inspired your writing?

Hilda: I enjoy reading many different types of novels, but the ones that speak to me as a writer are based on everyday life and are family oriented. Little Women and How the García Girls Lost Their Accents stood out to me because they are about families with four sisters like my own family and like Ana María’s family.

Amy: You are very effective in showing how Ana María grows through the novel, especially when she visits the Dominican Republic. I like how you show that she becomes a better person without making it saccharin or false. She didnt end up being overly nice or unrealistically perfect. Did you have a similar experience as a child?

Hilda: Ana María’s specific experiences are fictional, but I visited the Dominican Republic for the first time when I was ten, and it opened my eyes to the extreme social and economic disparities present in our world.

Laura: It’s wonderful that you can bring some of those issues to light in your book. We are definitely excited for you, Hilda. And thank you all for stopping by the café!

Hilda and book

If youd like to meet Hilda and get your hands on a copy of Ana María Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle, come to her book launch party this Sunday. Hilda will be signing copies of her book!

When: Sunday, October 14, 2018, at 3:00 pm

Where: Childrens Book World, 17 Haverford Station Road, Haverford, PA 19041

Hilda Eunice Burgos has been writing for many years, but Ana María Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle is her first published novel. Her parents emigrated from the Dominican Republic before she was born, and she grew up in New York City as one of four sisters. She now lives with her husband, Wayne, near Philadelphia, where she works as an environmental lawyer. You can visit her website at hildaeuniceburgos.com.

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Page Street Kids Prize


Prize Announcement!

Page Street Kids, the children’s book imprint of Page Street Publishing, is thrilled to announce the first annual Page Street Kids Prize, acknowledging a stand-out children’s book proposal from a debut author-illustrator.

Author-illustrators with strong storytelling abilities, innovative styles, original voices, and unique tales are invited to submit book dummies in the following categories:

  • Original fiction (prose or in verse) for ages 4-8
  • Narrative nonfiction for ages 8-12


The winner will receive a $1,000 visa gift card, text and art development feedback, and consideration for publication.


  • Open to all legal residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia as well as Canada, who are at least 18 years of age at the time of entry
  • The creator must be unagented and not have any previously published trade picture books
  • Work must not be submitted to other publishers, contests, or Page Street Kids general submissions while under consideration for this prize
  • Limited to one submission per person

Submissions Details and Requirements

Work must be submitted via e-mail to childrensubmissions@pagestreetpublishing.com with the subject line “ATTN: Page Street Kids Prize Submission” between October 15, 2018, and January 15, 2019. Include a cover letter (in the body of the e-mail) with the creator’s name, address, phone number, e-mail address, portfolio website, any social media handles, and a biography no more than 100 words long. Submission must be a PDF sketch dummy of 32 or 40 pages with one to three finished color art spreads included.

The winner will be announced March 15, 2019.

Page Street Kids


Find out more about Page Street Publishing here and follow them on twitter and instagram #PageStreetKidsPrize



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A Cafe Chat with Jennie K. Brown, by Laura Parnum


For our final installment of interviews in preparation for YA/MG Day, I got to speak with the awesome middle-grade author, Jennie K. Brown. You can still register for YA/MG Day, but time is running out if you want to sign up for a critique. Critique submissions are due today, October 5! You can register here.

In the meantime, sit back, relax, and join me with a beverage of your choosing as we learn more about Jennie K. Brown.

Laura: Hi, Jennie, and welcome back to the Eastern Penn Points Café. Fall is here—can we get you a warm beverage and a treat?

Jennie: Yay, fall; my favorite season of all! I would love a vanilla cappuccino—extra hot, please.

Laura: Coming right up! First off, I’m very excited that the third Poppy Mayberry book will be coming out in November. Can you tell us what’s in store for Poppy this time around?

Poppy MayberryJennie: Absolutely! Poppy releases on November 20, and it’s hard to believe her journey is coming to an end! Here’s a bit about book three … After defeating Power Academy twice, Poppy’s ready to kick back and relax! But when Logan finds a mysterious note from his parents, Poppy and her crew spring into action. This time, the search takes Poppy, Logan, Ellie, Sam, and Mark beyond Nova and into the real world, where everyone is powerless and everything they know is about to be challenged. If Poppy can help Logan find his parents, they’ll finally get answers about Nova, cusp powers, and how it all started. But someone has secretly followed them, and he will go to great lengths to destroy anyone or anything that could expose him. Soon, Poppy will learn she may be more connected to Nova’s origins than anyone could ever imagine, and now, they’re running out of time. If only there were more hours in a day.

Laura: It sounds great, and I can’t wait to read it! If you could have any of the powers in the Nova Kids series, which one would you most wish to have?

Jennie: Oh, I would totally love to have Tuesday teleportation power.

Laura: I agree. Especially when I miss my bus! You also teach high school English. What is your favorite book to teach?

Romeo and JulietJennie: That’s a tough question! My favorite piece of literature to teach is Romeo and Juliet—I adore Shakespeare. I take a performance-based approach to teaching Shakespeare, so my students aren’t simply reading lines while seated in class. We take to the stage—sling Shakespearean insults at one another, do some stage combat, Elizabethan dancing, really feel the language, etc.

Laura: I would love to be in your class! One of my all-time favorite classroom memories was acting out the part of Romeo in the scene in which he kills Tybalt. The guy who played Tybalt was probably about two feet taller than me! What writing advice do you give your students that we grown-ups could benefit from as well?

Jennie: The magic happens during the revision process. I also tell them it’s a heck of a lot easier to revise and edit crud than revise and edit nothing at all. So basically, sit that butt in a chair and get writing! Ha ha.

Laura: Excellent advice. Can you give us a sneak peek into what you’ll be sharing with us on YA/MG Day in November?

Jennie: Sure! My session is called “A Recipe for Middle Grade.” After giving a brief overview of my journey to publication, I’ll share ingredients (tips) for writing to a middle-grade audience. Participants will get their creative juices flowing with some writing exercises along the way.

Laura: I can’t wait! Thanks so much for stopping by!

author-phot-JennieJennie K. Brown is an award-winning high school English teacher, freelance magazine writer, and author of children’s books and cozy mysteries. Her debut middle grade novel POPPY MAYBERRY, THE MONDAY published in September 2016 by Month9Books (Tantrum Books imprint), with a sequel that followed in October 2017. Book 3 in her Nova Kids Series is set to publish in fall 2018. Jennie currently serves as past-president of the Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts (PCTELA), and she is an active member of SCBWI, NCTE, ALAN and Sisters in Crime.

When she’s not teaching or writing, Jennie can be found reading, hanging out with her awesome family, or plotting her next book! Oh, and she also LOVES all-things Shakespeare!


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