Welcome to Wordsmiths!

We’re so happy you’ve stopped by to visit our site! Welcome, fellow writers and wordsmiths!

Wordsmiths is a group of women who have a heart for the Lord, a passion for writing, and a commitment to encourage each other as well as fellow writers.

Wordsmiths no longer meets, but we want to welcome you to explore our site that we created while we did. Browse through our numerous posts on writing! Search for key words or terms about a topic on writing that interests you! Stay here and visit for awhile to be inspired and encouraged and challenged to grow as a writer who is called by God.

To get to know us better, please visit our page Meet Our Members.

To gather practical tips as well as inspiration on writing, read our page Blog Highlights.

We pray you are blessed as you explore our site.

Adopt a Classroom

I recommend that every writer adopt a classroom.

How?
Most people I know live fairly close to an school. Go to a local school where children are the same age you write for. Volunteer to help in one of the classrooms. Work in your comfort zone. If you love to work with kids, volunteer for tasks such as working with slower learners or accelerated students. If that’s not your cup of tea, volunteer to help photocopy teacher handouts or prepare craft materials for class projects.

Why?
Each time you walk into that school, you’ll automatically see the stuff that’s hanging on the walls. You’ll learn the cutting edge information about how teachers work and how schools are being run. You’ll interact with students, even if it’s just saying “Hi” as you pass them in the hall. And if you’re really brave, you can work with the teacher and share samples of your writing on a regular basis, gathering student feedback.

Adopting a classroom is also beneficial if you’re writing for the educational market. It gives you lots of material to use, plus beefs up your resume with school experience even if you’re not an educator. And if you’re not writing for the educational market, you can tell your publishers in the trade market how your book might fit into school curriculum, which is a big plus for potential sales.

-contributed by Nancy I. Sanders

School Visits? Maybe…

I am probably the least qualified of any member of Wordsmiths to write about the School Market!  I have never written for an educational publisher, and the only school visits I’ve ever done were a presentations, for a few years, for Career Week at the elementary school where my daughter teaches.  Let’s just say these were not the high quality presentations she, and I, would have liked!  But, here are a few tips I learned along the way to help anyone’s school presentation be better.

*Speak slowly!  When we are nervous we tend to speak more quickly (at least I do) and not only is it difficult for listeners to keep up, but what you thought was a 20 minute presentation can easily turn out to take only 10 !!

*Be as inter-active as possible.  When you can get the students involved, they become more eager and interested (and the time goes faster, too!)

*Visual aids are always a help.  Even if you don’t have a published book, pages from magazines with your stories and articles on them (especially if they are in color) will hold students’ interest.  Any other charts or posters you can devise will also be interesting.

*Have “freebies” to give out, if possible.  Elementary school kids love to get something free and unexpected.  Small token hand-outs, such a bookmarks or copies of your short story, or other similar items are always a hit.

*Be prepared for questions, even the unusual.  Teachers often prepare the class to ask such things as, “What do you like best about your job?” and “What is the most unusual thing that ever happened to you in your work?”  But I’ve also heard “Are you rich?” and, from one bemused young boy, “How old were you when you got married?!”

*Be prepared to sign autographs!  For some reason, young kids are enthralled by getting someone’s signature, and even if I wasn’t the most scintillating speaker, they still asked me to sign the copies of my stories or even a blank piece of paper.

*Always keep a smile on your face, even if you feel you are sinking fast, and thank the teacher for inviting you and the students for listening. 

I don’t know if I’ll do school visits again, but if I do, I’ll keep the above ideas in mind.  I hope they will help others, too!

Marjorie Flathers

Writing for the School Market

Tapping into the school market can be tricky. First, you must study the state standards for the grades you are focusing on. This is essential, for markets typically zone in on subjects kids are expected to learn about. Second, you must research thoroughly the subjects you want to write about — and that research must be up to date and reliable. Third, you must find publishers who have gaps that you can fill.

Ideally, writing for the school market will involve assignments. I wrote about fifty articles for Current Health 1 (younger kids) and  Current Health 2 (older kids). The subjects were assigned and could cover anything from replacing a lost tooth to bulemia. Sports articles and articles about good sportsmanship are also popular, as are pieces that talk about peer pressure and how to settle arguments.

The magazines I wrote for wanted nonfiction written with fiction techniques. In other words, I created characters who had problems, interacted with each other, learned new information, and felt better about themselves as a result.

If that sounds like a story line . . . it was. Sharing facts through story telling makes it easier for kids to absorb important information.

If you are thinking of writing for this lucrative market, remember those three rules: (1) know your subject; (2) research until you really know what you are talking about; (3) look for gaps that you can fill. Before long, you will be in demand as an expert on writing articles that fill requirements of state standards, and the checks will will come rolling in!

The First Visit

I hoped my nervousness didn’t show. I was standing in front of a class of 60+ kids, waiting to talk to them about writing and being a writer. Many of them had seen me around school before. One of their classmates was my daughter, so I was no stranger. Yet, I felt strange. This was my first school visit, and I hoped my preparation would pay off.

I began by talking about writing in general, and then I spoke about my own writing journey. They were able to see samples of my work, from the newsletters I started with, to the colorful magazines I still contributed to, to my brand new nonfiction picture book, my first published book. The kids were very attentive. The listened in silence, asked questions at the appropriate time, and were very enthused about the bookmarks I handed out. Of course, the best part was the end when I had several students  asked me to autograph their bookmarks. Weeks later my daughter was still hearing, “Your mom is sooo cool!”

The first school visit will always include some element of fear since a beginning author doesn’t know what to expect. But planning out a presentation, bringing samples that can be looked at, and handing out something the kids can keep, will all help make your presentation fun and exciting. I know I’ll always remember my first school visit. I just hope those kids will, too.

Contributed by Catherine L. Osornio

School Days are Here Again!

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”
Matt 13:31

Welcome back to the school students!
May the knowledge you receive grow with God.

Welcome back to school, teachers!
May the instruction you give be filled with God’s care.

Welcome back to school, authors and illustrators!
May your words and pictures be like the smallest of seeds, ready to sprout and grow in God’s service!

 

contributed by Veronica Walsh, children’s book illustrator

C is for Critique Group

Cheers for a job well done!
Really fun fellowship and friends
Ideas and inspiration
Timely market tips
Important feedback and constructive criticism
Questions asked. Answers provided.
Understanding ears and sympathetic hearts
Encouragement, enthusiasm, and energy!

Guidance and grace
Restoration, refreshment, and renewal
Opportunity for testing the waters
Uplifting prayers for God’s purposes
Polished to perfection and ready for publication!

-contributed by Nancy I. Sanders

Our Critique Group Gems and What Makes Them Sparkle!

Have you joined a critique group?  Are you even looking for one? The right critique group can bring out your strengths as a writer and help you grow.  It’s true that your weak areas will be out in the open, but look at it this way—everyone’s in the same boat!  As writers we all have strengths and weaknesses.  We all need to grow in some way.  Writers need to mentor and encourage one another. Don’t go it alone!

I’d like to tell you about the special critique group I belong to. We’ve called our group of eight writers, “Wordsmiths.”

A ruby, sapphire, opal or amethyst are lovely in a single setting ring, but together they compliment each other and help bring out the radiant individuality of each stone.  I liken the writers in our critique group to a ring with assorted precious stones—a group of “Gems.”

These are our critique group “Gems”:

MARILYN (Aquamarine): Marilyn has lots of experience in writing great YA novels as well as magazine stories.  She is the author of 31 books and recently signed several more contracts! Marilyn is our grammar and sentence structure expert, is an English teacher, and has her own editorial service. Marilyn, you are one of the nicest editors I’ve ever known. (o: Your warmth toward others andwillingness to help is one of your trademarks. Hug!

NANCY (Emerald): Nancy writes practically everything from spell-binding historical middle grade chapter books, to nonfiction and fiction magazine pieces. She writes poetry, mini-plays, rebuses, curriculum, and devotionals. Nancy is the author of over 75 books!  She is an expert at market research and digging up accurate historical facts. Her wonderful editing and organizational skills are evident and help keep our group running smoothly. Nancy, you encourage us to grow and you keep us informed about new writing opportunities. You are our humble leader and a loving friend to each of us. Thank you!

MARJORIE (Diamond): Marjorie has written over 300 short stories for children’s magazines and newspaper kid-pages. Whew! Marjorie knows her stuff.  She can write tight! She also writes wonderful middle grade chapter books. Marjorie has many talents, one being a knitting marvel. Her articles have appeared in knitting magazines and her finished pieces are incredible. Marjorie, you are a delight to know and your smile is contagious!

SHIRLEY (Yellow Topaz): Shirley writes retold Bible stories, Christian school curriculum, and non-fiction pieces for magazines. She also writes exciting you-are-there middle grade historical fiction, as well as devotional material for adults.  She’s a natural. Shirley, you are known for your sweet, SWEET spirit. You are such an inspiration and encourager to all of us!

VERONICA (Amethyst): Veronica is our professional illustrator and designer. She is an absolute artist with words as well. Veronica writes non-fiction and really does her homework.  She can envision illustrations as she writes, which adds to her creativity. This is helpful as she reads the manuscripts of others. Veronica, you have TWO wonderful gifts to share with us, and we are so glad to know you!

GLORIA (Zircon): Gloria is our writing comedian. You never want to have any liquid in your mouth when she shares one of her hysterical manuscripts! She writes picture books, poetry, drama, and magazine stories. Gloria, your Southern accent is music to our ears, and you liven up our group with creativity and humor. Gloria, you’re just plain talented and fun!

CATHERINE (Pearl): Catherine is amazing. Oh, how I wish I had Catherine’s brain! Her first non-fiction picture book was released recently! She writes cliff-hanger-hold-your-breath middle grade fiction, devotionals, and magazine pieces.  Catherine is also an expert at doing research and so willing to help others. Catherine, thanks for your step-by-step instructions! You lift our spirits and we learn so much about good writing from you!

There’s one last member—Sheryl. That’s me, and I’m a Zircon. I write books for the educational market, fiction and non-fiction picture books, magazine stories, retold Bible stories, rebuses, poetry, and mini-plays. I’m working on a beginning chapter book—new territory in my writing journey. Looks like I’ve got a few experts around to help me!

During our meetings, I try to soak everything in from the experience and expertise of the seven “gems” around me— every one of them as special as the next.

If you belong to a critique group, you’ve probably realized that each member has something unique to offer. A different perspective. A creative idea. A thought provoking challenge. That ever-needed grammar help! I’ll say it again, every serious writer has strengths in one area or another. A good critique group can bring out those strengths—strengths that some of us never knew we had. Isn’t that what a critique group is supposed to do?

You may be lovely gem in a single setting. Yes, YOU! If so, I hope that you will seek out and find a critique group that will surround you with an assortment of precious stones. It will stretch you and help you grow as a writer. I’m so glad there was an empty setting waiting for me. What a stunning ring we’ve got!
Sheryl Ann Crawford

Do’s and Don’ts

Wordsmiths is tops, but I have been in a number of other critique groups over the years with varying degrees of satisfaction.  Here are a number of friendly do’s and don’ts based on those experiences:

DO Make a Commitment

It’s ok to visit a group to see if it fits your needs (and if they have an opening), but once you’ve been accepted and decide to join, enter the meeting dates on your calendar and make attending a high priority.

DON’T Attend Just Now and Then

I’ve actually known people who said they wanted to join, but then only showed up if they “had nothing better to do” or “if I feel like it.”  Everyone faces illness or other emergencies from time to time, but we owe it to the group, and ourselves, to attend regularly.

DO Make Encouraging Comments

Preface remarks with statements, such as “Would you consider…”  “How about…” or “It might help…”

DON’T Be Negative or Hurtful

Marking out whole paragraphs (or pages) and writing comments such as “This makes no sense” or “You don’t understand kids” or “Why are you bothering with this?” doesn’t help anyone.  (I’ve actually seen these remarks on manuscripts!)  Even if you don’t like the work, respect the effort.

DO Encourage Good Work

Note where dialogue, setting, etc. work well.

But…DON’T Be Too Positive!

A manuscript with all glowing comments will not help a writer improve.  I was in a group, many years ago, with a woman who had been brought up with the admonition, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  While this may be a good idea for everyday life, it doesn’t work in critique groups.  Showing where something doesn’t quite work, something that’s not clear, or facts that perhaps don’t agree and suggesting alternatives is better.

DO Try to Accept All Comments

Even if comments are occasionally hurtful (should that happen) simply listen without comment.  Then use only the ideas you think will work.  Remember…it’s YOUR story!

DON’T Explain or Defend Your Work

You can be pretty sure if a group member spots a legitimate problem, an editor will see it, too…and you won’t be there to explain!

DO Respect Limits

Bring only the requested number of pages (usually around 10) and note the time limits for each person.  Wordsmiths keeps it around 20 minutes per person.  We find a timer works great.

DON’T Ask For Exceptions.

Bringing numerous chapters of your manuscript “just this once” and using up others’ time is usually not a good idea and does not help group harmony.

Following these tips should assist any critique group be the best it can be.

Marjorie Flathers

A Critique Group Surprise

Soon after my first novel, The House at Sutter’s Sands, was published, I was invited to sign books at a local bookstore. A woman approached me, and as we chatted, she told me about her critique group. “We would love to have you visit,” she said. “How about next week?”

That sounded OK to me. I had been looking for a group of writers to meet with. This would be a good chance to see how a critique group worked.

“We’ll have a nice luncheon,” she promised. “One of the writers makes homemade tamales.” My mouth watered as she gave me directions to an address in a nearby town.

On the day of the meeting, I arrived about fifteen minutes early. Cars were already parked up and down both sides of the street. It must be a larger group than I had expected!

When the hostess ushered me into the living room, I saw that folding chairs had been set up in every available space — and they were quickly filling. “I invited a few guests,” she explained. It was 10:00 a.m., and the aroma of steaming tamales drifted in from the kitchen. The hostess smiled. “Lunch will be ready at noon,” she said.”You’ll have plenty of time.”

Time for what? A suspicion began to grow at the back of my mind. Why did these people have notebooks in their laps instead of manuscripts ready to be read? Why was a chair placed in the front of the room?

“We have a special treat today,” the hostess was saying. “Our guest, Marilyn Donahue, is going to tell us everything she knows about writing a novel that sells.”

I staggered to my feet. People clapped. It was a short distance to the chair, but it was long enough for me to pray: Lord, you can see what a mess I’ m in. Please put words in my mouth that will open a door for somebody. Let me speak to their hearts.”

And so I began. I talked about what I knew. About getting up at 5:00 a.m. and sitting outside with God and a cup of coffee before I started work for the day. About trial and error and the joy of finding the right word. About my characters and how they interacted. About plot, and voice, and the importance of keeping your seat in the chair. Later, one guest said, “I felt like you were speaking to our hearts. It opened a door for me, and I can’t wait to get home and start writing.”

I learned that day that we can do unexpected things — with God’s help and guidance. Today, whenever I am about to give a lecture or conduct a workshop, I take time to whisper softly the words that have carried me through many a public appearance:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalms 19:14)