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Killer Writing Tips from 29 Award-Winning Middle Grade Authors

Looking for the best writing tips and tricks? Look no further.

We reached out to 29 middle grade authors and asked for their very best writing advice. 

We’re talking Newberry medalists, National Book Award winners, authors with PEN Faulkners and Scott O’Dells and Pura Belpres. Writers who’ve won the Crystal Kite Award, the L’Echappee Lecture Award, Printz Honors, Jane Addams Awards, and an International Latino Book Award.

These guys know what they’re talking about. 

We’ve also included a collection of inspirational writing tips posters with advice from each writer. You can download the entire collection of posters for free below.

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Writing Tips Posters Free PDF

Writing Tips From MG Writers Motivational Posters

Sherman Alexie

Writing Tips for Beginners:

The best advice: Every good writer is a great reader. Your local booksellers and librarians should know you by your first name. Read as fast and as often as you can. Carry extra books in your backpack and car. You should read at least 100 pages for every 1 that you write.

Who is Sherman Alexie?

Sherman Alexie is a writer, poet, filmmaker and winner of both the PEN Faulkner Award and the National Book Award. He is the author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. His latest work is the memoir You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. Alexie is an enrolled member of the Spokane Indian Tribe. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

Daphne Benedis-Grab

Writing Tips for Beginners:

Write YOUR story. Write from your heart, write what is true, beautiful and essential to you. Your story has never been told and it’s important because you are important. And I can’t wait to read it!

Who is Daphne Benedis-Grab?

Daphne is the author of middle grade books including Clementine for Christmas, and The Angel Tree, and young adult books including The Girl in the Wall.  Her short stories have appeared in American Girl Magazine.  She earned an MFA at The New School and a School Media Library Specialist degree from the Palmer School of Library and Information Science.

She lives in New York City with her husband, kids and cat, and spends her days writing and being the librarian at PS32 in Brooklyn.

Fleur Bradley

Writing Tips and Tricks:

The best writing advice I ever got was from Lee Child, who told us (as part of a group chat) how important it is to create a likable character for readers to connect with. Whenever I get lost in the minutiae of a manuscript, I remember that bit of advice and focus on character.

I sometimes interview my characters if I’m unsure of what makes them tick or what their motivation is. That really helps, and often sparks new ideas for plot direction.

Who is Fleur Bradley?

Fleur Bradley is an active member of SCBWI and MWA, where she has judged for the Edgars. She regularly does school and Skype visits, as well as librarian and educator conference talks on reaching reluctant readers. Originally from the Netherlands, she now lives in Colorado, not too far from the historic (and haunted) Stanley Hotel, which partly inspired this manuscript. Like many kids, she was a reluctant reader.

Jake Burt

Writing Tips and Tricks:

The single best piece of writing advice I ever received was from Mr. Schneider, my eighth grade English teacher. He told me to: A) find my audience, and B) write for them. It sounds simple, but like all great advice, his message packs a lot of nuance.

First, to “find my audience,” I had to be willing to let others read my work. That’s no easy thing, especially when you’re a kid who may be unsure about the basics of storytelling, essay writing, or the like. It meant opening my work up to critique and figuring out how to listen to it.

And as for “write for them”? Well, that demanded that I sculpt the finer points of my writing – voice, tone, perspective – to appeal to whoever it was that I expected to impress with the piece, whether it’s the teacher grading it, the employer examining the cover letter to figure out whether I’m worth hiring, or all the fans of middle grade literature out there.

Mr. Schneider, wherever you are? Thanks for the advice.

Who is Jake Burt?

Jake was born in Columbus, Ohio, but he’s lived all over, in places called Cincinnati, Knightdale, Durham, and Hamden, and in countries like The United Kingdom and China. There hasn’t really been a time that Jake wasn’t in school – he did the whole preschool thing, then elementary, then middle, then high, then college, then sixth grade teacher, then English teacher in Jinan, then fourth grade teacher, then grad student, then fifth grade teacher. That’s probably why so many of his stories are set in schools, and why they feature kids. He currently teaches fifth grade.

Ernesto Cisneros

How to Improve Writing Skills:

Let YOUR personality come across in your writing (or your character’s). This is your voice.

Write about the world through YOUR lens, the way YOU see it.

Know that your world matters.

Write the books you enjoy.

Know that your views matter.

Know that your stories matter

Read.

Read.

Read.

Write.

Write.

Write.

Share.

Who is Ernesto Cisneros?

Ernesto Cisneros was born and raised in Santa Ana, California, where he still teaches. Efrén Divided is his first book. He holds an English degree from the University of California, Irvine; a teaching credential from California State University, Long Beach; as well as a master of fine arts in creative writing from National University.

As an author, he believes in providing today’s youth with an honest depiction of characters with whom they can identify. The real world is filled with amazing people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. His work strives to reflect that.

Jack Gantos: An In-Depth Lesson

My Writing Advice for Kids:

When asked for writing advice for kids, Mr. Gantos provided the following in-depth writing lesson from his book Writing Radar: Using Your Journal to Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories.

Step 1: Come Up With Possible Story Subjects

As an individual, or together as a class, make a long list of Common Subjects that might get you started thinking about a story which happened to you or to someone you know.

Common Story Subjects

  1. Lessons/Piano/Dance/Swim
  2. Favorite Day / Miserable Day
  3. Adventure
  4. Bikes/Skateboards
  5. Bus Ride to School
  6. Dogs/Pets
  7. Sports/Teams
  8. Girl Scouts / Boy Scouts
  9. Teachers / Subs
  10. Summer Camp
  11. Slumber Parties
  12. Private/Public School
  13. Moving
  14. Field Trips
  15. Lunch Time
  16. Gym Class
  17. Bullies
  18. Teasing/Names
  19. Sickness / Faking Sickness
  20. Broken Bones
  21. Picture Day
  22. Teen Idols
  23. Babysitters
  24. Dentist/Orthodontist
  25. Glasses
  26. Religion / School
  27. Haircuts
  28. Family Vacations
  29. Work/Chores
  30. Birthday Parties
  31. Secrets
  32. Relatives
  33. Self Discovery
  34. Punishment
  35. Broken Promises
  36. Lost and Found
  37. Divorce
  38. Adoption
  39. Twins / Only Child
  40. Tests

Step 2: Make a Story Map

Draw a Map of Your Neighborhood

Include all the houses, yards, trees, hedges, good dogs, bad dogs, neighbors, cars, boats, hiding places, and dozens of other personal activities and “writers” details that might inspire a story. Also connect ‘physical’ events with ‘emotional’ responses.

Draw a Map of Your House

Include all of your rooms, and furniture, and people, and interesting places where a story might have happened. For example, make a note where you threw up, where you had a great thought, where you had an argument, where you were thoughtful and kind, where you drew on the walls, where you go to write and read, where you and your family might have important conversations, where you did something sneaky or heroic or shameful. Give thought to linking each action to a specific emotion.

Draw a Map of Your School

Make a list of characters. Include all the classrooms, offices, cafeteria, gym, library, auditorium, and playground. Mark down all the places where interesting stories took place. For example, the water fountain, the cafeteria, the playground, the lost library book, the bus line, the principal’s office and many more.

Step 3: Create a Story Table of Contents

After reading through a list of Common Story Subjects and examining your maps, make a list of Personal Stories that you can use as a Table of Contents in your story journal. Remember to try and find experiences that you find interesting.

Examine your Table of Contents and select a story idea that jumps out to you. This is the idea you will use for your first draft.

Step 4: Write Your First Draft

When writing your first draft, keep in mind the following checklists. Ask yourself: does my story have all of these elements? If not, how can I include them?

A Checklist of Story Elements

  1. Characters
  2. Setting
  3. Story Problem or Situation
  4. Action
  5. Climax or Crisis
  6. Resolution or Problem Solves
  7. Physical Ending to the Problem with Thoughtful and Emotional Changes in the Characters

A Checklist on the Writing Craft

  1. Descriptive Writing: Details/Narration
  2. Emotional Content: Interior Thoughts, Feelings and Motivations of the Characters
  3. Dialogue (Make Your Characters Speak!)
  4. Sentence Structure and Clarity
  5. Pace and Action
  6. Vocabulary
  7. Imagery (Remove Cliches and Insert Fresh Images)
  8. Rake Out Words That Clutter Your Story (Such as Too Many Likes, Justs, Verys and Reallys)

Step 5: Revise Through Focused Drafts

If you rewrite your work looking for every element, it can be overwhelming. An easier task is rewriting over multiple drafts, focusing on a single element in each draft: Story Elements, Visual Elements, Emotional Elements, Dialogue, and Cleanup.

  1. The first draft is in the journal
  2.  When typing up the first draft try to organize the material using the STORY ELEMENTS in the correct sequence
  3. On this VISUAL draft just focus on creating a seamless surface for the story so the reader sees what you see. 
  4. On this EMOTIONAL draft just focus on layering in all the character’s emotions in order to create emotional depth and complexity.
  5. My favorite draft: Layer in all the good, smart, snappy DIALOGUE which will create a three-dimensional quality to your characters
  6. A necessary draft is to rake out all the junk words that clog up your story: all the words such as ‘very’ and ‘really’ and ‘like’ and others, and replace them with just the perfect adjective or adverb—or a compelling image

Tips:

When I choose to write a story, I always make certain something important has taken place outside the character (physical action), and inside the character (emotional action). The best stories are those where you feel what the character feels, see what the character sees and experience the same changes the character experiences.

Every story is different. Some have a lot of action, others have a lot of thinking and observing. But one thing is essential in writing–you must make the reader see and feel the world through the eyes and senses of the character so that when the character experiences ‘change’ in himself/herself the readers feel the same ‘change’ too.

I try to write a little each day. I also read each day. I keep a small pad and a pen in my pocket at all times, so when I get an idea I can write it down. Keep in mind that a story is never finished the first time it is written. I do at least fifty rewrites/rereads (or more) for each story. Only then am I satisfied that I have done my best.

Check out our review of the Jack Henry Adventures

Who is Jack Gantos?

Mr. Gantos was a professor at Emerson College where he developed the Masters Degree Program in Children’s Literature, Writing and Publishing. He now spends his time writing and is an active speaker at book and literacy conferences, schools and libraries.

His works have received a Newbery Award, Scott O’Dell Award, Newbery Honor, Printz Honor, Sibert Honor, National Book Award Finalist honor and he is the 2010 recipient of the NCTE/ALAN AWARD for his contribution to the field of Young Adult and Children’s Literature. Dead End in Norvelt received both the 2012 John Newbery Award and the Scott O’Dell award for Historic Fiction. The companion novel, From Norvelt to Nowhere.

His most recent releases are The Trouble in Me (middle/high school memoir) and Writing Radar: Using Your Journal to Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories — the best selling book on how to become a great young writer.

Teachers: Interested in Having Jack Visit Your School?

To Contact Jack About Books or School Visits: Gantosbooks@gmail.com

Gary Ghislain

How to Write Better:

Besides writing my own novels and series, I’ve been running creative writing workshops for young writers for many years. During those workshops, I’ve met literally hundreds of children of all ages, from as young as 4 years old. I’ve helped them develop their own fairy tales and scary adventures – and while doing so, I learned a few things about inspiring young writers to write a great story.

What is a story?

There’s a single magic formula behind every story. In a very simple way, all stories work according to the following principle:

Someone wants Something but it’s REALLY hard to get.

Someone…

To start a story, the first thing to do is to create a main character. That’s your protagonist. Are they human? If so, are they a boy or girl? Is it an object? A cursed book? An animal? A supernatural being? A vampire? A werewolf? An Alien from Outerspace? 

How old are they? Where do they live and when? Do they have parents? Are they rich or poor? Courageous or cowardly? Do they have two arms and legs or a dozen or none? Before you send your protagonist into your story, try to know absolutely everything about them.

… wants something…

Your character must want to obtain or achieve something at all costs. That’s their quest and that’s also the core of your story. It can be anything, a glass of water or a magical stone that can save their family. As long as…

…It’s REALLY hard to get.

To make a story interesting, your character will have to struggle and overcome obstacles to succeed or fail in their quest. The more difficult the quest, the better. Also, the more obstacles you will create to stop your character from getting what they want the more they will be transformed by your story.

Here is another important tip before you start creating a story:

Every story is told in reverse. Before you start writing, you need to have a rough idea of how it will end. Will your character succeed? Will he fail and why? If you know how your story ends, it will be easier to set the tone and pull the character toward their destiny rather than push them line by line into the unknown.

Check out our review of The Goolz Next Door series

Who is Gary Ghislain?

Gary Ghislain was born in France to a Franco-Spanish family. He grew up between Paris and the French Riviera. After receiving a Master’s Degree in literature and linguistics at the University of Paris 8, he decided to travel the world. English quickly became his everyday language, the one in which he writes and publishes his novels. He specializes in children’s literature.

He is the author of the critically acclaimed, multi-award-winning middle-grade series The Goolz Next Door and the sci-fi comedy How I Stole Johnny Depp’s Alien Girlfriend. He currently lives in Antibes on the French Riviera where he continues to develop The Goolz Next Door universe.

Margaret Peterson Haddix

Writing Tips and Tricks:

When you are stuck, take a walk.

The advice came from a friend of mine who is a writing instructor. Her complete advice was actually a bit more extensive than that.

She can cite scientific studies about how moving your body and getting exercise can help writers (or anyone!) work through mental logjams. The process of moving your body helps your brain function better, too. Sometimes I interpret that differently — I have worked through a lot of my writing challenges while swimming laps, too.

But walking doesn’t require as much preparation or effort. For me, it works best if I just take a walk by myself, without listening to music or a podcast or a friend. But I know other people find it helps to listen to music while they walk and think, and still others prefer to have a friend along to talk through knotty plot or character issues.

One of my friends will take walks and then dictate her ideas into her phone when they come to her. I just start walking faster the more I figure things out—because suddenly I am eager to be back at my computer writing, instead of dreading it.

Who is Margaret Peterson Haddix?

Margaret Peterson Haddix grew up on a farm in Ohio. As a kid, she knew two girls who had the exact same first, middle, and last names and shared the same birthday—only one year apart—and she always thought that was bizarre.

As an adult, Haddix worked as a newspaper reporter and copy editor in Indiana before her first book, Running Out of Time, was published. She has since written more than forty books for kids and teens, including the Greystone Secrets series, the Shadow Children series, the Missing series, the Children of Exile series, and lots of stand-alones. Haddix and her husband, Doug, now live in Columbus, Ohio, where they raised their two kids.

Corey Ann Haydu

Creative Writing Advice:

My best advice for anyone who wants to write (or do any sort of creative endeavor!) is to not be afraid of imperfection. Or even failure! I’ve learned so much more about storytelling by making mistakes and going down the wrong path than I have from when things have been easy.

Failures and imperfections are great for creativity and discovery. And nothing is better than learning that the failures can be fun. Because that’s the other important advice: have fun. Let it be fun and joyful and yours. Make yourself smile and that joy and fun will come across to your readers too!

Corey Ann Haydu

Corey Ann Haydu is the author of Eventown and other acclaimed novels for children and young adults. She grew up in the Boston area, earned her MFA at the New School, and now lives in Brooklyn with her husband and her toddler daughter, who hasn’t yet discovered the delight of tea parties with her abuelita, but is already curious enough to make an excellent detective.

Mary Winn Heider

Writing Tips for Beginners:

I used to hate outlining–I thought it boxed me in. It took me a while, but eventually, I realized an outline isn’t a box. It’s a map. And with a map, I can go anywhere.

Check out our review of The Mortification of Fovea Munson

Who is Mary Winn Heider?

A graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children and Young Adults program, Mary Winn Heider lives in Chicago, where she is a member of the theater company Barrel of Monkeys. Through the company, she teaches creative writing to 3rd–5th graders. She also briefly worked in a cadaver lab. Yep, there were heads.

Phil Hickes

Creative Writing Advice:

There is no right or wrong way to write. Everyone does it differently and however you
do it, as long as you’re writing, you’re doing it right. These are just tips that work for me. Along the way, you will develop your own strategies for being productive. Just don’t forget to enjoy it.

1. Kill the Internet

Yes, the internet is great, useful, and fun. But when it comes to writing, the internet is a
distraction monster that will drag you in and chew you up. So, when you sit down to write, try using an app or extension to block it. You can set the time to suit.

If you’re planning on writing for 30 minutes, set the timer so you won’t find your eyes straying away to watch someone dancing on TikTok while you’re supposed to be writing. Don’t worry, it will still be there when
you get back.

2. Set a Goal

I find it useful to set myself a goal. Currently, when I sit down to write, I aim for 500 words. You can aim for however many words you like but try and make it achievable. By that I mean if your goal is too ambitious, you’ll probably not make it and then you’ll feel angry with yourself and you’ll have to go and open a tub of ice-cream to make yourself feel better.

Once you hit your goal you can stop, or if you’re feeling good, keep going.

3. Surround Yourself With Inspiration

Of course, you can write in an empty, white room, but it won’t be much fun. Try making your writing spot as inspirational as you can. You can surround yourself with books, or artwork, or listen to music, or light a candle.

I sometimes listen to the sound of falling rain, or ocean waves, even though outside the weather is fine and I don’t live on a beach. It helps me feel imaginative and creative and both these things are very useful when you’re writing. Your writing spot should be a cozy space that you want to spend time in.

4. Think About Writing When You’re Not Writing

Sometimes, it can be difficult to just sit down and start writing. One thing that works for me, is to have a think before I start. I think about it while I’m washing my hair or brushing my teeth. Or when I’m walking the dog. Or staring at clouds.

Sometimes I think about ideas for stories. Other times, I think about characters. Or what’s going to happen next in my book. It can be easier to do this when you’re not staring at a scary blank page on your computer. Also, it gives you a head start, so when you sit down you already have an idea in your mind.

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Stop Writing

While making writing a regular habit is very useful, let’s face it, sometimes we’re just not in the mood. We might have had a bad day. Or we might not feel very creative. So don’t feel guilty if you decide not to write every now and then.

Also, taking a break from your writing project can be a good way to get past obstacles. We’ll often stop thinking about writing and then a great idea will suddenly pop up in our head and we’re off again. Writing can be difficult, but it should be enjoyable. So, if you’re not enjoying it, give yourself a break.

Check out our review of The Aveline Jones series

Read our interview with Phil Hickes

Who is Phil Hickes?

I grew up in a cold, dark house in the north of England that overlooked a graveyard. It explains a lot I think. I’ve always had a fascination for things that go bump in the night and my reading – and later my writing – naturally veered in this direction.

After stints in the UK, Ireland and New Zealand, I’m currently living in the Pacific Northwest of the US, which is rainy, misty and smells of pine. I like being both outdoors and indoors, depending on mood, activity and weather. Autumn is by far my favourite season.

Susan Hood

How to Improve Writing Skills:

One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever got was this: “Read your work aloud.” You will often hear mistakes or awkward phrasing that you won’t see. Better yet, ask someone else to read your work to you. That way you’ll see where the reader stumbles, where you need a better transition, where there are missing words, and so on.

Reading aloud is especially important if you are writing books in verse, as I do. I’m always listening to see out how to make my words sound more poetic or more musical.

Who is Susan Hood?

Susan Hood is the award-winning author of more than 200 books for young readers, including Alias Anna, Lifeboat 12, Ada’s Violin, The Last Straw: Kids vs. Plastics, Shaking Things Up, and Titan and the Wild Boars.

She is the recipient of an E.B. White Read Aloud Picture Book Honor, the Christopher Award, the Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, the Golden Kite Award, and the Bank Street Flora Stieglitz Straus Award, given annually for a “distinguished work of nonfiction.” Her third middle grade book, Harboring Hope, will be published by HarperCollins in March 2023.

Linda Williams Jackson

Tips for Writing:

A very good piece of writing advice is to read boatloads of whatever it is you are trying to write. If you’re trying to write picture books, read tons of picture books. If you’re trying to write chapter books, read chapter books. Historical fiction? Fantasy? Memoir? Non-fiction? Whatever it is, read, read, read the BEST books in that genre or category.

Who is Linda Williams Jackson?

Linda Williams Jackson is the author of Midnight Without a Moon, which was an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book, a Jane Addams Honor Book for Peace and Social Justice, and a Washington Post Summer Book Club Selection. Her second book, A Sky Full of Stars, received a Malka Penn Honor for an outstanding children’s book addressing human rights issues and was a Bank Street College Best Book of the Year.

Born and raised in Rosedale, Mississippi, Linda Williams Jackson lives in Southaven, Mississippi, with her family. 

Lorien Lawrence

Tips for Writing:

The best writing advice I ever got was to READ! That’s right: just read.

For starters, it’s a great way to learn the craft (techniques) that published authors use. You can kind of see what works and what doesn’t on the page. Second, it will help you to understand the book market, like what kinds of books sell and how they’re packaged, etc. And third, reading can help unlock writer’s block!

So if you dream of writing a book, the best thing you can do is read as many as possible.

Also: find your people. By that all I mean is that you need a crew of trusted readers who will give you HONEST feedback. While it’s lovely for people to say your story is amazing (and it probably is!), you want it to be even more amazing.

So gets lots of eyes on it, sit with the feedback, and try to make some changes. So much of the writing process is about revising, and now is a great time to start!

Who is Lorien Lawrence?

Lorien Lawrence is a writer and middle school English teacher from Connecticut. When she’s not reading or writing, she can be found hunting ghosts with her family.

Lois Lowry

How to Improve Writing Skills:

My advice would simply be to write a story as if you were writing a letter to your best friend and describing something that had happened. Telling something to a good pal allows you to relax and gives your writing an intimate feel that makes it much more appealing.

Who is Lois Lowry?

Lois Lowry is a two-time recipient of the Newbery Medal. She lives in Massachusetts.

Ally Malinenko

Writing Tips and Tricks:

I’ve both given and received a lot of writing advice in my life and the one that sticks with me the most is one from Stephen King, which I’ll paraphrase. It basically comes down to Showing Up. Each day (for the most part) I carve time out in the morning and I show up at my desk. Sometimes I write 100 words. Sometimes I write 3,000. But I know that showing up each day I train my brain that it is time for creativity.

The second piece of writing advice that I got which is really weird but really works is that if you get stuck and you can’t figure out how to move your plot forward – change your font. I know it sounds silly but it absolutely worked for me. I switched from Times New Roman to Garamond and I have never looked back.

Who is Ally Malinenko?

Ally Malinenko is a poet, novelist, and librarian living in Brooklyn, New York, where she pens her tales in a secret writing closet before dawn each day.

Angela May

Writing Tips and Tricks:

My childhood was made up of large amounts of library books and piles of used notebooks with incomplete stories and drawings.

Reading kept me company and fueled my imagination. The books I read sparked my own story ideas as a kid, like the one about magic ballet slippers that helped you dance. Or the one I wrote about a friendly dog-like dragon that was a super cool family pet. And one about a creepy portal found in the basement.

Those are just the ones I can remember. Were those stories well written? Doubt it.

But, that leads me to Tip #1. The ideas that swirl in your mind now, the stories you’re writing down (or typing up) today, and the characters you’re sketching in old notepads could be valuable to your future creative self.

So, put them away in a special box (or online file). Your imagination captured today in words and art could serve you well when you’re older, and hopefully still writing.

Now to Tip #2. Writing and reading seem to inspire each other. So, if you want to be a better writer, keep reading a lot. And read a variety of books, including ones from authors and genres that might be new to you. You’ll likely be surprised by the new discoveries you make.

And study why a story is a great one to you. What is it that you love about it? When you take the time to answer that question, it will help you with your own writing.

And finally Tip #3. If you love writing, try to finish your story. I mean really finish it with a solid beginning, middle, and satisfying end. It’s easy to get excited about a story idea and begin. Sometimes, it’s easy and fun to write all the way to a suspenseful middle, but somewhere in the final one-third of the book, things can get tangled and lose steam, leading to an abandoned, incomplete story.

There are a lot of unfinished manuscripts in the world. Train yourself to carry your story idea and beloved characters forward to a satisfying end. You’ll be building your collection of books, young storyteller, and at the same time you’ll be nurturing your talents and growing your skills.

Write on!

Who is Angela May?

Angela May is the founder of May Media and PR and a former award-winning television news journalist who helps promote great books and share important community stories as a media specialist. She has been working with Mary Alice Monroe for more than a decade. The Islanders series are their first books together! Angela’s husband is a middle school assistant principal. They have two children and live in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. 

Gillian McDunn

Good Writing Tips:

The best writing advice I ever got wasn’t writing advice. Instead, it was the example set by my seventh-grade English teacher, Mrs. Skahill.

Every day we had writing time at the beginning of class—and every day Mrs. Skahill wrote right along with the class. It was powerful to see an adult I admired who worked to build a daily writing practice for herself. She loved writing and always emphasized that even as a teacher, she was still learning. I try to take that mindset with me—both the daily writing practice and the idea that there is always room to learn, improve, and grow.

Who is Gillian McDunn?

Gillian McDunn is the award-winning author of Caterpillar Summer, The Queen Bee and Me, These Unlucky Stars, Honestly Elliott, and the forthcoming When Sea Becomes Sky. Her books have received various honors including Best Books of the Year by Kirkus and Parents Magazine, chosen as Junior Library Guild gold standard selections, and nominated to eight state reading lists, including the Texas Bluebonnets Master List. Her most recent book, Honestly Elliott, received four starred reviews.

Tyler Miller

How to Improve Writing Skills:

Read as widely as possible. Books, short stories, poetry, essays, the backs of cereal boxes. And don’t forget music. Great songwriters have a lot to teach you. You can learn everything you need to know about the use of precise details from Chuck Berry’s School Days, or the power of metaphor from Bruce Springsteen’s The River.

From a craft standpoint, one of the best exercises you can do is find a sentence you really love. Write it down. Then try to rewrite it in a way that still conveys the same information. 

The point here isn’t to improve anything. The point is to notice that great writing is about choices. The author chose those specific words in that specific order.

Trying to take apart that sentence and rework it forces you to recognize those choices. It forces you to understand that a great sentence cannot simply be rewritten in any old way. Changing the sentence changes the meaning and alters its power.

Take Ray Bradbury’s opening line to Fahrenheit 451: “It was a pleasure to burn.”

We could rewrite it:

  • It was cool to burn
  • It was great to burn
  • It was a pleasure to light things on fire
  • It was awesome to start fires
  • Starting fires rocked
  • I enjoyed burning stuff
  • I enjoyed starting fires

You get the idea. Bradbury could have written that sentence in hundreds of ways, all of which conveyed the same basic information. But only one combination of words gives us the startling and wholly captivating nuance of: It was a pleasure to burn.

It is that attention to craft that is the hallmark of great writing. 

Who is Tyler Miller?

Tyler Miller is the award-winning author of the Nevermore Series, as well as two short story collections for adults. He lives in the Pacific Northwest and enjoys moonlit walks through the graveyards near his home.

JW Ocker

Writing Tips for Beginners:

Treat writing like a bad habit you never want to break. Make it a compulsion. Something vital to your thought process, your peace of mind, your defense mechanisms. Just keep writing. About anything. Your day, your thoughts, an idea, a person. Put it on paper, on a screen. Even if you don’t like what you’ve written, keep writing it.

Do it every day until you must do it. In doing that manual labor of getting words–any words–down, you’ll start to discover the joy in phrases and sentences existing where they didn’t exist before, in nailing a description that changes how you look at something, in ordering your thoughts to see life more clearly.

Or, at the very least, you’ll end up with valuable documentation of your day, your life, your thoughts, your ideas. Do the work, find the joy.

Read our reviews of The Smashed Man of Dread End and The Black Slide

Read our interview with JW Ocker

Who is JW Ocker?

J.W Ocker is the Edgar Award-winning author of Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe, A Season with the Witch, and Death and Douglas. His work has appeared in the Guardian, the Boston Globe, CNN, the Atlantic, and other places people stick writing. He’s from Maryland but has lived in New Hampshire for more than a decade.

JH Reynolds

Writing Tips for Beginners:

1. READ EVERYTHING!

By reading as much as you can, you’ll learn from a variety of writing styles and be able to form your own style.

2. WRITE EVERY DAY!

Make sure you write something every day to keep exercising your imagination.

3. INTERACT WITH OTHER WRITERS!

Seek input from other writers about your own work, and offer input to them about their work.

4. DON’T BE AFRAID TO FAIL!

Failure is the best teacher. Every time you fail is an opportunity to learn and to improve.

5. LIVE A GREAT STORY!

The most important story you’ll ever write is the story of your life, so live a great story.

Read our interview with JH Reynolds

Who is JH Reynolds?

J.H Reynolds is the author of the Monster Street series. He spent his youth traveling the world and meeting lots of interesting people. After exploring all seven continents, he returned home to Texas to start a family and work through the files of his imagination. Reynolds now lives in a cottage by a creek with his wife and kids.

SA Rodriguez

Writing Tips and Tricks:

I have a middle-grade son, so I’ll share the advice I give him any time he’s tackling a creative writing assignment (and staring at a blank page). Here goes…

Have fun with it!

Yep. That’s the gist of it. Let go. Lose your inhibitions and get caught up in the love of telling a story. There’s no right or wrong way to tell it. There’s only your way.

It comes down to the fact that if you’re not having fun writing, your reader may not enjoy reading your prose if it’s stifled and comes across like you’re doing a chore. So let loose, or as the protagonist in Treasure Tracks likes to say, “Roll with it.” 

Go where the inspiration may take you. Let the characters come to life in an unbridled way. Let them express themselves freely — their frustrations, insecurities, hopes, and dreams (even sprinkle in their wackiness and eccentricities) — without worrying about what others will think. 

It’s not easy to do in real life, but guess what? You can use writing as an outlet for honest and creative expression. A chance to be authentically you. Are you funny? Snarky? Serious? Let your personality shine through. Use it as an asset. This will help you find your unique writing voice which is ultimately what will engage readers.

Who is SA Rodriguez?

SA Rodriguez is a writer, researcher, and former head of U.S. Hispanic marketing for Citibank, where she spent her career supporting diversity initiatives. She studied Communications at Loyola University in New Orleans and holds a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Miami. She enjoys living near the coast of Miami with her family. Treasure Tracks is her first novel. 

Aida Salazar

Writing Tips and Tricks:

Dear Young Writer,

Don’t be afraid to write. Let fear fly out the window.

Maybe you think it is easier said than done but give yourself a chance. Breathe. In and out. Close your eyes, quiet your mind, and tell the fear to go away because it has no place in your heart.

It has no place in your work either because creativity rules there.

Breathe again. Steady.

Your stories are there waiting for you to write them in this space. They might be wild and loud or soft and tender. It all counts.

Then, go easy on yourself as you practice. Know that when you make a mistake, your brain grows as does your work. You will get there, word by word, scene by scene, I promise. Your readers will thank you for your courage when you are done.

With love, Aida

Who is Aida Salazar?

Aida Salazar is an award-winning author and arts activist whose writings for adults and children explore issues of identity and social justice. She is the author of the middle-grade verse novels The Moon Within (International Latino Book Award Winner), Land of the Cranes (Américas Award Winner), and the forthcoming biography picture book Jovita Wore Pants: The Story of a Mexican Freedom Fighter.

With Yamile Saied Méndez, she is slated to co-edit Calling the Moon, a middle-grade anthology on menstruation by writers of color. She is a founding member of Las Musas, a Latinx kidlit debut author collective.

Her short story “By the Light of the Moon” was adapted into a ballet production by the Sonoma Conservatory of Dance and is the first Xicana-themed ballet in history. She lives with her family of artists in a teal house in Oakland, California.

Skyler Schrempp

How to Improve Writing Skills:

Sitting down to write is a bit like laying out under the night sky to watch for shooting stars.

There’s no guarantee that something magic will happen…but if you don’t show up there’s no chance at all, and if you show up enough, you’re sure to catch a great story. You’re bound to discover something just by putting pen to paper.

The greatest books you’ve ever read were written by people who just sat down and tried their best, again and again and again.

Read our review of Three Strike Summer

Who is Skyler Schrempp?

Skyler Schrempp writes books and makes theatre in her hometown, Chicago. She lives in an old drafty house with her husband, Kyle, her daughter, Elowen, and a black cat named Masha. She got her undergrad at Hampshire College and has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she’s not writing you can find her making jam from the berries that grow in her backyard or building a fire in her fireplace (depending on the season). 

Lora Senf

Writing Advice:

You want some writing advice?

Sigh.

I’m not really in the business of giving writing advice.

Why?

Well, here’s the thing. Most writing advice is…not very helpful.

Don’t get me wrong, the advice-giver means well but the problem is, they’re giving you advice that works for them. And (this is pretty obvious) you aren’t them.

Now I don’t mean to say you shouldn’t try things that writers you admire suggest. Go for it! Just don’t be upset or discouraged if what works for them doesn’t work for you. Because you’re you (and not them). I know I said that twice, but I want to make sure you really, really hear it.

There’s a lot of trial and error to this writing business and that means you get to experiment. And as you experiment, you’re going to learn a lot about your creative brain and what kind of writer you are. It takes a while but if you go ahead and decide now that it’s okay if something doesn’t work for you, the experimenting is fun.

Maybe you’re a morning writer. Or evening. Or lunchtime.

Maybe you write a bunch in one sitting. Or maybe a little bit here and there.

Maybe you write every day. Or every other day. Or on the weekends. Or whenever the heck you feel like it.

Maybe you like to plan out your story before you get started. Or maybe you’ll sort it out as you go. Or maybe a little of both.

Maybe you write one quick, beautiful, messy draft and then clean it up later. Maybe you edit as you go.

Maybe you write spooky stories. Or funny stories. Or stories that are true (or mostly true).

See what I mean? Lots of ways to write, and not a single one of them is better or worse than any of the others. And (this is IMPORTANT) doing or not doing any of this stuff does not mean you are a “real” writer or not a “real” writer. No one gets to tell you that (except me, because I’m about to here in just a minute).

Writers write.

What’s that? You do write?

Excellent. Then you, my friend, are a writer.

Congratulations.

Who is Lora Senf?

Lora Senf is a writer of dark and twisty stories for all ages. She credits her love of words to her parents and to the public library that was walking distance from her childhood home. Lora finds inspiration for her writing in her children’s retellings of their dreams, on road trips through Montana, and most recently in an abandoned abattoir.

She is a member of SCBWI, Horror Writers Association, and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. She lives in Washington State with her husband, their twins, and two remarkably lazy cats. The Clackity is her first novel.

Rebecca Stead

How to Be a Good Writer:

Three Secret Keys to Writing:

1: Don’t Be Afraid to “Just Write”

The first step for ANY writer is to get some words out.

If you are doing that, if you are writing words on paper or screen, you are a writer. Some people who desperately wish to write can’t get words down because they are waiting for “the right words.” 

Do not wait for the right words. Just write.

2: Embrace the Idea of Revision 

I mean really hug it.

The word “revision” shrinks the hearts of many people because it sounds un-fun and is associated with grammar and punctuation.

Try to think of revision of play. You have written some words, and now you are going to play with them!

I always see how many words I can cut without losing meaning. This game is called Cut Words.

Sometimes I draw a map of my story, putting each scene in a square. This helps me to “see” the whole thing and understand where it might need changing:

  • Maybe a character disappears for a while, and, looking at my map, I can suddenly see how they might be put into the story in a few more places.
  • Maybe two scenes are really similar, and they can be made into just one scene.
  • Maybe too many scenes take place in one place – kitchen table, lunch room, bike path – and I need to brainstorm a few more “places” for my story.

This game is called Draw a Map. It is the game I am playing most of the time. I usually map one story many, many times. I map it, change it around a little, map it again, change it again. It’s my way of seeing the story anew (again and again).

3) Never Doubt That the Things in Your Head Are Interesting

What YOU see or imagine, what YOU think about how people behave. All of this is precious material. Don’t ever wonder if other people’s thoughts are more interesting than yours. 

Don’t get distracted by what you think others “want to hear” or chase stories that don’t mean anything to you personally.

Write to show others how you really see the world.

I can’t wait to see what you do.

Who is Rebecca Stead?

Rebecca Stead is the Newberry Award Winning author of When You Reach MeGoodbye StrangerFirst Light, and Liar & Spy. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children. 

Matthew Swanson & Robbi Behr

Writing Tips and Tricks:

Don’t worry. This is only going to hurt a lot.

One of the questions I often get asked at school presentations is how to deal with writer’s block. The good news is, I have a simple, foolproof solution. The bad news is that it’s dangerous.

First let’s diagnose the problem. 

Writer’s block happens when the doubting part of your brain speaks louder than the creative part. Curing it is just a matter of making the creative part speak louder or making the doubting part be quiet. My solution does both simultaneously. To be fair, it’s not my solution. It’s a tool I use when need be. A wonderful tool that happens to be free.

Follow this link: The Most Dangerous Writing App and click to start writing. 

In brief, you’ll get a window to type in. Once you begin, you have to keep going for five straight minutes. If you stop typing for more than a second or two, anything you’ve written starts to fade. Wait a few seconds longer and it’s gone. Forever.

My solution depends on this notion of “gone forever” plunging daggers of despair into your deepest, most sensitive core. For me, the thought of losing something I’ve written induces such panic that the creative part of my brain breaks into full on fight-or-flight. The words pour forth with unchecked abandon, obliterating doubt. 

I type like a person possessed, fleeing from an irritated bear. Because that’s how it feels, an incoherent muddle of terror and thrill.

Some of what comes out is gibberish. Or much. But always, inevitably, there’s gold to be found in the muck. 

And even if the pickings are slim, by making it to the end of five minutes, you’ve reminded your creative self that facing the doubt is a fight it can win. Each time through the Most Dangerous gauntlet, it gains confidence and muscle. Keep up this practice, and you’ll outgrow the app. One day, you’ll sit down and just write, because that’s what writers do.

Who Are Matthew & Robbi?

Author/illustrator, husband/wife duo Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr are co-creators of the critically acclaimed and exuberantly illustrated mystery series The Real McCoys, the Cookie Chronicles series, and the picture books Sunrise Summer; Babies Ruin Everything, and Everywhere, Wonder—in addition to 60 or so self-published books for children and adults.

Matthew and Robbi spend their summers running a commercial salmon fishing operation on the Alaskan tundra and the rest of the year writing books, visiting schools, speaking at conferences, and living in the hayloft of an old barn on the Eastern Shore of Maryland with their four kids and no pets.

Padma Venkatraman

Writing Tips and Tricks:

It’s our love of writing that makes us writers, not publication or awards, (wonderful and grateful as we are for them). Don’t be in a hurry to get published. Instead of rushing to get your name in print, take time to create the best possible product, by focusing on process and learning as much as you can.

Once you’ve given your piece to the world, try not to worry about what might happen to it. In my novel A Time to Dance, the main character’s grandmother speaks to her about Karma yoga – about doing the best one can do, and not getting too caught up in material rewards. If you can practice Karma yoga, you’ll fill your writing life with peace.

Who is Padma Venkatraman?

Award winning American author, Padma Venkatraman, has worked as chief scientist on oceanographic ships, spent time under the sea, directed a school, and lived in 5 countries. Her three novels, A Time to Dance, Island’s End and Climbing the Stairs, were released to twelve starred reviews, received numerous honors (50 best book e.g. ALA, IRA Notable, Booklist, Kirkus, NYPL, Yalsa BBYA, IBBY outstanding, and 10 state lists), and won several national and international awards.

She gives keynote addresses, speaks on TV and radio, serves on panels, conducts workshops, has been chief guest at international author festivals and visits schools all over the world.

Reluctant Reader Books

contact@reluctantreaderbooks.com