• Picturebooking Prof


Like many aspiring (and published!) authors, I have to find time for my kidlit writing pursuits in the margins of my days:

  • That 30 minutes after I finish my early-morning grading session and the boys haven’t yet awoken for the day, when I can jot down and at least outline that new story idea.

  • The 20 minutes while the water is coming to a boil and I can say I’m “cooking dinner” (aka, daddy gets the boys) while I open my laptop and do some quick revising.

  • The rare weekend hour when daddy takes the boys to the park, I don’t have grading to do, and I can sit in a quiet house and REALLY relax into writing—heck, maybe even have time to write a blog. (The luxury!)

This writing-in-the-margins reality means that I have to be very purposeful in what I do in those stolen moments—and since those moments often appear unexpectedly, I have to be prepared with this purpose long before the writing opportunities appear. But HOW?

Anyone who has been in the kidlit world for any length of time has heard the laundry list of things yet-to-be-published writers need to do to be “successful”:

  • Join critique groups!

  • Get involved in the online writing community!

  • Get involved in the local writing community!

  • Blog regularly!

  • Watch webinars!

  • Invest in programs to improve your skills!

  • Go to conferences! (OK, we can probably take this one off the list in COVID times)

  • Participate in contests!

  • Brainstorm!

  • READ, READ, READ in your genre!

  • Write every day! (HA)

  • Revise, revise, revise!

  • Query, query, query!

The list goes on. This never-ending list whirls around my head all the time, and I’m constantly wondering how on earth I’ll ever do it all. The answer? I won’t. I can’t. The reality of my life right now means that, no matter how I time-block my schedule or how early I get up in the morning (because we all know staying up late ain’t happening!), I am simply not able to do all of these things—ALL AT ONCE. But, by prioritizing them based on my current writing moment and long-terms writing goals, I CAN figure out a NEXT RIGHT THING to spend that stolen 20 minutes on.

This NEXT RIGHT THING phrase is something I discovered via the amazing podcast (and later book) by that name, the brainchild of Emily P. Freeman. The main idea is that, rather than stressing ourselves out about figuring out “the ONLY right thing,” or “the next BEST thing,” we just take each moment and each decision as it comes and identify a single next right step. I’ve been trying to apply this to decisions across my life domains for the past year, but I’ve only recently started bringing it into my kidlit writing—and I’m loving the results. So how does it work?

First, I mentioned the “current writing moment” idea. Since time passes quickly in the writing-in-the-margins world, the particular pressures and drives also often shift from one writing session to another. This means that what was a “NEXT RIGHT THING” two weeks ago may NOT be a next right thing today.

  • For example, this week there is a Fall Writing Frenzy contest. A next right thing this week, for any “margins” I find, will be to read and engage with other contestants’ entries, as I hope they also will engage with mine. This naturally means that this week, I will probably not be drafting a new story, revising an old piece, or critiquing my CP’s work—those are just not “NEXT RIGHT THINGS” for my margins this week. But next week, after the contest moves into the “judging” phase, a different “NEXT RIGHT THING” will emerge.

Along with taking the “current writing moment” into consideration, I also have to think broader and more long-term. I have some ongoing goals I’m working toward—connect with the writing community, land an agent, get a book contract, attend a major conference—and if I’m not taking active (baby) steps toward those goals, then they’re just pie in the sky. I need to ensure that I’m devoting some of those found writing moments to laying the foundation for and making progress toward those goals.

  • So, sometimes a NEXT RIGHT THING may be engaging with my fellow kidlit writers on Twitter or writing and sharing a blog post. (TA DA!)

  • Sometimes a NEXT RIGHT THING may be watching a webinar about querying agents, creating characters, or structuring a story.

  • And sometimes a NEXT RIGHT THING may be spending those margin writing minutes convincing my husband to take the kids while I go to a 2-day writing conference.

So, taking these two forces into account—my current writing moment and my long-term writing goals—I practice identifying only ONE thing each week to focus on as my NEXT RIGHT THING. Then, when I do find those little moments to do something writing-related, I am ready to jump right in—I don’t have to spend 5-10 precious minutes thinking about what I should do.

Now, a CAVEAT. Obviously, there are times when my planned “NEXT RIGHT THING” goes out the window—I have sudden inspiration for the most amazing story idea (this will be the ONE!), so of course I’m going to spend my next margin moments on that. But guess what? The beauty of this next right thing approach is that it gives freedom and flexibility to decide at any point what the NEXT RIGHT THING is to do with each stolen moment. So, yes, planning ahead is important, but I’m always ready to shift if the moment invites a different next right thing.

The best part? Not only does this NEXT RIGHT THING approach help me be more productive in my limited writing time, but it also takes the pressure off—I can put all of those writer “shoulds” that were swirling around my head on the shelf, and only pull them out one at a time when it’s my NEXT RIGHT THING. Or maybe I should say, my NEXT WRITE THING.

So what’s YOUR next “WRITE” thing?

One of my favorite places to "write in the margins"--the lake my family calls our "happy place."


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