SKIT MIXERS Is Here!

Hi Guys!

I’m so excited to announce the arrival of the newest Creative Kids Activity Kit

Skit Mixers Activity Kit-cover page

This kit has been two years in the making…well seven actually if you count the years I spent testing the original prototype. This project has been my baby, the project closest to my heart (with the exception of my middle grade manuscript), and I’m thrilled to finally see it out in the world where kids from all over will be able to enjoy it!

So what is it exactly?

Skit Mixers Activity Kit- Decription Page

For more details on the kit and how it works, click on the SKIT MIXERS ACTIVITY KIT page. I hope you see it like I do…a fantastic activity for creative kids that promotes teamwork, creative thinking, and problem solving- all in a unique and extremely fun way! I have seriously watched dozens of kids use it over the last seven years. Some have been kids on my Odyssey of the Mind teams and some have been friends of my own kids or kids who live in the neighborhood. All of them have loved creating crazy skits and showing them off to whoever will watch.

I hope you’ll help me share it with the world… I hope you’ll tell your friends to give it a try, tell your relatives who may have kids to give it a try, and especially have your own kids give it a try. If they love hanging out with their friends and being creative in any way, they’ll love creating hundreds of different skits and showing them off to you. Sure kids like watching TV and playing video games, but when they’re given materials to fuel their creative fire, that imaginative spark is sure to ignite!

Thanks, my friends for stopping by the site today. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one. Like I said, I’ve been working on it for quite some time and I’d love to know if a tween that you know loves it as much as I do!

Have a fantastic week, everyone! I hope to chat with you soon!

Jackie

 

Creative Outlets

Hey guys!

I’m so sorry I missed posting last week, but I wasn’t actually that far from swirl and spark anyway. I was really busy getting the latest creation up on the site! For those of you watching closely, you may have seen it. 🙂 For the rest of my curious friends, click here.

I’ve been dying to write this post for weeks, to tell you all about it and explain what I’ve been up to besides drafting book 2 of my middle grade series. But since I had no firm launch date of this latest non-book project , I decided to wait until I knew all the pieces were going to fall into place. Now that they have, I can explain…

I’ve been tinkering with the idea of making activity kits for creative type kids for awhile. Some of the activities have taken shape more quickly than others (in both my head and on my laptop), but all of them have been a part of me for the better part of the last few years. If you’re a creative person (like I know most of you are) you probably know exactly what that feels like—to have an idea simmering hotter and hotter until that crazy boiling water overflows. Well finally the ideas for these activities overflowed and started to come together in my mind.

As many of you know, I coached Odyssey of the Mind for years. Well, I guess I loved watching kids creatively solve problems a little more than I realized, because now that I’m no longer coaching my own team, I’ve been determined to create ways for kids who don’t participate in programs like that to develop their own problem solving skills like brainstorming and creative thinking. And so now I can tell you all about my most current creative outlet besides writing: I’m developing a series of Creative Kids Activity Kits.

There are three activity kits in all and they each focus on important themes for kids like teamwork, creative thinking, and problem solving in a fun and challenging way. The first kit went up on the site last week! It’s called the Team Challenge Birthday Party Kit and is the most specific of all the kits because obviously it’s designed to be used in a party type setting. The other kits will be available soon and are designed more generally—for any time use. More details on those  will be coming soon, but for now, if you or anyone you know has young kids who may be looking for a fun and different way to celebrate their birthday with their friends, the Team Challenge Birthday Party Kit might be it.

As a parent of two kids and the host of too many to count home birthday parties, I can tell you that hosting your own party doesn’t have to be overwhelming—not if you’re prepared and have great activities planned. Through the years, I’ve hosted spa parties, princess parties, mystery parties, scavenger hunts, super hero parties, movie set parties, and team challenge parties. The team challenge parties were always the biggest hit with both boys and girls probably because they were so different from anything else they had done at other parties, and because kids really are competitive, especially when they get to be creative!

If you’re so inclined, take a peek at it. I’d love to know what you think, and if you know of a parent who might be interested in using it, please feel free to direct them to the site.

So that’s what I’ve been up to lately. How about you? And while we’re on the subject of creativity, besides writing, what other things do you do to energize your creative self? Do you dance, crochet, paint, decorate your house…or does writing take up all of your creativity? I’d love to know!

It feels great to check in with all of you. I’ve missed you. 🙂 I hope you’re having a great day. I’ll be sure to check in with you again soon!

 

Jackie ❤

The Crazy Journey of the Author Platform

Hey everybody!

I hope this post will give you something to think about as you go about your week. Maybe it will strike a chord or help somehow, because I know this topic is something that all writers think about, even worry about—maybe actually stress about.

I certainly do.

We’ve been told by other writers, agents, and editors that authors need to build a platform—a stage so to speak on which you will put your best face forward. But why? Why does the world need to see us? Isn’t our manuscript enough? Can’t we just stay hidden in the shadows, in our own comfortable world where our book is the main focus?

Well, no. Your manuscript isn’t enough. Sure, it is the most important thing. It’s definitely the most important thing. However, no one will know you have a book to share if you don’t have an author’s platform. Many will argue that you don’t need a platform until after you have a book deal, until your book is contracted to be published. It’s more important to focus your energy on your writing. I’m not a publishing professional so I won’t even attempt to tell you what the right answer is.

I will tell you though, what my experience has been in trying to build my own author’s platform…my own crazy experience. And I have to say it’s been a roller coaster of sorts with it’s ups and downs, twist and turns. Sometimes my decisions have been carefully calculated. Sometimes they’ve been totally impulsive and probably stupid at times. But over the last three years, I’ve worked to create something that resembles an author’s platform, even though I haven’t had a reason to have one. Not yet anyway.

Three years ago, when I was in the process of revising my manuscript (the one currently out on submission) I formulated a plan for creating a website/ blog. I had read everywhere about the mysterious author platform and I knew that I wanted to get started. I was a little naïve back then and thought the whole getting published thing would be a quick sure thing.

As if!

I wondered what I could include on my site that would be of any value and more so what in the world I would ever blog about. It was a really terrifying thought actually. Who would care what I had to say? What did I actually have to say anyway that hadn’t been said so many times before by more experienced writers than myself?

Back then I followed many writing blogs religiously. One of my all time favorites was (and still is) misssnarksfirstvictim.com. I loved the critique rounds for writers. They were supremely helpful to me as I honed my writing craft, but I never planned to create a website for my writing peers. Again, there were plenty of those out there. I did have the idea to create a writing site for young writers though. Having a background in education, I thought it would be awesome if kids who love to write had a resource like adults do.

That became the beginning of my author’s platform. I figured if I could draw the attention of kids, not only could I help them in their quest to write stories, I would also have a landing spot in which to showcase my books someday. I spent months developing the content for the original version of swirl and spark and it was honestly so much fun! I added tabs like Critique Corner, the Book Nook, and Scribble Tips right away. The website/ blog went live the following August and I was excited when I saw any traffic at all. I realized pretty quick though that the curious people (family and friends) will stop by to see what you’ve created, but then they will forget you even have a website and/ or blog within a few weeks!

Hence the roller coaster!

I ran the first Critique Corner for kids the next month and even a few more after that. It was amazing to interact with the kids and to read the great stories they had come up with. The only trouble is, I found it extremely difficult to attract more kids to the site. Why did I not think this would be hard?? The kids who often stopped by or sent their stories in were mostly kids I knew. Friends of my own kids, younger siblings of my kids’ friends, my nieces and nephews…you get the idea.

I was beginning to think the idea for swirl and spark was a bad one. How do I help young writers when they don’t even know about the site? Most kids don’t check out websites or blogs—even the ones who are often online playing games or perusing Instagram.  But just when I was beginning to get discouraged, I met other writers through the site. Other writers apparently enjoyed reading my posts and clicking around the site! Who knew?

The next year, swirl and spark (the site for kids who love to write) evolved into the site for kids and kids at heart who liked to write. Critique Corner became a critique round for beginning writers of any age and each round was successful. In fact, the busiest months (traffic wise) always happened during one of these rounds. I even added a YA Book Nook to appeal to all the writers that stopped by. But what about my author platform? Did it still make sense, now that mostly non-kid writers were hanging out at the site? I had no idea! But I figured as long as people were interested in the content here, it didn’t matter to me. I was learning so much about the writing community and making great friends at the same time so how could that be a bad thing? Besides, it was fun to have a place to talk about writing and books on a weekly basis!

As the year went on, I learned more and more about the point of having an author platform. I learned that the point is not only to bring you exposure, but exposure to your potential readers. Hmm. Well I tried that, and my readers (kids ages 8-12) don’t read blogs. So I thought long and hard about that. Maybe kids don’t read blogs, but their parents and teachers and librarians might. This was an important distinction because in almost all case, kids in the middle grade age group don’t buy their own books. Their parents and teachers and librarians do—or at least guide them in the right direction.

Hmm. That’s when swirl and spark evolved again. I began catering the Critique Corner rounds to writers of middle grade books. I eliminated the YA Book Nook and focused only on middle grade. I even added Spotlight: Tweens and some tools for tweens over at For Tweens Only. Why? Because I realized if I could attract parents and teachers and kids now, maybe they will be interested in buying my book someday when it’s published.

But a funny thing has happened as I’ve been waiting for that elusive book contract—the one that would be the reason to have an author platform in the first place. I realized how much love running this website. Now that it has a real focus (on the tween age group and people who have an interest in tweens), I feel like I’m reaching more people. In fact, now that I’ve started creating hands on activities for tweens, I can’t stop! I have four new activities almost ready to go up on the site. Almost. Stay tuned!

Now the blog is a different story. Blogs are for writing and I’m a writer. I think its important to write about whatever topic you want to write about and that’s what I’ll continue to do. The writers who stop by are my lifeline, the thing that keeps me connected and happy and sane! We all know how crazy this stuff can be. It’s great to connect with other people who can relate!

So here’s the thing. An author’s platform is important. Agents, editors, and publishers want to know that you’re serious about getting the word out about your book. Parents and librarians may want to read about your book and know where they can buy it. So for that reason it is important to have some sort of on-line presence.

But what about Twitter or Facebook? Well, the same is true for those. They can help feed into your platform too. If you develop a strong following there, it can eventually lead people to your website or blog as well.

I’ve learned a few valuable lessons in the two and a half years since swirl and spark was born. First, content is important. Readers will come back if they like what they read. That’s especially important with blogging. If what you say resonates with even one person, then it’s worth it. If you try to sound important, like you know all there is to know on a subject in an attempt to reach a million people, then readers will be turned off…because know one knows all there is to know, especially about writing and publishing!

Second, I’ve learned that if the content you’re putting up on your site doesn’t interest you, you’ll get sick of talking about it real quick. I love talking about tweens. I love talking about great middle grade books. I also like talking about imagination and how it can encourage kids to create and problem solve. I guess the educator in me comes out sometimes. That’s why it’s important for me to keep updating this site with anything I can dream up that will encourage tweens to be the best versions of themselves. And I’m just getting started where that’s concerned.

So is this an author platform that works? Who knows? I’ll let you know when I actually become a published author. But if there’s one thing I can tell you, it’s this. Most of building a strong platform of any kind is trial and error. If you have an idea, try it. If it doesn’t work out, try something else. Do any of you remember Manuscript Mondays? That lasted for almost 30 weeks. In addition to my regular posts, I blogged on Mondays about the status of my new manuscript. The result…well, lets just say that it bored me to tears to write every Monday about the previous week’s drafting progress and from the number of views on the site during that time, I think most readers were bored too! So that was one idea that didn’t work out. I impulsively started blogging one Monday and soon it became a thing. However, sometimes it’s best to cut your losses and try something new.

I hope this information helps at least one of you to understand the rationale behind developing your own author’s platform and also what it really is like to get one started and what it’s like to keep it going. It’s crazy and confusing and amazing! But if you create it with the idea that it can be a fun way to connect with other people, you’re way ahead of the game. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. There’s only your way, and that’s the way that counts!

Have a great week, everyone. I hope to chat with you again soon!

Jackie

4 Signs You May Not Fit the Writer Stereotype

We all have questions and doubts when it comes to our writing life. Am I a good enough writer? Is my story any good at all? How do I know if I’m cut out to be a writer anyway?  The list of doubts goes on.

We all have moments of reflection too… moments when we wonder if we should continue on our quest to become a published writer, ponder if we have what it takes to stay in it for the long hall. And in doing so, we think about the successful writers—authors like JK Rowling and Suzanne Collins who have become household names. But we may also think about our writing friends who’ve gotten published already, the ones who are not quite yet a household name but have made this writing thing a job. Some we may know personally, some we may know merely through Twitter or some other form of social media. The more we engage with these other writers, the ones who have made careers of putting pen to paper and spinning words into gold, we can’t help but hear or read about the ways they do things—the way they work, the way they write, the schedule they keep, etc.

And we are fascinated by it.

Mostly I think because we believe that any time we read something about a real writer, we’ll learn something, anything that will pull back the curtain on all that is the mystery of getting published. If we know their routines, we may be able to imitate them and perhaps that will lead to publication for us too.

But what happens when we learn something about a published writer and realize (without a doubt) that what they do is something we may never do. Not because it’s wrong, but because it’s just not us?

In thinking about this topic for quite sometime now, I’ve come to realize that writers, like those in any other profession, have a certain stereotypical look or some stereotypical behaviors. The problem for me is this.

I don’t fit the writer stereotype.

Like, at all.

First, I don’t wear pajamas (or even sweatpants) all day when I write. My hair is not thrown up in a messy bun. And I don’t wear glasses. I don’t skip showering before writing either. Like ever.

In fact, every day of my life (without fail) I get up and shower before I do anything else. Then I get dressed, put on my contacts, do my hair, and do my make up before I start writing, even if I have no plans to leave the house or see another human being all day. Call me crazy, and maybe it’s because of my background in teaching and in sales, but I feel more productive and ready to take on the world when I look the part.

Second, I don’t drink endless cups of coffee while I write. I drink a cup of tea most every morning and a chai latte in the afternoon. But I do that whether I’m writing or not. Sometimes I’ll sit down with one or the other (or even with a cup of highly sugared iced coffee) as a coincidence, but I don’t drink it for hours to make the time spent with my manuscript more productive.

Third, I’m not a book worm. I don’t love reading above all else. I didn’t grow up with my nose buried in a book. I almost feel ashamed for admitting this. Sure, I like reading. I love reading books in the age group that I write in, I like reading YA books when I find a fabulous one. I like reading motivational books and an occasional grown up book too. But I don’t think about books all day long. (Except the one I’m writing). I enjoy reading and it is part of my daily routine, but it’s not the first thing I would do on a day off. Books are important to me, but being creative is even more important. I’d rather spend an entire day daydreaming about my next project or invention. I think that’s one of the reason’s why I write. Ideas are constantly spinning in my mind (to a point of frustration) and I will never act on most of them. But my characters can! I may not invent the next big thing, but the next big thing may just pop up in one of my books!

Fourth, I’m not an introvert. Well not all the time. I definitely like my alone time. That’s when I’m at my most creative.  And I don’t really love hanging out with giant groups of people. But once I’ve had enough alone time, I do love being with people and interacting with them.  In fact, I’ll probably talk your ear off if we ever meet in person! A night out with friends (old or new) or a lunch date with my college roommate or a dinner with my husband or whole extended family is definitely my thing. Many writers I know would prefer to exist in their own world and don’t love interacting much with people. They let their words do the talking, and that’s okay too.

It used to scare me quite honestly. I used to panic thinking, well obviously I will never become real writer because I hate hanging out all day in my pajamas. But then I snapped out of my making excuses trance and realized it doesn’t matter at all.

Stereotypes in most case are ridiculous anyway, right? So if you’re doubting your abilities to do this writing thing just because you haven’t read all the classic literature ever published, if you only read the Cliff Notes to the Scarlett Letter in high school and really didn’t love Jane Eyre (I know, I’m sorry!!) just don’t. Don’t doubt yourself at all. Writers come in all shapes and sizes—coffee drinker or not. How else would we get all these amazing stories? If we were all the same, our stories would all be the same and how awful would that be? No thanks!

I’ll take my tea with extra sweet cream. I’ll dress up when I write if for only my own benefit. I’ll go running instead of reading if the sun is shining. I’ll spend time I should be writing thinking up inventions that make no sense. I may even re-read Jane Eyre one day to see what all the fuss is about. Because that’s me. But rest assured, on the nights I stay up late to add a new invention to my latest middle grade scene, I may even throw my hair up in a messy bun. Hey, at ten o’clock at night even the most neurotic girl needs to change into comfy clothes and get down to business! How else will those words get spun into gold?

What about you? Do you fit into the writer stereotypes? Do you think they exist at all? Maybe they only exist in my mind. Stranger things have happened there, ya know? What do you think? Throw me a comment. You know how much I love notes!

Have a great week, Guys! Now go get dressed…and brush your hair or something. Maybe you’ll be more productive. 🙂

Jackie