Archive for January, 2015

The Writing Life 2015: New Arrivals, New Projects

Two very cool packages arrived in the mail last week—advance copies of my latest books. The books are titled The Challenger Disaster and The 1918 Flu Pandemic, and they are part of Capstone’s Fact Finders “What Went Wrong?” series. These mark my 20th and 21st published children’s books, representing a nice mixture of history books, biographies, and poetry.

I must admit that I don’t get as excited about my new books as I did years ago. Maybe the thrill of each individual title has grown less as I do more of them. Also, however, there is a bit of superstition on my part. I simply don’t like reading my books once they are published. I’m always afraid I’ll find an error—or at least something I don’t like. For instance, one of my favorite poems from my Mommy Poems book is “The Keeper of Dreams,” but there’s one line in it that makes me cringe every time I read it. I wish I had written it differently, and sometimes when I read it in schools I actually change to what I wish it had been.

Part of it, too, is that for me the process of doing the book is just as important as the product. I love researching new topics and immersing myself in a subject over a period of time. That is why, even as I celebrate the arrival of my new titles, I am just as excited about getting ready to dive in and begin research on three new books for Capstone. I can’t discuss the specifics yet because I haven’t formally signed the contracts, but they are all history topics, and I look forward to researching all three of them.

I’m also excited about a picture book I am self-publishing titled The Sound in the Basement, with illustrations by New York City-based illustrator Eric Hamilton. Another exciting aspect is that I plan to help support its publication through a Kickstarter campaign that I will launch soon. This means that my friends and relatives will have a chance to get involved in the project and earn some cool things such as signed copies of the book before they are available to the general public. Watch for more details soon!

The Writing Life 2015: Inspiration, Motivation, Perspiration

“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Thomas Edison

“The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” Mary Heaton Vorse

After a too-long hiatus, I’ve decided to start blogging again. For a long time I was wrapped up in editorial consulting work and pressing projects to the point that blogging fell by the wayside. As I look forward to 2015, however, I have some really interesting projects on the horizon, and I’d like to write about the creative process involved in them. I plan to post blog entries around the beginning and middle of each month. Because I’ve recently been really inspired, I wanted to focus on that topic first.

I’ve always felt writing is a process of getting inspired and motivated and then following that up by putting in the perspiration to create a product. This year, I’ve had ample opportunity to get inspired and motivated. I’ve attended (and spoken at) SCBWI Regional Conferences, where I picked up some extremely practical tips on picture book plotting/paging and offered tips on working with editors, pairing with Ariane Szu-Tu of National Geographic Kids. Together, we talked about the process for putting together the best-selling book, 125 True Stories of Amazing Pets, to which I contributed roughly 40 stories. Just as valuable was the inspiration I got at these conferences from thinking about and talking about writing with fellow writers and illustrators.

This spring I traveled to Tuckahoe (just outside New York City) to meet with representatives of Self Publishing Inc., a firm that helps authors self-publish their books. I am currently finalizing two picture books for self-publication, so this meeting was an important step in the process and got me even more motivated to move these projects forward.

Then in June I traveled to Tennessee for the annual meeting of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library Book Selection Committee. It’s really inspiring to be immersed in discussions about children’s books for two full days as we work with representatives of Penguin (which provides all the books for the program) to select titles for the coming year. Imagination Library programs currently operate in more than 300 communities in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, and the program has distributed 60 million books. It’s truly gratifying to participate in the selection process for this wonderful program.

In October I attended a writing “Unworkshop” sponsored by the Highlights Foundation. All of their workshops are amazing. (I also attended one on the “Power of Picture Books” in August.) The Unworkshop provides a retreat atmosphere, as well as the time and space to be truly creative. To aid the creative process, the workshop provides a cozy cabin for writing and sleeping, gourmet meals, hiking trails, the inspiration of sharing meals and trading ideas with other writers, and a block of uninterrupted time to think, dream, and create. In six days, I completed two picture book drafts from scratch, prepared a set of book proposals, researched other projects, and sent out queries. What a week! I’ll keep you posted on what happens with these manuscripts.

The SCBWI conference, the Imagination Library meeting, and the Highlights Foundation Unworkshop provided both inspiration and motivation. Now it’s up to me to put in the perspiration to finish my new projects and get them ready for publication.

It’s not like I haven’t been productive. Over the past year or so I’ve completed five short nonfiction book manuscripts for Capstone and contributed to the Amazing Pets book for National Geographic Kids. I also did part-time editorial consulting work for the PreK-12 Learning Group (a division of the Association of American Publishers), and I’ve written articles for ASCD’s Education Update, IRA’s Reading Today, and National Geographic Kids.

Looking ahead, most of my regular consulting has wound down, and I’m looking forward to focusing even more on book writing, school visits, and other projects as they arise. And new opportunities always do seem to arise. For instance, I’m currently working on some online course lessons for FYI Online Learning and doing publicity work for Read to Them, a nonprofit organization that runs the One District, One Book program.

Can I successfully merge inspiration, motivation, and perspiration to finish this next round of projects? Watch future posts for updates!

John Micklos, Jr. is the author of nearly 20 books for children and young adults. He lives in Newark, Delaware. Visit his website at