Just write. Or, at least think.

I’ve been meaning to write a blog post for months. But, I haven’t felt like I had anything worthwhile to say. It feels like my words, these posts, should carry some sort of weight. They should be entertaining or inspirational or just downright delightful. But, that is also kind of daunting.

I’ve been working with my own kids on making mistakes. On being okay with learning the messy way. Being okay with creating for the mere sake of exploring. But I’ve been holding back from that myself.

Sometimes I have a hard time committing things to paper. I like to blame not having enough time or energy or focus. And, all of those are valid, especially with school starting back up a couple of weeks ago. And, you know, all the other stuff still going on? I haven’t been putting things on paper. But, you know what I have been doing? Turning little snapshots into little snippets.

For example, I noticed a cobweb on my ceiling the other day. Gross. Cue dramatic sigh. I wish I could keep everything tidier and neater and all around presentable. I wish my house were picture perfect. But, from a character and/or setting standpoint, that would be pretty boring. What would a cobweb say about a setting? What emotions would it evoke in different people or characters?

Is it possible a child character might find it heartwarming that their parent respects spiders and is willing to keep their homes intact? After all, we’re supposed to treat others with kindness. What might that inspire a child to do?

Would a questioning middle grade child consider the delicate fragility of that cobweb? Be inspired by its beauty or its strength?

Would a visiting teenage friend be jealous that someone else’s parents focused on spending time with their children instead of obsessed with making everything appear perfect when it feels so far from okay?

It’s fun to get carried away creating settings, characters, snippets of dialogue and description. And, when there’s not enough time or focus or energy to put things down on paper, it’s okay to just enjoy playing with observations and thoughts. Immerse yourself in the possibilities around you and see where they might lead.

#50PreciousWords 2021 Entry

You know this blog entry is about a contest, right?

Vivian Kirkfield has a yearly contest, called #50PreciousWords, where she challenges writers to create a full story (with arc) in 50 words or less!

50 words.

A full story.

I know.


This year, there were 770 entries! The fact that 770 writers were able to create stories in under 50 words is an amazing feat. And I love how contest writing inspires ideas and new stories. It’s the loveliest domino effect.

Having written a new story is always a prize in and of itself.

Uh, also… I am absolutely thrilled to have placed this year with my entry! Vivian’s blog crashed due to the 11,000+ comments so Ive posted my story here:

STELLA LOOKED UP (46 words)
By Nicole Loos Miller

Stella looked up
The night sky
Full of promise
Hope
She made a wish

Stella looked down
Piles of books
Formulas and numbers
Knowledge
She made a plan

Stella looked ahead
Screens full of data
Knobs and buttons
Adventure
She smiled

3…
2…
1…
BLAST OFF!

2021 Valentiny: Stella & Hank

By now, you probably know how I feel about Susanna Leonard Hill’s writing contests! I love them! A blank page makes my anxiety rear it’s head but a structured challenge inspires ideas to flow! The Valentiny contest rules include creating a story for children with a full story arc in 214 words or less. This year the theme was “brave.” Read more about it here!

**ALSO! A change this year is that the stories are being entered in the comments section of Susanna’s blog! So head here to read all the amazing entries! (Mine is now posted there too!)

STELLA & HANK
By Nicole Loos Miller
(212 words)

Stella was the perfect cat:
Gorgeous,
And charming, 
And oh-so-soft.

She was loved by all,
Especially Hank.

Hank was the perfect dog:
Huge, 
And drooly, 
And oh-so-playful.

He was loved by everyone…
Except Stella.

Hank tried to win
Stella’s affection
With rope-pulls,
And slobbery bones,
Even his favorite stuffie.

But Stella flattened her ears,
Wrinkled her whiskers,
And turned her tail.

When Hank came near,
Stella’s claws came out.

When Hank whimpered, 
Stella HISSSSSSSSED.
When Hank howled a love tune,
Stella SMACKED.
And when he tried to give her a bath…
YIKES!

Poor Hank.

Then, one February day,
Stella 
Went 
Away 
And 
Hank 
Sighed
And 
Waited
And 
Sighed
And 
Waited
Until…

She finally came back
With a big plastic collar
That went up instead of down.

Stella was sore, 
And sad,
And sleepy,
And it broke Hank’s heart.

He gathered his courage,
And his bones,
And his stuffie.
He risked a HISS,
And a SMACK,
And even a SWIPE,
To put his offering at her feet.

Stella opened one eye.
She considered him closely.
And
Scooted 
To 
The 
Right.

Enough room for a large dog
(If he stayed very quiet).

Hank barely dared to breathe.
Stella started to purr.
It was the best Valentine’s ever
Because he spent it next to her.

Organization Tips From An Unorganized Brain

My brain is not organized. It never has been and it likely never will be. I mean, I’m not complaining because it works for me and it has forced me to externally organized. And I’ve learned some tips to help my brain over the years.

I would LOVE to hear what you do and what works and doesn’t work for you! And, in case it helps anyone else, here is what I do:

Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com

First of all, I keep all of my writing organized in Google Docs. I like that I can access my files from anywhere and share them easily. I also like that I can save all 87 drafts for nostalgia’s sake. And I use folders! SO MANY FOLDERS!!! 

I have one big WRITING folder & within that I have: 
1) The Business Side of Things
2) Works in Progress
3) Manuscript Bootcamps
4) Ready, Set, SUB!

And within these folders? MORE FOLDERS!

The Business Side of Things is broken down into 4 folders as well:
1) Ponder (Research & Resources) – this includes a list of all the PBs and MGs I’ve read along with notes
2) Polish (Info on Critiquing and Editing)
3) Publish (Agent & Publisher Info) – this include my query tracker spreadsheet
4) Exercises, Classes, & Contests – Susanna Leonard Hill’s contest have their own folder in here (which reminds me – don’t forget about her Valentiny contest coming up!)

 My Works in Progress folder has a couple of loose files which are all first drafts. Once I start a second draft, that story gets it’s own folder. I usually number my drafts until I make a major change – like POV or change the plot. Then I usually add a letter letter and restart my numbering (B1, B2, etc).

Once I’ve got a handle on the character, main problem, emotional arc (or at least what I WANT those to be), that manuscript folder gets moved over to …

Manuscript Bootcamp! and stays here until I’m satisfied. The bulk of my stores are here. But, when I get feedback that they are polished, they get moved to….

Ready, Set, SUB! Now each manuscript folder gets organized with more folders! Yay! Folders!!!! All the old drafts are put into a sub-folder and I add a query template complete with pitch and comp titles for each story.

So, that’s it! I am in 4 picture book critique groups  and 2 middle grade critique groups and swap with some individuals on top of that. Every group I am in works a little differently which is really helpful for me because it forces me to stay organized. I recently started a “critique spreadsheet” so I can keep track of which manuscripts I sent to which groups/people and when (to avoid bombarding any one group/person and to ensure they aren’t looking at the same draft every week for a year!).

I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to hear how YOU stay organized!

Susanna Leonard Hill’s 2020 Holiday Contest

Pulling out my coziest socks, admiring the lights around the neighborhood, making little people-shaped ginger cookies to devour… ah yes, it must be time for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Holiday Contest!

Are you tired of me raving about her contests yet? There’s something so freeing and FUN about having a limited amount of time and a limited number of words and playing with ideas until you slap one out there just in the nick of time. I am always surprised by the stories that come out under these deadlines. And I find so much JOY in writing them and in reading the amazing heartfelt, clever, and hilarious entries.

With no more howls about it, here’s my holiday story about a helper, in 250 words or less:

Winona the Wolf Spreads Holiday Cheer 
By Nicole Loos Miller
(248 words)

It had been a rough year for Winona’s pack, and she wanted to spread some holiday cheer. 

But the other wolves didn’t make it easy. They turned their snouts at knitting for cold villagers, shook their heads at harmonizing howls for a holiday concert, and refused to even try Winona’s Meatless Mince Pies. 

“Maybe Grandmama would like a new scarf,” thought Winona. “Plus, walks help me think.” She tucked a scarf into her basket and set off into the woods. 

Inspiration struck when she spotted some delicious mushrooms. 

“I could make soup for Grandmama!” 

But, when she came across a hungry rabbit family, Winona offered them her mushrooms instead. 

Wolves weren’t really fungi fans anyway. 

At least she still had the scarf for Grandmama. 

But, she couldn’t turn a cold shoulder to a shivering possum family. 

And Grandmama already had a fur coat.

Winona sighed. Did she know how to make anyone in her family happy?  

She’d almost reached Grandmama’s cottage when she heard – CAROLERS! 

A herd of sheep warbled. Their pitch was off, but Winona clapped politely. 

“Our lead singer has lamb-ingitis,” said one of the sheep.

“We sound baaaaaaaad!”

“Pssst, Winona,” Grandmama whispered. “Can you get these sheep out of here! They’re giving me a headache.”

“I can do that.” Winona grinned.

She could make Grandmama happy and spread holiday cheer in her favorite way.

“Need an extra singer?” asked Winona. 

Her heart was filled with joy as Winona led the harmonious herd through the forest. 

#KidLitHoliYAY: Day 4

I am so excited to host the fourth day of #KidLitHoliyay with some of my Critique Sisters: Maryna Doughty, Dedra Davis, Sarah Meade, Sarah Heaton, and Ciara O’Neal!

And I am very excited to feature HAPPY LLAMAKAH! by Laura Gehl, Illustrated by Lydia Nichols

I love this book. It’s sweet, it rhymes, it’s punny, it has llamas! What’s NOT to love?

I did not celebrate Hanukkah growing up but a friend of mine did and I was always overjoyed when invited over. The smell of the latkes, the laughter of the games, and when they lit the candles on their beautiful menorah? You could almost feel the miracle. And this book took me back to those sweet memories, albeit in llama form.

At less than 75 words. I still don’t understand how this book covers so much. Laura’s expert word choices and Lydia’s clever illustrations will be adored by all young readers, whether they are familiar with everything Hanukkah or whether they are being introduced to the holiday for the first time. An Author’s Note at the end goes further in depth for curious children (and their parents) who want to learn more.

This book has been requested repeatedly at my house and, to be perfectly honest, I’m still enjoying it on the 25th read through! It’s a win all around. And, did I mention the adorable llamas?

To enter for a chance to win this book, subscribe to my blog here and retweet the giveaway on twitter. Tag some friends you think might enjoy winning this book too. The winner can select their preferred Indie bookstore from which the book will be purchased.

And don’t forget about the other #KidLitHoliYAY giveaways:
Day 1: Maryna Dougthy features LET’S DANCE by Valerie Bolling and Maine Diaz.
Day 2: Dedra Davis features THE LITTLE REINDEER by Nicola Killen
Day 3: Sarah Meade features SANTA AND THE GOODNIGHT TRAIN by June Sobel & Heliska-Beith
Day 4: Nicole Loos Miller features HAPPY LLAMAKKAH! by Laura Gehl and (Right here! You made it!)
Day 5: Sarah Heaton features BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert on Maryna Doughty’s blog
Day 6: Ciara O’Neal features WILD SYMPHONY by Dan Brown & Susan Batori
Day 7: Maryna Doughty wraps things up with a giveaway featuring Valerie Bolling!!

You can enter EACH and EVERY giveaway this week – that’s a chance to earn 6 books AND a critique! Talk about HoliYAY Cheer (sorry – I couldn’t resist)! This giveaways will end on Sunday, December 6th at 5 P.M. Pacific Time (8 P.M. Eastern) and the winner will be announced on Monday, December 7th.


**Sorry to our international friends! The book giveaways are for U.S. residents only, BUT, on Sunday, Maryna will be wrapping up the giveaway with an extra special prize: a 15-min. Q&A phone call with author Valerie Bolling or a PB MANUSCRIPT CRITIQUE from her! The critique is open to all!

Happy Halloweensie!

[UPDATE: THRILLED to share that this story was given an Honorable Mention for Great Read for Younger Readers!]

It’s one of my favorite times of year: Susanna Leonard Hill’s Halloweensie contest for children’s writers! I love these contests. They challenge my brain to think in new ways and almost always inspire multiple stories. Plus, this year, they are the best kind of happy distraction from… you know… everything else.

The challenge: write a halloween-themed children’s story in 100 words or less and include the words skeleton, mask, and creep.

Without further a-boo, here is my 2020 Halloweensie story:

PUMPKIN HUNT (100 words)
By Nicole Loos Miller

Hello, little Skeleton. What are you doing?

I’m going on a pumpkin hunt.

A pumpkin hunt?

A pumpkin hunt!
I’m going on a pumpkin hunt. I’m gonna pick a big one!
Tiptoe. Tiptoe.
Ooh, a white pumpkin!
NO! IT’S A GHOST!

Don’t worry, little Skeleton. It’s just a mask.

Oh, um, I knew that.
I’m going on a pumpkin hunt!
I’m gonna pick a big one!
Creep. Creep. Creep.
A green pumpkin?
ACK! A MONSTER!

Mask again, little Skelton.

Oh, whew! 
Back to the pumpkin hunt.
Skitter, skitter, step.
Oh! Nice mask.

Uh, little Skeleton… that’s not a mask! 

AHHHHH!

Picture Book Opportunities in October!

2020, right? I’ve been working on finding silver linings, or rather, treats among all the tricks this year has brought. Here are some of my favorite October opportunities for children’s writers:

Don’t miss Brian Gehrlein’s #PBCritiqueFest raffle! There are a LOT of amazing prizes and a LOT of opportunities for additional entries. Last year I won a critique from the amazing Bridget Heos (author of Mustache Baby, Stegathesaurus, and so many other hilarious and informative titles). If you haven’t visited Brian’s blog before, hop over and check it out. It’s full of fabulous writing resources, interviews, and more!

Make sure you check out Susanna Leonard Hill’s Halloweensie writing contest too! This writing-community-saint hosts numerous contests throughout the year and, personally, I think they are the absolute best way to jump start the creative brain. Susanna also offers a Making Picture Book Magic class which is affordable, practical, and Susanna is so helpful with her feedback and encouragement.

October 29 marks the next #PBPitch party on Twitter – a chance to condense your picture book pitch down to 280 characters and put it on display for agents and editors who may be searching. There are success stories of manuscripts becomes books thanks to pitch parties. No matter what, it’s a great way to meet other writers and appreciate the uplifting nature of the #writingcommunity.

Get out there and write! ❤

Fall Writing Frenzy 2020

[UPDATE: So honored to share that this story placed this year!]

I feel like all the seasons have been a frenzy this year but, at least writing frenzies are the GOOD kind of frenzy. If you’re a member of the kidlit writing community, you’ve heard of Kaitlyn Sanchez – mom, teacher, children’s author, agent, (maybe super-human?), and host of so many wonderful contests. This year, Kaitlyn and children’s author, Lydia Lukidis, are hosting the Fall Writing Frenzy and offering some amazing prizes. A story in 200 words or less, based on a provided picture. You can check out the rules here.

Now, usually I stick to picture books and, recently, middle grade, but I couldn’t resist a little YA romance this year. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

ALIVE (199 words) by Nicole Loos Miller

He gasped, taking his first breath in over a year. 

Halloween. She must be close.

He flexed his fingers, smiling. Soon he’d be able to move his whole body, if only for one night.

Ten years ago, she’d been playing with her homemade wand in the cornfield. The green spark surprised them both – landing on the scarecrow’s chest, igniting a beat within his heart.

Now, she was eighteen. The farm had been sold. It would be their last night together before he was torn down, his fields paved.

Dried cornhusks crunched underfoot as she approached. He climbed down, limbs awkward with disuse. 

His heart ached as her green eyes pierced through him. She was different this year – taller, face thinner. But that same mischievous smile sent a tingle across his burlap skin. 

She reached out and nestled her fingers between his.  

“I missed you,” she whispered.

His reply caught in his throat.  

She laughed – a bright, silver sound.  

His heart beat like a caged bird. 

“I made a wish,” she said, leaning close. She smelled of cloves and fallen leaves. 

Her lips on his. 

A spark. 

But this time, it spread. 

He was alive.

For good. 

On disappointment and creativity

So maybe you put yourself out there to do a thing. A big thing. A thing you thought would Really Make a Difference.

And, maybe that thing didn’t work out. And you feel crushed. And you’re wondering if you should just give up. 

But here’s THE THING: If you are feeling disappointed and heartbroken, that means that you are passionate. That you wanted this. That you feel destined to keep going. 

And you know what leads to success? 

Passion and hard work.

So, even the feeling of being disappointed and heartbroken means you are on your way.

You might need time to grieve. To cry in the shower. To shove secret handfuls of chocolate chips in your mouth. THAT’S OKAY. Give yourself time and space to grieve. Care for your heart (it’s really important!)

But then, come back. PLEASE come back. Keep that passion and keep working hard.

And remember, YOU were not rejected: your application was simply not chosen. One piece of work that you put out there was not selected among HUNDREDS.

But that thing you put out there? I guarantee you that it’s big, bold, brave, and wonderful thing. You know how I know that? Because you made it. You created it out of nothing. That’s MAGIC. You have MAGIC in your heart and in your brain.

And if you give up on that, I will be so mad at you.

(This speech was prepared for delivery in my bathroom mirror but, just in case you need it too <3).