2022 50 Precious Words

Well, it’s been a minute. But this return-of-the-blog post is brought to you by none other than Vivian Kirkfield’s amazing #50PreciousWords contest. The challenge is to write a story with a beginning, middle, and an end, in 50 words or less! It feels impossible at first but pop over to Vivian’s page to see how many amazing stories can be told in a bite-size snapshot!

Art by Vicky Fang

 Click here for more details about this amazing contest. This year Vivian added a wonderful new literacy initiative to the challenge! I’ve added more information below my story.

It’s Hard to Say “I’m Sorry”
By Nicole Loos Miller
50 words

Awesome toys,
and tons of fun!

Tug-of-war and
broken wheels.
Hurt feelings, 
falling tears.

I didn’t mean it.
How did it all

Glue and scissors,
tape and ribbon,
markers, paper, glitter, too.

It’s hard to say 
“I’m sorry,”
but it’s worth it
when it’s you. 

You can read all the #50PreciousWords stories in the comments on the contest page.

This year, Vivian partnered with her local independent bookstore, The Bookery, in Manchester, New Hampshire. She’s asking each writer who posts an entry to purchase a children’s book which will be donated to McDonough Elementary, Merrimack Middle, and Memorial High School.
The link to the bookstore is here: shopbookerymht.com. Check off ‘pick up in store’ – the store will hold the books until the contest is over and delivery will be coordinated between Vivian and the bookstore. When you buy the book, either online or over the phone, please let them know that this is for #50PreciousWords so it can get to the right place!

Struggle Bus, written and illustrated by Julie Koon

I purchased THE STRUGGLE BUS for the literacy initiative. It’s written and illustrated by my amazing critique partner, Julie Koon. You can purchase the book here through the Bookery or here, if interested. The book comes out on March 8! (Spoiler alert: it’s wonderful!)

Thank you for reading! Hope your day has a glitter-heart-vibe!

Susanna Leonard Hill’s 2021 Holiday Contest

I like to joke that Susanna Leonard Hill is my personal patron saint of inspiration. Her 2018 holiday contest is what got me back into writing for others. Her challenges have just enough structure to spark an idea but enough freedom to let my imagination roam. The sparse word count forces me to focus on one idea and make it sing. And Susanna’s encouraging posts combined with the writing community’s never-ending support make it feel all fun without any scary stakes. Which is the best.

This year, inspiration didn’t strike until the contest had already gone live. For a lot of reasons. The holidays. The [never-ending] pandemic. Working in a school. Being mom to two young kids. The seemingly inevitable collapse of civilization.

Just kidding.

But, in all seriousness, I’ve been better. I think we all have.

BUT, Susanna’s contests always have a way of encouraging me to write a slice of exactly what my heart needs to write. And this year? Turns out I needed eyes-wide-open hope, even in the face of repeated disappointment.

This story is short and silly but I hope it makes you smile. Because we could all use one and, thanks to Susanna, I have one to share!

(Also, read all of the other amazing entries here! The story has to be 250 words or less and focus on a holiday contest.)

SIMPLY THE BEST (180 words) 
By Nicole Loos Miller 

Christmas was Maise’s favorite time of year.
Awe-inspiring. Wonderful. Magical.
Simply the best. 
Maise wanted to be awe-inspiring, wonderful, and magical, too. 

Maise entered the Gingerbread House Decorating Contest.
Her house had icing and gumdrops! 
Sprinkles and sparkles!
It even had an entire reindeer family reunion!
“It’s very…. creative,” said the judges.
But, Catalina won with a classic design.
“Awe-inspiring,” Maise told her.

Maise entered the Holiday Baking Contest.
Peppermint sticks! 
Mocha melts! 
Orange and ginger shortbread!
“Quite the variety,” observed the judges.
But Lester won with his Yule Log cake. 
“Wonderful,” said Maise, licking her lips.

Maise entered the Ice Skating Contest.
Wearing a very sparkly leotard, 
she skated forward!
And backward!
She even did a twirl!
But Jozef had a routine that was…well…
“Magical,” admired Maise.

Maise smiled.
She hadn’t won any ribbons but it had still been a delightful day.

“We have one last ribbon to award,” announced the judges.
“The award for the Most Holiday Spirit goes to…
“Awesome,” said Catalina.
“Wonderful,” said Lester.
“Magical,” smiled Jozef.
And to Maise, it was simply the best.  

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:

By Nicole Loos Miller

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

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

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


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!)

By Nicole Loos Miller
(212 words)

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

She was loved by all,
Especially Hank.

Hank was the perfect dog:
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, 
When Hank howled a love tune,
And when he tried to give her a bath…

Poor Hank.

Then, one February day,

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.

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!

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?

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! 


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! ❤