50 Precious Words

It’s time! It’s time! If anything can drag me away from revisions and work and reading and family time long enough to post it’s Vivian Kirkfield’s 50 Precious Words contest! I love this challenge. No matter how empty my creative well feels, this challenge pushes me in the best ways and I always manage to come up with something. And so do so many writer!! The talent this year, like every year, never ceases to amaze me. Hop on over to read all the amazing, creative, clever, moving, and hilarious entries!!

And don’t forget to donate a picture book for Vivian’s Literary Initiative! You can order any children’s book you’d like to donate by calling(603) 673-1734 or emailing them: books@balinbooks.com. Tell them the book is for the #50PreciousWords Literacy Initiative. I let my kids pick the book this year and they picked Maddie Frost‘s IGUANA BE A DRAGON (Which is hilarious. Even after three dozen reads!)

Speaking of kids, mine are getting older (5 and 7 now) and are learning new things about themselves and about the world everyday. It’s truly amazing. They were all the inspiration I needed for this year’s entry:

Something Wonderful
By Nicole Loos Miller
(48 words)

It starts as a smile
An escaped giggle
A joyful guffaw
Turns into 
Evolves into
Until your reach is vast and wide
Something wild is coming
Something real and joyful and new
And, my love,
That something wonderful
Is you 

Ways to Keep Busy & Feel Better While Querying:

So you’re querying. Or doing something equally exciting and terrifying. It’s infiltrating your thoughts, your dreams. You’re checking your email 100 times a day and your new mantra of “one day at a time” has lost it’s luster.

What now?

Well, first, check out way more novels from the library than you can read.

Then, when you have to return some books without having had time to read them, it might be easier to appreciate why some agents have to pass. Despite each book on your nightstand being an amazing and wonderful creation as well as the works of someone’s heart, sweat, and tears, you are merely human (I assume. Forgive me if I am mistaken). There is only so much time! You prioritized based on mood, energy level, and preference. When an agent or editor passes, it’s because they are human beings with preferences and time constraints, too. And if an agent or editor takes on a book, they are signing up to read not just once or twice but MULTIPLE times (hello revisions, you old friend). When people say it’s subjective, this is what they mean. It feels personal because you poured your heart into this story. It can be heartbreaking because it feels like a rejection of your hard work, your heart, your dreams. But it truly is subjective. It truly is NOT personal. And the proof is in the 12 books you simply didn’t have time for. 

Take a deep breath and eat some chocolate or go for a run or stare at your ceiling. Whatever you need to do to digest this truth. And then come back because you, and your story, are worth fighting for.

Listen to music
Find your jams. If one doesn’t jump to mind, may I recommend Lizzo? If you are not familiar with Lizzo, first of all, may the gods bless you and keep you, you poor lost soul, and second of all, make sure you don’t have influential children and/or pearl clutching adults with you when you listen. I’m convinced that there is a Lizzo song for every part of the querying process. A form pass? Listen to “Good as Hell.” A pass on a partial or a full, sing “You’re Special” directly to your manuscript. Really belt it. A CP get a full request? “Birthday Girl” it is. Maybe Lizzo isn’t your musical style. That’s okay, these things are subjective (see Step 1). Arcade Fire’s “Lookout Kid” is a great listen when you’re feeling vulnerable about the process. And Bjork’s “It’s Oh So Quiet” is good for checking your inbox (who knows when love/a reply will strike). I would LOVE to add more query-perfect songs to this list so please share if you have a good fit!

Beta Read: 
Critiquing is a fun way to help other writers and grow as a writer yourself. Highlight and emphasize the things you love. Think about what works and doesn’t and why. Give line level feedback (if the writer wants that) as well as overall feedback about pacing, character development, plot, and beats. It never ceases to amaze me how helping others in their writing process helps me. Critiquing is a gift that keeps on giving. 

Write the acknowledgement section for your manuscript:
Reflect on the people who support you. Thank your friends and cousins and critique partners and that neighbor who baked you blueberry pie when your dog got sick. Remind yourself how many people are rooting for you and, more importantly, how many people love you and are amazed by everything you have already accomplished. Even if this story doesn’t make it into more hands via mass produced paperback, it has impacted the readers who gave you feedback, and that friend watching you pursue your passion, and your child who sees you making your dreams a priority, and the cat who sneaks in extra snuggles while you’re typing. They love you just as you are. You are a success in so many ways already, right now. Full stop. 

You created something out of nothing. 
When you think about it, there’s already so much to celebrate.

Bringing “Dead Ideas” to Life for #KidLitZombieWeek

cat typing at computer

***THIS BLOG POST ORIGINALLY APPEARED AS A GUEST BLOG POST FOR #KIDLITZOMBIEWEEK! You can read the whole post here. Gifs were expertly curated by Sarah Meade who knows me well.

Bringing a manuscript back from the dead can be daunting. You don’t need candles or a skilled medium, but you do need to believe in your mission and in yourself. You are capable of creation! You are capable of magic! And, hopefully, you are capable of being flexible because things don’t always turn out the way you thought they would (and in writing, that’s often a delightful thing).

Perhaps you wrote a draft (or two, or fifteen) but came to terms with the fact that your story had no pulse, no heart. You said some words and tucked it into a cold drawer to forget about it until you were challenged to raise the dead. 

Maybe you’re a little nervous to open that drawer.

cat hiding in drawer

You didn’t get the story quite right the first time so why bother thinking you’ll get it this time? Well, my friend, give yourself some credit because little did you know, you were doing EXACTLY what you needed to prepare for this life-giving task:

  • you gave that manuscript time and space
  • you kept reading
  • you kept writing
  • and you kept living your life, soaking up experiences and laughter and love and loss and now you are wiser

So….what now?

  • Take a deep breath and open that drawer. 
  • Grab your manuscript and grab a fresh piece of paper and a writing utensil that makes you smile. 
  • Try something new! Here are a few ideas to get you started. Pick one or all or none and come up with your own:
    • Before you read your manuscript, write a pitch and/or synopsis. This can be an amazing way to get your brain focused on the heart of your story. Now, read your story! Does it fit the pitch? If not, re-write the story on a fresh piece of paper with your pitch in mind and see what happens.
    • Read your manuscript and try to diagnose the fatal beat – where does this story fall flat?
      • Does your character lack an arc? If so, imagine a conversation with your main character – what do they want most in the world? What is keeping them from getting it? To what lengths are they willing to go to get what they want? Now go back and inject that into your story!
      • Does the pacing feel off? Dummy it out to get a feel for balance and page turns. 
      • Is your character solving the story problem? If not, how can you give them more agency? 
      • Allow yourself to be ridiculous. Agents and editors are overwhelmed right now and it takes a lot to stand out. You need a unique voice, an irresistible story, and multiple hooks. Now is not the time to hold back; it’s time to go BIG. So, let your imagination run away with you. If there’s a moment your story starts to feel predictable or dull, brainstorm 10 new lines or endings or character traits, etc, etc, etc. 
    • Don’t doubt yourself. Remember why you started writing in the first place – to express yourself, to share your heart with others, and hopefully to have FUN! 
cat typing on keyboard

I’d say good luck, but you don’t need it. You got this! Now go raise the dead!

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.