NO IFS, ANDS, OR BUTTS – What to do when your BIC becomes a PIA

Jane Yolen is a prolific writer of children’s books and poetry. On her website, she answers some FAQs, including this one:

“Do you have a secret that makes you so productive?

Want to know my secret? BIC.

That’s right. BIC. Butt in chair. There is no other single thing that will help you more to become a writer.

William Faulkner said: “I write only when I’m inspired. Fortunately I’m inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.”



Whether you are a writer or not, so many of our “productive” accomplishments require sitting down and focusing on the task at hand.

Still haven’t organized photos from two years ago? You need to get your BIC. Catching up on a mountian of email? BIC. Deadline at work? BIC. Writing a novel? Certainly BIC.

So what happens once you have overcome all the procrastination trolls that life throws at you? When you actually sit down, with BIC, and do the work?

For one thing, stuff actually gets done. (Huh! It works!).  For another, you may experience a problem I encountered when I finally sat myself down and wrote a novel-length manuscript.

My BIC became a big pain in the aspirations.

My solution involved an orthopedist and a physical therapist, but if you start early and take care of your assets, perhaps you can avoid this route.

Here are some things that worked for me:

1) Pull out the old baby stuff.  Who else has a “Boppy” in their closet? It makes a great soft seat and can help encourage a more upright posture.


Also, an old nursing stool can be the perfect height and angle for a foot rest under a writing desk.  Adjusting my leg positioning seems to help; you may want to give it a try, too.

2) Beyond the Boppy, I tried several sit-upons that at least provided temporary relief.

IMG_2050This is a memory foam pillow that probably never guessed the impressions it would be made to support.

IMG_2051This is a classically designed posture pillow.  I was surprised that something “seen on TV” actually worked. But it does!


The big ball! So much fun, so good for your back and bum. Mine is a little short for my desk, and I do find my concentration is not as great when I’m bouncing around. But for the end of the day tired tuchas, nothing beats the ball.


3) The standing desk.


Many writing friends of mine have gone so far as to build treadmill desks, which I think are fantastic. But try just looking around your house until you find a counter surface or table that’s a good height for you. (I am fortunate that the bookshelf in my writing nook has a cupboard door that opens to the perfect height for me.) You will burn more calories while standing, but also, you will be able to keep working!  Added bonus points if you have a squishy gel mat you can move to your standing area.

4) If things are already to the point of pain, try this simple exercise:

Stand on one leg. Now, try to close your eyes and balance for 30 seconds. You will need to squeeze your standing-leg butt cheek very hard to keep from falling. Repeat several times a day to minimize pain and get “maximus” power.

5) When all else fails, get a dog. I guarantee you will not be able to sit still for more than an hour at a time without being encouraged by your little friend to get up and go for a walk!

You done with that blog post yet?

You done with that blog post yet?

I wish you a happy, healthy, productive day!

Twitter 100

A few months ago, kidlit writer Michelle Cusolito ran an online auction to benefit people in the Philippines affected by Typhoon Haiyan.  I offered a basic Twitter tutorial as an auction item, and will be meeting with the winning bidder this weekend!  In preparation for that, I put together a primer on how to get started on Twitter.  I call it “Twitter 100,” as it’s too basic to be even called “Twitter 101.”

It occurred to me that other people who have always wanted to learn more about Twitter may find these notes helpful, as well.  I am in no way an expert, but if you are a complete newbie and are toying with joining Twitter, I hope that some of this advice might be useful to you.

And so without further ado, I offer you…TWITTER 100:


What even is Twitter?

Twitter is a free online social networking service that allows users to send and read short (140 character) text messages called “tweets.”

Wait, what are Tweets?

“Tweets” are short messages, 140 characters or less, that you “post” like you would a Facebook post.  People who are “following you” will see what you tweet, and you will see the tweets of people you follow.

Here is an example of a tweet (and an example of me trying to be clever):

The picky reader’s book choice from the library basket: THE REAL BOY by Anne Ursu.  C’mon, Anne, Mama needs an engaged reader!  Hopes high.

Tweets from anyone you are following scroll by on your computer screen in a continuous “feed.”  I will talk about how to keep up with this (or not!) in a moment.

How do I start?

 Start by going to On the screen, follow the directions under the heading, “New to Twitter? Sign Up.”  You will need an email and a password (your choice). After that, you simply follow the directions as Twitter leads you through setting up your account.

Your Twitter “handle” will begin with the “@” sign.  Your Twitter name can be different than your own. For example, you could be “@QueenOfTheUniverse” on Twitter if you’d like. Actually that’s probably already taken.  But you get the idea.  If you are an author looking to connect professionally, I suggest just using your straight up name, like this: @NancyTandon.  You want it to be easy for people to find you.

 What should I include in my profile?

It might be helpful to play around on Twitter for a while and see what other people have in their profiles.  Some of them are quite clever!  A profile is your way of saying, ‘this is who I am,’ and will likely help you connect to like-minded people.  Since I use Twitter for most of my ‘professional’ networking, my profile says a lot about what kinds of things I write, and a little about me as a person. Here’s my example:

“Picture book, middle grade, and cathartic memoir writer, speech/language pathologist, mom, and wife.  So many books, so little time…”

Keep it short.

Also, definitely add a profile picture!  It doesn’t need to be fancy, just make sure you add one.  Otherwise, your profile picture will be an egg, which really isn’t good for anyone’s self-esteem, is it?

Don't be an egghead.

Don’t be an egghead.


How do I get followers?

The best way to get followers is to follow people yourself. Look for people you know in real life to get you started. In the search bar, type in a person’s name, or their “Twitter handle” if you know it. When their profile appears, click on the “follow” button.

Who should I follow?

You can follow anyone! President Obama? Yes! Agents? Editors? Yes, yes! It’s all a matter of what you’d like to see, and whom you’d like to connect with. In this way, Twitter is different from other social networking sights where someone must agree to let you see their posts.  (On Twitter, people you follow may not follow you back, but that’s okay, as long as what they say is interesting to you).

How do I keep my Twitter feed from getting overwhelming?

Once you start following people, you will begin to see a continuous “feed” of tweets on your screen. Naturally, the more people you follow, the more tweets you will see.

It is important to remember: you don’t have to read it all! Twitter is a fluid, “of the moment” way of communicating.  Also, you can easily create “lists” to categorize people you are following. Next to the blue “following” button on someone’s profile, there is a “down arrow.”  Click on that, and you will see a choice to “add or create lists.”

For example, I have a list called “kidlit writers.”  When I follow someone who writes kidlit, I add them to that list. Then, if I am feeling like I need inspiration or just want to connect specifically with people in that realm, I can pull up that list (this will be a button on your own profile page – “lists”) and read what’s being tweeted.

There are other ways to keep track of what is going on on Twitter, things like “Tweet Deck,” that I haven’t figured out yet.  (That would be for Twitter 101).

Also, you don’t want your time on Twitter to be a distraction from your real life and real work.  I usually spend from zero to 30 minutes a day looking at Twitter.  The average is about 10 minutes, and I always feel energized by the little clips and quips I read.  It’s not supposed to overwhelm you!

What should I tweet about?

Anything! Sometimes I comment on what book I’m reading, or post links to writing contests.  It can be anything.  I use Twitter mostly in a ‘professional’ way but I always get responses when I say something more personal (i.e. comment about being frustrated with kids, etc.).  You can also “re-tweet” interesting tweets you read by simply clicking the symbol that looks like the recycling symbol, (but with two arrows instead of three.) This will send someone else’s tweet to the people who are following you.  It is a great way of broadening connections.

Often tweets will contain a link to a blog post, article, or other longer piece of interest.  You can simply highlight the URL of the item you want to link (the thing in the box at the top of the computer screen), then copy it (Command + C), and paste it (Command + V) into your tweet.  Sometimes, pasting a link will put you over your 140-character limit.  Thankfully, someone clever figured out a way to shorten those links.

How do I shorten a web address (link) so that it fits in my tweet?

The sight I like to use for this purpose is called First, start by highlighting the web address of the article or blog post you want to share. Then (as above) copy it by typing Command + C.

Now, open a new tab on your computer, and enter the address Once on bitly, you will see at the very top of the page a rectangle that says “paste a link to shorten it.” So, you paste your copied address here.  (Command + V). Then you click on the orange tab that says “Shorten.”

What happens is that you now have a shortened version of a link that will send readers to the content you wanted to share.  And now it’s time to put it back into your tweet.  You will notice that the orange “shorten” button is now a blue button that says “copy.”  So, click on that.

Then, go back to your twitter page, and paste the new link into your tweet. Hooray! You did it!



What is a “hashtag”?

The # (hashtag) symbol on Twitter basically identifies a “topic of conversation.” For example, adding #amwriting to a tweet would let people know your tweet is related to something about the writing process, e.g.:

 Ugh! I just can’t get my latest revision to flow! #amwriting

You can search for “topics of conversation” in the search bar by entering # (followed by whatever you’re interested in.)  Some great ones to look at specific to writing are:

#MSWL (“Manuscript Wish List” – posted by agents.  Hello, gold.)



#Ask Editor




What are some other ways to connect with people?

1. You can “favorite” a tweet by clicking on the “star” icon under a tweet. This is akin to “liking” something on Facebook. It lets the author of the tweet know you agree or like what they’re saying.  I also tend to “favorite” tweets about books I’d like to read, so I don’t forget the title.  On your home (profile) page you can easily see tweets you have favorited (by clicking on the ‘favorites’ tab).

2. You can reply directly to a tweet by hitting the ‘reply’ icon. This will start a ‘conversation’ between you and the tweeter.

3. You can DM (Direct Message) someone on Twitter by clicking on the same “down arrow” that you use to create lists. There is an option that says, “send a direct message.”  This will be seen by that one person only, not all your followers.

You can also do this by starting a tweet with someone’s handle, for example:

       @NancyTandon – enough already, my brain is full.

This tweet, however, would be seen by anyone who follows both you and the @person.  If you want to mention someone and have everyone see it, put a period before their name, like this:

  . @NancyTandon – enough already, my brain is full.

Or you can simple ‘embed’ someone’s name in your tweet.  For example:

Thanks @NancyTandon for thoroughly confusing me with all this Twitter mumbo-jumbo!

The person you mention will be notified that they were “mentioned in a tweet,” and a connection is made.

4. Chats. Sometimes there are specific “chats” that occur on Twitter that you can follow along with and/or participate in.  It’s not a formal thing, you don’t have to “belong” to a group to participate in a “chat.” For example, on Tuesdays at 9:00 PM there is something called, “#kidlitchat.”  It can be very fun to pour a glass of wine, open Twitter, type #kidlitchat into the search bar, and follow along with what people are talking about that week.  Usually there is a moderator who offers a starting topic or question. If you want to participate, you simply write a comment as a tweet, and end with #kidlitchat.  The other people will see it in their feed if they are following that ‘hashtag.’ Clear as mud?  Just let it flow over you for a while, you will get the hang of it!!

Some common Twitter abbreviations:

RT = Retweet.  This is used when you share someone else’s tweet that you thought would be interesting to your followers.

MT = “Modified tweet.”  You are sharing something someone else tweeted, but you’re adding a little bit of info yourself.

ICYMI = in case you missed it

If you find yourself confused by something on Twitter, just Google your question, e.g. “What does RT mean on Twitter?”  Guaranteed someone else has asked before you (probably me).


With all this said, I must point out that Twitter is not for everyone. If you play around with it for a while and realize you are not enjoying yourself, stop!  No need to add to your already full plate. Maybe there is some other social media platform that is better suited to you.  (Or none at all!).  It’s okay!!

But if you love one-liners, and connecting with like-minded people, and sharing ideas, and being inspired, and learning new things, and you don’t mind “putting yourself out there” a little bit, Twitter just might be the perfect fit for you!

Happy Tweeting!





Putting on Your Oxygen Mask

We all know the familiar refrain: “In the event of an emergency, put on your own oxygen mask first.”  As parents, or caregivers of any kind, we’re often reminded of this adage and encouraged to take time for ourselves; to pay attention to our own needs, so that we can have energy for the long haul.

If you’re reading this and nodding along in agreement, pat yourself on the back!  But when was the last time you really, really, took some time for yourself?  I thought I had been doing a pretty good job of grabbing for that mask.  I had graduated from trips to the store on Saturdays (without kids!) to overnights and even occasional hurried weekends away with friends, or my sister, or my husband (again, no kids!).

But never have I taken such an extreme hit of direct oxygen as I did recently at When Words Count Retreat in Rochester, VT.  Four days.  Three nights.  Nothing to do but write, eat, sleep, and enjoy the company of other writers.  For real.  No hitch.

I'm Writing. Please do not disturb.

I’m Writing. Please do not disturb.  A.k.a.: I’m dreaming.  Pinch me.

There were several wonderful things about this place that deserve to be gushed about.  Each morning I woke to the smell of someone else cooking breakfast.  Each noon, a gentle bell would call to tell me lunch had been prepared.  Each evening, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres preceded gourmet sit-down meals which I enjoyed with my fellow writers (almost all were children’s authors – thank you, providence!) as well as the gracious and welcoming hosts of the retreat, Steve Eisner and Jon Reisfeld.  After dinner we shared our work, fireside, during hash sessions in the Gertrude Stein salon.

My use of the word ‘gourmet’ is not hyperbole.

The loose structure of the days allowed for generous, decadent chunks of time to write.  And to be alone.  Alone.  My thoughts.  My sleep.  My walks down the lane.  My views of the triumphant Green Mountains, struggling to grasp spring.  Me! Me, me, me, me, MINE ALL MINE!  I was a self-centered toddler, and I didn’t have to share a single thing.  It was amazing and liberating. I was grateful and thankful.


I don’t take lightly all the work that was being done back at home so I could experience this bliss. In fact, I’m kind of proud of the fact that it took three grown people, (plus a neighbor with a house key) to cover for me in my absence.  And I’m grateful for the warm home life I’ve returned to.  It’s just so much easier to appreciate all I have now that I’m breathing deeply and clearly again.  As life sneaks back in and starts to tap away at the heavenly shell that WWC Retreat coated me in, I’ll be so glad that I took the oxygen when I could get it.

Now, what have YOU done for YOU lately??

For more information on the When Words Count Retreat experience, click the highlighted link above.  If you are a writer, run, do not walk, to your calendar and start dreaming about and planning a trip here!

Meet Author Ellen Booraem!

What a treat I have for you today, book lovers!  Allow me to introduce you to Ellen Booraem, and her wonderful (second) novel, Small Persons with Wings (they hate to be called fairies), from Penguin/Dial Books for Young Readers, 2011.

My interest in middle grade fiction (loosely translated:  stories for kids in grades 3-6 , or ages 9-11) often has me pilfering books off of my daughter’s nightstand.   This book cover grabbed my interest immediately, and so did the story, which I read in two sittings.

Here’s what it’s about (from the author’s fantastic website,

“Thirteen-year-old Mellie Turpin once declared to her kindergarten class that she had a fairy living in her bedroom. But before she could bring him in for show-and-tell, he disappeared. Years later, she is still trying to live it down, taunted mercilessly by classmates who call her “Fairy Fat.”  Her imagination got her into this.  She’s determined to keep it turned off.  When her parents inherit an inn and the family moves to a new town, Mellie sees a chance to finally leave all that fairy nonsense behind. Little does she know that the inn is overrun with…you guessed it.  Oh brother. There’s no such thing as fairies, she keeps telling herself. And if there were, they wouldn’t hurt a fly. Right?”

What Ms. Booraem has created here is basically the opposite of a cloyingly sweet fairy story.  It does have wonderful elements of magical realism, but these fairies aren’t delicate.  In fact, they are quite a rowdy bunch.  Ellen graciously agreed to be interviewed about this story and her writing career.  Read on!

Nancy:  How did your writing career begin?

Ellen:  I got my first writing job a year after I graduated from college—in fact, it was at my college, which hired me to write and edit alumnae publications. I produced publications for colleges and corporations over the next ten years, then moved to Maine and started in as a reporter and editor for weekly newspapers. My last job—arts and special sections editor for the county weekly—was really my dream job, but I quit it at age 52 to write my first novel, The Unnameables. It was nuts—I’d written fiction on the side in my 20s and 30s, but for at least ten years I’d done nothing but my job. I’m incredibly lucky that it worked out.

Nancy:  In the beginning of Small Persons With Wings, Mellie Turpin discovers she has a Small Person (a fairy – but they hate to be called fairies) living with her.  Are Mellie’s experiences based on events in your own life?  Did you ever have an imaginary friend?

Ellen:  My imaginary friend was an alligator, useful mostly so I could berate people for stepping on him. Later on, though, my friend and I pretended that fairies lived in my front wall, and we decorated their houses with great care. One draft of SPWW described that wall as the Parvi’s home before they arrived in Mellie’s basement, but I ended up cutting that out.

Mellie is a lot like me, except that I was skinny rather than plump. I was an only child more comfortable with adults than kids, and I did experience some bullying, although nothing as horrible as what Mellie’s classmates did to her.

Nancy:  The fairies (sorry, SPWW) in your story are far from Disney-esque.  I love how irreverent they are!  I’ve never read about fairies having a penchant for bourbon before.  How did you come up with the idea for this particular set of Parvi Pennati?

Ellen:  After I quit my newspaper job, I replaced the newsroom camaraderie with an online private forum of Harry Potter fans. We did some silly role-playing, and I made up this hapless, overdressed fairy who lived in a pub chandelier. I loved her so much that I decided to write a book about her. The first image in my head was this poor disheveled lady sleeping in her chandelier with a nip bottle of bourbon beside her, surrounded by this decrepit pub. I started asking questions: Why is she alone in such an awful place? Why’s she such a mess? Why the bourbon? The book grew from the answers, some of which I found in Charlemagne legend.  I modeled their culture on 18th century France because I wanted them to be as foppish as possible.

(NT:  What a fun way for a story to be born.  And I just adore the word foppish!)

Nancy:  Mellie is the target of some bullying from her classmates.  This has been an age-old problem.

a) Why do you think it’s so much more prominent in our news now?

Ellen:  Seems to me everything gets more scrutiny nowadays, thanks to the electronic media and the internet. Where bullying is concerned, that’s all to the good. Incidents that used to be known only to a small group are now in everybody’s news feeds, and sunlight is the best disinfectant, as they say. The most important message to kids is to tell an adult what’s going on—I never did, and I think the girls who bullied me would have gotten some attention and some help if I had.

 b)  Does your work with the Brooklin Youth Corps (a summertime self-esteem program for teenagers) specifically target anti-bullying topics?  Can you tell us more about the BYCorps in general?

Ellen: The BYC isn’t specifically targeted to bullying, although of course we’ve occasionally had to deal with it. My little town, Brooklin, had a problem with youthful vandalism in 1996, and it turned out the kids were on their own while their parents worked—they had nothing constructive to do all day. So the selectmen got a Community Development Block Grant to start the BYC. It’s run by a steering committee that I chair, with a hired coordinator in the summer. The program matches teens with homeowners who need chores done, transports and supervises them, and teaches them basic job skills like being on time, talking to a stranger, making eye contact, etc. We also tend a vegetable garden planted by school kids and sell the summertime harvest at a farmer’s market. The fall harvest goes into the school lunch program.

(NT:  Fun fact – Ellen lives and writes in the same small town in Maine where E.B. White lived when he wrote Charlotte’s Web).

Nancy:  Mellie is also obsessed with art history, Edgar Degas in particular.  Did you ever think about putting a “photo spread” in the book?  Or, would copyright red-tape have prohibited it? 

Ellen:  I did suggest including photos in the book, but my editor preferred that I put that stuff on my web site. So I did. (It’s here.) I suspect we would have had copyright problems with museums if we’d tried to publish some of the art. I got the web site photos from Wikipedia’s creative commons, so I guess I’m okay.

Nancy:  What kinds of books did you enjoy reading as a child?

Ellen:  I liked mysteries and fantasies, mostly. I loved Greek myths, anything that offered a supernatural explanation for everyday objects and events. My all-time favorite book was The Daughters of the Stars by Mary Crary, an obscure novel published in England in 1939. The premise is that the heavens are run by a bureaucracy in which women hold most of the power, although sometimes only behind the scenes.  The heroines are a ten(ish)-year-old girl and her mother,  who is luminary of two continents and therefore very influential. They have adventures traveling across the sky and under the sea, and are quite capable of taking care of themselves.

(NT:  I’m going to have to check that one out!)

Nancy:  What role, if any, has a critique group or partner played in your writing process?

Ellen:  I’ve been in a small, local critique group for seven or eight years, and it’s been hugely important. Not all the members are kidlit writers, or even fiction writers, but the feedback and the moral support have been a godsend.

Nancy:  Can you describe the process of finding the right agent for you?

Ellen:  I happen to live in an area that’s rife with creative types, so I pretty much used contacts. I think I sent only one cold query letter.  I was rejected, I think, three times. Then an acquaintance sent my book to his agent at Janklow & Nesbit in New York, and the agent passed it along to Kate Schafer, a colleague of his who was just starting out as an agent after several years spent handling foreign rights. I was very lucky: Kate took me on, and I stayed with her when she left to start her own agency. She eventually got married (she’s now Kate Schafer Testerman) and moved to Denver—the distance has proved to be no problem at all, thanks to email and the internet. Her agency is ktliterary.

Nancy:  What are you working on now?  

Ellen:  A third book, TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD, is due out next August, again with Penguin/Dial Books for Young Readers. One of the main characters is a banshee, so it’s essentially about death even though it’s funny. We’ll see how that goes over. I’m in the early stages of another book about a boy in the future who finds a junction between his world and an alternate past.  Nobody his age knows how to read, and he meets a girl from the alternate 17th century who is desperately trying to learn.  An alchemical pamphlet from her world endangers them both.

(NT:  Sounds exciting! Can’t wait to read both!)

Nancy: Do you have any advice for other writers?

Ellen: The advice I wish I’d followed decades ago: No matter how busy you are, sit down and write a little every day, even if it’s just for half an hour. A page a day ends up as 365 pages when a year is out, and that’s a lot better than the nothing you’ve written if you keep not doing it.

(NT:  Oooh, well put!)


Thank you, Ellen, for your time and your insights.  I hope you will all check out Small Persons with Wings, and that you (and your kids) enjoy it as much as I did.

Happy Reading!