Tending Your Story Garden

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This article originally appeared last year on Operation Awesome as a guest post by me. I thought it was a good time to repost as a reminder to my writer friends to grab those ideas that are floating around in your minds, plant them, and grow them into beautiful stories for children.

Tending Your Story Garden

Before you can harvest your vegetables, you must plant the seeds, water the seedlings, nourish the soil, and have patience. Without tending, your garden will wither and die. Stories are gardens grown from the seeds of ideas, watered with love, and nourished with knowledge. Just like a vegetable garden, your story garden must be tended so that, in time, it will fill up with a cornucopia of plump and tasty tales.

Every story starts with an idea seed that has formed in our minds. When we choose to take that idea and put it down on paper or computer screen, we’ve planted the seed that has the potential to bloom into a beautiful story.

Each story is a garden of its own that began as an idea seed, or more likely, multiple seeds from which tiny seedlings, or idea-lings, have sprung forth. Once the idea-lings have sprouted, it’s time to nurture them. If we don’t, our story will never come to fruition.

Water with love. If you don’t believe in your story, it will show in your writing, which will be flat and lifeless. Most likely, you will abandon it and it will wither away. Always begin with an idea that excites you, then you’ll shower your story with your heart and soul and it will flourish.

Nourish with knowledge. Just as gardeners use hoes, rakes, and fertilizer to tend their gardens, writers should arm themselves with the right tools. I don’t mean paper, pencils, and laptops. No matter what kind of story you write, or what audience you’re writing for, boost your writing skills through education, research, and practice. If you polish your skills, your story will shine.

Weed with purpose. In a garden, weeds can spread quickly. They take over and suffocate the crops. Stories can have weeds too. Too much description, unnecessary words, passive voice, poor pacing, bland dialogue, and a thin plot are weeds that overshadow and choke out your characters, action, and theme, all the things that give life to your story . Once you’ve completed your first draft, go back and edit it. Weed out everything that bogs your story down and keeps it from blossoming.

Self-doubt is the worst weed of all. It’s a force as destructive to your story as a hail storm is to a fragile flower garden. We all hear that negative voice coming from deep inside that tells us our writing is not good enough. Grab hold of it and yank it out by the roots. If you write about things that interest you, practice your writing skills, edit your work, and persevere, your stories will be better than just good enough; they’ll be dazzling, just like that prize-winning giant pumpkin at the county fair.

Happy Thanksgiving!

“Why, Oh Why, Oh Me, Oh My!” by Sonja Anderson

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Frog On A Blog Certified Guest Post

Why, Oh Why, Oh Me, Oh My!

by Sonja Anderson

Writing a novel: Difficult

Publishing a novel: Difficult

Writing a picture book: Difficult

Publishing a picture book: Nearly IMPOSSIBLE!

That sums up my writing journey to date; I hope yours has been easier! After fifteen years on the publishing trail, my first children’s novel (Sophie’s Quest) was released last summer, and two picture book manuscripts have nearly been published. A third is currently in a round of encouraging emails from the publisher I submitted it to two years ago! 

Unfortunately, I’ve learned that emails from publishers containing the words, “I LOVE IT! I want to publish it!” and even signed contracts do not translate to a book on the shelf. In the first case, the owners chose a different project over mine at the very end of a year of personal email conversation. A “Dear Author” form rejection letter brought that correspondence to a painful end. OUCH!

The second picture book got even farther—I was a finalist in a contest, awarded a contract, and I even got to see the finished, adorable artwork. So close! Then, the little company was purchased by a great big company, and my story was “orphaned.” Ironic, as Luna Whooping Crane, the main character, is nearly made an orphan in the story itself. So sad, right?

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I find myself fearfully hopeful now that a manuscript has entered yet another round of encouraging, personal emails. Will this end up in a 32-page, glossy, full-color picture book? Will it instead, like other manuscripts, end in disappointment? Why submit myself to this agony again and again?   

Why, indeed. Do you know why you stick with it? What pulls you over and under, around and through all the obstacles on the way to publication? What makes the choice to write worth it to you?

Dead ends and hopelessness over my novel led my husband to ask me what I would give to read something written by my great-grandparents that showed their creativity, faith, and maybe even their sense of humor. That would be priceless, right? “You’ve already done that for your great-grandchildren. Even if it doesn’t ever get published. You’ve done it.”

He was reminding me that the “holy grail” of publication isn’t the only game in town. If I am writing to help children draw closer to God and to love his creation, I also need to trust God for the outcome and to have joy in the journey. That hope, that surety that God will take my gifts of time and talent, and use them for his purposes (published or not), outweighs the fears of rejection, the unbearable waiting for publishers to respond (and some never do), and the sudden turns of events that make even a signed contract meaningless.

A few quick tips to get through your own dark times:

  1. Think hard about your reason to write. Does it connect to your greatest passions?
  2. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. For example, while I’m waiting for one of my picture books to “make it to the shelf,” I’m practicing my writing skills and connecting to kids through “Sophie and Timley’s Bible Time.” Found on my website, it connects the characters in my novel to a Bible study about interesting animals in the Bible, and connects me to my readers as I read aloud a story through a recording that they can click on.
  3. Enjoy the writing journey by making friends along the way. Lauri Fortino and I became online friends through the experience of becoming finalists in that infamous contest together, and then commiserating together the merger of the company that orphaned our stories.
  4. Avoid being a bitter whiner! Focus on small victories and be grateful for opportunities to learn the craft and meet other writers. Agents and editors will LOVE to work with you if you do!

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

2 Corinthians 9:8

Sophie's Quest2 (2)Sonja Anderson writes from Seattle and enjoys hearing from readers. Find more information, including Sophie and Timley’s Bible Time (a free Bible study for kids}, on her website at www.sonjaandersonbooks.com.


Thank you, Sonja, for sharing your personal publishing journey with us. Your words have reminded me that, as children’s writers, we are all in the same boat, yet on very different journeys, as we pursue our passions.