Monday, July 21, 2014

Guest Post by Sue Heavenrich: MY WRITING PROCESS

A month ago or so, Janie tagged me for the writing process blog hop. Thank you, Janie and the Groggers, for inviting me to share the Grog blog!

Depending on the day, if you ask me what I’m working on you could get the following answers: a picture book, fracking, an article about a town meeting, haiku, mud pies, a book review. Or maybe I’m researching the best way to do in the Bad Woodchuck who keeps eating my kale. And broccoli. And beans and lettuce and chard….

I am an accidental journalist who would love to ditch my press pass and write more for kids. I have picture book ideas scribbled in composition notebooks, on index cards and cash-register receipts tacked to the wall above my (very) messy desk. But every time I’ve tried to quit reporting the community news, a “must-write” story comes my way.

My passion is science. I’ve written a smattering of articles for Ranger Rick, Boys’ Quest, Highlights, and just turned in something to Odyssey. I write about science for a parenting newspaper called Ithaca Child, where my focus is on sharing hands-on stuff kids can do to learn about physics, chemistry, math, architecture, engineering, biology and insects. I write a lot about insects.

A couple years ago I started a blog for kids and parents called Archimedes Notebook (yes, I know there should be an apostrophe there, but it fell off when I was cutting and pasting….). 
Because science is about doing and exploring, I try to make that central to what I write. Even when I post book reviews I’ll often include an activity to encourage kids – and their parents – to get up off the chair and go try something.
I write because I love to learn new stuff. Like, if you tape washers on a Frisbee, how will it change its flight? And will pulverized garlic scapes mixed with tabasco sauce and steeped for a few days really keep the woodchuck out of the garden? Writing is my path to discovery; it’s how I map my world.

So how do I do this writing? Process-wise? I generally pull on my pink rain boots and head out into the field with a net. I sweep it back and forth, collecting ideas like butterflies. Then I entice them into a crystal goblet filled with chardonnay and chocolate. When they’re pleasantly inebriated, I gently turn them belly down on a piece of Styrofoam, spread their wings, take a  pin and aim straight for the heart.

What that looks like in practice is this: scribble idea in a notebook. Decide it’s a cool idea. Create two files: one the manila kind that goes on my “working” shelf and one a digital file. Begin research. Read. Interview scientists, kids involved in cool science. Do experiments. Make messes. Eat chocolate. Drink chardonnay. Write an outline – usually bare bones. If it’s a picture book I sometimes start writing and then storyboard it as an outline. Crumple up pages & toss them into the recycling bin. Then find a thousand ways to NOT write: shovel the walk, clean the toilet, count bees….. eventually I sit down and resume writing. Sometimes the words come. If not I go back to step 3: eat chocolate… and repeat. I should probably patent this process before someone else does.

The answers to other oft-asked questions are Yes1, Yes2, and No3.

1.  Do you write with a pencil?
2.  Do you type out your stories on a computer?
3.  Are you rich?

It’s my turn to tag, so let me introduce you to one of the fantastic writers in my critique group, the Narrative Ark: 

Johanna van der Sterre is a children’s picture book and magazine illustrator.  Even as a young person, she loved to draw, paint, and look at art.   As she grew older, she met a number of professional artists (painters, potters, costumers, designers, and illustrators) who inspired and encouraged her.   Johanna took visual art classes in college. Telling stories with pictures became her focus, so she went on to get her M.F.A in illustration.   Johanna finds ample challenge and joy illustrating the writing of others, but she feels she has some stories of her own to tell.   She has recently been crafting and submitting picture book manuscripts.  Click here for Johanna's website.  


  1. Sue - Thank you for sharing this! One of the things I love about your writing is that you can write about serious issues with a serious sense of fun.

    1. yeah, but those ideas are danged hard to catch with a sweep net...

  2. Sue, love learning about your process. Glad to know yours is as messy as mine!

  3. What fun, Sue! I am so thrilled about that ODYSSEY acceptance. I can't wait to read your piece.

    1. thanks to your awesome webinar on how to write a query!

  4. Yes indeed it sure was a fun read, Sue! Now I don't feel so bad spending a good chunk of my day weeding a gigantic yucca and telling my hubby that I was working on a story revision. I was...really I was! LOVE your 'process' and science! ;0) Donna Sadd

  5. Sue, it was fun to read about your scientific process of writing. I have seen your blog, and that's a great title! Congratulations on all your successes!

  6. Thanks for sharing this, Sue. Great to see you here.

  7. Sue: Your words of wisdom and your love for Science are so inspiring. I can so relate to the many story ideas that are jotted down on a wide variety of paper, that includes Post-It Notes, index cards and even envelopes. Thank you. All the best. ~Sue AKA Suzy Leopold

  8. Science stories for the kiddos are top-drawer imporrtant & you make them fun.
    So what how does the Frisbee change flight with the tape, to it.
    And where do you practice your accidental journalism I wonder. Not just nosy but I wrote for a family newspaper before books & before the family newspaper, daily community newspapers.
    So cool to meet your critique partner Johanna this way & best wishes for her, you & everyone in your writing circles.

  9. Sue, you rock! You are/have been/will be an inspiration to my writing. Live long, write hard & prosper, lady. ~Liz