Monday, December 20, 2010

Things Come Together...

Currently, I'm reading (well, re-reading) Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.  As Onkonkwo's world was unraveling, I made an attempt to organize my own life by posting my "Eleven Things to Do Before 2011."

And what did I learn?  That as soon as you know, specifically, what you want to accomplish - it happens much faster.

A few hours after I posted my list of to-dos before the end of the year, my husband came home and told me he's stopped by the library on a whim just to pay off his $6 fines.  So, #6 was quickly scratched off my list.

Then, I sent an end-of-the-day email to my editor requesting electronic copies of all of my articles that went to print in 2010 for a few print publications (clippings are nice, but they fade).  She emailed me right back saying she'd have the files to me by the end of the day (note:  the list was long!).  And, furthermore, she delivered on her promise.  #1 is nearly complete, and it's the one I considered the most difficult.

Clearing the clutter and Backing up my files (#4 and #8, respectively) were a cinch and checked off over the weekend.

So, after a few thank you notes and expense reports get written up, I've only got the "fun stuff" left on my list to end out the year.  Thus, "Things Come Together" is how I plan to title the last chapter of my life in 2010. 

Oh, and if you've never read any of Achebe's works, I'd recommend adding one of his titles to your own to-do list!  Happy New Year!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Eleven To-Dos Before 2011

As the holiday nears, and reflections of 2010 race through my mind, I began making a "to do" list of things I forgot to do this year.  Hopefully, over the next two weeks, I can get enough done so that 2011 starts off on the top of a "done" pile.  I'd rather not spend January digging out from the previous year.  It's always best to start a New Year with, of course, something new.

So, I've decided to share my "Eleven To-Dos Before 2011."  My hope is that publishing it out there, on the web, will hold me more accountable for getting them done.  We writers know how easy it is to become distracted when there is no boss waggling a finger!  So, here is what I hope to do in the next two weeks:

1.  Compile clippings, hyperlinks, and PDFs of my published writing in 2010.  (I began doing this, but some are laying in a box on the shelf, not sorted, while other files are scattered on my computer).

2.  Finish adding up all of my work expenses for this year (e.g. find those ink cartridge receipts stashed away in a drawer).

3.  Send thank yous to my editors, clients, and writing/critique group members (note:  I'm allowing e-cards as a satisfactory fulfillment).

4.  Back up all of my files (although I do this regularly, I want to save them in a second place - just in case).

5.  Get a professional photo of me taken (although I love my avatars and casual pics with kids, an editor-friend of mine has finally convinced me to pose for the camera - watch out world!)

6.  Pay my husband's library fines.  (Ok, this doesn't have to do with my work, but indirectly it does!  Everyone knows me at the library because I'm always there, and as a writer.  Even though it's not my fault, I'm worried if the $6 he owes from not returning his books on time doesn't get paid soon, they'll hunt me down...)

7.  Get client testimonials.  (I get regular feedback, but I'd love to have more to work with - and it's always nice to hear how great your work is.  What a great way to end a year or start a new one!).

8.   Clear the clutter.  (Again).

9.  Review my list of "writing ideas" and cross off the ones I actually wrote in 2010!  Woo hoo! (although, there's a list as long as can be of more ideas...)

10.  Set a new goal or resolution for 2011.  (For 2010, my New Year's Resolution was to make writing more than a passionate hobby or occasional job.  27 clients, 12 publications, 1 conference, four writers groups, a 3rd place prize in a national contest, and several paychecks later, I'd say:  mission definitely accomplished.)

And last but not least...

11.  Take one ENTIRE DAY completely off.  No writing, typing, checking email, or reading anything but road signs or fridge magnets.  Why?  Oh, let me count the ways...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

No, I did not win Nanowrimo this year

When the November 1st email hit my inbox reminding me about writing 50,000 words this month, my breath caught in my throat.

I scheduled vacation in November.

My daughter's school's largest fundraiser was in November.

Add in my birthday (the last one before I'm officially old, my four-year-old says), Thanksgiving, Black Friday shopping, and steady assignments from my editors and clients, it was bound to happen:

I didn't win Nanowrimo this year.

For those of you who might not be writers or just don't know what I'm talking about, Nanowrimo is a yearly motivational project where authors all over the world take 30 days to type a novel of 50,000 words or more.  The idea is that collectively, we all suffer together, and provide support.  Anyone who writes 50,000 words in the time frame wins.  And I lost.

Lesson learned:  What sounds like a good idea in March might be a terrible one eight months later.

As much as I am a person who hates not finishing what I start, I realized something else at the end of November.  My vacation was worth way more than a badge on my blog saying I won Nano this year.  There's always next year for that.  But who knows when I would have found $200 tickets to Saint Martin again?  :)

Monday, July 26, 2010

And 6 months later, I'm in the Top 100

This year, my New Year's Resolution was to write more.  To make it my career again.  And, January started out with a bang when I took 3rd prize in the national Transitions Abroad Narrative Essay contest.

Now, six months later, I've written my way into freelancing fame as one of the top 100 ranked Elance Writing and Translation Providers.  Snicker not.  There are actually 38,203 other writers against which I'm ranked.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Why eBooks Are the Best...and the Worst

This week, I finished my third eBook.  Actually, I hesitate to call them "mine" because they were ghostwritten for clients.  The topics were not mine for the choosing, although I do only bid on writing jobs for which I have a personal passion or interest, or the posted job covers topic on which I have experience.

Each of the three books, though widely varied in their subject matter, tone, and target market, had a surprising number of commonalities.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Avoiding the Black Hole in Your Blog: Tips from a Non-Expert

At the beginning of April, my career as a freelance writer and children's author definitely outlasted the fabled 'honeymoon' stage.  That is, the kids have learned to whine when I go into the office room and close the door, knowing Mommy won't be coming out for probably a few hours.  The husband forgets the "I'm not here" rule, and I've run into those sources that, once enthusiastic about providing firsthand information for your deadline-approaching project somehow forgot how to pick up a phone or hit reply on an email.

But the real indication that the honeymoon stage was over was this–my blog.  The black hole that every day got deeper and deeper, signaling to my followers (and whoever is reading this) that perhaps I've given up on writing.  On becoming a published author.  That I just don't care.

I assure you, nothing could be farther from the truth. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Magazine Snobs: Is Avoiding the Magazine Market Smart?

Obviously, I'm not one of "them."  Entirely, anyway.  My writing has appeared in several magazines for the adult market.

But, when considering my venture into the children's market, I straddle the fence on this issue–as apparently, do many other unpublished writers.

It shocked me at first when I ran into picture book or novel writers refusing to write or submit works to magazines, or take others' advice that their story is perfect for a particular magazine market.  If someone wants to buy your writing, aren't you supposed to jump for joy?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Writers: What Printer Do you Use?

Computers are wonderful.  They store hundreds of documents, manuscripts, cover and query letters.  there's just one thing that they can't do on their own–print hard copies!

As I revise and finalize some of my drafts into polished pieces (and I am getting much closer!), the pressing need for a better printer looms overhead.  My pee-wee inkjet that sucks down ink cartridges like it's water in the desert.  And I swear, it must have humps like a camel, storing the ink somewhere...because I can't believe how few pages actually get printed per round of cartridges!

So, to all you writers out there, adhering to publisher's requests and sending hard copies out until publication graces your work:  What printer do you use?

I'm assuming that most of you are like me:  on a budget, have a family that's probably going to use it even if you strictly say it's your 'home office' printer, and are so busy that replacing cartridges can be a two week task...(you know, the flashing red light sort of grows on you).

Laser?  Ink Jet?  Color?  Black and White?  Duplexing?  One paper tray?  Brand?  Affordable supplies?  Long-lasting toner?

Oh, and please recommend one that doesn't jam up all the time!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Do I Really Have to Submit My Work? A Call for the Publishing Fairy

I've written more than a dozen pieces since the beginning of this month.  February's muse has certainly been good to me (perhaps that's why my blog posts have been lagging lately).

I've had some steady freelance work, my critique groups have been giving stellar feedback to my most recent manuscripts, and my winning contest entry is published this month.

That being said, I've yet to break into the children's market.  Why?  I haven't played the game.

That's right, with a pile of more than 25 picture books and MG stories, I've still not submitted anything to a publishing house.  Why not?  Probably because I've educated myself–a lot–and I know what to expect!  I've read almost every How To, Market Guide and other book on the topic of getting children's literature published.  With so much success in my writing endeavors lately, perhaps I'm afraid of that first inevitable "rejection letter." Or, perhaps, I'm such a perfectionist that I want to be that "one" diamond in the rough who gloats, "the first thing I submitted got published."  Either way, I'd rather spend the extra time now doing research and enjoying a shorter path to success later.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Are 500-Word Picture Books a Thing of the Past?

Three times each week, I load up the minivan with three book-loving kids and a baby as my duty within our neighborhood school carpool.

Most often, the two older ones have their noses so deep in Percy Jackson or Harry Potter books that if I want to ask them a question, I'm prepared to repeat it several times.

And by older, I mean 7 and 8.

Returning to my writing work after the carpool "break," I find myself flipping through the Writer's Market books all too often.   A top request:  500 words or less.

I pulled out some of my three year-old's books, noticing that about half of her favorite titles actually have more than 500 words.  Rule of thumb or not, this observation made me feel better as I stared at my own list of children's book manuscripts, about half of which glare back at me with word counts nearing 800 words...

Are my children and my neighbors' children the exception?  Are all books with pictures doomed to be slashed to their skeletons until the word count dips below 500?  Are publication "rules" contributing to the attention deficits that younger generations now seem to have?  Or am I just too stubborn to cut, cut, cut?!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Editor or Sandwich Artist? Keeping Etiquette Alive in Critique

After an incredibly busy weekend spent far outside the "writing world," I dove right into Monday morning with a backlog of manuscripts I'd promised to critique.

Most of these critique groups are online, meaning I only know the other authors in a "virtual" sense.  So it's with little knowledge of the actual human being behind the work that the former editor-in-chief in me delves into ripping apart the manuscript.

That being said, I know all about the "sandwich method" and try to employ it–I start with something nice, load in the meaty criticism and then top it off with another "nice slice" of bread.

This Monday morning, I feel more like I'm making tortilla wraps than Texas-Toast club sandwiches, though.  The "bread" part of each sandwich has been minimal, at best.  But the pieces I'm editing aren't getting worse–I am the one getting pickier.  And, if I've come up short on compliments, I look harder, following my own version of the rule: "If I can't say anything nice, I'm not doing my job."  This rule of mine applies even in one of my tell-it-like-it-is writing groups, "Truth in Critique."

The more and more I edit other writers' works, the more insightful I am becoming about any work I read or write.  I honestly feel blessed to have the opportunity to read and critique quite a number of pieces on a weekly basis, and in turn have my work viewed from a fresh perspective.

As I resume my critique work this afternoon with the final three in my backlog, I'm going in with a recipe:  flatbread instead of tortillas, or perhaps a double-decker with a bun stashed right in the middle. 

Off to lunch, first though– all this sandwich talk sure makes a writer hungry!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

As Writers, We Must Not Forget to Read

On the fourth day of this Picture Book Marathon, a challenge to write 26 picture books in 28 days, I took time out from my busy scribbling to read about 10 other short stories, articles and nonfiction pieces.

Quickly, I was reminded that to write well, one must be well read.

Writing a book a day is not easy, even if the target goal is only about 500 words.  A lot of time gets wasted hitting the delete key, or staring at a blinking cursor.  Or getting up to do laundry and dishes after each sentence.

After reading several stories, including one called "Zindy Lou and the Dark Place" I was reminded of the importance, especially in children's literature, of including only what's essential.  Because I typically enjoy reading memoirs, historical fiction or creative nonfiction, I often relish minute details and descriptions.  I was reminded, quickly, that going off on tangents undesirably adds to restricted word counts and will distract a young reader.

Furthermore– I enjoyed each story that I read, despite the absence of poetic wanderings.  Proof that reading can further direct and inspire me to become a better writer.

I realized that when I write (even if I've created a storyboard first) I don't always know exactly how the story will end.  But once the ending gets written, it is crucial to go back through the story and eliminate or reword details that are now "bridges to nowhere."

Yesterday's picture book for the marathon came to me quickly because I had taken an hour of time out of my day to read.  I sat down to type, determined to take my idea and only type a skeleton.  Sentences shouldn't be longer than 10 words, and details that were not essential or foreshadowing were omitted.

I–and my husband–was amazed that such a simply written story could be so powerful.  But thus far, it's my favorite one!  Three cheers for being concise.

Perhaps all of this writing for children will help me with my freelance work doing copywriting and more.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Children as Inspiration: Why I'll Never Run Out of Picture Book Ideas

A few weeks ago a suggestion came from one of my online writing groups that if you ever need a fresh idea for a new story, simply go ask your kids.

Well, I have a very imaginative three year-old, and decided to test this theory out and see what would happen.  Just before I tucked my daughter into bed, I asked, "What should Mommy write about next?"

"Two Elizabeths."  She smiled.  The answer had taken a split second.  I must have had a confused look on my face, because she immediately followed up with an explanation.  "I mean, Mom, what if there were two girls with the same name!"

And the ideas began to form.  I kissed her goodnight and ran to the computer.  It was time to write the story of two girls named Elizabeth.

As often happens with writing, the final product frequently looks much different than the original intention.  After producing a 15-stanza fairytale picture book about twin princesses named Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II, though, I was delighted at the result.

And the next day, when I read the "un-fairytale" of two royal sisters who prefered sardines instead of eggs and toast and playing in the mud rather than performing courtly duties, my daughter was also delighted.

It seemed that others in my critique group enjoyed the piece as well, as the edits were pretty minimal and the comments overwhelmingly in favor of the piece.

Now, will the publishers be delighted?  Only time will tell...

But while I'm waiting for a response, I've got quite a list of crazy story starters to keep me occupied–all courtesy of my little girl's glorious brain!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Black History Month: Rich Inspiration for Children's Books

Today marks the first day of two important events in my household:  Black History Month and the commencement of my first Picture Book Marathon. 

Using a wealth of stories and inspiration from great African-American leaders, cultural heritage and more, I've decided that my first of 26 picture books written this month will be a fable/tale based on the African & Caribbean character "Anansi," and his first trip to America.

For those unfamiliar with Anansi, he is a notorious spider that has been wreaking havoc in African and Caribbean tales alike for generations.  Growing up on a Caribbean island, my husband admits he loved reading Anansi stories and now he is beginning to pass on these tales to our children.

I am excited to begin the process of writing Anansi's journey to the New World.  What will bring him there?  What inspiring characters will he meet?  Will his unruly behavior continue or will he work hard to change and achieve what no one thought possible for such a sneaky character? 

And, we'll see if the work gets written in Creole or English...or both (like many of the books)!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

26 Books in 28 Days: What Did I Get Myself Into?

The "reminder" e-mail jolted me awake this morning as I sat blinking at my inbox before breakfast.

Oh yeah, that did sound like an absolutely wonderful idea when I first visited the Picture Book Marathon official website and signed up a couple of weeks ago...

At the current moment, the challenge of writing 26 picture books in the month of February (read:  that's two days off in the entire month) seems daunting.  But those who know me know that I am a committed, hard-working writer and I am certainly determined to pull it off.  Besides, this is going to make for a GREAT March for all of the other writers in my critique groups (not to mention I'll have a full arsenal to get ready for submission).

So, follow my adventure in writing 26 picture books over the next month, right here on my blog!  These will be aimed for an audience of children and written to be illustrated.  Or, if you're daring enough....sign yourself up before January 29th at and get ready...get set...WRITE!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Winning 3rd Place Feels...Great, Actually!

For those who do not know:  I am competitive.  Over the last four years as a mother, though, I've slowly let myself realize that doing my best is far more satisfying than playing a game I know I'll win.

With that in mind, I entered my first writing contest, the 2010 Transitions Abroad Narrative Essay contest without any expectation of winning. Rather, I felt the satisfaction of knowing I poured my heart into the essay and had the professional courage to let two seasoned editors give a truthful critique before sending it in (thank you Tracy and Melissa).

Fourteen days later, I had the results: My essay, "A Return to the Smallest Country in Africa," had taken third place (and I was getting some cash, too!).

Now, if I were playing trivia, I would brood over a 3rd place finish for a long time.  My writing career, however, is nothing but trivial to me, and I see it this way:  I've added another notch to my writing portfolio, been paid to do it, and the story I tell in the essay will be read by a target readership that is likely to be inspired to action.  Mission accomplished, 3rd place is great.  (Although I can always aspire to take first place next time around...)

If you're interested in reading "A Return to the Smallest Country in Africa," visit Transitions Abroad in February 2010, when the winners will be published. AND - if you're a writer, make sure to check out their contest page: they have another contest deadline in February!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Reading Multicultural Books to Kids: Want to try?

Over the years, my favorite kinds of stories to read to young children have been multicultural or global in nature. Why? To see the excitement in their eyes as they travel to a distant place, learn a new word, or realize something meaningful about their own history.

Again in February, I will read Seven Spools of Thread to a group of local elementary students during their Multicultural month. The story, by Angela Shelf Medearis, is a tale about seven quarrelsome brothers and their father's ultimatum: to make gold from seven colored spools of thread or be left without an inheritance. As I read, kids will learn how the brothers employ the "Nguzo Saba," (the seven principles of Kwanzaa) as they come together and create the first Kente cloth, now one of the most well-known and prosperous traditional icons of West Africa.  I first read this story as part of my bi-weekly Multicultural Kids Program at A Better Footprint.

Reading multicultural books to kids is often most rewarding far AFTER the story ends though. My own daughter (age 3), for example, said something amazing yesterday: we were clearing a path through the pile of toys on the floor when she looked up and said "Mom, we're making a 'Show Way!'" And I grabbed her and her baby brother and shouted, "And I'm gonna to love those babies on up 'so, yes I'm gonna love those babies on up."

If you live in the Green Bay area and want a chance to read your own or someone else's multicultural or globally themed book to a classroom of eager ears, read this post from Principal Theresa Williams:
Prince of Peace Catholic School (3542 Finger Road) is having a Multicultural Ready, Set, Read on Monday, February 1, from 2:00-3:00 p.m. We are looking for 4-5 people from different cultures to read a story to our Kindergarten through grade 5 students (such as Native American, Mexican, Hmong, Italian, Irish, German, etc.). We would have the students rotate in groups among the 4-5 storytellers (12-15 minutes each). If extra time permits after reading the story they could tell the students more about that culture, show them clothing, artifacts, pictures, maps, etc. if they have them. To sign up today email:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Writing Fun: Turning the Ho-Hum into Humdingers

Recently, I was awarded a freelance writing job (out of 20 other writers bidding on the project) which turned out to be extraordinarily fun (and quite a challenge)!

Generous parents donated everyday run-of-the-mill items for their school auction, and the school was looking for a creative copywriter to rewrite the descriptions to entice bidders and jazz up their auction booklet!

With a smashing proposal letter, my bid was chosen!  But when the descriptions came, some were a bit scarce (note:  I didn't have photographs of any of the items).  With my clever background in catalog writing, however, I put a spin on each item and cranked out some awesome descriptions!

For example, I was given:  black nylon ruched prada evening bag

And turned it into:
My Mommy Wears Prada: Black Prada Ruched Evening Bag
Is it hot in here or is it  Italian-made, New York Chic.  For all that you do, treat yourself to an authentic designer nylon purse in black that goes great with everything.  Justified with an auction-style bargain and a charitable cause, even hubby won't have any reason to protest your impulse buy.  Go for it, girl!

And I was given: $100 gift card to Williams-Sonoma

And turned it into:
Extreme Home Makeover:  Williams-Sonoma $100 Shopping Spree
Uncle Joe's Christmas gift didn't quite make the grade?  Head to Williams-Sonoma with this $100 gift card and pick up the special home or kitchen gadgets you really wanted over the holidays.  Stretch your dollar even further - gift cards are good on sale and clearance merchandise too!  As for Uncle Joe's present, we smell a "re-gift."

Anyway, it was a very fun job and I enjoyed the atypical writing challenge (it beats SEO keyword articles anyday!).  Want to know how to snag jobs like this...?  Compete with a world full of writers at Elance and who might just be getting paid to do some awesome creative writing! Click this link to get started!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Publications / Writing Portfolio for Miranda Paul

Non-Fiction Articles

Seasonal Spending Crucial for Fair Trade, Handmade Products (Nature's Pathways, December 2008)

Coffee's New World Reputation (Nature's Pathways, June 2009)

Eco-Tourism Offers a Healthier Kind of Vacation (Nature's Pathways, July 2009)

The Many Benefits of Unrefined Shea Butter (Nature's Pathways, August 2009)

Study Up:  Education Linked to Longer Life Expectancy (Nature's Pathways, September 2009)

Can Chocolate Really Make the World Happier? (Nature's Pathways, October 2009)

Health Care & Health Care System Are Two Different Subjects (Nature's Pathways, December 2009)

Turmeric:  Nature's Healer (Nature's Pathways, January 2010)

Creative Non-Fiction

"A Return to the Smallest Country in Africa" (3rd Place Winner, Transitions Abroad, February 2010)

Fiction, Poetry and Children's Literature

"Entropy" (Avatar, 2003)

Women in Poetry (Selected Speaker, 2003)

Other titles forthcoming in 2010

Marketing and Sales Copywriting (List of Clients)

GOAL Eyecare Software


Prince of Peace School

Boutique Secrets

Makes Sense Candle Company

The Auction Partner

A Better Footprint

Editing, Proofreading and Layout

The Point News (Sports Editor, Editor in Chief 2001-2003)

"Tutu and Little Bird" (by Eucabeth Odhiambo, forthcoming children's picture book)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Introduction: A Short Biography of Miranda "Sibo" Paul

Miranda Paul is a native of Green Bay, WI.  The daughter of a teacher and an entrepreneur, she quickly excelled at all things academic.  At the age of 15 she discovered her passion for adventure and exploration and became the first of her family to obtain a passport and live abroad. 

Miranda obtained a degree in English from Saint Mary's College of Maryland, and founded a Gambian Teacher internship before completing her degree from the institution.  During her original service in The Gambia, the smallest country in Africa, Miranda was honored with a Gambian namesake and was given her own naming ceremony (hence the name "Sibo").  In 2004, the President of Gambia himself invited Miranda and several others to return to the country for a cultural festival.

Miranda was fortunate enough to find her soul mate at the age of 23 and married her Creole-speaking husband in a stunning island wedding that integrated their two cultures.

Eager to dedicate more of their time and talents toward providing opportunities for the impoverished, Miranda and her husband founded A Better Footprint in 2007.   The non-profit Fair Trade organization now markets and sells products from over 25 nations and helps preserve authentic, handmade crafts and traditions for many indigenous peoples.  Over 400 families have benefited directly from their efforts.

In 2009, Miranda and her husband welcomed their son Amani Harris into the world.

To date, she has traveled to ten countries on three continents and lives locally when traveling.

Welcome to Miranda Paul Books!

Thank you for visiting my writing blog.  Unlike my other blogs, this one is will be dedicated to my freelance and creative writing projects.  The structure and topics will be as random as the inspiration behind them.

Obviously, there's not much here yet.  It's still in my head or published elsewhere.  Suggestions and comments welcome.

In the meantime, feel free to read my biography.  For a young mother of two, my life has been incredible.  I feel blessed for the many gifts and talents bestowed upon me, the discipline and values instilled in me by my mother and grandmother to use my gifts for good and for the many people who continue to support my work.
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