Most people view writing as a solo-affair. I assume the general public views a writer in one of these ways.

Moody, brooding, lonely… it dark, quiet places. Or maybe you’ve seen a writer exhibit an array of eccentric qualities in public, out and amongst the crowds, all while they ignore the rest of humanity and slave away at their keyboard.

It’s true, there are a lot of solitary hours in a writer’s world. It’s also true that to get the work done, writers need to forget large portions of the world actually exists so they can create new ones. But if you are a social butterfly interested in the industry of writing, it doesn’t have to be this way… all the time. (Side note, not all writers are the sycophantic, antisocial beings you might imagine them to be. Some of us are really nice people!)

One new popular trend is co-writing a book. Many people are already doing this. For example, Erin Hunter, author of the beloved middle grade Warriors series, is actually four different women. And get this, they’ve never met in person! James Patterson has started a co-writing revolution by co-authoring books with previously unknown writers. Author Shannon Hale co-writes with her husband Dean Hale. Another great example is the mother-daughter trio of Kelly Moore, Tucker Reed and Larkin Reed who wrote a YA book! 

Two more authors following the co-writing method are the duo of Helena Echlin and Malena Watrous, featured in Once Upon a Book Club’s November YA box novel choice: Sparked

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Fifteen-year-old Laurel Goodwin wakes up to find her older sister Ivy missing from their Airstream trailer in the Oregon redwoods. A recurring nightmare convinces her that Ivy was abducted, but no one takes her dream seriously, including her mom. Laurel, a loner, has to learn to ask for help, and Jasper Blake, a mysterious new kid who shares her love of old books, quickly becomes her ally. Together they find their quiet town holds a deep secret and is the epicenter of a dark prophecy. 

Laurel soon learns that her worst enemies, mean girls Peyton Andersen and Mei Rosen, are developing powers that she needs to find and save Ivy. With time running out, Laurel realizes that power doesn’t always take the form that you expect. And once she learns to look beyond her snap judgments, she develops an unexpected gift of her own.
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I was able to catch up with Helena and Malena (mid-book tour!!) and ask them a few questions about their writing process. Here’s what they had to say.

How did you ladies meet and decide to work together?

Helena: We went out for a drink about five years ago. It happened to be a Friday the thirteenth. We actually barely knew each other – we’d just met at a wedding and were becoming friends. We had a lot in common: we both had young children, and had both published novels for adults. I told Malena I wanted to write a YA novel for a change. Malena told me the idea for Sparked—girl wakes up to find her old sister missing, etc. I immediately started riffing: Obviously we have to have a love interest. Why don’t we throw in ancient prophecy? And by the end of the night, we had the whole plot outline. The next day, I couldn’t stop thinking about our story, so I wrote a scene and sent it to Malena,

Malena: I wrote back with an edited version, and before we knew it we were both totally obsessed. We wrote the first draft in five months, which the writers among you know is record time.

Helena: Then we reread that first draft and discovered that it relied too much on well worn YA tropes. In some ways, readers of the YA supernatural genre are way more demanding than readers of adult literary fiction because they expect a story full of magic, mystery and romance, but they’re also too smart to stand for clichés like a gratuitous love triangle or a brooding, unnecessarily standoffish hero. We’re both perfectionists, and we had to do more rewrites than I like to think about to get this book just the way we wanted it. We did our best to write a suspenseful thriller, but with flawed, complicated, real characters.

Used to writing alone, we had no idea how co-writing would work out, but we pounded out the first draft in a white-hot frenzy of inspiration we called “the Vortex.” One of us would write a scene and send it to the other with a note: “My apartment is a pigsty and I haven’t eaten all day. #inthevortex.
— Malena Watrous

Do you each have a strength or weakness as a writer that you felt was complimented or compensated for by your writing partner?

Helena: I’m British, so when I write mean-girl dialog, my characters sound like BBC actors from Masterpiece Theater. Malena, who grew up in Oregon, has got a real flair for writing bitchy teenage banter, despite being a lovely person in real life.

Malena: I hate lists - Helena constantly marvels at the fact that I run my entire life without any to-do lists at all - while she loves making lists. This is important to our writing because when we have our epic brainstorming sessions, Helena takes notes and organizes all of our ideas into an outline. Sparked is a thriller, and to have that many twists and turns, you pretty much have to have an outline—even if you don’t end up sticking to it.

What tips do you have for others who are considering co-writing?

1. Meet weekly for caffeine-fueled brainstorming. Face-to- face meeting has a creative magic that just doesn’t happen via email or over the phone.

2. Give each other assignments. At each meeting, we’ll talk through the next couple of scenes and then we each pick one to write. If there’s one scene that seems like the lesser assignment, that’s a clue it’s probably not a good scene yet.

3. Let go of your ego. Co-writing is like co-parenting. You are going to disagree about things (“Why do you get up every time he cries? You’re just teaching him not to sleep through the night!”). But you can’t have your ego invested in being right. You have to put what is best for your shared creation first.

4. Get an objective eye. You may think that because there are two of you, you can see your work clearly. But this is your baby, and you can only see it with the biased eyes of love. Ask an outsider to read it and give you feedback. Every novel has to go through many revisions before it’s done. Don’t think that your collaboration means you can skip this step. Writing a book with a friend isn’t half the work—though it’s definitely twice the fun.

Would you co-write a book again? Are you working on another book together?

Malena: In a heartbeat. In fact, we just had a road trip to Oregon for a couple of book events and spent most of the ride there and back – ten hours each way – chugging kombucha and iced coffee and brainstorming the entire plot of the next book. I drove and Helena took notes.

Helena: The second book is mainly Ivy’s book – this time, she’ll be the one to rescue Laurel, and from a very, very different predicament. We’ll still have some sections from Laurel’s point of view, of course – we’ve got to find if she gives up her power in order to find true love with Jasper. We don’t know the answer ourselves, yet – and we’re definitely interested to hear thoughts on this from Sparked readers!

So there you have it. If you are interested in writing a book, but afraid of going it alone. Find a friend. Or, if you love to write, but can’t stand the idea of spending a year (or two… let’s be honest, possibly the next decade) alone, co-writing might be the perfect fit for you!

Just for fun, if you could co-write a book with anyone, which author would you choose to work with and why? What would you write about?

Until next time word nerds, happy reading and happy writing!



The River Road

There is a road in my hometown that changes names four times between my house and my destination. To simplify things at my house, we call it “the River Road”. I love this road because it is a straight shot from one end of town to the other (actually it cuts through/connects three towns), and also because it is complemented by beautiful natural scenery. (It has taken me two decades of training to stop at the rest area look outs, instead of getting lost in my gazing and veering onto the rumble strips!)

I also love this road as a word nerd because it is enshrined with signs from start to finish. Now, you might find these signs hokey or cheesy or small town, but I find that they are a wonderful showcase to what words can do. Words can inform. Words can lift spirits. Words can encourage. Words, when used positively, can make you laugh, smile, ponder, and reflect.

The River Road has taught me to pay attention… not just to my driving, but to the world and words around me, and the affect they have on my life. So today for my blog post, I’d like to offer you a photo essay to illustrate my point. I hope that you enjoy this small glimpse of the River Road and the words (and views) it has to offer.

In conclusion, I’ll ask you to open your eyes. Pay attention. Drive safe. Find good words, and then... share them.

P.S. In the comments below, I’d love to see a sign from your hometown.


I have to warn you. If you spend any amount of time with me… I will most likely… invite you somewhere. Church, a baseball game and a family dinner/parade/party/tradition usually top the list. But this invitation habit doesn’t stop at my personal life. It extends far and wide, and today I’m inviting you, yes all of you, to some really cool word nerd events. For the record, you’ve been warned. Proceed at your own risk. Fun, opportunities, merriment and writing improvement may lay ahead.

Wine and Words, Books and Beer 

Love a good story? How about a good cold adult beverage? Good news, you can get them both in the same place this Thursday night, September 21. At The Brick House in downtown LaCrosse, 12 local authors, including yours truly, will be reading short excerpts from their book, and also selling their titles at this second annual event. Sponsored by my writing club, Women’s Writers Ink, this is sure to be a fun night.  Click here for more info. 

Story Seedlings

During the entire month of October I will be facilitating an online writing community. If you have an idea for a story, but aren’t sure what to do with it or how to get started… this is for you! If you need a kick in the pants to get your daily writing habit back on track, this is for you. If you have a sequel that should have been started yesterday… guess what? Story Seedlings is for you! During the month you will write 22 scenes for your story and be given feedback (by myself and other participants) on your work. You will also get the opportunity to virtually hang out with some pretty awesome word nerds and make some new writing friends. If you are interested in learning more and signing up, click here. Only 8 spots still remain!

Teen Read Week Writing Workshop

Calling all young writers! You are invited to come to the La Crosse Public Library to celebrate Teen Read Week by flexing your writing muscles. In this two hour, interactive workshop, we work to improve our writing by looking at some of our favorite YA Authors. The evening will end with an opportunity for teens to read their work aloud for a small audience of parents and interested members of the public. This event will take place on Monday, October 9 from 5:30-7:30 pm. ** If you have a work in progress, bring it along! **

Girl Scout Expo 

On Saturday, October 21 from noon to 2pm, I will be sharing information about the Girl Scout programs I offer to help individuals and troops earn their badges. The expo will take place at Onalaska High School and is sponsored by the Badgerland Girl Scout Organization. If you are a troop leader, stop by and learn all about the fun reading and writing experiences I can offer. Click here for more info. 

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators 

Okay, so this one isn’t an event. It’s the opportunity to be a part of hundreds of events over the course of your writing career. This past weekend I attended my first SCWBI conference. It was three days of glorious word-nerdiness infused with the power of beautiful art. Through my time at the conference I was able to forge new connections, make new friends and create new possibilities. I would love to invite you to join this incredible organization so that next year at the fall conference, and at a bunch of other SCBWI events in between, you can do the same.

Alright. That's all I got. I think. To be sure you don't miss any opportunities, check back on my events page from time to time. I hope you take me up on my invitations and that our paths are able to cross in the near future. Happy nerding friends! 

When Worlds Collide... Education and Writing

As the school year approaches, I thought I would do something fun that crisscrossed my two professional worlds… teaching and writing. So, I interviewed teacher-author Sarah Thursby. Sarah and I have a lot in common. We are English educators, both writers, both mothers of young children, trying to balance the demands of life. While I am from Wisconsin, she is from Minnesota. I saw just one musical this summer (Hamilton!) and she saw FOUR, in New York no less! Today we are talking about how our education and writer lives intersect, overlap and enrich each other.

Word Nerd: Hi Sarah! Thanks for visiting my blog today and sharing your teaching and writing experiences with us. We'll start with a few easy questions! What grade levels and subjects do you teach?

ST: I teach 9-12 / Reading Foundations, English 10, American Literature, Intro to Theater and Theater Productions.

Word Nerd: What a line up! What are you most excited about for the school year?

ST: I'm most looking forward to getting involved in the extracurricular theater program and being able to make connections with my students during school by getting to know them after school. We are really going to be hitting accent work and nearly all students will have to try and understand and learn a unique accent. I'm incredibly excited to see them raise to the challenge.

Word Nerd: How do your teaching world and writing worlds overlap?

ST: In the district I’ve worked in for the past year, I have been hired to direct the high school musical and play each year! Very exciting, yet quite overwhelming.  Because I was willing to share my worries and proactively work to ensure success, my school sent my colleague and me to the Broadway Teachers Workshop in New York City! 

Word Nerd: Wow, that sounds amazing! I love the way that going to a conference or class can totally fuel my passion for teaching.

ST: Yeah, it was great! During this three-day event, I was able to attend masters classes with directors, actors, writers, musicians, stage managers, etc.  As if all of this wasn’t enough magic, I also got to attend FOUR Broadway performances: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Anastasia, Dear Evan Hansen, and Come From Away.  

Word Nerd: I’m sure you were watching with a critical eye, trying to glean anything you could later relate to your students. What did you walk away with? (Besides several songs stuck in your head!)

ST:  Well, the first show was quite disappointing. There were several mistakes in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. My students are putting on this show during the upcoming school year and I was thrilled to have the chance to see it live on Broadway, but unfortunately, it was a less than stellar performance.

The actor playing Willy was an understudy, and allowed his top hat to fall off.  Several times.  Every time his hat fell off, his microphone was inaudible.  The second time his hat fell to the stage, he didn’t even go to pick it up! Awkwardly, another cast member went behind him, picked it up, and placed it on his head! Then as Augustus was getting sucked up the tube of chocolate, we could hear the Oompas singing, and yet there was not an orange faced, green haired factory worker in sight!  As the cast members stood uncomfortably on stage peering into the wings, the audience began to mumble to their neighbors about the scene.  How could this be?  

Have no fear - a voice boomed over-head stating: LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WE ARE EXPERIENCING TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES. WE WILL BE WITH YOU SHORTLY. Then, to make things worse, the cast began to talk to the audience…

“You guys are really lucky! You get to see that scene again.”

“Now you know the music. Wait until you see the Oompas!”

They completely broke character, chattered to the audience, and completely ruined the stage magic and illusion. It was awful.

I learned that even though Broadway is the Disney of live performances, people and technology are imperfect; it comes with these imperfections that we are given the opportunity to struggle together as one… both the actors and the audience. We are all relevant pieces to this puzzle of life.

Word Nerd: Yikes. So sorry to hear that. I'm glad you were able to pull something positive out of the poor performance. Tell us about the other shows.

ST: We saw three more shows that set our passions aflame.  Anastasia was utterly breathtaking with the dancing, costuming, acting, and singing.  If you haven’t seen it and love the SPECTACLE of a big show, this is the one for you.

Dear Evan Hansen is a fantastically modern tale of depression and loneliness where tragedy strikes.  Through tragedy and a little crude humor, these young high school students and their families find ways to bond together and heal issues that were never even spoken.

Finally, I want to promote one of the most noteworthy and beautiful productions I have ever seen in my life: Come From Away.  This TRUE STORY is a conglomeration of hundreds of hours of interviews with the locals in Newfoundland, Canada.  The day of 9/11, so many airplanes and passengers were routed out of the airspace immediately and directed to the small island.  With the island’s population doubling and then some, these rare and amazing Canadians bent over backwards to accommodate people from all around the world!  They literally gave the clothes off their backs, the food from their stores, and the beds and couches in their homes.  

To top all of this inspiring history, the cast (made up of only 12 members playing several roles each) contained two people from the small island of Newfoundland itself.  If you, like me, love a wonderfully told story, both effortless and seamless, as well as rarely distinctive music, this show is a must see on Broadway.

Word Nerd: Any final thoughts?

ST: All in all, I am so grateful for having been allowed this amazing trip.  I’ve learned more than I thought possible in a three day time span.  As a teacher especially, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to attend all of these shows, so I know how incredibly lucky I am. I'm really glad that I was able to combine two things I really love, theater and teaching. 

Word Nerd: I'm sure you can't wait to share your incredible experiences with your students! Some good, some, not-to-much... but either way, I’m certain it will enhance their education and only serve to make your rendition of Charlie simply scrumptious!! Thank you so much for visiting my blog today Sarah! Have a great school year!

Sarah's Bio

I have been a high school English and theater teacher all around the state of Minnesota for the past eight years, and I currently reside in Mankato with my husband and two little boys. Although I am an aspiring Young Adult novelist, my current and completed manuscript of an apocalyptic adventure is resting quietly on my hard drive. As this dream sits in wait, I am pleased to explore another dream of heading up musicals and plays, as this fall I am directing Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Life is kind to those who persistently seek out their passions. You can contact Sarah via email here: