Writing in the Good Old Summer Time

The longer I am a teacher, the weirder it feels to not work in the summer. Granted with boat loads of freedom, an endless array of weather-warm options and minimal responsibility just seems… too good to be true. It was this gift of limbo-time that allowed me to complete the ungodly amount of things I accomplished this summer. Things like, visit seven states, ride six planes and drive for twenty-four hours in a twelve day period of time; things like celebrating the lives of two grandparents now gone to heaven; things like sell a house and move; things like plan and attend a class reunion; all without taking a single day off of work. 

While this summer was busier than most, I did manage to use this weird, child-like time off to accomplish some writing. (It may not feel like it if you use my blog as a measuring stick, but I assure you, I did write… some.) Below are the writing highlights of my summer. 

In June I attended a one week workshop at the Highlights Foundation. I spent five days in the Pennsylvania wilderness learning the ins and outs of the Educational Market. Unlike the traditional market or the self-publishing world, this writing niche is home to assessment text, classroom materials, purposeful fiction series and nonfiction book sets. I learned about the practical application of my writing skills and educational experience and made a dozen new writing friends a long the way. The quaint cabins and gourmet food were the icing on this piece of word-nerd cake. The week was capped off with a tour of the Highlights offices and Boyds Mills Press. I hope to return for another workshop in the future. If you are debating on attending, save your money and go. You won’t be disappointed. 

In July I traveled to Glenwood City, Wisconsin to teach an all day young writer’s workshop at the incredibly beautiful Everwood Farmstead. Generous hosts Chris and Bill have created an artist’s haven. Nine young writers and I spent the day creating and polishing, playing and critiquing. I was blown away and humbled by the abilities of the writers who attended and beyond impressed when they braved the stage and read their stories aloud for parents and friends at the end of the day. Definitely put visiting Everwood, whether for a workshop, concert, or culinary event, on your bucket list. 


Finally, I finished, truly finished, two manuscripts. 

The first one, has been a long time in the making. A reallllly long time. The manuscript for The Birthday Cache has been through seven drafts, a couple of agents and their thoughtful feedback, an editor, and critiques from a writing partner and writing mentor. I had begun to feel like the story wasn’t even mine anymore. BUT, then I thought about the writers whom I had listened to over this past year in conference presentations, author panels, blog posts and online articles. They went through how many drafts? How many rounds of revisions from their editor? How many interns helped work on their text? When I felt like I was relying too heavily on others to create high quality work, was I really just becoming more professional? Instead of putting out low grade literary work all on my lonesome, was I really just working hard (really hard) and using the resources available to shine and polish and mold my story into its best possible version? I am choosing to go with this second line of thought. I now have a really great middle grade story that I can’t wait to get out there. Stay tuned for this first geocaching book in the exciting series Adventures Await. 

The second manuscript was a MUCH faster ordeal. I started it in February and finished it last night. Six months, three beta-readers (thanks ladies!), two drafts, and thirty-five thousand words. Champion Chocolatier is being released next month by independent publisher Lovely Christian Romance. This book is part of a six book collection. Each author was asked to write a story that took place in a northern state during Christmas time and had hot chocolate play a major role in the story. I haven’t read the other novellas in the collection yet, but I can’t wait to see what everyone came up with. This book is my first non-self-published book and also my first book to be turned into an audiobook. Proud and excited do not even begin to describe how I feel about it. If you'd like to pre-order this book, please email me! amanda.zieba@yahoo.com  

So, tomorrow the summer ends. I start back too school with teacher meetings and orientations and technology trainings and a million other work-related tasks. So long to the summer hours and the lack of structured schedule. Sure part of me is sad, but there is another part that is ready for the school year and the order that it brings to our family’s chaotic life. See ya later summer, hello fall.

Writing is hard. Sometimes I read instead.

Writing is hard work.

And sometimes, after a full day of work and mothering… I just don’t have any parts of my brain working at full functioning levels to plot, dialogue or edit. Last Friday was one of those days. I had taught half a day, visited my son’s school for Muffins with Mom, done three Career Day Presentations at a local elementary school, ran a rummage sale for a few hours after school and managed to get the boys fed and in bed.

I sat down. It was 9:00. I couldn’t fathom doing a single thing more. Even my Friday cocktail sat in a melted pool of ice. If I couldn’t finish that, how on earth was I going to puzzle through the forty pages of edits and editions I needed to type into my novella-in-progress? I couldn’t.

What do writers do when they are too tired? This writer reads. It is my reward, my learning experience, my relaxation… all in one. So today, instead of productively detailing a technique or sharing some bit or writer wisdom, I am going to tell you about the best books I have read lately. If you find yourself burnt out at the end of your day and unable to be productive on your WIP, here are a few books for you to consider. (** Disclaimer, other than being great written works from which to learn or enjoy, the books below are not writing related what-so-ever.**)

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

When one woman sets out to live a year of her life as a woman of the bible would, hilarious, relatable and intriguing events occur. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book that my pastor ensured me was “funny”, but I can tell you I am taking a lot more than funny away from it. Rachel is the girl next door. Nothing fancy. Nothing perfect. A regular-Jane, attempting to live life as a good Christian woman would. It is her “every-day-ness” that makes her lessons easy to apply to your own life. And if you are not ready or willing to cover your head at all times, call your husband master or sleep in your front yard during your period, you can learn valuable life lessons vicariously through Rachel’s experiences. Through this book I have learned that not all customs (religious or cultural) that seem from a distance backwards or barbaric, truly are. I learned a lot about what it means be a Christian/Biblical woman, but mostly I learned about how to be a woman of high moral character, one that from any standpoint or walk of life I would admire. For the record, my pastor was right. This book is very funny. I would also label it thought provoking, enjoyable, and an easy read.


The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

This is the fourth and final book in The Raven Boys series, and because the literary universe loves me, it was released on my birthday. The sheer weightiness of my schedule prevented me from picking it up until yesterday… but now that I have, I will cease to do anything unnecessary until it is finished. Beautiful prose weaves a fantastical tale of a girl, her psychic “relatives” and four Prep-School boys on a quest to find an ancient king and collect their one wish reward.

“These days, they all had their hands thrust into the sky, hoping for comets.” – Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven King

If every book that was thrust into my hands, or onto my computer screen via an inbox advertisement or jammed on to my shelf was like this series, I’d never write or cook or sleep a full night, ever again. Do it. Stiefvater, she’s amazing. Just read them. All of them.


The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Reading just a chapter a day aloud to my students was pure torture. This book begs to be devoured. (Judging by their audible groans at the end of every chapter, I think it is safe to say I am not alone in this sentiment.)

Sage is an orphan that has been pulled from a medieval orphanage and thrust into a dangerous game of political intrigue. Conner plans to mold Sage, or one of the other three orphans he has “selected”, into the supposedly dead Prince Jaron. He plans to claim the throne through his chosen boy, rule as a regent and live himself a pretty fine life. What happens to the three not chosen? Well, one is already dead.

Secrets and facts are woven into half-truths and bold faced lies. The reader is tugged (not always so gently) through each chapter with the promise of more truth around every corner. Who will be chosen? Who will be declared the winner at the end of the dangerous game? The best part of this book just maybe that reaching the end is truly only a beginning. Two more books follow in this incredible middle grade series.


Laugh-Along Lessons by Helen Lester

Reading at home this spring has happened less than I would have liked, but one book my sons (ages 6 and 3) have gone to again and again is Laugh-Along Lessons by Helen Lester. While it slightly resembles a school-basal text book, I assure you it is much more fun. Inside, 8 great stories featuring real-to-life problems and characters walk readers through sticky situations and their sometimes funny solutions. My sons and I adore the illustrations by Lynn Munsinger, an added bonus. My favorite is “Princess Penelope’s Parrot”, while Kameron loves “The Wizard, the Fairy and the Magic Chicken”, and Riley likes “Me First” best. There is really something for everyone. One short story turns into two more helping us easily fill up our reading calendars.  


A few Side notes

I read to my middle school students each day, 5 minutes aloud at the start of class. This year I have read some amazing titles: Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper and A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen would top this list (along The False Prince mentioned above). I also had the pleasure of re-read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Maniac Magee, both truly a treasure.

Books on my TO-READ-List include: The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen,  Baby Fat: Adventures in Motherhood, Muffin Tops and Trying to Stay Sane by Pauline M. Camposand The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. 

What about you? What have you recently loved? What is next on your list?

Happy reading!

~ Amanda