Lauren’s Quick-Read Crafty Tips: The Magic & Magnificence of an Hourglass Timer

Raise your hand if you wish you had another 24 hours each day just to read through all of the terrific blog posts we receive about craft, book debuts, author stories, and the industry?

pick me chelsea rendon GIF by Vida

Me! Me! Me! I do!

With that in mind, I’m launching a blog post series that includes short, easy to digest writing tips that can be read in under five minutes. These tips are designed to inspire you when you’re brain feels like mush, encourage you when your inner critique is screaming, and support you on your writing journey.

I’m excited you’re here!


happy best day ever GIF

And now for today’s tip:

The Magic & Magnificence of an Hourglass Timer 

Last year, at the 2018 Rocky Mountain SCBWI Letters and Lines Conference, Claudia Mills suggested using an hourglass timer to track writing time. She has written over 50 books in one-hour increments each day. This suggestion has changed my writing life. I turn off all distractions — YES — all distractions (social media, phone, email…) and write while the sand runs through the glass.

Write, write, write, repeat.

My productivity has increased tremendously! (I even leave my timer where my kids can see it so that they know I’m in the middle of a one-hour writing block. This prevents interruptions … well, let’s be honest … about 50% of the time. But 50% isn’t bad!)

Thank you, Claudia Mills, for this career-altering recommendation!


What strategies help you protect your writing time and fine-tune your focus?

Here’s to a year filled with confidence, creativity, and self-care! I look forward to sharing this journey together!

Feel. Write. Risk.




You Know You’re an Author When…

kermit typing

  1. You frantically talk into your phone to capture an idea while taking a walk.
  2. You carry your manuscript everywhere you go, just in case inspiration strikes.
  3. You truly believe your imaginary world could be real.
  4. Your bedtime looks like this:                                                                                                   Lights off, roll over. AHA! Roll over, lights on. Write. Write. Write. Lights off, roll over. AHA! Roll over, lights on. Write. Write. Write.
  5. You think of the writing community as extended family.
  6. You love your characters like children.
  7. You analyze narrative arc, details, character development and emotional arc in movies and every single book you read.
  8. You spend an hour agonizing over ONE sentence.
  9. Your child asks: “Did you hear me? Are you writing a book in your head again?”
  10. You find yourself searching for slivers of paper everywhere you go in order to write down an idea.

writing raccoon


11. You notice you’re mumbling to yourself in public, in a rather embarrassing way, to hear how sentences sound out loud.

What “you know you’re a writer” tidbits would you add to this list?

Feel. Write. Risk.



Wow! It has been a long time since I posted! Ironically, my last post was September 2016. (Watch for the Irony Alert! at the end of this post.) I’ve been writing, writing, writing and nearly forgot about my blog. But…


I’m B-A-A-A-CK!

I am ECSTATIC to announce that I am now represented by…


dog drumroll

Deborah Warren with East/West Literary Agency!


I met Deborah two and a half years ago at the SCBWI Rocky Mountain Region Conference. I also had the opportunity to meet one of Deborah’s incredible authors, Erin Dealey, at the conference. (Check out Erin’s fantastic books at or

Additionally, I met one of Deborah’s soon-to-be illustrators, Dow Phumiruk at the conference. (Dow and Jeanne Walker Harvey’s new book, Maya Lin, is exquisite!) Between the Writer’s Rap ( and Erin and Deborah’s information-packed presentations, I knew I wanted Deborah in my corner.

And now,

she is!

dog happy dance

Interestingly, the picture book I submitted to Deborah represents the best of the best decisions I’ve made thus far as an author. (It is certainly easier to recognize this in retrospect!) I wanted to share these decisions in case they are helpful to others.

#1: SCBWI: Joining SCBWI has been an enriching and terrific experience! And, as I mentioned, an SCBWI conference introduced me to Deborah! (

#2: Jodell Sadler’s KidLit College: I took a pacing course through KidLit College right out of the 2016 gate! The course was EXCELLENT and helped me grow by leaps and bounds as a writer. (

#3: Carrie Charley Brown’s Reading for Research Month (ReFoReMo) (2016): During ReFoReMo, I read a post by Tammi Sauer entitled: How to Do the Structure Strut. This post planted the seed for trying different structures in future picture book manuscripts. (

#4: Paula Yoo’s National Picture Book Writing Week (NaPiBoWriWee) (2016): During NaPiBoWriWee, I wrote a first draft of the picture book that would ultimately morph into the manuscript I submitted to Deborah. Since I’d accepted the challenge of writing seven picture books in seven days, I decided to write this manuscript in a different format than I typically tackled. (Tammi Sauer’s post meet Paula Yoo’s challenge!) (

#5: Tara Lazar’s Storystorm (Formerly PiBoIdMo): Although this idea did not originate during Storystorm, I relied on my Storystorm templates for the NaPiBoWriWee challenge. The templates helped me flesh out my narrative arc, emotional arc and character development. (

#6: Critique Groups: My manuscript toured my critique groups, again and again and again. Critique partners are INVALUABLE!

#7: Goodbye Comfort Zone: I decided to step even further outside of my comfort zone and stretch my manuscript to be as unique as possible. I “killed some darlings” and revised again.

#8: Miranda Paul’s Rate Your Story (RYS): I revised, revised, revised and submitted to a RYS free submission day. My feedback was incredibly encouraging! I received a “2” (1 is the best score) and danced a teeny, tiny celebratory dance. I was getting closer. (

#9: Learn From Rejections: I revised AGAIN and submitted to a handful of agents. Although my manuscript was rejected, I received important feedback. This manuscript had to be even more unique. I “killed more darlings” and…YUP…

I revised again.

#10: Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Challenge: This is my fourth year in 12×12 and I’ve loved every minute of it! I was a GOLD member the first three years which allowed me to submit to an agent each month. (

You’ll never guess who I submitted to in September 2016 (Irony Alert!)

I’ll give you a minute…

dogs waiting (timer).gif

YES! You guessed it!

Deborah Warren!

Deborah requested two rounds of “revise and resubmits.” Her editorial feedback was brilliant!

I revised, revised, revised.

I resubmitted.


the rest, they say, is history!


dog celebrate.gif

I feel incredibly grateful for the support, encouragement and opportunities available through the KidLit community. I am honored to join the talented authors and illustrators at East/West Literary Agency! I can hardly wait for the next step in my author journey!

Feel. Write. Risk.






It’s the Little Things!

And… just like that, I turned another page in my calendar. The relentless march of time is mind-boggling.


September 2016 Highlight Positives

I enjoyed a lot of productivity in August!

  • I painted a pottery version of my picture book character, Dragon. I wanted to “bring her to life” since she holds a special place in my heart.

Dragon 3 rotated


  • I posted a few new picture books on the KidLit critique forum on which I have the privilege of participating. I critiqued participants’ picture book manuscripts as well. Wow! There is so much promise and talent in this group.
  • I emailed two picture books to the fabulous critique group I joined through 12×12. The collective knowledge, wisdom, brilliance and caring of this group of women is astonishing.
  • I participated in the Picture Book Summit free Mini Summit and learned SO MUCH! I can’t wait for the Picture Book Summit on October 1st!
  • My girls survived their first few weeks back at school.
  • I created the best calendar cover EVER for my Erin Condren calendar!

calendar pic

  • I completed the feature article AuKids requested for their October issue about flexibility. I’m excited to see the article in print this Fall.


  • Yesterday, at 3:10 pm MST, I pressed SEND on an email to my publisher containing my latest round of professional edits for my book about emotion regulation.


This month, in honor of my August accomplishments, I plan to follow one of the recommendations from my emotion regulation book and focus on the positive moments, experiences and people in my life who make my world a more positive place. Every day this month, I will focus on the things that go RIGHT, not wrong.

I challenge you to try this too. I plan to post my discoveries on social media to add more positive energy to the world. After all, #itsthelittlethings, and the little things make the biggest difference!

Day One:

My picture book characters. Each and every unique character fills my world with joy! #itsthelittlethings
#amwriting #kidlit #amhappy

Feel. Write. Risk.


Twitter: @LaurenKerstein


Zigs, Zags and Curves


butterfly purple flower (free)

It has been over a year since I reflected on the lessons I’ve learned as a writer. As I enter a new season of sharpening my writing skills, stretching my creativity and crafting characters who will hopefully stick in your mind like bubble gum in the hot sun, I thought I’d reflect once again.

  • The path to becoming a published author is neither straightforward nor linear. There are zigs, zags and curves. There are bumps, detours and dead ends. Each zig provides new ideas. Each zag offers opportunities to hone skills. Each curve reveals a new perspective. Bumps, detours and dead ends are scary, but they present insight and inspiration if I look closely.
  • I will have drafts that seem brilliant… until I realize the flaws. Flaws are part of the process. They are friend not foe… if I learn from them.
  • I will have characters, manuscripts and ideas that remain hidden in the proverbial drawer for days, weeks and months. That’s okay. They are simmering. They need more development. They will blossom with time. Or, they won’t blossom, and that’s okay too.
  • Each day I write is a day I’m following my dreams.
  • My goal isn’t publication (okay, that would be fantastic). But, really, my goal is to be the best writer possible.
  • Staring at my email doesn’t make agent responses come faster. Neither does hitting the refresh button.
  • Writing a first, second or third draft is just that. It’s the beginning, not the end. It’s a draft that is ready for editing, not one that is ready for submission.
  • Mentor texts are NOT optional.
  • Reading is essential if you’re writing. Actually, reading is simply essential — like breathing or eating.
  • Trends pass by in a flash. Excellent writing sustains.
  • Kindness goes a long way. A very long way.
  • Dark chocolate, tea and writing go together like “rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong.” (Grease)
  • Some writing days flow effortlessly, while others are like slogging through quicksand backwards.
  • I have to be willing to do the work if I want to reach my goals.
  • Writing means I spend a lot of time waiting. I write while I wait. And when I think I can’t wait any longer, I write some more.
  • The five P’s of writing are: Patience, passion, persistence, perfectionist tendencies and parlor tricks. Yes, parlor tricks. They don’t help me write, but they have the potential to provide an excellent distraction while I’m waiting…waiting…waiting! (I don’t know any parlor tricks, yet, but I’m seriously considering learning a few.)

card trick (free)


So, here’s to a summer filled with writing, patience, passion, persistence, perfectionist tendencies and the acquisition of a few parlor tricks. I look forward to all of the new lessons I’ll learn this season.

Feel. Write. Risk.


Are You Managing Time or is Time Managing You? Intentionality and Writing

Time is my best friend and my worst enemy. There’s either too much time or not enough time. Time rarely moves at just the right pace.



Many of us imagine that our summers will include more rest than work, more calm than crazy.

More time. Moving at just the right pace.

free dog.jpg

But, summer elongates and shrinks time simultaneously. The summer months can include running rather than rest, chaos rather than calm. The summer makes me think of Dory’s astute advice, “Just keep swimming!”

free dog swimming.jpg


While the break from homework is fantastic for kids (and, let’s be real, for adults too), summer offers new challenges. Who knew children could go through so many towels, drinking cups, snacks, shoes and dishes in one day? Who knew a car could accumulate so many miles and crumbs in one week? Who knew training as an event planner was a summer prerequisite in order to effectively occupy children?

As I pondered the importance of a few leisurely summer moments, I decided to prioritize the writer’s tasks I’d like to embrace that are most essential to propelling my writing career forward and igniting my happiness. I vowed to manage my time instead of letting my time manage me. I WILL make the following intentional choices in order to nurture and fuel my author’s soul this summer:

  1. I will carve out time to write. No matter what. Writing may include working on a manuscript, crafting a blog post, or honing a narrative arc. Regardless, I WILL carve out time to write.
  2. I will create quiet moments to mull over plots, characters and emotional arcs. (Even if the quiet moments include hiding in the bathroom, the corner of the pool during swim team, or watering my plants… again!) Regardless, I WILL create quiet moments.
  3. I will steal time away to read. I will read while blowing my hair dry (if I actually blow my hair dry). I will continue our family’s Drop Everything and Read (D.E.A.R.) tradition every night (even if it’s just for 10 minutes). I will read mentor texts with my girls. I will read at the pool. Regardless, I WILL read!
  4. I will marvel, wonder and listen to the beauty around me. I will notice the flowers as they poke, peer and push their way into the world. I will appreciate the drops of rain glistening on the green blades of grass. I will focus on the simple pleasures that fuel my writer’s soul. I WILL find beauty.
  5. I will be kind to myself. My writing time may be less structured, less predictable and less fruitful than it is during the school year. But, if I’m writing, thinking about writing and enjoying the world around me, then I’m still building a writing career. I WILL be gentle with myself.

Time may be illusive and uncontrolled, but I know that when I fuel my writing passion, I nurture my creative soul, see more beauty and experience greater joy.

my flowers

I challenge you to manage time instead of letting time manage you!

Feel. Write. Risk.



Memory Capsule Characters

I’ve always imagined we have a memory capsule hidden inside the recesses of our minds and hearts. Memories are wedged, stuffed and stored in our capsule —  moving pictures and still images, Polaroid shots and video clips.

Some of our memories are barely a whisper, sitting on the tip of our tongues. While others are vivid, electric, palpable.

Every memory tells a story. Every still image launches us into a moving picture of sights, sounds, smells and feelings.

dog and man.jpg

My memory capsule is filled with memories from my life and memories created by fictional characters who lodged themselves permanently into my heart.

I long to create characters and stories that will achieve memory capsule status — that will stay in the minds and hearts of my readers for years to come.

So, when a new idea zings, zaps and zips through my head…


When a character’s voice whispers in my ear…

yoda dog.jpg

When a narrative arc begins to take shape in my mind, I ask myself one, very important question. Do the images in my mind have the strength, endurance and power to create a moving picture that will remain in the minds of my readers long after they’ve finished the last sentence? If the answer is no, I need to stretch the idea, strengthen my character and build a more powerful narrative arc. If the answer is yes, it’s time to type that first draft!


Then maybe, just maybe after revisions and months and possibly years, I’ll have created a character and crafted a story that will live in a reader’s heart and mind forever.

Feel. Write. Risk.





The sparkling water laps against the shore as birds sing their lovely melodies around me…



End serenity, begin real life.

Real life isn’t all lovely melodies and lapping water. Real life is messy. Bumpy. Challenging. Real life is like a highly caffeinated roller coaster.

roller coaster







Fall down!

The ups and downs and highs and lows of our roller coaster create life’s emotional arc. The falls, the rock-bottom moments, the intense lows test our resilience.

Resilience (The simple definition from Merriam-Webster):

  • “the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens

  • the ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc.”

In other words, “I get knocked down, but I get up again.” (Chumbawamba)

We get knocked down, but we get up again. That’s the essence of resilience. Resilience is what helps us through this emotional roller coaster we call life. Some people are more resilient than others. In fact, researchers have studied the qualities in people that make them more resilient.

butterfly gif

Think about one of your characters and answer the following questions in order to establish your character’s level of resilience. Understanding resilience will help you build a more meaningful emotional arc.

-Does your character easily bounce back from difficult situations? Or…does she slowly pull herself back up?
-Does your character have a tendency to try again? Or… does she give up?
-Does your character dwell on challenges? Or…does she problem-solve and move on?
-Does your character take action? Or… does she succumb?
-Does your character think positively? Or…does she experience negative thoughts?

i got this(Thank you Bitmoji!)

The answers to these questions will help you better understand your character and build a more authentic emotional arc. Resilience is an important component of an emotional arc. Life’s emotional arc is a real, palpable, breathing being that often takes on a life of its own. There are beautiful moments and there are painful moments. There are mundane moments and there are extraordinary moments. The emotional arc in our writing must reveal the highs and lows, (and everything in between) in order to create a living, breathing, tangible experience for our readers.


“This is fantastic,” she cheered.
“Oh, no, wait… this is awful,” she sobbed as she slumped to the ground.


I’ve thought a lot about emotional arcs, both as a writer and as a therapist, and have had the fortune of attending phenomenal webinars through KidLit College and 12×12. Below are a few of the tools I’ve gleaned from industry professionals such as Jodell Sadler, Heather Alexander, Julie Hedlund, Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, Mira Reisberg and Tara Lazar. These tools help me explore emotional arc and character resilience in my writing.

Tool One: Character Development: What is important to your character and why? What does your character do when she is devastated? How does your character act when she is thrilled? What will happen if your character doesn’t achieve her goal? What are the stakes driving your character?

Tool Two: Pacing: Where do you want to speed up? Where do you want to linger for the biggest impact? When do you want the stage lights on? When do you want to fade to black to establish white space? What specific pacing tools will move your story forward and capture the essence of your character’s emotions?

Tool Three: Narrative Arc: Do I have an obvious narrative arc? Is my exposition clear? Have I hooked my readers? Is my rising action propelling my story forward? Is my climax strong? Does the falling action lead to a satisfying resolution? Do I have a clear conflict woven throughout the story?

Tool Four: Realistic Emotional Portrayal: Are my character’s emotions and experiences portrayed in meaningful ways throughout each scene? Did I illuminate resilience authentically? Did I charge past the tough emotional moments too quickly or did I linger for just the right amount of time? Did I dismiss the intensity of the emotion or did I validate the character’s experience? Did my character grow?

Make Your Readers Feel
An emotional arc is essential to the plot. Our plot won’t be meaningful to our readers if we don’t make them FEEL! If we take the time to reveal authentic emotion and realistic resilience within our characters, we provide a gift to our readers that will stay with them long after the last page is devoured.

Feel. Write. Risk.




I finished the structured webinar and critique portions of Jodell Sadler’s Pacing PBs to Wow! last night. It was definitely a WOW! experience. As we said our goodbyes, a sense of incredible accomplishment danced with a feeling of strange emptiness in my heart. I would no longer have the weekly opportunity to share that special, enriching space with Jodell and the other dedicated writers once per week. And yet, I knew the awareness and perspectives I acquired would remain with me on my writing journey forever.

I learned more than I can quantify in a single post, and I highly recommend the opportunities Jodell offers through Kidlit College. I want to share the two most significant lessons I learned from Jodell.

First: All of our writing experiences are unique. We must forge our own path. As I write this post, I periodically glance at the icicles hanging from the eves of my neighbors’ house. Whether thick or thin, long or short, white or silver, their sparkle is magnificent in the snowy haze. They are a beautiful reminder of the uniqueness of each icicle,

each snowflake and

each writer’s experience.

In order to make the most of our unique experience we need strategies,


knowledge and

a rich understanding of the tools that transform our manuscripts from

ordinary to extraordinary.

We need to develop our CRAFT!

I am grateful for the copious numbers of tools I learned from Jodell.


Second: I am letting go of fear in my writing process.

Fear is crippling. Courage and creativity are as satisfying as a delicious piece of bubble gum.


I will blow bubbles.

Big bubbles.

Little bubbles.

Bubbles that pop on my face and

render my cheeks sticky.

And bubbles that go on for miles lifting me into the air.

I will take risks.

I will pull out the scissors and cut my manuscripts to shreds.

I will throw the words into the air and see where they fall.

And, maybe, just maybe, I will turn my manuscripts from the ordinary

to the extraordinary!




Velcro, Suction Cups and Writing


Suction cups?



I can sense your confusion. Your doubt. Your concern. “Lauren’s finally lost it. What do Velcro and suction cups have to do with writing?”

Well, I’m here to tell you that they have everything to do with writing. You’re probably sitting on the edge of your seat waiting to hear the answer so I’ll charge right in with no further delays.

When we Velcro our fingers to the keyboard, our favorite pencil or pen, our writing diligence may ultimately lead us to a dead end.

When we suction our eyeballs to our journal, notebook or computer screen, our writing persistence may ultimately steer us into the land of bleary-eyed irritation.

Why? Because we NEED perspective.


A new lens.

It’s time to turn our definition of writing upside down.

On its head.

Tail over tea kettle.

I’ve done this and, it’s given me a new, valuable perspective.

An entirely unique point of view.

A priceless new approach.

I’ve read countless author interviews (particularly through my extraordinary membership with 12×12 over the past few years). Authors are often asked to talk about a typical writing day. For years, I’ve poured over these interviews on a quest for the formula that might lead to publication– to writing success. And then, I realized a few things:

  1. Writing success equals being the best writer I can be. It doesn’t equal publication.
  2. There is NO formula. Writing invites us to pour our hearts and our minds into our work. Writing encourages us to be the BEST we can be, to learn the MOST we can learn and to write with unbridled PASSION. So, when I look for a formula, I forget to write with fire in my heart. And writing with fire in my heart is critical. So, I’ve stopped looking for the formula. I’m just writing.
  3. There is no such thing as a typical schedule. A writer’s day has many components. If you have a day job, and are a parent, partner and multi-tasker like me, it sometimes feels like it’s impossible to actually write. But, all of the components of our life contribute to our writing minds– if we let them. A writer’s day may include Velcro and suction cups, but it may also include taking a walk, playing a game with a child, working, planning, organizing, watching a movie with your partner, driving, and of course– READING! Each and every one of these experiences provides beautiful threads for our writing tapestry.
  4. There are a number of tools at our disposal that should not be taken lightly or seen as writing detractors. Writing classes, webinars, writing exercises, critique groups, READING, groups such as 12×12, challenges such as PiBoIdMo/ ReFoReMo and ReviMo, and of course, stepping away from our work. I’m on a quest to incorporate the tools that support me as a writer in the most meaningful, valuable way. I challenge you to do the same.
  5. We MUST read in the genre in which we write. It is not optional reading, it is MANDATORY READING!

So… I’m giving myself permission to UNSUCTION myself-


And, unvelcro my fingers-


Now, you try it. See if it helps. Yes, I mean, actually walk away.


Because, some of our best writing takes place in our minds when we’re doing other tasks.

Give yourself permission to play with your thoughts, enhance and sharpen your images, delight in the qualities of your characters and open writing doors.

Take writing courses. (I’m taking one with Jodell Sadler right now and it is EXCELLENT- Pacing PB’s to Wow!) Read blog posts about craft. Join writing groups (like 12×12).

And, remember…

Some of our best ideas emerge in the moments we spend walking, running, driving, playing and observing. Those moments are still writing. They are just writing turned upside down.

On its head.

Tail over tea kettle.

And, finally…

Give yourself permission to READ, READ, READ!

I’ve given myself permission to read, read, read, and I’m loving every delectable second.