What can music teach us about pacing and voice?

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SO much!

But, let me back up for a moment.

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Pacing and voice are two of the most powerful writing tools we have in our toolbox. They help us better understand our character, support our plot, and keep our readers engaged. Pacing and voice also evoke emotions, increase our character’s relatability, and have the power to inspire a visceral reaction. covergirl GIF

Unfortunately, finding the right voice, and mastering the perfect pacing isn’t easy. We might feel like we are circling around it, but can’t quite get it right.

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I don’t like watching video clips. But thankfully, my sister encouraged me to watch Josh Groban spontaneously singing … are you ready for this … “Trip Advisor” reviews. 

And let me tell you, it is 5 1/2 minutes of writer’s GOLD!

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If you want to truly understand how music informs pacing and voice, you MUST watch this gem!

As you watch, pay close attention to Josh’s tone of voice, the melody he chooses, and his intentional use of pacing. (Side note: You will also see the ways in which voice and pacing can add humor to your work!)



Amazing, right?! Sheer BRILLIANCE. And hilarious as well!

Now, here’s your homework: Spend time listening to music in order to deepen your understanding of pacing and voice. And then, practice applying the lessons you’ve learned to your writing. You can use the following questions as a guide:


As you listen to music:

Note the pacing.

Identify the voice.

Think about how the pacing and voice make you feel.

Are you experiencing a visceral reaction— either positive or negative?

What components of the pacing and voice are creating that reaction?

As you write, think about the following:

What did you learn from listening to music that you’d like to apply to your manuscript?

What reaction do you want your readers to have?

How do you want to make them feel?

Are your choices around voice and pacing supporting the emotional reaction you’d like to spark?

Is your narrative arc unfolding at a pace that feels consistent with the story you’re trying to tell? 

Is your narrative arc unfolding at a pace that feels consistent with your character?

Is your character’s personality as strong as it can be?

If you shifted your voice and pacing, could you increase emotional resonance, strengthen your narrative arc, or hone in on character development more effectively?

Which pacing tools are you using?

Which pacing tools would you like to try to use for this particular story?

Lauren H. Kerstein

And remember:

Enjoy the music. Believe in yourself. And dance at your own pace.

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In the words of Charlie, “You’ve got this!”
Feel. Write. Risk.



Lauren’s Quick-Read Crafty Tips: Revising “Being John Malkovich” Style

After I … pardon this expression … vomit out my first draft, I usually go through the following stages of manuscript madness.

Stage One: JOY: I did it! I pulled this idea out of my head and poured it onto the page. Yes! It’s as brilliant as I thought it would be.

happy dance party GIF by SMALLFOOT Movie

Stage Two: DESPAIR: This is the worst thing I’ve ever written. It doesn’t matter how many times I revise this mess. Crap is crap is crap.

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Stage Three: CHEERLEADER: R-E-V … I-S-E! Get out your hatchet! Sharpen your chisel! You can do it if you try!

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Stage Four: UNCERTAINTY: I have my hatchet and my chisel, but where do I begin?

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Stage Five: YOU ARE THE TEMPLATE QUEEN (Sung with wild abandon to the tune of Dancing Queen): You have lots of writing tools. Use them! Templates make revisions HAPPEN!

dancing queen GIF by ABBA

And then it’s time to dig in!

First, I review the templates I completed before I even began my first draft. These usually include my “Planning” and “Page Spread” sheets. 

I also make sure I’ve:

– Read mentor texts.

– Identified comp books.

– And, determined where my book fits into the market.

– Next, I engage in a “Being John Malkovich” moment and jump into the brains of editors or agents. What are they looking for? How can I wow them? What might pique their interest?

Finally, I maximize my Malkovich moment by pondering the following checklist:

john malkovich GIF

Picture Book Revision Checklist
Revising “Being John Malkovich” Style


  • Did I create a unique character?
    • Is my character’s voice strong?
    • Is my character’s voice consistent?
    • Did I sprinkle expressions, feelings, and reactions into the story that are unique to this character?


  • Is this story as unique as possible?
    • Is my setting unique?
    • Did I create a unique spin on an evergreen topic?


  • Did I add multiple layers to my manuscript? For example, in ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE MAKE WAVES, I layered friendship, learning a new skill, problem-solving, courage, swimming, and dragon-antics into the story.

Spreads, Visuals, and Structure

  • Did I introduce the character, setting, motivation, and conflict in the first two spreads?
  • Did I create salient visual images on each spread?
  • Does each two-page spread offer a new scene?


  • Is my narrative arc woven as tightly as possible?
  • Did I create an emotional arc that is resonant?

Foundation, Framework, and Planting Seeds

  • Did I plant seeds at the beginning of the book for items/themes/characters that appear later in the book?
  • Does my conflict remain the same throughout the story?
  • Are my foundation and framework strong?

Language and Literary Devices

  • Did I use the juiciest, yummiest, most deliciously descriptive words possible?
  • Did I rely on my “favorite” words or did I think with my thesaurus?
  • Did I choose words that support the voice I want to create?
  • Did I use literary devices– alliteration, consonance, onomatopoeia, puns, assonance?

Pacing and Tension

  • Does the tension increase throughout the story?
  • Is the pacing fluid?
  • Does the pacing slow down when it needs to, and speed up when it needs to?


  • Is the content accessible to the particular age of the child to whom this story is aimed?


Remember– Even though vomiting out that first draft is really hard, the TRUE work comes with revising. The blood, sweat, and tears help you grow as a writer. (They may also inspire screaming, swearing, and temper tantrums, and that’s okay too!)

In the words of Charlie, “You’ve got this!”

Rocky Balboa Win GIF by Rocky


Feel. Write. Risk.


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I have the most outstanding critique partners.


We celebrate successes, challenge each other, and encourage perseverance no matter what! We also help each other recognize the things we HAVE control over versus the things we don’t, so that we don’t spend all day spinning circles in our minds…

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Each morning, I say to myself:

“Focus on the things you can control!”

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This mantra has proved quite useful. Here are five things I know, with complete certainty, that I can control in this writing world.

  1. ENGAGEMENT: I can engage with members of the KidLit community in order to deepen connections, save my sanity, enrich my writing, stretch my creative brain, and nurture critical relationships. StoryStorm, NaPiBoWriWee, ReFoReMo, KIDLIT411, and 12×12 are just a few of these incredible communities.
  2. MY CRAFT: I have control over writing, revising, researching comps, and studying the market. I can take control over honing my craft every single day.
  3. CRITIQUES: Once I feel ready to share my babies with others, I can submit them to my critique groups over and over again until they are polished enough for the “real world.” My critique groups are worth their weight in GOLD!
  4. READING: I can read books in my genre, out of my genre, and everything in between. I can read about craft, industry, and other authors. I can read jacket copies, pitches, and book reviews. I truly believe reading is the key to writing.
  5. MY REACTION: I can control my reaction to industry challenges — the waiting, rejections, and criticism. I can SAVOR the joys, successes, and accomplishments with everything I’ve got! And, I can decide when there’s room on my shoulder for my inner critique and when it’s time to pack her bags and ship her out!

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As you trudge forward on your writing journey, remember to spend more energy on the things you CAN control, instead of dwelling on the things you can’t! Divide your day– perhaps using your hourglass timer (see my last Crafty Tip)– between activities that are in your control and practice letting go of the rest!

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In the words of Charlie (when he reassures Rosie the dragon in my June debut):

You’ve got this!


Feel. Write. Risk.

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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?

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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!


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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…

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  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…


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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…

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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!


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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.

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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!”

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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.

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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…

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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.