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1. Interview with Melissa Stewart

Started by RebeccaL-G, February 28, 2021, 09:37 AM

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Melissa Stewart is the award-winning author of more than 180 science books for children. She has always been fascinated by the natural world and is passionate about sharing its beauty and wonder with readers of all ages.

After earning a bachelor's degree in biology from Union College in Schenectady, New York, and a master's degree in science journalism from New York University, Melissa worked as a children's book editor for nine years before becoming a fulltime writer in 2000. She has written everything from board books for preschoolers to resource guides for educators. She also serves on the SCBWI Board of Advisors.

The SCBWI discussion board mods and admins are grateful to Melissa for agreeing to be interviewed.

1. You have a very distinguished career in nonfiction writing with more than 180 published books. What do you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning of your writing journey? [/b]

That looking at a blank page—or a blank computer screen—will always be terrifying. Even after 28 years, every new book means starting all over again. It's another chance to fail or succeed, which is scary but also exciting. You just to have stay focused and believe in your vision.

On the other hand, sometimes you get down in the trenches and realize the concept you had in mind has a major flaw. Then you need to give yourself permission to abandon the idea. Sometimes you can find a new way to approach the topic, but other times you have to give up. And that's okay. You still learned something, and that's part of the journey. 

2. How do you manage or organize the research for your books?

The old-fashioned way. Each book has physical folders in one of my file cabinets as well as an electronic folder on my computer. About 5 years ago, I started keeping searchable PDFs of all the scientific journal articles I read, which has made my life so much easier.

I type all my notes into a single Word document. When I've collected most of the information I think I'll need, I save that file as is with all the bibliographic information. Then I make a copy, which I can play around with.

I cut and paste, cut and paste, creating chunks of related information from various sources. As I'm writing, I keep this file open next to my manuscript file. This works especially well for the expository nonfiction list picture books that I often write.

When I'm having trouble figuring out the best way to organize the information in a book, I transfer key images and bits of information from the research file to sticky notes or index cards. Then I can physically sort and rearrange them on a large table in my office.

For reasons I don't understand, this visual-tactile method, which I discussed in greater detail with Artemis Roehrig and Rajani LaRocca in a recent episode of their podcast STEM Women in Kidlit, allows me to think in a different way than when I see words on a computer screen.

3. Are there any must-read books, blogs or resources on nonfiction writing that you recommend?

My favorite resource is Nonfiction Fest, which is a website and a Facebook community hosted by Pat Miller and the Nonfiction Chicks. Each February, the organizers select 28 authors and illustrators to share articles about various aspects of creating nonfiction. Anyone can register to receive these daily posts and participate in a variety of related activities. All through the year, people can post questions and offer advice related to nonfiction for kids in the Facebook group. We also cheer one another on!

I'd also like to recommend the anthology Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-winning Children's Book Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing, which I edited. It's a treasure trove of tips, tools, activities, and strategies from 50 leading writers in the field. Even though the book's primary audience is teachers, it can help nonfiction writers at all levels hone their craft.


As I discuss in this interview on Betsy Bird's highly-regarded blog, which is hosted by School Library Journal, while the essays in Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep can be read one at a time and used for specific purposes, they can also be read as a kind of conversation. There's so much we can learn from each other.

My hope is that reading the essays in Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep will be like sitting down to have a cup of coffee with a good friend. As each author opens up about their process, their craft, their truth, writers who are new to the world of nonfiction for kids will develop the ability to identify their own truth and their own voice. They will feel empowered to craft the book that only they can write.

4. What is the biggest mistake you see nonfiction writers commonly make?

The biggest mistake I see applies equally to writers of both fiction and nonfiction. And to be perfectly honest, I'm sometimes guilty of it myself. It's so easy to succumb to the temptation of sending out our work before it's really ready. It's so important to be patient with ourselves and our manuscripts.

And it's so important to find trusted writing partners and critique groups. They can help us see the areas of our manuscripts that still need work. If we listen carefully and consider their feedback with an open mind, we can see the flaws in our writing more clearly and make the changes that serve our book and our vision best.

5. What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other nonfiction writers?

Enjoy the journey and celebrate successes—even the small ones!

So many things about book publishing are out of our control, and there are lots of challenges and disappointments along the way. That's why it's important to make a big deal out of every single bit of progress, from a "good" rejection to a starred review.

Rebecca Langston-George


Thank you Rebecca and Melissa. I always learn something new from Melissa and I gather new ideas to try out.  :thankyou
Creative blessings to you ~


That was a great interview! Thank you Rebecca and Melissa!
Little Thief! Max & Midnight, Bound, Ten Easter Eggs & 100+ bks/mags


Thank you Rebecca and Melissa, I really enjoyed the interview, especially the part of enjoying the journey! Happiness is often found in the process, not the outcome.


Thank you, Rebecca and Melissa. I'm looking forward to exploring the links.

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