Look It Up And Learn

sandwich public domainDid you know the sandwich was introduced to Americans in 1840? I had to look up that piece of information recently for the middle grade novel I’m writing. It is set in 1905.  Characters in my fourth chapter had plans to buy sandwiches to take along on a trip. Would that have been possible in 1905? When were sandwiches first sold in the United States?
locomotive pixabayI haven’t written historical fiction before and one of the things I’m enjoying about the process is researching all kinds of topics in order to make my narrative authentic. The character in my story is making a train trip across the mid-west and so I’ve had to find out where rail lines ran at the turn of the century and what cities would have been stops along the way.

In chapter 3 a trio of brothers in my novel go for a walk in the city of Omaha so I had to consult old maps to figure out what streets they would have walked along and what kinds of buildings would have been on those streets. roller coaster pixabayOne brother rides a roller coaster. Would it have been made of metal or wood? Looking that up I found out roller coasters had names and the one in an amusement park in Omaha was called The Big Dipper. I added that fact to my story.

At one point I wanted my protagonist to shout out an exclaimation in surprise. I thought I’d have him say, “Holy cow.” But wait a minute did people say holy cow in 1905?  After a little research I found out they might have, but the phrase only began to gain popularity in 1900.  Probably safer to go with “Lands Sake!” an exclamation more commonly accepted in the area where my character grew up in the 1900s and one that could be found in regional newspapers there as early as 1845.

copperhead snake pixabayI’ve had to look up so many things doing research.  What does a copper head snake’s body look like? Do gophers eat berries? What kind of nuts would you find on the ground in the mid west in the month of October? What medical information was available about the disease of epilipsy in the early 1900s and how did people react to those afflicted with it?

puzzle learning pixabayFiguring out how to make everything authentic in a historical novel is like solving a jigsaw puzzle. It can take a long time but it is incredibly interesting and you learn so much.  

Other posts……….

In Chicken Soup Again

What Makes A Best Seller?

A Published Author At Age 10

MaryLou Driedger is a free lance writer with a long career as a newspaper columnist, curriculum writer and contributor to lifestyle, education and religious publications.




It seems that the whole world is blogging. According to Robin Houghton, author of Blogging for Writers, only 100 blogs existed in 1999. Today, there are 250 million – and these are just the ones on WordPress and Tumblr. Throw in Blogger, LiveJournal, Typepad, Weebly and a half-dozen other platforms and – well, you get the picture. The blogosphere is huge, and the competition for readers is stiff.

For all of blogging’s popularity, there is at least one downside. Sticking with it isn’t all that easy. “Sorry to sound harsh,” Houghton writes, “but the vast majority of blogs are abandoned within the first year.”

Why do some blogs survive the long haul while others die in a few months? To find out what it takes to run a successful blog, I questioned several Anita Factor contributors who also maintain personal blogs, and I cherry-picked through Houghton’s book for answers. Here’s my takeaway of 4 factors that spell the difference between bloggers who last and those that don’t.

one-39418_1280      Strong purpose

As much as a blog might be personal, it’s also very much a public offering. For some bloggers, a blog is a vehicle for self-expression. For others, blogging is a way to exchange information with like-minded readers. Still others blog for sales and promotion, to attract the attention of publishers, agents, and editors, or to network and build community.

Anita Factor blogger Deborah Froese writes a personal blog called Story Matter. She has a clear purpose: “To connect with friends and readers about things that are important to me. My intention is to blog about the power of stories and the responsibility we have to share them. Everyone; not just writers!”

According to Houghton in Blogging for Writers, Deborah and bloggers like her who have strong convictions and clear goals stand a better chance of staying with it. She suggests that whatever goals you establish, they “should be linked to your goals as a writer.” She recommends writing them down and reviewing them, especially during bleak periods.

two-47085_1280     Comfortable Stride

Many blogs die at the curb when bloggers run out of steam or material. Posts take time and energy to craft, and blogs need to be replenished with new material to sustain readers. Some bloggers charge out of the starting gate, only to falter after a lap or two.

“It’s a huge time commitment,” admits Suzanne Costigan, who has been running Living Lunacy for 18 months now. “Life gets busy. My goal is two to three posts a week. Sometimes, it’s one. Occasionally I miss altogether.”

Finding your stride is key to running a successful blog. For Suzanne, it’s taken a while. “It started out as a way to connect with readers and build an author’s platform. But my blog is quite personal really. I showcase my photography, talk about my family and pets, personal philosophies, funny moments, recipes we make up, and once in a while, I will even talk about my book. It’s a snapshot of my life which encompasses much more than my writing.”

Houghton advises would-be bloggers to start slowly. “However you choose to write, you must feel comfortable with it. If you’re not sure, experiment – start low-key, ask people you trust for their opinions.”

three-39420_1280     Workable Structure

Anita Factor blogger Christina Albig recognizes the benefits of maintaining a routine. She’s been blogging about writing and her thoughts on everyday things at Dragonfly Dithers since 2011. She posts twice a week, but varies the content, offering one long post on Monday and a second, much shorter one on Thursday. The format allows her to plan ahead, an approach Houghton supports in Blogging for Writers. Houghton suggests using an editorial calendar or a spreadsheet to plan weeks or months in advance. By penciling in topics – not just for blogs but other social media venues as well – bloggers assure delivery on a variety of topics and forgo dreaded moments of writer’s block.

four-38562_1280     Signature Persona

While delivering content is important, establishing an authentic, consistent voice gives the blog its signature quality. Houghton calls this quality “your ‘persona,’ or the face you present to your blog readers, and anyone else who may come across your blog.”

That ‘face’ depends, in part, on the goals established for the blog. If your goals are professional – offering expertise on a niche topic, for example, or establishing yourself as a film critic – your persona will be different from bloggers whose goals are to share highlights of their travels. The first might be business-like and authoritative; the other personal, open and informal.

MaryLou Driedger has been blogging at What’s Next? since 2011. She blogs daily to a large readership on a range of topics: “Books I’ve read, travel experiences, art, art history, my husband, faith, photography, education, writing.” Although the subject matter is broad, MaryLou’s persona shines in each post. Readers are attracted to – and expect – a casual, open, informed reflection on the topic of the day, frequently supported with photographs taken by MaryLou herself.

Establishing a persona, and maintaining it over the long term, helps to distinguish one blog from a multitude of others. It’s a way of gaining a toehold in the blogosphere which, in turn, becomes a motivating factor to keep blogging. In MaryLou’s case, the partnership she has established with readers challenges her to stick with it. “I feel like I HAVE to write each day,” she says.

Having a purpose, persona, manageable pace, workable structure – these are a few of the factors that matter in the long term. Blogging offers huge opportunities for writers to connect with new audiences, and those that persist often gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their writing. As Suzanne Costigan put it: “It’s forcing me to pay attention and make a note of things happening in my life. It’s made me more aware of my surroundings.”

And that kind of insight, my friends, might be reward enough to keep on blogging.


This post owes much to the Anita Factor bloggers mentioned, and I would encourage you to check out their blogs. Thank you for sharing, MaryLou (What’s Next?), Christina (Dragonfly Dithers), Deborah (Story Matters) and Suzanne (Living Lunacy).  For those wishing for still more, you might also visit my blog (More About That).  

For Larry Verstraete, an award-winning author of books for young people, writing is all about the journey and often the perfect writing storm occurs when high adventure, science and history converge. An advocate for literacy, Larry often visits schools and libraries to share his passion.
%d bloggers like this: