Monday, February 17, 2020

How to Research Like a (Scrappy) Reporter


By Meeg Pincus


Over the past 25 years, I’ve had various nonfiction writing and editing jobs, from educational publishing to academia. One of my first jobs, though, is the one I probably draw from most today as an author of nonfiction picture books. Early in my career, I was a scrappy city beat reporter for Gazette Newspapers (a chain of local papers owned by The Washington Post). I wrote an average of ten stories a week on every topic from education, crime, politics, and the arts.

The skills I learned in that job serve me well every time I dive into researching a new nonfiction picture book—perhaps even more than the rigorous research skills I learned in academia. Why? Because as a beat reporter, I had to get to the heart of my stories quickly and creatively. I had to be accurate and efficient, and I had to write compelling, compact stories people would pay to read.

On the job, I came up with my own shorthand as I scribbled in my reporter’s notebook around town, interviewing sources, or sitting in city council meetings. (Yes, city council meetings may sound boring, but on my particular beat there was actually a murder plot among the councilmembers! But, I digress...) 

I developed techniques to get those ten compelling stories researched and written every week, which I’ve found also work for writing nonfiction picture books. Here are a few:

1. Sniff Out Your Story While You Research 

When researching a story—be it a newspaper story or a nonfiction picture book—we can get overwhelmed with information. There’s more info on any given topic than we’ll ever be able to fit into our tight word count. So, what can we do? I call it “sniffing out my story” as I research. (Note: “my” story, not “the” story, as every topic can be written about in countless ways.) Honestly, for me, this is an emotional thing. It’s a tug from a story thread that pulls my heartstrings in some way. Once I feel it, I shift my research focus and notes to the details of that thread. 

While researching Miep Gies, the woman who hid Anne Frank’s family and rescued her diary—the topic of Miep and the Most Famous Diary—my first potential story thread was Miep’s astounding bravery. But, then, I found myself drawn to something less on-the-surface: the fact that she refused to read Anne’s diary for years after it was published. There was an emotional pull there I just had to follow. Using Miep’s memoir and interviews, I sought out details on her relationship with the diary itself, both what she did with it and her emotions around it. This became my story, and her bravery became my back matter. (By the way, I got to meet Miep in person back in my newspaper days when she spoke at a school on my beat.) 

So, how can you sniff out your story while researching? Pay attention to what information pulls you emotionally, then focus your research there. This can take a few tries (and much more time than a beat reporter week), and that’s fine. And it can work with narrative or expository nonfiction. (While researching animals, Melissa Stewart resonated emotionally with underdogs and came up with the story thread for Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers.) This focusing technique can save you from the spinning cycle of endless, aimless researching and help you hit the ground writing. 

2. Sift Out Great Quotes and Details 

As we know, it’s the details that make any story come to life. And, really, it only takes a few vivid or unusual details in a news story or nonfiction picture book to make an impact. (That’s all you’ll have room for!) 

Once you’ve sniffed out your story thread while researching, seek out those specific details that bring it to life: direct quotations, sensory nuggets, unusual facts. Seek any particulars that give authenticity and presence to your topic. Pluck out those jewels like a kid with a sand sifter at the beach, letting other info fall into context and background. (A prolific, award-winning nonfiction author told us in a workshop at SCBWI-LA that she also uses this technique.)

So, how can you sift details while researching? Pay attention to gems that show something vivid about your subject and context—think five senses, exact words, stand-out moments. Highlight them in your notes. Create a file or notebook just for great details as you research, which you can then easily refer to when you’re writing. 

3. Cement Your Word Count Into Your Brain 

My newspaper stories had to be between 1,000 and 1,500 words. Does that remind you of anything? Yep, pretty similar to the word count for nonfiction picture books. (And, yep, we could talk word counts for weeks and never come up with a precise number. Each editor has their own “sweet spot,” which I’ve generally found to be between 800 and 1,400 words, give or take, so that’s what I work with.) 

This means, with ten stories a week, 50 weeks a year, I wrote 500 stories with this same word count each year. I got to the point where that word count was so natural to me, I didn’t even have to think about it. My brain pathways formed so, as I researched, I knew just how many details I needed to fill my story. I had a learned sense of when I had enough research to start writing. Then, every story I sat down to type came out within word count, without me consciously doing it. This still works for me in writing picture books.

So, how can you cement your word count into your brain? One way: write lots of stories. Write them until it feels like second nature. Another way: type up lots of other people’s nonfiction picture books, so you can experience what the word count and story arc feels like as you put it on the page. 

Yes, these research techniques may be a bit scrappy, like my old reporter self, but they haven’t failed me yet. And they keep the research and story-finding process interesting and alive for me—even after all these years.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

Meeg Pincus is the author of 15 nonfiction picture books in various stages of production, most about “solutionaries” who help people, animals and the planet. Her Miep and the Most Famous Diary (Sleeping Bear Press, 2019) earned starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Forthcoming books include Winged Wonders: Solving The Great Monarch Migration Mystery (SBP, 2020) and Cougar Crossing! How Hollywood’s Celebrity Cougar Built a Bridge for City Wildlife (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, 2021). Meeg is also co-founder of www.19PBbios.com and www.20truePBs.com, select nonfiction PB promo groups of 2019/2020 releases. Meeg’s website: www.MeegPincus.com.


ABOUT THE PRIZE

Meeg Pincus will be awarding a nonfiction picture book critique (manuscript up to 1,500 words) OR an autographed copy of Miep and the Most Famous Diary (winner’s choice!).

Leave one comment below about what struck you in the post.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered NF Fest participant and you have contributed one comment below.
 
 

171 comments:

  1. These are such great tips, Meeg. I love the focus of your work. Thank you!

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  2. I love the advice of creating a file or notebook just for great details! Thank you very much for your encouragement!!!

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  3. This was fun! I'm also a former reporter; (though in a much lesser way) I think that's why I enjoy writing nonfiction. Fiction still frightens me. I was interested in your word count ranges for pb bios; I was told to keep them under 800, yet of course there are tons of counterexamples out there with more words than that. This is a real issue, as most editors I've heard speak say they don't know why writers are so hung up on word counts, but yet we are told by agents and others to pay attention to word counts. Very frustrating.

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  4. Meet, that you for these tips. I agree that while researching, one has to also keep one's mind open to what resonates. What a great pre-career you had for NF! Glad to see your book in the world! TY. I'll be printing this one out.

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  5. Yes, I agree with her words: "The skills I learned in that job serve me well every time I dive into researching a new nonfiction picture book—perhaps even more than the rigorous research skills I learned in academia." The skills I learned working at a newspaper years ago have been very valuable.

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  6. I enjoy the research as much as the writing. Thanks for a great article.

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  7. The piece that resonated with me was write lots of stories, to teach yourself to find the nugget and then write. That was the advice I needed, as I tend to research and then sit on the notes. Thanks!

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  8. "Pay attention to what information pulls you emotionally, then focus your research there." I love this piece of advice! Seems like a great way to get at heart. -Sara Ackerman

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  9. I love the idea of highlighting things in my notes that jump out at me! Also, I agree with the "second nature" of word counts. I do 50- and 100-word book reviews on my website and I can almost always write them within a word or two first go because I know after so many just how it should feel, and how the rhythm plays out as well.

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  10. Thank you for the great column. You advice to write a lot of stories until word count become second nature struck a chord with me.

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  11. The thing I love about this article is your advice about feeling the "tug from a story thread that pulls at my heartstrings" and "shift my research...to the details of that thread." I love it because I often get caught up in that spin cycle of aimless researching. Thank you for this so very helpful advice.

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  12. Wow. So, so many great tips here, I don't even know how to highlight just one! But I have to say, typing up other PBs that I love has given me so much insight on how the words of a story flow. And it's great to refer to my typed up mentor text as I write my stories so I can see how text alone sold. It's advice I give to every aspiring PB author, for both F and NF. Thanks for a great post!

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  13. Love the tips you share, they resonate with me, especially on looking for the story thread that pulls at the heart as you research and then focusing on that.

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  14. These are some great tips, Meeg--thank you! And I sorely miss the Gazette weeklies! it was the only place where I could read really local news. Given the immense area that WP covers, I'm surprised they closed the Gazette's doors (I know, $$, right? Sigh....)

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  15. Meeg, thank you for sharing your "scrappy" ideas! I can tell that looking for the story thread that moves me will help keep me out of the endless research rabbit hole. I'm going to try to be scrappier!

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  16. 'It’s a tug from a story thread that pulls my heartstrings in some way. Once I feel it, I shift my research focus and notes to the details of that thread.' ~ Love this! The person I'm researching right now certainly has a story thread that pulls at my heart. I like the reminder to shift the focus of my research to that.

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  17. What an incredibly helpful post! Thank you.

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  18. Thank you, Meeg, for sharing your scrappy reporter advice. It's so easy to go down the research rabbit hole, but you've given us practical tips to be more efficient. Plus, they should help produce a more vivid and emotional manuscript!

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  19. Yay for learning to write stories while on-the-beat. And great tips for finding the story gems. I've found the sweet spot for our local community paper: somewhere between 650 - 800 words. Longer than that, and people put them aside because they look "too long to read". I cheat by including photos and putting info in captions (like sneaky sidebars). Translated to PB it's like thinking: what information can the illustration or photo show?

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  20. Great tips, Meeg! And I’m astounded by the volume of your writing over the years!

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  21. Meeg, your whole post was filled with energy and useful information. I would be interested to see a few pages from your journals/notes. Thanks for sharing your journey.

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  22. I'm going to do the word count idea of transcribing books right now! Great idea!

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  23. Thanks for sharing these research tips! I truly enjoy the researching part, and could do that forever, even if every topic doesn't turn into a book...

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  24. Scrappy writing with good research details and quotes. Find the emotional heart of the story. Thanks for sharing your insights.

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  25. Lots of digging just means you'll have more to cull through to find the gems. Good points! Thank you!

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  26. Thanks Meeg for the peek into your process, and your history behind it. I'm working for an educational publisher now, and it has formed a focus in my writing, that I'm even feeling in my poetry work, too. Priceless advice, thanks.

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  27. Great post, Meeg! Thank you for sharing your writing journey with us. I love doing research and while at college would skip a class here and there to do both my own and my friends’ research at the campus library... and yup, I’ve been down that research rabbit hole more than once!

    Two things I’ll take away from your post are: "How can you sniff out your story while researching? Pay attention to what information pulls you emotionally, then focus your research there. It’s a tug from a story thread that pulls my heartstrings in some way. Once I feel it, I shift my research focus and notes to the details of that thread." And "It’s the details that make any story come to life. It only takes a few vivid or unusual details in a news story or nonfiction picture book to make an impact."

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  28. SNIFF OUT and SIFT OUT. What great advice! And I, the tortoise-of-all-tortoise writers, am in awe of anyone who could write ten stories a week!

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  29. Thank you for sharing your scrappy tips! I appreciated hearing your story and experiences and have my sifter primed and at the ready!

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  30. Thank you, Meeg! Your story is as fascinating as your tips are helpful. I look forward to putting your tips to work.

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  31. SO true about word counts! I write a LOT of personal stories and I can practically hit that 750 word count in my sleep. :-) So now I need to practice my nonfiction PB word counting--thanks!

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  32. I loved your "Sniff Out Great Quotes and Details" tip. I'm going to work on that!

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  33. Wonderful post! Especially about seeking out the specific details that bring a story to life. I love love the idea of typing up other picture books!! Thank you.

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  34. I love your scrappy reporter tips! Thank you Meeg;) Be Inspired, Nicki Jacobsmeyer

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  35. Thanks for the scrappy city beat reporter tips!

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  36. Great advice about finding the heart of the story--what resonates and pulls at your emotions. That's something I struggle with in nonfiction!

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  37. That is a lot of writing! I also use my day job to inform my writing.

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  38. Holy crap! Ten stories per week, all over 1,000 words and making sure it's all accurate makes me tired just thinking about it. Thanks for the tips on how to find the heart and focus of your story. I will keep that in mind going forward.

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  39. Thank you for the great ideas. I especially like finding what pulls at you emotionally and focus on that aspect of your subject.

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  40. Thinking like a reporter often means ignoring the emotions. Thanks for the reminder that good stories often originate there.

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  41. Terrific tools to prevent getting bogged down in the research phase. Thank you!

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  42. I like your advice to research whatever pulls your heart strings.

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  43. "Pay attention to what information pulls you emotionally, then focus your research there." Meeg, thank you for all these tips to add to my writer's toolbox.

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  44. Oh wow, there is such helpful information in this post! Even the word count suggestion reminds me to write effectively and to the point. Sifting through quotes and details is a good suggestion for narrowing down your conglomeration of facts.

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  45. Love this! I’m also a former journalist who specialized in ”people profiles, ” and your techniques really resonated. I'm so encouraged by this to move forward and write the books I've only dreamed of until now. By the way, I love your book about Miep! It was the first mentor text I bought when I started this journey. Thank you, and happy sniffing and shifting!!

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  46. Meet, thank you for this post, gleaned from a reporter's POV. I'll draw upon it to construct compelling compact stories of my own, I hope!

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  47. Meeg, this post was fantastic! I really appreciate all of your suggestions--especially since this is definitely your area! I will be keeping this list handy as I embark on my next project(s). Thank you!

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  48. Sniff out, sift out and cement that word count in your brain - looking for those sensory gems, feeling that emotional tug and practice, practice practice! Love it - thank you for this great post!

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  49. This is such a helpful post. Thanks!

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  50. I agree with so many others here that your summary of "sniff" and "sift" is particularly helpful and memorable. Thank you!

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  51. Sniff, sift and cement - a helpful way to think about researching and writing nfpbs. Thanks, Meeg.

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  52. I enjoyed reading how our former life as a reporter prepared you to write nonfiction for children. Thanks for the great tips. I especially appreciated your advice to type up other people's nonfiction picture books to get the feel of the word count and story arc as they flow across the page.

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  53. Distilling the essence is the hardest but most rewarding process. Sometimes my brain is overloaded with facts which I have to wrap into the heart of the story.

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  54. Very helpful today! I feel like I am also developing where word count comes naturally to me. Thanks for the encouragement.

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  55. As a history lover I tend to research too long and cram in too much info! Thanks for the reminder to home in on the emotional aspect that hooked me in the first place.

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  56. Thanks so much for this post. Your comment on 'finding your story not the story' is great advice. Research can be never ending. I needed this post.

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  57. Loved Miep and the Most Famous Diary! As a journalist myself, I was interested to read how reporting skills translate to writing for children.

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  58. Thanks for the helpful insight. I love the idea of sniffing out the story and finding the right angle. Your book Miep and the Most Famous Diary is a great example of that.

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  59. Following the emotional pull of a story is such great advice. Thanks for sharing this great advice!

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  60. Thanks, Meeg, for sharing your method. I love that you, as a scrappy reporter, sniffed out the story. So many times there are hidden gems waiting to be found and told.

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  61. Writing flash fiction helped me get into the PB groove quickly. Thanks for the post!

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  62. Terrific advice...#1 and #2 especially resonated with me. Now I need to get Meeg to tell me all about the mystery of the murder plot at city council!

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  63. Excellent advice, Meeg. I started my writing career as a reporter on a daily newspaper (features + investigative reporting, which helped me research and write succinctly under deadline pressure. Looking forward to reading your books, especially Cougar Crossing!, and hoping you write about that murder plot someday!

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  64. Thank you for the detail sifting reminder with specifics like five senses. Putting it on a sticky note by my keyboard.

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  65. I'm going to use the sand sifter technique with my next story. Thanks for all the wonderful tips!

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  67. Putting the research gems into a separate notebook or running list is a great idea. I often star or highlight it, but there's still a chance a few could get lost before I start writing. Thank you!

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  68. Thank you for this great post, Meeg. I was especially struck by your suggestion to "pay attention to gems that show something vivid about your subject and context—think five senses, exact words, stand-out moments." Because these are the "gems" I aim for when I write poetry also!

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  69. This is one those posts I will copy into my notebook and practice, practice, practice its recommendations. Thank you so much!

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  70. Your time in the trenches served you well! I did some freelance writing for magazines back in the day and found that experience so helpful in learning to write clearly and concisely! Thanks for your helpful tips.

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  71. Thank you for these incredibly helpful tips! I often find myself wandering down intriguing rabbit holes during the research phase, and then finding myself overwhelmed with the amount of information I've collected. These tips will be really useful in terms of helping me focus on the story that I'm meant to tell from that wealth of information.

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  72. Great tips--thanks! And, as a longtime DC-area resident, I remember the Gazette Newspapers!

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  73. I will be able to use these wonderful tips. I love 'sensory nuggets'and 'Once I feel it, I shift my research focus and notes to the details of that thread.' Thanks, Meeg!

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  74. I particularly liked your suggestion to try typing up others' nonfiction PBs as a way to understand the ebb and flow of stories within their word counts; I'll definitely try it! Thank you - Priscilla

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  75. I appreciate the tips, Meeg, especially about sniffing out our (my own versus your) stories, with many tries and an emotional connection, since there are countless ways to tell them. Also, I think it's very cool that you met Miep Gies.

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  76. Fascinating that Miep held back from reading the diary! Thanks for sharing your wisdom for keeping research on track.

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  77. Thanks for the great tips! I really like the idea of “sifting” through research like “a kid with a sand sifter”. šŸ™‚

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  78. "It’s a tug from a story thread that pulls my heartstrings in some way. Once I feel it, I shift my research focus and notes to the details of that thread." This is one of the golden nuggets here. Thanks for your tips.

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  79. I found it so interesting that in researching a story about Miep you found a different take on that story in the fact that she didn't read Anne's diary. Thanks for your insight.

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  80. "Pay attention to what information pulls you emotionally, then focus your research there." This is such a great point. Why you may see books on the same topic, but have a different angle. This is great advice and helpful to remember when searching for the story you want to tell. Great post!
    -Ashley Congdon

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  81. I love the idea of being like at the kid at the beach, sifting out jewels with a sand sifter. Sometimes it's easy to get bogged down in endless details, but finding those jewels and referring back to them helps remind me what I'm writing about and why.

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  82. I love this post and all the great advice you have to offer! What I especially liked was your take on how to really "mine" your story, and that sensation of it being like "a tug from a story thread that pulls my heartstrings in some way." That really spoke to me. Paying attention to what moves us, what elicits an emotional response in us as we are exploring a particular subject. Thanks for this wonderful post! I look forward to reading your upcoming books!

    Celia Viramontes

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  83. “it only takes a few vivid or unusual details in a news story or nonfiction picture book to make an impact” YES, this is exactly how I fell into a topic about an animal I had never heard of before. Now I’m hooked! Thank you

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  84. I liked your article giving us ideas, insight and ways to "sift through the sand"to find the nuggets.
    Thank you for your tips!

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  85. Wow, 500 stories in one year! I especially appreciate your suggestion for "sniffing out my story" during the research phase. Thank you, Meeg!

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  86. Meeg, I am impressed with the number of stories you wrote as a reporter. Thank you for some amazing tips for finding and shifting through the information. This was so helpful.

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  87. This is a wonderful post. So full of energy and ideas to get the writing write! A notebook for details (gems) and typing out someone else's stories for the feel of pacing word count. Thank you so much. This is a must read over and over post.

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  88. Thanks for sharing your wonderful advice for sniffing out a story. I love your approach to knowing how to work within the word count.

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  89. Meeg, your reporter background was great training for your current projects. Your suggestions are terrific. Thank you.

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  90. I can't wait to read the Miep book! Thanks for sharing your research process.
    Jennifer Lane Wilson

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  91. These are such great tips! I really appreciate actionable things I can do. I look forward to reading your books!

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  92. "murder plot among the councilmembers!" What!? As a crime junkie I want to know more!

    But thank you for the wonderful tips. The "finding the thread" comment really hit home and it will help me focus on the research. I get overloaded with all the wonderful information that I find on my subject.

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  93. What struck me most about this post is the speed and the idea that the details, emotions, etc., that jump out at you may be the very ones that you build your stories around. Thanks so much for an informative post.

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  94. Thanks for the permission to zoom in on the personal heart moments in a story as a path. This is a game-changer!

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  95. I really like the distinction between "the" story and "my/your" story. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and strategies!

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  96. Wonderful post full of details of your examples for note taking. Thank you!

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  97. Meeg, thank you for the tips. i agree details make the story. It is magic when you find quotes that match the heart of your story.

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  98. I love the idea of sniffing out "my story" to find the emotional connection. This really resonated with me.

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  99. Thank you for this great and inspirational post. You've given me ideas on making a NF work in progress "mine."

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  100. Sniff, sift, cement. What a great recipe for a story!

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  101. Researching the story until you find the piece that creates an emotional pull. That's everything. That's one of the most important ingredients in writing for children. I figure if something pulls at my emotions, that something is bound to pull at a child's emotions, too. I found this post enormously valuable as I push forward into my next NF biography. Many heartfelt thanks.

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  102. I loved writing for small newspapers and I agree, it's great training for writing a bio with a limited word count!

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  103. Thanks for so many practical and helpful tips! I love how you talked about writing "my" story as opposed to "the story" that could be written in many different ways. Looking forward to your new book!

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  104. These are fabulous tips. Thanks for thr inspiration!

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  105. Wow, what a great subject for a book. Thanks for the helpful advice. :)

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  106. Solid advice! As a journalist I look at The Who, What, Where, When and Why as I’m researching, but to find the real heart of the story - there can be so many story angles - you need to uncover what speaks to you. Thanks, Meeg!

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  107. Very helpful! Great advice! Thank you!

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  108. Your statement in technique #1 that "every topic can be written about in countless ways" is freeing! And a great statement to underscore your point that writers should look for the emotional pull.
    Thanks for sharing your process.

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  109. Meeg, you've provided me with some very valuable advice when it comes to researching. Thank you.

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  110. Great advice, Meeg! I loved hearing about looking for the emotional pull in researching a topic. Excellent reasoning as to why typing up texts of picture books is so valuable. Thank you.

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  111. Finding one aspect of the subject's life that pulls you in, and then focusing your research on that is great advice. Thanks, Meeg.

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  112. Thanks for the great advice, Meeg! I write articles for local dog magazine and never put a name to it but I understand 'sniffing out your story'. I didn't realize that the same tecnique can be used in my picture book writing. A door has been opened!

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  113. I love your point about finding an emotional connection and building the story around that! Great tips, thank you!

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  114. Great tips for stiffing out the story.
    Thank you!

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  115. Wise words: pay attention to what pulls you emotionally and focus your research around that. Yes! Thank you!

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  116. I like the idea of highlighting the "sensory nuggets" in my notes. I used to write many short stories for children's magazines and was amazed that every time I came within or even right at the upper word count. I never realized until reading your post that maybe this happened because of the years of practicing!

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  117. Thanks for the great tips on what types of things to pull out while researching! Can't wait to read your book!

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  118. This really hit home for me! I love your process of whittling down to the heart of the story. And thank you for the reminder that you need to write A LOT in order to mine that gem.

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  119. Thank you for sharing your tips. I love the idea of pulling out what captures me emotionally.

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  120. I started out as a newspaper reporter as well back in the day and agree that it was a great training ground. Thanks for the advice!

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  121. I enjoyed this post very much. How wonderful that your reporting job trained you to excel in nonfiction picture books. Looking forward to reading the diary book!

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  122. Thank you, Meeg, for your insights into writing non-fiction. I particularly loved your sections on "sniff out" your story and "sift out" great quotes and details.

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  123. Great advice all around. Finding that emotional thread does take a lot of sniffing. And the tip about a notebook to save all those details like quotes is a keeper.

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  124. Wonderful Meeg. Actually thinking about it as a reporter makes it feel kind of exciting. (And your yearly word count was incredible!)

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  125. Former reporter here! It's good training indeed.

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  126. Thanks for these insights! The repeition in writing up stories reminds me of musicians who are perfecting their craft.

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  127. As a former journalist (my stories had to be under 500 words!), I really learned quickly to write tight! I think that's why I LOVE picture books! I often tell people that researching for a picture is much like interviewing for a news story -- the big difference is that my subjects are no longer living. I just have to go about it creatively to find the answers I need. Great post! Thank you!

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  128. Excellent insights! Especially, pay attention to what pulls you in emotionally.

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  129. I learned that city beat reporting can be a great springboard for writing nonfiction picture books---that to get to your story's essence early hooks the reader, and that writing on a deadline can also be a helpful skill.

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  130. Love the advice to follow what resonates emotionally to discover the true focus of the story. Going to start that notebook for details and quotes! Thanks for the great advice.

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  131. I never thought of the idea of typing up other folks' stories to start to get the feel for the arc in a word count. A wonderful tip!

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  132. What valuable scraps. Thanks for sharing :)

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  133. I love the idea of sniffing out your story as you do the research- looking for that emotional tug to help create your story. Thanks for the tips!

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  134. I'm a former reporter also! And I love how you made parallels to writing non-fiction picture books. Thank you for this!

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  135. Your process is really helping me see how to hone in on the key details of my story. Thanks for sharing!

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  136. Such spot-on suggestions! "Dig for gems." I love to find those that are unique and polish them! Thanks for the post!

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  137. I love this guidance to sniff out the story or the hook while researching so you can purposely and quickly find the right supporting info.

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  138. 'Pay attention to the information that pulls you emotionally' is advice that certainly does underscore the importance of HEART in anything we write for children, fiction or NF! Many thanks for your generous post!

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  139. This post struck me most by spelling out practical ways to be a super writer by becoming a scrappy reporter, reminding me of one of my favorite quotes of all time (from the late great Irish Times columnist Nuala O'Faolain), "I went into the phone booth and came out Lois Lane."

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  140. Such amazing tips, Meeg! I love the tip to sniff out our stories and look for whatever is pulling us emotionally. And I'm so excited about your other upcoming books! <3

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  141. Great advice. The research can get overwhelming. Good idea to have the heart of the story/the emotional connection for the reader, to help you sift through all of the details.

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  142. The "beat" goes on! I have a journalism background, but worked in public information. Your post was such a help, reminding me how it felt to sniff out a story and to allow that emotional pull help with the focus. I am going to find your book--love the relationship between the diary and Miep, and I'm so glad you sniffed that out! Your advice about paying attention to vivid details during the research process--using "five senses, exact words, stand-out moments" was a help, too. And, word count! Writing, writing, writing stories, and even retyping other's picture books, are great tips. Thanks for being scrappy, Meeg!

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  143. As a newbie to NF, this was so helpful. I was just absorbing direct quotes and mostly thougth of them as bringing me closer to my subject - rather than utilizing them as you did. can't wait to read Meip! many thanks

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  144. So many excellent tips. I’m encouraged by the use of five senses and stand-out moments.

    Thank you, Meeg.

    Suzy Leopold

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  145. Love the idea of plucking out jewels like a kid with a sand sifter. Thanks for a great post, Meeg!

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  146. We often forget that writing more leads to better. And better leads to good stories that people want to read. Thanks for the post--and the important reminder to write a lot and to find the heart of the story with each idea.

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  147. Thanks for the post! Some great tips. I used to write a kid's column for a regional magazine and I had to deal with deadlines and word counts. I loved it.

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  148. I'm a journalist too...such good training for writing nonfiction for kids!

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  149. I loved your 3 rules.
    !. Find the heart, what resonates with me. It will resonate with my reader.
    2. Look for great quotes, great sensory details, that will pull that reader in.
    3. With word count, I started by typing out my favorite stories to get a feel for my target. Maybe now it's time for something old to become new again. Thank you!

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  150. Especially appreciated your focusing technique for sniffing out a story. Can't wait for Cougar Crossing. Solutionaries is a lovely idea. Maria Johnson

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  151. So glad I read your post this morning. I was feeling overwhelmed with the amount of info and pulled in a different direction than seemed wise. But now I have an idea of why. Thanks!

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  152. What a great post! Aside from learning more about Meeg (I knew of her wonderful books!), I love how she sets out her techniques. Finding the heart of my story is always tricky, but I know it's so important. Thank you!

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  153. Some wonderful tips here. Thank you!

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  154. Yes, research can be never-ending. One thing I try (and often fail) to do is write as I go, just in long-hand as if talking to someone who has asked how my research day has gone. I often get many insights into the day's work that way and it helps me plot out the next day's work.

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  155. This is the most helpful idea to think of myself as a beat reporter and follow the heart string from the very beginning and let it guide the research. Thank you!

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  156. "“sniffing out my story” as I research. (Note: “my” story, not “the” story, as every topic can be written about in countless ways.) Honestly, for me, this is an emotional thing. It’s a tug from a story thread that pulls my heartstrings in some way. Once I feel it, I shift my research focus and notes to the details of that thread." Great advice!

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  157. Thanks for sharing your techniques. Finding that thread that tugs at you emotionally is a great way to find the story arc to pursue when writing non-fiction.

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  158. Great tips! My favorite is finding "my" story within "the" story--focusing on the emotional connection the author has with the topic. The sifting for jewels metaphor is also spot-on.

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  159. Wow--I must read your book! Thank you for your insights on your research and writing journey.

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  160. I'm dazzled by your 50 stories per year. Sounds right for a newspaper, but it sounds daunting for NF or even fiction. Yet the similarity is there.

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  161. Love research and sifting out great quotes and details. Thank you, Meeg!

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  162. Love this! Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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  163. My favorite part of writing is the research, so your fabulous post spoke to me. Thank you!

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