Well, after an unplanned hiatus, Tuesday 12 x 12 is back! Please welcome Marcie Atkins today, a girl after my own heart. One who lived for the summer reading program at the library, loves productivity apps, and is a challenge addict. Marcie amazes me with her dedication to her challenge results, and I suspect you’ll agree after you read this post. Welcome Marcie!

I was the kind of kid who loved the summer reading program at the library. You know the one where you got prizes for reading books? It was like rewarding me for eating candy.

That book ravenous kid turned into an adult who loves nothing more than a challenge to check off. And I’m the kind of writer who needs a good challenge to reward me for writing.

I’m a to-do list junkie. I used to make all of my lists on pencil and paper. Now, I’ve gotten high-tech and am geeking out on a To-Do List app that lets me sync between all of my tech devices.

In the past, some of my favorite writing challenges have included the Picture Book Marathon (write 26 picture books in 28 days during the month of February), PiBoIdMo (the picture book writer’s answer to NaNoWriMo hosted at Tara Lazar’s blog), and Laurie Halse Anderson’s WFMAD (Write Fifteen Minutes a Day during the month of August) and Kate Messner’s Teachers Write (a summer writing challengefor teachers).

Why do I do all of these challenges? Because I love to have accomplished something, then experience the insane joy of checking it off on my list. And quite frankly, I do better with the added pressure of a challenge. It holds me accountable. It makes me produce something instead of staring at a blank page.

I really wanted to participate in the Picture Book Marathon for a third time in 2012, but I was also working on two novels that needed major revisions. Since I work full-time and have two kids and a husband, writing a picture book draft a day would take all of my writing time for the whole month of February, something I just couldn’t afford to do this year.

Enter Julie Hedlund’s brilliant idea–12x12in12. I didn’t want to give up my picture book writing, so one draft a month seemed like a slow-and-steady pace I could pull off. I only ended up with three or four workable manuscripts out of the Picture Book Marathon anyway. So, if I wrote twelve, maybe I’d end up with three or four workable manuscripts this year too.

I thought it would be easy. Of course I could write a new picture book every month. THEN the novel revisions began to take over my writing life. They pulled on me. I wanted to be immersed in them. Picture book writing didn’t disappear, but it took a back seat to my novels.

I have checked off a picture book draft every month this year. But can I confess? Most of them (okay, almost all of them) are NO good. So far, I might (emphasis on MIGHT) have two salvageable manuscripts.

The New York Times bestselling novelist, Jodi Picoult, also wrote with young children underfoot. In Kelly Stone’s TIME TO WRITE, Picoult talks about that time in her life: “There were days I wrote garbage, but you can edit garbage.” So, even if my picture books aren’t publishable yet, at the end of 2012, I’ll have twelve more drafts than I had in December 2011. And I can always make them un-garbage-like.

Even if my two possibly-salvageable manuscripts never see the light of day, I will have practiced writing picture books. Malcolm Gladwell says in THE OUTLIERS that “Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.” I’m clocking in my time. Just call it another part of my to-do list.

My day job is a teacher. Today is my first day back to school, which means I will be juggling all sorts of other to-do lists. There will be nights that I won’t want to write when I come home. I will long for delivery pizza and mindless TV. Writing time will be precious. Having a goal already in place will keep me going. Even if all I get done in September is write my picture book draft for the month, then that’s a huge accomplishment.

And I don’t know about you, but come December, I’m hoping there is a new challenge for 2013. You see, I’ll need to have something to check off on my to-do list.

Marcie Flinchum Atkins is a teacher by day and a mom, wife, and children’s book writer by night. She holds an M.A. and an M.F.A. in children’s literature from Hollins University. She has freelanced for educational publishers and magazines. She spent her summer writing and revising picture books and doing a major revision on her current work-in-progress, a magical realism middle grade novel. You can follow her on Twitter.

Categories: 12 x 12 in 2012, Authors, Children's Books, Goals, Guest Blogging, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,



  1. You make challenges sound such fun, Marcie. This year I’ve done more challenges/ themed months than ever before. You’ve accomplished such a lot, good luck with it all.

  2. What a great post! How busy you are, Marcie, and how much you’ve accomplished! Good luck with all your projects – and I must say, I can relate – I’m a challenge and to-do list girl myself 🙂

  3. If this writing thing doesn’t work out, you can always join the circus. They can surely use a juggler extraordinaire like you. Wow. Challenge or no challenge, my brain was fried after teaching all day. Back then I was only writing in the summer. You rock!

  4. “I was the kind of kid who loved the summer reading program at the library. You know the one where you got prizes for reading books? It was like rewarding me for eating candy.” I LOVE THAT! I have to get that “To-Do List” App! 😉 I admire your courage to take on so many challenges in a year! 🙂

  5. Love the point about editing garbage.Genevieve’s comment made me smile this morning. Good luck on your first day at school. Have a wonderful year of adventures, to-do lists and challenges.

  6. I use To Do Lists every day. Best wishes on your writing and full schedule!

  7. Super post. TWELVE more drafts than I did in Dec. 2011. YEAH! And there is some garbage. Uh-huh. That’s what the backspace button is there for?? Wishing you great times and great stories ahead. *waves*

  8. Like Marcie, I can trace my book addiction to summer reading programs at the library. I remember one year we got a tiny brick sticker for each book, and the goal was to “build the library” (it was an outline on paper). After filling in those bricks I created a brick pathway and was piling up extra bricks for future library building projects…. Which makes one wonder: are libraries the “gateway” to reading addictions?

  9. It’s encouraging to know even in the midst of an extremely busy schedule, writing can happen. I, like you, long to be productive, and I’m constantly looking for ways to be so. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Marcie!

  10. Oh, I COMPLETELY get your joy at checking off your To-Do list. I have been known to put things like what I’m fixing for supper on the list, just for the thrill at the end of the day. 😉 (But seriously, I make a daily list and I’m convinced I get more done because of this simple tool. It prods me all day long!)

  11. I admire people who can work full time and still find time to write. Best of luck with your writing and I hope your many drafts turn into something great.

  12. Wow, Marcie! You are definitely the Challenge Champion. Though I haven’t done near as many as you have, I believe that challenges keep me writing. Your post is one of the bonuses of participating in challenges. It’s wonderful to hear from others who are juggling and juggling well! Good luck with your school year. I taught 26 years and I loved it. I know your creativity is a huge gift to your students.

  13. I think Genevieve’s comment sparked a PB idea too! Great post, nice to meet you, and I hold my glass to high to toast you and your high energy level!

  14. Wow, Marcie — inspiration plus! And you know those nights when you want to order in pizza and watch mindless tv? Those nights are okay, too, in the grand scheme of things, because you’ll pick up where you left off and be more eager for allowing yourself a little breathing room. Go Marcie!

  15. I love the quotes you shared. I wish I were better at editing garbage because I have it in heaps. 🙂 Best of luck with your revisions and starting school. Thanks so much for sharing a little bit about you. Here’s to a great finish (and hopefully new starts in 2013).

  16. Wonderful post, Marcie! And yes, I too am a challenge junky. I achieve more trying to win a challenge than I ever do without one.

  17. You had me at “Malcolm Gladwell,” Marcie. I’m a big fan. I also love the image of editing garbage. I hope you have a lovely school year and an uber-productive writing year.

  18. You’ve been impressing me for years, Marcie. My challenge is to accomplish half…no a quarter of what you do. I’d forgotten Gladwell’s 10,000 hours idea. Thanks for reminding me. I have to go start my clock.

  19. So inspiring, Marcie. now I want to join a challenge, too! Love the 12×12 idea 🙂

  20. Thanks so much to all for your encouraging comments!!!

  21. Marcie, Having had the pleasure of reading many of your picture book manuscripts over the last several years, I am guessing you have more salvageable picture book stories than you think. I have always been impressed with your ability to have so many writing projects going while you also get those submissions in, do those edits, keep your commitments, work a job and care for your family. Now I know some of your secrets 🙂 Thanks for sharing. I was not aware of Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory. I’m going have to look into that.

  22. Great post! Hearing about all the writing that you are doing is amazing. I can now check off “read inspiring writing-related pieces” from my check list. Thanks!

  23. We have a lot in common, Marcie. I live by lists and thrive with challenges. I, too, considered the PB Marathon again, but had too many on my plate. Julie’s 12×12 in 12 came at the right time for me. But like you, I felt most of my PB drafts were “garbage.” I love the line you quoted from Picoult, “You CAN edit garbage.” Good to know.

  24. I am “write” there with all of you 🙂 Thanks Marcie!!!!

  25. Awestruck! That’s a formidable to-do list.
    And yes, you can edit garbage– so good to get some words down!

  26. Wow, Marcie, I don’t think I will ever be able to juggle so many projects at a time like you have. Still, it’s inspiring. You said about your PB drafts, “Most of them (okay, almost all of them) are NO good.”—not YET. As they say, one man’s junk is another author’s treasure…or something like that. Don’t let them stay in the junkyard. Thanks for sharing – Damon Dean

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