Join successful author and homeschool graduate Millie Florence for an insightful conversation about encouraging middle-grade students to find their inner author voice in their writing. Millie brings a wealth of talent and inspiration to help students tap into their creativity. She will talk about her writing, inspirations, and how she has created opportunities to coach young authors. Join us for this conversation on inspiring the writer inside YOUR student.
Gretchen Roe: 00:00:04.747
Welcome, everyone. I am so excited to welcome Millie Florence to this conversation today. I have been waiting all summer to have this conversation with her. And part of the reason that we delayed on having this conversation, we’ll share with you in just a few minutes, because Millie’s going to talk a little bit about that. But by way of introduction, my name is Gretchen Roe and I am the Community Relations Coordinator here at Demme Learning. And I get the privilege of having these wonderful conversations every week with folks who I think will enhance your homeschooling journey. And Millie and I got stuck on an elevator together for a brief period of time this spring at the Great Homeschool Conventions Conference in Ohio. And I went and found her later that day because I thought, oh, this young lady is cool under pressure and it’s an amazing experience. And I want to share her with you. As a former creative writing instructor myself, I love it when I find homeschoolers that have entered the creative writing journey full force. And you’ll see as we talk today how awesome Millie really is. So I’m excited to share her with you and I’m going to let her introduce herself. Millie?
Millie Florence: 00:01:20.840
Hi, everyone. Yes, thank you so much, Gretchen. Yeah, I am Millie Florence. I am the author of several books for middle graders, including Honey Butter. This is my first one. I published it when I was 13 years old, my first book. My second one, Lydia Green of Mulberry Glenn. And coming out in October, my third book, The Balter of Ashton Harper, which is coming out with Bandersnatch books. And it is a historical fantasy novel set in the Regency era. So think magic and adventure in the world of Jane Austen, which is very cool. Yes, so I’ve been writing–
Gretchen Roe: 00:01:57.689
By the way, I’m so excited.
Millie Florence: 00:01:59.949
Gretchen Roe: 00:02:01.288
And we’re going to talk at the end today about folks who can preorder if they would like, if you find merit in what we’re talking about. We’re also going to refer you to Millie’s website where you can experience honey butter for yourself. I have to tell you, I came home from that conference in April and read the book immediately and loved it. And I’m an avid reader of many different kinds of genres, but it was pretty exciting to me to see a 13-year-old who could develop a topic so thoroughly. And Millie, I got my paint chips last weekend, so we’ll talk more about that later. Millie, as we get started today, I want to begin with your background. How did you choose to become a writer? And I know that there were our homeschool moms in our audience today who are going to see their own children in your story. So I think that’s important. So let’s begin there.
Millie Florence: 00:02:59.576
When it comes to when did I decide to become a writer? We don’t really know simply because I was so young. I was just bursting with stories from a very young age. One of my earliest memories is of laying under the covers at night, whispering stories to myself when I was supposed to be asleep, which my parents maybe did not enjoy at the time, but it led somewhere great today, right? And even before I could type or write very proficiently on my own, I would tell all my stories aloud. I would dictate them and my parents would type them down for me. And it really got to the point – because I was, again, just had so many stories in my head – that my mom had a mother’s helper for a little while to like help us around the house with me and my siblings or whatever. And at one point, she just told this teenage girl, “Can you just sit and type all of Millie’s stories out for her? Because we don’t have the time.” That was her job for the day. Can you type all of Millie’s stories because she has so many things to say. They also got me a recorder for Christmas at one point that I told hours and hours of my stories into which I would say that’s a great thing to do in general for kids because even if your kid doesn’t love to tell stories, we’ve discovered now we have these hours and hours of recordings of me and my siblings when we were younger which is such a treasure now that we’re all growing up and it’s a super cool thing to look back on. But yeah, I think it was around age nine that I started thinking about publication. So up until then, I was always just telling stories, right? But it was around age nine I was like, well, I know I want to be a storyteller. The thing storytellers do is publish their books and they put them in libraries because that was– we went to the library a lot when we were kids and I was always fascinated by the books and the authors and just every part of that. So it was around that age that I decided I want to publish a book someday. And specifically, I wanted to publish a book before I was grown up which I defined as 13 or 14. So that became my goal and I started researching publication and how all that works from around age nine.
Gretchen Roe: 00:05:15.356
I think that’s terrific. And how long did it take you to write Honey Butter?
Millie Florence: 00:05:19.163
Nine months, actually.
Gretchen Roe: 00:05:21.199
Nine months. Okay. Yeah. All right.
Millie Florence: 00:05:22.581
Well, I mean, it’s a very short book, as you can see, right? And that was purposeful. I was taking ballet around that age and one of the things my ballet teacher always said was I’d rather see a clean single than a dirty double which in that case, she’s talking about something called PK turns but you stand on one foot and you spin in a circle, basically. And she was saying, I’d rather see you do one turn and nail it, do it really, really well than attempt to do two turns at once which is more impressive but maybe it’s a little sloppy. I’d rather see you do something simple but do it well. And so I took that idea and I applied it to my writing. I was like, okay, I don’t want to attempt my first book to be this epic trilogy 100,000 words long. I want to do a clean single rather than a dirty double. I want to write something simple and sweet and short but make it absolutely amazing. And so that’s kind of how Honey Butter came about.
Gretchen Roe: 00:06:18.344
So do you write every day?
Millie Florence: 00:06:20.187
Not really. It depends because the way I work is I work by drafts. So when I’m writing the first draft which is always somewhat messy and in stream of consciousness just getting the characters and their world and their stories onto the page, then yes, I do write every single day with the exception of Sundays. I always say I think you do need break days. And then after I finish the first draft, it gets a little bit more complicated from there, right? Because I take that draft and I figure out everything wrong with it which is usually a lot because my first drafts can be a bit messy, right? And I take that and I decide what changes need to be made. So the second draft is me applying all of those changes, rewriting scenes that maybe weren’t so great. And from the second draft on, no, I generally don’t write every day because from that point on, the goal is not quantity, it is quality, right? The first draft, the goal is quantity. It’s I need to get out all the words. I just need to finish the story. That’s my goal. Whether or not it’s good, I just need to finish the story. But from those drafts onward, it’s more about, okay, now I need to make this story work. And some days, if I don’t have the right ideas and the scene is still going in the wrong direction, I’m probably not making it better. So in those days, I would step back and I would not write but maybe do some outlining or do some brainstorming or something else. That is [crosstalk]–
Gretchen Roe: 00:07:49.303
You know this question but our audience does not and I think this is really important to talk about because you and I talked about this when we planned this conversation you write with a pencil.
Millie Florence: 00:08:05.000
I do. Sometimes. So actually, I write my first drafts generally on the laptop on my computer and type it all out. But I do do my outlining all on paper. It’s a method that I learned from KM Weiland, who has written a bunch of books about writing. She has a blog. It’s really good. It’s called Helping Writers Become Authors. And I do recommend checking it out.
Gretchen Roe: 00:08:37.529
So we can put it in our show notes.
Millie Florence: 00:08:39.649
Yes, yes. But no, her method is when you’re outlining a story when you just have kind of a wisp of an idea and you’re trying to form it into something more to do this stream-of-consciousness journaling about it. So I’ll write things in these outlines that are like, “Well, I know I want this character to have an argument with this character, but I’m not sure what the argument should be about.” And then I list five things that the argument could possibly be about, right? So it’s this very brainstorming, journaling method to outlining, which I really enjoy.
Gretchen Roe: 00:09:15.006
And so have you– is this a methodology that you evolved to, or have you always done it this way? Did you start with the blog before you became the author or did you find the blog after your authorship?
Millie Florence: 00:09:29.702
So the outlining method is only something I’ve adopted in the past couple of years, actually. Before that, my first drafts were even messier than they are now because I didn’t have the outlining method. I’m a very creative person. And for a long time, I classified myself as what we call in the writing community a pantser, where basically you don’t decide anything about your story beforehand you just run with it, right? And so originally my first drafts were very, very, very messy. And because I was really passionate about I want this– I want to be creative. I don’t want to hold myself back, right, with deciding things beforehand. I felt like I was most creative in the moment, right? Within the past few years, though, once I discovered this outlining method, that has kind of become my spontaneous creativity outlet first, instead of the first draft. Because it’s this opportunity for me to try out different ideas and mess around, see what would happen if a scene went this direction without actually writing the book. So I don’t have to actually edit those scenes anymore that I mess up entirely. It’s sort of an opportunity for me to figure things out.
Gretchen Roe: 00:10:47.507
Well, it sounds like your writing methodology might be more akin to what happens if and then you insert that there. And you know so many of the questions that I sent you from the folks who registered for this particular event centered around I can’t get them started. So what are your suggestions for getting started? Because to walk a mile, the first 10 feet are the hardest steps, so.
Millie Florence: 00:11:18.568
Right. Okay, I do have some very specific advice for this, which I think is super helpful, because it’s true. I know a lot of parents who are like, “Oh, my kid doesn’t really like to write,” or even, “My kid doesn’t really like to read.” And to that, I would say, “Okay, that’s fair. Some people are not as inclined to writing or even reading, but there is not a human in the world who does not enjoy a good story, no matter what the format, right? So if your kid is really into a TV show or Dungeons and Dragons role-play or any anything story-based, start there, first of all, and be excited with them about that story because nothing shuts down a kid’s creativity more than their parents’ judgment. And nothing lifts them up more than their parents’ encouragement. So if your kid has any type of story, books, fantastic, but even TV shows or anything else, if your kid has any type of story that they’re really excited with, encourage them in that, number one. Engage with them over that. Ask them questions about that story because right there you’re building the foundation because to become a good writer, you have to develop story instincts. And the way you get those story instincts is by absorbing all different kinds of stories and talking about, “Well, I liked this part of the story, but I didn’t like this one. Why does this character feel really realistic and relatable, but this one feels kind of flat and boring?” right? Have those conversations around stories, right?
Millie Florence: 00:12:52.066
And then I would say from there, encourage them to write fanfiction about those stories that they’re really excited about. And, again, I know I can already tell people are going to cringe about that because fanfiction has this reputation of being twaddle or not being helpful. But that’s actually the complete opposite. Think about it, when you learn to play an instrument, like let’s say you’re learning to play the piano, you don’t start by making up your own songs. You start by playing other people’s music first. And that’s how you develop your skills. And it’s exactly the same with storytelling. Writing fanfiction is so, so valuable. I did it when I was younger. I wrote Minecraft fan fiction when I was younger. So whatever you think your kids are interested in that you’re like, “Eh, it’s not the best taste,” I promise you, I was interested in worse when I was younger, so, but, yeah, no. When you write fanfiction, you learn how to mimic different writing styles and different character voices of already developed characters and worlds. So you don’t have to do the foundational work, but you’re still learning how to write. So I would say that that is a great place to start if you have a reluctant writer or reader of any kind.
Gretchen Roe: 00:14:08.843
The next thing I want you to talk about because I talk about this ad nauseam but it’s important for our audience to hear this from you is if you’re a parent and you’re trying to encourage your child to write, are you going to focus on the creativity or are you going to focus on the grammar and the spelling and the punctuation and all those things? And I know what your answer is going to be. So it’s kind of a setup. But can you share that with our audience?
Millie Florence: 00:14:35.036
Yes. Absolutely. Focus on the creativity. And, again, I’m going to say from my experience being homeschooled my entire life, there was never a huge focus on grammar or spelling, and now I’m publishing books. Not that we never talked about it, right? But it’s not like I ever went through a grammar curriculum. And I did some spelling stuff. But the majority of the way I learned grammar and spelling was through writing and reading, right, because you learn grammar, I think, generally pretty instinctually if you read it, if you read a fair amount, or even if you listen to audiobooks, right? And spelling, I mean, I have so many memories of I’m just sitting typing out my stories on the computer and I’ll be like, ” Mom, how do you spell eventually?” And she’d always pause whatever she was doing, she was cooking or whatever to spell it for me. And that was the biggest way that I learned to spell was because I was writing a story and I didn’t want my spelling to hold me back. I was forced to learn to spell those words. And it all came from a place of excitement, right, of being passionate about what I was doing. My mom describes our homeschool as delight-driven because it’s all based around the things we love doing. And for me, that’s books. But for one of my brothers, that is drone racing. And for another, it is soccer. And for one of my sisters, it is drawing. And for another one of my sisters, it is nature and animals. So find what your kid– this is just a general homeschool thing. Find what your kid is excited about and work off of that when it comes to homeschool.
Gretchen Roe: 00:16:08.384
Absolutely. I think it’s fair we should tell our audience too you’re the eldest of five. So–
Millie Florence: 00:16:12.641
I am, yes.
Gretchen Roe: 00:16:13.723
–we refer to my eldest daughter as the experimental child. So your parents test-drove that delight-driven learning on you and then with your siblings. So–
Millie Florence: 00:16:24.370
I’ve always been referred to as the guinea pig because they do– yeah, I’m the experiment child, right?
Gretchen Roe: 00:16:31.565
Absolutely. We had some terrific questions, and I would love to be able to turn our attention to those questions because not only are you an author, but you help other students become authors. So before we talk about the questions, can you tell us a little bit about how you provide mentorship to other young writers?
Millie Florence: 00:16:54.230
Yes. So I do an online mentorship program. The slots are pretty limited for it just because I spend so much time with each individual participant. But I do have open slots right now. If anyone wants to ask me about it, you can find out more on my website about the details. But basically what it is is it’s all online, and I’ll meet with them in a Zoom meeting once a month to discuss where they’re at, what they’re working on. We also talk about just stories and books in general. So I’ll ask a lot of questions, like I just talked about, engage with the kids about what they’re excited about. So I’ll be like, “Oh hey, what have you been reading? What did you think of that? And how did the characters act?” That sort of thing. And then it’s very individualized to each kid, but generally the two different routes I have is if they have a specific project they’re working on, so if they’re actually trying to write a book or a short story, then my job is to motivate and encourage them with that, to help them set goals. I’m going to sit down, I’m going to write for this amount of time a day. And I check up on them every week and be like, “Hey, how much did you write this week? Did you stick to your goals? How did writing feel?” Just engaging with them on that. Or if they don’t have a specific project they’re working on, then I’ll assign them weekly fun writing exercises. So it’ll be things like go to a coffee shop and describe the entire environment using all five senses, right? Or write a story where character A and character B get in an argument. And yeah, giving them different prompts to help them play with words and learn how all that works. The first thing I do, though, as soon as someone signs up is I ask them to send me three or four different writing samples of theirs that they have worked on, they feel pretty proud of. And I will read through all of their samples, and then I’ll write up a letter of like feedback for them, which is basically like, “Okay, here’s all the things you’re really good at in writing. Here’s the things you need to work on. And here’s how you can work on those.” And I’ll provide them with custom resources of blog posts I think would be helpful, YouTube videos I think would be helpful, books, podcasts, all that. So it’s basically just like a curated, yeah, learning system for kids who love to write.
Gretchen Roe: 00:19:23.223
And one of the things I think that is valuable about that is you are perceived by them as a peer because there aren’t many of you in the world, young writers who are willing to share themselves with others. So I think that’s really fantastic. And I think [crosstalk]–
Millie Florence: 00:19:40.139
Yeah. Thank you. I mean, it’s just for me what I think I would have wanted when I was that age, right? Because I know one of the big things I worried about when I was younger was like, “Well, I’m really passionate about this, and I’m really enjoying this. But how do I know if I’m actually doing a good job? And how do I know what I still need to work on and what I’m good at? Because of course, I’ll give samples of this of my writing to my parents, and they’ll be like, “Oh, it’s amazing.” But I always wished I had a more objective perspective and some direction on where to go and what to learn. And so that’s kind of what I provide for my coaching clients.
Gretchen Roe: 00:20:18.585
So one of our moms asked a question about wanting to provide the very best writing instruction for her student and not wanting to fail them. And I think that that was such an interesting question because, from my perspective, it’s like opening a treasure chest. There’s no failure here. There’s just different things to explore in the chest. But I wanted to hear what you thought about that.
Millie Florence: 00:20:45.019
Right. Well, I would ask, what are you defining as failure? What’s really the worst-case scenario here? Like, be honest with yourself, because I am this type of person, I can catastrophize. And I’ve talked to my parents a lot about this. I’ll be like, “Oh, I don’t want to fail my publishers,” or whatever. And they’re like, “Okay, what does that actually mean, Millie?” So that’s the first thing I would say. What are you actually worried about happening? And then I think, take the step to figure that out. But yeah, general advice for working with a young, passionate writer. Like I just said, listen to them, talk with them about the stories that they’re excited about. I just posted an Instagram reel about this, actually, that even if you don’t fully understand the stories that your kids are so excited about, just being there and listening and asking questions and being excited with them is so incredibly valuable because I don’t know, I’ve just been that kid who’s like just hyperventilating with all these story ideas and I just want to tell people about them. So I think the absolute biggest and best thing you can do is listen to them and discuss all the things they’re excited about with them.
Gretchen Roe: 00:22:00.759
So you’re taking it from the perspective of somebody who wants to write, but most of our respondents had kids who were giving them pushback on writing. So what would be your advice to a parent who wants to create a writer but is dealing with someone who is reluctant? And I’ll give you an example. Some of the things I often hear about parents from parents when they say, “Well, my child hates to write.” And I will say, “Well, tell me about their writing experiences.” And when we get into it, we have been the gods and goddesses of the red pen. And we have created our own child’s reluctance. So how do you step around that as a parent?
Millie Florence: 00:22:45.369
Right. That’s a great question. And yeah, you’re totally right. Like if kids expect judgment from something they’re doing, yeah, of course, it’s not going to be their favorite thing. I’ve even experienced a little bit of this because whenever I would give my parents a story or whatever to read, my mom would specifically have to ask me like, “Do you want me to focus on the story or are you okay if I point out your spelling mistakes?”
Gretchen Roe: 00:23:16.849
Guilty. But asking that question–
Millie Florence: 00:23:21.329
So yeah, that’s what I would say.
Gretchen Roe: 00:23:22.947
Giving that child that latitude to say, “No, just talk to me about this story,” makes a tremendous amount of difference.
Millie Florence: 00:23:27.899
Yes, it makes a tremendous amount of difference. Not just because then they can say, “No, I don’t want you to point at all my spelling mistakes right now,” but also because it shows that you value their opinion. That you’re not just constantly seeking out all their mistakes. You also value their passion for this, right? Or even if they’re not passionate about it, you value their– but they actually have a good time, right?
Gretchen Roe: 00:23:55.115
So I want to step back into something that you said because you talked about KM Weiland teaching you how to outline. And I think that that is probably one of the most sophisticated skills that a writer can present. And I know often when I had this conversation with parents about writing, their children are annoyed that there has to be more than one draft. And so, how do you get around that with the students that you mentor, that there’s no such thing as a first draft that is a final draft?
Millie Florence: 00:24:29.984
Yes, that is so true. And whether or not you outline, that is always going to be the case. So, I’m a big believer of you don’t have to outline if you’re not an outliner, especially in the beginning, lots of kids–
Gretchen Roe: 00:24:39.406
Thanks for saying that.
Millie Florence: 00:24:40.345
Yeah, of course. Especially in the beginning, a lot of kids do not want to. And again, the focus should always be that this kid is having fun writing because the minute they stop having fun is the minute they stop learning. So, yeah, don’t worry too much about outlining unless your kid is like really into it. But sorry, can you repeat the question again? I just want to make sure I don’t get off.
Gretchen Roe: 00:25:05.052
No, that’s okay. I sidetracked you just [crosstalk]–
Millie Florence: 00:25:07.051
That there’s more than one draft.
Gretchen Roe: 00:25:09.270
We’re going to talk about the fact that there has to be more than one draft.
Millie Florence: 00:25:13.251
Yes. Yeah. Okay. So in that case, I would say from the perspective of someone who was a young writer, there are some stories that you should write and then not have to rewrite. Like if you specifically, you just want to have fun, you want to like get this this story out of you because you have a cool idea and that’s it and you never plan to show it to anyone. That’s great. In fact, there is a specific exercise that I assign my mentees called free writing, where the entire goal is not to edit. You just get all the words out, right? And it doesn’t matter if it’s the best. The point is you’re writing, right? But it is true. If you actually want to have something polished, if you want to create a short story that you want to submit to a magazine. Or if you really love this story and you want to make it something you’re proud of and something beautiful that you want to– if you want to bring your story to its greatest potential, yes, you’re going to have to make changes and there’s going to have to be more than one draft. And to that, I would say, first of all, there’s this wonderful quote. Oh, who is it by? I’m going to mess up who it’s by. But [crosstalk].
Gretchen Roe: 00:26:31.903
That’s okay. You give me the quote and then in the show notes, when we add the quote, we’ll make sure we have the right credit. How’s that?
Millie Florence: 00:26:38.034
She says, I love revisions. Where else in life can you turn spilled milk into ice cream?
Gretchen Roe: 00:26:43.815
Oh, that’s great.
Millie Florence: 00:26:45.137
Which I think is beautiful because it’s so true. And I think if you’re really passionate about creating a story that has its fullest– bringing it to its greatest potential, you will eventually see the places that are spilled milk and that need to be turned into ice cream. And this is something professional authors do, by the way. The biggest way to do that to help yourself get past that first like honeymoon phase with your story and actually see its flaws is to set it aside for a while. So when I write a book, I write the first draft, I don’t immediately go into the second draft. I set that draft aside for at least a month, if not more, because when I first write it, I’m too close to the story, both in terms of things I love and things I hate. And often I’ll come back to those scenes that I loved and I’ll be like, “Okay, I can see the few flaws here. I need to fix this and fix this.” And I may even come back to the scenes that I hate and be like, “Actually, this wasn’t so bad. I think I can fix this. And now it works, right?” So, giving yourself time away from those stories, first of all, and then you’ll come back to it and realize, “Okay, I can see it a bit more objectively, right?”
Gretchen Roe: 00:27:54.533
And how do you feel about doing copy work from good authors?
Millie Florence: 00:27:58.705
Oh, I love it. I think that’s a a great way to go, yes. [laughter]
Gretchen Roe: 00:28:03.640
Let’s talk a little bit about that. Because I have had conversations with parents and they’re like, “Wait, you’re going to tell my child to literally copy a section of dialogue that is well written?” And I have said, “Absolutely.” Because that’s how you cultivate the experience of knowing how to punctuate dialogue is reading someone’s well-punctuated dialogue.
Millie Florence: 00:28:26.047
Yes, absolutely. Well, and copywork from great writers is just a step away from fanfiction. And I already talked about how much I think fanfiction is great, and you can learn so much because you’re just emulating an author you love, right? So copywork is very similar to that, right, where it really forces you to look closely and analyze these stories that you love.
Gretchen Roe: 00:28:45.609
One of my favorite authors of all time started writing fan fiction and has become a phenomenally successful author. And she started writing on a CompuServe group writing fan fiction 30 years ago. So it’s an amazing experience to see that evolution of character and storyline and plot. And my youngest daughter participated in NaNoWriMo, which is the national novel writing competition. She did that.
Millie Florence: 00:29:19.551
I did that for Honey Butter.
Gretchen Roe: 00:29:20.993
And if parents don’t know about that, can you talk a little bit about that? Because if you have a child who’s really excited about writing, here’s a way to cultivate that in a very cogent way.
Millie Florence: 00:29:32.313
Yes. So NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it happens every November. And it is a– it’s all online. It’s a challenge to write the entire first draft of a novel in one month. And the classic NaNoWriMo is 50,000 words in one month. But there’s also a kid’s version and you can adjust your word count goal, right? When I did Honey Butter, it’s 30,000 words, so I wrote 1,000 words a day to finish it by the end of the month. And oh my goodness, NaNoWriMo was absolutely a lifesaver for me for writing that book. Especially the kids’ stuff, the platform they have for the kids is really fun. And they have a little prompt machine that you can click a button and it spits out writing prompts and things like that. And they have interviews with successful authors every week, they call them pep talks to be like, you can do it, keep writing your book. And it’s very encouraging and inspiring —
Gretchen Roe: 00:30:34.950
Of course, we’ll include a reference to that in the show notes for our families who are interested in that because I think it makes an incredible amount of difference. So I sent you all these questions and I’m intrigued to know of all the questions that our registrants ask, what did you find fascinating among those questions? I mean, I highlighted some that I thought were interesting, but you’re coming at it from the perspective of a young adult.
Millie Florence: 00:30:58.934
Yes, yeah. So one question that I thought was super good is we got the question, “Am I old enough to be a writer? 10 years old.” Which I absolutely loved. To which I would say yes, you are absolutely old enough to be a writer. Yes. Absolutely. Start now. And it’s funny to me that we get a question like that. And I think it’s because you see all these authors that get published, all these authors that are famous, and most of them are adults. Like a lot of– like most authors you see are older adults, right? There aren’t a ton of teen authors out there. And yes, the more experience you have as a person, the more you will be able to write about, right? But you are never too young. Absolutely. Because even when you are 10 years old, you have plenty of stories and plenty of experience to write those stories. And you have a really unique perspective as a 10-year-old that no adult can have because when you’re 10, you see the world in a completely different way than adults do. And that’s something I’ve learned more and more as I’ve gotten older, is it’s kind of sad. You kind of lose some of that that you have as a kid, the way that kids see the world. So absolutely, you’re never too young. Start now. You’ve got this.
Gretchen Roe: 00:32:19.694
I love it. That’s terrific. One of the things I want to encourage the parents who posted about children who have different learning skill sets, is your cell phone is probably one of your most valuable tools to help your student become a writer. You can open up an email, you can hit that microphone button, and they can create a first draft. So we’ve talked about creating a first draft using a pencil, but the truth of the matter is, it doesn’t need to be the only way to creating that process.
Millie Florence: 00:32:48.407
Gretchen Roe: 00:32:48.905
They are reluctant to put a pencil on paper. Just ask them to tell you a story. That’s hugely valuable, and writing is a skill that evolves over time. Nobody is a good writer from the gate.
Millie Florence: 00:33:04.311
Yes, absolutely. That’s also very important to remember. So
Gretchen Roe: 00:33:08.216
Millie, as your writing skill has evolved, have you visited earlier essays and gone, “Oh, I wish I hadn’t written it that way?” And I’m not talking about your published materials, but I’m talking about the personal writing things that you do. Because I always advocate to parents, if there’s one thing in your homeschooling journey you should never throw away, it’s your children’s writing.
Millie Florence: 00:33:29.935
Gretchen Roe: 00:33:30.752
That’s a huge encouragement in May when you’re struggling with something, and you go, “Well, look at what you did in September, and look at how it’s evolved?”
Millie Florence: 00:33:40.936
Yeah, look how much you’ve grown. Exactly. Yes.
Gretchen Roe: 00:33:44.417
So do you do that with your students as well?
Millie Florence: 00:33:47.016
I do, yes. And that’s something that’s actually been super cool to see, is how much they grow even just like from the months they spend with me. And we can look at what they were writing at the beginning versus at the end, and they’ve grown so much, and it always makes me so happy to see that. And as a young writer, it’s also very easy to cringe at your old stories and be like, “Ugh.” And whenever you do, I think you should see that as a win because again, it means you’ve grown so much. So absolutely do not throw away any old stories. That’s a roadmap of how far you’ve come.
Gretchen Roe: 00:34:26.359
Millie, we had some parents who have not begun the writing journey, and they have kids who are stepping into high school. How would your parameters of learning to write for an audience change if you had somebody who didn’t have, like you did, the young writers experience?
Millie Florence: 00:34:42.617
Mm-hmm. I would say that doesn’t hold you back at all. I have tons of friends who are published now who only started writing at like age 16, so I don’t think that’s a issue. I do think that you have to realize, even though you’re 16, not 10, you’re still starting at step number one, right? So don’t be discouraged if you feel like you can’t put stories on the page the way you want to yet. That takes practice, and that it’s okay. There is nothing wrong with that.
Gretchen Roe: 00:35:13.146
So give us some resources. If I was a mom and I wanted my child to experience some fanfiction, where do you go to find that?
Millie Florence: 00:35:23.322
Sadly, I don’t think there are any websites I can wholeheartedly recommend the fanfiction on them.
Gretchen Roe: 00:35:28.667
Millie Florence: 00:35:30.306
Just because there are a lot of adults who write fanfiction then post it. And it is, yeah, not something you should ever read.
Gretchen Roe: 00:35:36.162
So that actually is a good caveat for parents.
Millie Florence: 00:35:40.282
Yes. No, don’t let your kid just go wild on a fanfiction site. No, no.
Gretchen Roe: 00:35:44.483
If you’re going to ask your child to do something like that, you better read it first.
Millie Florence: 00:35:48.603
Gretchen Roe: 00:35:50.064
So they could follow what you’re getting into.
Millie Florence: 00:35:51.425
No, I’m a huge advocate for writing fanfiction as practice. I am not an advocate for seeking out fanfiction to read online.
Gretchen Roe: 00:35:59.306
Thank you. I was hoping you’d make that clarification.
Millie Florence: 00:36:02.271
Yes, yes, yes. Very true. Now, something that your kids can do, though, is if they have friends who also enjoy the same stories that they do and they want to write fanfiction and compare that. I think that’s great. But yeah, no, the internet’s a scary place, guys.
Gretchen Roe: 00:36:17.718
One of my creative writing students years and years ago, the two of them paired together to write a story that they wrote all year. And so every week, the book would go from one writer’s hands to another writer’s hands. And so watching that story evolve was a little bit like Mad Libs, but it was fun. And that’s another way. If you have a reluctant writer and you have more than one child in your household, you can pair them with your less reluctant writer and have some success there. And I think that makes a difference as well.
Millie Florence: 00:36:52.892
Yeah, it does. I actually did that when I was younger. Me and a friend of mine, we wrote a story together. We never finished it, but it was a great experience. And it was really fun. And we did it on Google Docs. So when we were both in the document, we could see each other’s little colored cursors writing out the words. It was very motivating.
Gretchen Roe: 00:37:12.537
Well, and you’ve had quite an evolution because you have that technology that my kids when they were writing and [crosstalk] didn’t have. I mean, they still had to go find a card catalog to find stuff in the library. So technology–
Millie Florence: 00:37:28.026
That’s also valuable too, though.
Gretchen Roe: 00:37:31.341
Yes. And some of our parents asked questions about how could you help kids who learn differently? And I don’t know whether you offer support for those kinds of kids. But do you have any suggestions for different learners? I know we had a couple of references with ADD. And as an ADD person myself, it’s easier to write in tiny segments. If I set myself– if I have a task to write a blog, what I’ll do is I’ll say, “Okay, at 9 o’clock for 15 minutes every single day, I’m going to write 15 minutes on this blog. And by the end of the week, I find I have it written. Do you have those kinds of suggestions?
Millie Florence: 00:38:14.834
Right. So I don’t have any attention disorders myself. My best friend, who is also a published author, has ADHD, and this is something we have actually discussed as a writer, the different ways that we write comparatively. I know things that she has said is that first of all, ADHD, the superpower of ADHD is hyper-focusing. So if you get really excited about something and it can be all you think about, you can be hyperproductive about that thing. And for her, her hyper fixation was her book series, which is now published. And that’s a big thing that helped her to finish it, was that she was able to kind of hijack her brain and get it to work for her, basically. Something she’s also talked about is locations are really important for her. So she writes in coffee shops a lot or changes location if she’s having trouble focusing, which I think is really cool. And I mean, that’s a tip that can work even for people without ADD or ADHD, right? Changing location, yeah, that’s something I’ve been doing recently as well to kind of get my brain back in the writing mode, so.
Gretchen Roe: 00:39:31.227
One of the things that I have found that has been tremendously helpful and this helped two of my kids. I pulled these out. This is not what they used, but we used these. And what we did with them is we would– now, back in the day, they had to plug them into a radio. But we would have them listen to very low static in the background and taking out the influence of all the things in the background was actually to its advantage. And if I’m working on deadline I’ll put these on. These are Beats. But I don’t turn them on. I just put them on because they block out all the sound. And I’m amazed at how much, how productive I can be when sound is not present for me.
Millie Florence: 00:40:16.382
Right. Well, and for some people, it’s the opposite. Again, my friend, she always– and I could never do this. She listens to music with lyrics when she’s writing, and that helps her focus. So everyone’s completely different, right? You need to find what works for you. And also, I would say, and this is the case for anyone, right, the things that you see as flaws that you have difficulties with, I bet you there’s a flip side to them that is a superpower, right? That is an advantage.
Gretchen Roe: 00:40:46.946
Absolutely. I love that. We’re going to keep that too as well, as long as– I love what you said about spilled milk into ice cream. And tell me how that happened for you in one of your writing experiences. I mean, you have two books published, a third book coming out very shortly, and you’re in the midst of working on another one. So I’d like to know how that experience translated in your life personally.
Millie Florence: 00:41:15.898
The writing the second draft?
Gretchen Roe: 00:41:18.101
Millie Florence: 00:41:20.561
Yeah. So it was completely different with every single one of my books because every book is different. So the experience is going to be a little bit different for everyone. I know for Honey Butter, I completely rewrote the entire thing in the second draft, almost word for word. There’s almost–
Gretchen Roe: 00:41:41.077
Millie Florence: 00:41:41.696
–nothing left of the first draft. Yes, in Honey Butter. Yep, yeah, yeah. And that was partially because it was my first book, right? So I was still learning. I had a lot more work to do. And I’ve found that as I’ve grown as a writer, each of my successive books, I’ve had to change less and less from the first draft because I’ve become a better writer over time. So to anyone who feels discouraged of how long it takes them to get something right, first of all, know that it’s 100% okay. And second of all, know that it will get better over time. So that’s a huge thing. If we’re talking spilled milk into ice cream, yeah, I mean, good grief, there were so many things in Honey Butter that were– at one point in the first draft of Honey Butter, they found a piano under the floor of the library for some reason. It never played into the story again. Yeah, that’s not there anymore. So I have lots of little examples like that of just random stuff.
Gretchen Roe: 00:42:45.171
[crosstalk] do I not remember this?
Millie Florence: 00:42:48.064
No, no, it’s not there anymore. But no, the first draft is your opportunity to play with it.
Gretchen Roe: 00:42:53.052
But see, [crosstalk] for you being open to change because a lot of what we’re talking about is being open to holding your story loosely so that as it evolves and changes, you can change with it.
Millie Florence: 00:43:06.525
Right. I would say, honestly, I’ve never had the issue with, oh, I don’t want to change this thing because usually the thing that I need to change makes the book better. So the thing you want to hold loosely to is how the story comes about. The thing you want to hold tightly to is the story you want to tell. So there’s this great quote from Michelangelo where he says, “I didn’t carve this stone figure. I saw his face in the stone and I set him free, right?” He had to find it. So I don’t really think of my books as, oh, I’m changing this story. It’s like, no, I have to find the story that God wants me to create, right? And the first pass– just like with a sculptor, the first pass is– the first pass is super rough, right? And there’s all sorts of stuff that maybe don’t look quite like you want them to or make sense. You’re not changing it from there. You’re continuing to find that image in the stone. You’re continuing to find that story, right? So I don’t think of it as, “Oh, I need to change the story I wrote.” It’s more like, “Oh, I’m not there yet. I haven’t found the story I want to write yet.” Does that make sense?
Gretchen Roe: 00:44:22.016
I think no, that’s that’s terrific because I love that. I have a colleague and friend who is an artist and she says it’s all about the process, it’s not about the product. So I think that makes a tremendous amount of difference. So in these last 15 minutes, what are some good pieces of advice you can give to our parents about encouraging the writing process in their students?
Millie Florence: 00:44:48.990
So first of all, I think a big thing is celebrating small wins. And it feels hypocritical of me to say that because that’s one of the things I struggle with and my parents are always reminding me of, “You got to stop being so hard on yourself, Millie.”
Gretchen Roe: 00:45:01.596
Well, you are the eldest child, Millie. That comment kind of comes with the territory. [laughter]
Millie Florence: 00:45:06.331
That’s true. Yeah. No, I think celebrating small wins. Every time you finish a draft, do something to celebrate. This is something I tell my coaching clients all the time. I’ve seen writers who every time they finish a draft, they bake a cake or something, which I love so much. So yeah, celebrate the small wins, have fun with it. And if I’m talking specifically to parents, how can you encourage your young writer? We’ve already talked about write, be excited with them, listen to them. Other than that, I would say continually encourage them when they’re– the best things that my parents have done for me is when I’m feeling down on myself just to say those words of encouragement. Also taking me out to coffee shops or the library, right, so I can write. Just yeah, taking that time to–
Gretchen Roe: 00:46:04.405
Being in a coffee shop changes your writing experience.
Millie Florence: 00:46:08.727
How’s it changed my writing experience? Well, I am less tempted to go on YouTube. [laughter]
Gretchen Roe: 00:46:17.009
Okay, there’s another question.
Millie Florence: 00:46:19.190
Yeah, yeah. Also, I don’t know if you’ve ever read Atomic Habits by James Clear.
Gretchen Roe: 00:46:24.767
Actually, it’s sitting right here.
Millie Florence: 00:46:28.040
Gretchen Roe: 00:46:29.396
But twice, because in preparation, we’re going to do a whole webinar on this after the first of the year.
Millie Florence: 00:46:35.618
Gretchen Roe: 00:46:36.295
Really excited. We’re going to do Atomic Habits for homeschoolers. And I’m excited.
Millie Florence: 00:46:41.652
I love that so much. Okay, yeah, because I love that book. And one of the things that he talks about in that book is that places kind of– your brain assigns places – oh, what’s the word? – themes, basically. So your brain will be like, “Oh, my desk. This is where I work. My couch, that’s where I hang out and watch movies, right?” So thus it can be very hard to, for example, write and do work while sitting on your couch because your brain is like, “No, no, no, this is the place we relax,” right? So going to a coffee shop is a good way to reset because that place doesn’t have an assigned theme yet. And you can assign the theme of this is where I write, right? So that’s why changing location can help a lot.
Gretchen Roe: 00:47:30.228
Millie Florence: 00:47:31.509
Gretchen Roe: 00:47:32.831
I have a great question from Anna Rose. She says, “This has been such fun. What are some of your best tips for getting started with a new story?”
Millie Florence: 00:47:43.011
For getting started with a new story. Okay, that’s a really good one. And I know Anna Rose Johnson, actually. Hi. We’re friends on Instagram. Did not expect to see you here. Yeah, okay, getting started with a new story. Okay, I think my biggest tip getting started with a new story would be to play with the idea. So ask a lot of what if questions and sort of let it stew in your brain. So I rarely start writing as soon as I get a new idea. What I do instead is think about it a lot, basically, and kind of play with, well, what if this happened? Well, what if this happened? I try out different things. So okay, just for example, when I was writing Lydia Green of Mulberry Glen, one of the kind of images I had in my mind for that story was a girl waking up in a treehouse and going out in the woods to get breakfast. And that’s obviously kind of a vague image, so I started asking myself different questions. Who is this girl? Why is she living in a treehouse? And just really being open to all sorts of different kinds of answers. And that’s a big part of– I talked about the K.M. Weiland outlining process, right, is to kind of stream of consciousness journal and ask yourself all these different questions, and to come up with multiple answers. Don’t just choose the first answer that your brain lights on, right? Come up with lots of different ones, try out a lot of different things. A new story idea is the opportunity for you to play, so take advantage of that. That’s the most fun point. Me and my friend Lauren, we always say, when you get a new story idea, “It just vibes.” We just enjoy the vibes of the story. It’s not anything concrete yet, so when you get that–
Gretchen Roe: 00:49:42.076
If you play let’s pretend– if you grew up playing pretend you’re a– fill in the blank, you’ve got fodder for a story, right?
Millie Florence: 00:49:51.856
Gretchen Roe: 00:49:52.476
I love this question that Emily asked for 10-year-old Olivia. She says– this is Olivia asking the question. “How do I know if my story is good enough to be published?”
Millie Florence: 00:50:04.334
That is a great question. And the answer is unfortunately very complicated because in some ways you don’t know because there are books that get published that are not very good, right? [laughter]
Gretchen Roe: 00:50:18.181
No, we [inaudible] those.
Millie Florence: 00:50:20.496
I know, right? I would say, instead of focusing on that particular story– is this story good enough to get published? I think you should focus more on your experience as a writer, right? So–
Gretchen Roe: 00:50:39.112
But tell me what–
Millie Florence: 00:50:40.595
Yes. Yeah. So for me, when I decided I wanted to publish Honey Butter, I knew I wanted to do it correctly. And I basically figured– make sure you go through all the steps in the process. And a big part of that process is getting feedback, right? So I do this thing called beta readers – which if you’re an author, you’ve heard of it, but a lot of people who aren’t into that haven’t – where basically you have a bunch of people read your book and provide feedback for you on it about what works and what doesn’t, right? It’s a test. What makes a good story? If people reading it enjoy that story, right? So you get people to read that and tell you what parts they enjoyed, what parts they didn’t, right, what you need to work on, if there was anything that was confusing. And that is a super crucial step in the process, first of all, is to get feedback from other people and make sure that your story makes sense. That’s a huge thing that most people don’t think about. Does your story actually make sense? And I’m guilty of that because there’s plenty of times that the stuff I include in the plot, my beta readers will read it and they’re like, “Wait, how does this magic system work? I am very confused,” and I need to go back and add clarity. Also, though, I would say, Olivia is asking this question, “How do I know if my story is good enough,” right? And something that I was actually talking about recently with one of my mentees is– I asked her, “What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned in the” – she’s been with me for two years at this point – “two years that we’ve been working together.” And she said that a story is not good or bad. It is made up of dozens of different parts and pieces, which can work or not work for that particular story. Because when you start anything, for example, pottery or skateboarding, it’s very easy to see things in terms of, “Oh, that is a good mug. That is a bad mug.” Same with writing. “This is a good book. That is a bad book.” When in reality, it’s not one set thing. A book is made up of so many things: magic systems, character arcs, how the plot is structured, character relationships, dialogue, prose, I could go on, right? So a story is not just good or bad. It has all these different elements that are all on their own scale. So there are plenty of stories that, for example, it has a fantastic character arc. The magic doesn’t make much sense, right? And once you start seeing your books– that’s kind of leveling up your mindset when you stop seeing your book as, “Is this story good?” And you start seeing it as all these different pieces that work together.
Gretchen Roe: 00:53:28.489
So your advice to young Olivia would be have a bunch of people read your story–
Millie Florence: 00:53:33.904
Gretchen Roe: 00:53:33.943
–make sure the elements work together–
Millie Florence: 00:53:35.834
Gretchen Roe: 00:53:36.731
–then step forward into that. Now, do I remember? Did you self-publish Honey Butter, or?
Millie Florence: 00:53:41.016
I did. I self-published both Honey Butter and [crosstalk]–
Gretchen Roe: 00:53:43.875
I mean, we’re almost at the end of the hour. I can’t believe it. This is good.
Millie Florence: 00:53:46.968
Gretchen Roe: 00:53:47.725
But tell me a little bit about that process. How’d you figure that out? I mean, you were 13 years old. So how did you–?
Millie Florence: 00:53:55.703
Yes. Again, I was just really, really passionate about putting a story out in the world. And it took a ton of research. So this is actually another piece of advice I would give to Olivia, right? Sorry, I really want to help Olivia right now because I understand where she’s coming from. If you’re not sure if your story is good or bad, it can be one of two things. One is just insecurity because you can get really in your own head about stuff, which I’m definitely guilty of. But another, if you’re not sure if your story is good or bad, that might mean you need to do more research on what makes a good story versus a bad story. And this does lead into what I’m talking about with self-publishing. Because a huge thing that is the reason I was able to self-publish Honey Butter, is because I learned how to research, specifically google things. I learned how to self-publish from the internet, guys. I don’t have any extra special tools or anything. I just googled stuff and read a million blog posts and watched a million YouTube videos and searched to find pros and cons lists between different self-publishing distributors and how all that works. We are living in a day and age where everything you need to teach yourself is literally at your fingertips, literally typing with your fingertips. And I think more people need to take advantage of that, especially if they want to self-publish and become an author and chase that dream. Because everything you need to know, you just need to look for it, right? And you need to have the patience to learn it, right? So yeah, for me, self-publishing can be better– yeah.
Gretchen Roe: 00:55:43.892
I love that. And you know what, you’ve given us so many tremendous, valuable pieces of advice. One, your first draft is not your final draft. Two is talk about something you love. Three, research and figure out, does it work? Enlist a tribe to help you in that process, which I think is really interesting and fascinating, and be open to that feedback so that you can improve your craft. What would be your closing thoughts because we’ve come to the end of our time together?
Millie Florence: 00:56:16.693
I know. That’s so sad. My closing thoughts are that no matter who you are as a kid, if you’re passionate about writing, or if you’re not, or if you’re passionate about something else, you can chase that dream. And I hope that I am living proof of that because again, I have all my siblings are passionate about different things as well. And I hope that I’m inspiring not just to young writers, but to any kid who has big dreams that you can absolutely go for it, go out there and do it, and you might find yourself learning a lot of cool stuff along the way.
Gretchen Roe: 00:57:03.807
Millie Florence: 00:57:04.671
So yeah, I would just encourage all the kids who have big dreams to go tackle them because it’s a lot of hard work, but it’s totally worth it and you can do it.
Gretchen Roe: 00:57:12.882
So Millie, before we finish this time, your website is MillieFlorence.com.
Millie Florence: 00:57:17.856
Gretchen Roe: 00:57:19.300
And I want to talk just real briefly about The Balter of Ashton Harper, which is soon. And you said it would be available for pre-order. So tell us a little bit about this story because I don’t want to leave our conversation. Your writing has evolved. So tell us about The Balter of Ashton Harper. How did you get to this idea?
Millie Florence: 00:57:45.020
Yes. So The Balter of Ashton Harper is a book for kids who have big dreams because it is the story of Ashton, who is 12 years old, and he is a ballroom dancer with his sister, Zizi and they want to get into this prestigious school, The Overmorrow Academy of Arts, to become professional dancers. Oh, and this all takes– I don’t remember if I mentioned it at the beginning, but this all takes place in the Regency era. So it’s like Jane Austen but with magic and adventure. And so him and his sisters get the opportunity to audition for a scholarship at this school and achieve their dreams, right? But along the way, they run into some very mysterious magic that perhaps was better left undiscovered and shenanigans ensue. But Ashton’s internal conflict and his character arc is all about what it means to be a kid with big dreams and big goals and aspirations. And are dreams worth dreaming, even if they might not come true, right? And how do you react when you encounter obstacles to those dreams? Now your obstacles might not be magic, but like Ashton, but the point still stands, right? And I wrote The Balter Ashton Harper from a place of when I was really struggling in my own career and having a lot of doubts of will I ever make it, right? And so that is really a story about chasing your dreams and having the courage to continue, even when you feel like giving up.
Gretchen Roe: 00:59:36.572
I love that question. Are dreams worth dreaming, even if they don’t come true? I think they are. I think you’ve set the stage for some wonderful authors in the future. In our show notes, we’ll have Millie’s website and information on how you can preorder The Balter of Ashton Harper. And I am really– excuse me, let me change that pronunciation, let me do it correctly. The Balter of Ashton Harper. And you can read the book to figure out exactly what that means.
Millie Florence: 01:00:05.682
Well, I can tell you. I actually, I like to tell people what it means. Balter is a little-known English word that means to dance artlessly without particular grace or skill, but usually with enjoyment.
Gretchen Roe: 01:00:19.296
Well, that would be the description of me in any dancing opportunity. So now I have a word to describe it.
Millie Florence: 01:00:26.532
Yeah. Balter is the kind of dancing you do in your room, right? [laughter]
Gretchen Roe: 01:00:31.029
Absolutely. And probably with a hairbrush and singing along, right?
Millie Florence: 01:00:34.447
Yes, exactly. Exactly. A hairbrush is a must as a microphone.
Gretchen Roe: 01:00:38.449
Millie, thank you so much for this time. I hope you can see the treasure I founded Millie last April today. And I thank all of you for joining us live today. Those of you who are watching this video, please make sure you check the show notes so you can get all the information to reach out and be in touch with Millie. This is Gretchen Roe for The Demme Learning Show. Thanks for joining us. You can find the show notes and watch a recording at DemmeLearning.com/Show or on our YouTube channel. And be sure to review, follow, like us, especially if you enjoyed what you heard today. Take care, everyone, and we hope you join us again soon.
Find out where you can subscribe to The Demme Learning Show on our show page.
Visit Millie’s website to find out more about the support she offers to young writers and preorder The Balter of Ashton Harper.
Millie mentioned K.M. Weiland’s blog as a terrific resource for your aspiring writer.
In talking about why there is no such thing as a final copy, Millie quoted Katherine Paterson: “I love revision. Where else can spilled milk be turned into ice cream?”
We talked about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and you can find more information on their website.
And Millie wanted you to remember the words of Michelangelo: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
Your children are full of ideas. Help them set those ideas free. She asks, “Are dreams worth dreaming, even if they don’t come true?” (We think they are!)
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