Your Best Writing Year Yet! – Getting Started and Staying Motivated 1 – Part 3

THIS IS THE THIRD of a series on achieving your writing and productivity goals. In Part 2, you created an action plan for your Big Rock goal. (If you haven’t been following along, we suggest you start with Part 1 and read forward.)

Today, I want to talk about how to get started and stay motivated.

Getting Started
For most people, once you’ve defined your first step, getting started is the easy part. That is, if you’ve broken your first step down into small enough tasks to feel easy. And that’s the key — not only to getting started but to staying started — each task should take so little effort and time that it’s a no-brainer to get it done.

Let me say that again, in a slightly different way — each task should feel so easy that it would be silly NOT to do it.

Let me give you an example of what easy looks like.

Let’s say that your goal is to write the first draft of your memoir, and your first step is to write an outline. Well, I don’t know about you, but writing an outline for an entire book seems pretty daunting to me. I might be inclined to put that off until I have “enough time” or “enough energy” to focus on it. And if you’ve never written an outline for a book — or even if you have, but this is a different kind of book — you might feel lost about how to get started and flounder around a little.

The answer to that floundering feeling is to break your steps down into minuscule, ridiculously easy tasks.

Break your steps down into minuscule, ridiculously easy tasks. CLICK TO TWEET
Here’s what’s not daunting to me as a first action: brainstorm scene ideas for 10 minutes.

My reaction to that task is, “I can do that. I can set a timer on my watch for 10 minutes and simply brainstorm.” Done!

Then what? Repeat that step, once each day, until I run out of ideas.

Then what? Task #2: Put the chapter titles in the order I think they should go. If that feels scary or like too much all at once, I can work on it for a specific amount of time and repeat until done, just like the first task.

Do you see how this works?

Staying Motivated
Okay, now that you’ve gotten started, you feel good. Anything seems possible, and then life happens. You get a flat tire, or unexpected guests show up during your writing time, or your kids get sick, throwing you completely off your planned schedule.

Interruptions and challenges are going to happen. The important part is to keep your goals in sight and not to let temporary obstructions get you down.

Achieving your goals is like a marathon, not a sprint. And just like running a marathon, it takes determination and a certain amount of grit to keep going, no matter what.

Keeping Your Goals in Sight – the Daily Review
The best way I know of keeping my goals front and center is to review them each morning. It takes less than five minutes. Here’s the process I recommend:

Read each goal and check off any tasks you accomplished the day before (if you haven’t checked them off already). Checking off tasks as you complete them will give you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
Read the reasons you wrote down for achieving that goal. This step is important, because when challenges occur, reminding yourself WHY you wanted to do this in the first place will keep you going.
Decide on your next best step and write it down. Remember to make it easy and doable.
Schedule the time for that task into your day.
The truth is that life will do its best to get in your way, and if you don’t keep your goals front and center — every day — it’s far too easy to forget about them or to keep shoving them down the list of priorities.

What other ways can you keep your goals in sight and stay motivated?

Amber Starfire offers coaching, classes, and books about writing at

Your Best Writing Year Yet! – The Action Plan – Part 2

THIS IS THE SECOND of a new series designed to help you create and achieve your writing productivity goals. Part 1 showed you how to set your one-word intentional focus for the year and create your “big-rock” writing goal. Part 2 builds on the first, so if you haven’t read it yet, please do so now. Then come back and continue with Part 2.

In last week’s article, Part 1, I showed you how to set your one-word intentional focus for the year and create your “big-rock” writing goal. Part 2 builds on the first, so if you haven’t read it yet, please do so now. Then come back and continue with Part 2.

First, A Word to Non-Goal Setters

I’d like to take a moment to address those of you who feel an aversion to setting goals. (If you’re already on board, skip to the “Moving On” section below.)

Did you look at last week’s article and think, “Goals work for some people but not for me”? If so, you’re not alone. Not by a long shot. Many people don’t like the idea of setting goals for a variety of reasons.

But here’s the thing: a goal is simply a destination. Do you normally just get in your car and drive without knowing where you want to go? Probably not.

So, ask yourself this: Where do I want to be as a writer in 6 months? 12 months?

Lay down your preconceptions of what it means to work towards a goal and trust me. The process I am laying out in this series works. If you really want to make progress in your writing life, re-read Part 1, create your one, big-rock writing goal, then meet us here again, at Moving On.

Moving On

By now, you have your one-word focus for the year and your Big-Rock SMART writing goal. If your goal is an achievement, you will have included your due date as part of your goals statement. For example, “To complete the final draft of my personal essay by March 1, 2018.”

If your Big-Rock goal is to establish a habit, you will have included your start date, how often you want to include this habit, and the date by which the habit will be established. For example: “To write 30 minutes each weekday for 6 months, starting January 2nd.”

You will also have written down your motivation (the Whys) for accomplishing your goal. If you haven’t written your Why statement(s) yet, stop and do it now! This step is vitally important, because when life happens and things get hard you will need to refer back to your Why statements for encouragement and to remind yourself why you began this journey in the first place.

The next step is to break your goal down into small, doable baby steps (tasks), each with its own due date. So let’s get started.

 Your action plan is a living, breathing document.CLICK TO TWEET

Creating Your Achievement-Goal Action Plan

Brainstorm a list of baby steps you can take toward your goal. For example, if your goal is to complete a memoir that you’ve been working on, you might start with a list that includes items like this:

  • Calculate how many words I need to write between now and [due date].
  • Schedule writing time on calendar and set reminder.
  • Outline chapters.
  • Interview Aunt Jane.
  • Read 2002 Journal entries for relevant info.

Next, put your list in the order in which you want to do the tasks and give each task a due date.

You will need to break some tasks into smaller sub-tasks. For example, the task of interviewing Aunt Jane can be broken down into 3 sub-tasks, each with its own due date: 1) Schedule Interview; 2) Write interview questions; 3) Conduct Interview.

Or, you may need to schedule 15 minutes per day for 1 week to read and notate your 2002 journal (or any other research).

Giving dates to your tasks can feel risky, but you can adjust these due dates later if you need to (more on that later in this series), so go ahead and be bold. It’s the due dates that give the tasks their power.

Put each task on a calendar and post where you can see it or set reminders on your smart phone — whatever works for you. I’m going to talk more about task management in the next article.

Creating Your Habit-Goal Action Plan

When establishing new habits, it’s equally important to start with baby steps. AND it’s important to decide what time of day you will integrate your new habit. Use an already established daily activity to spark your new behavior.

If your goal is to write for 30 minutes five days a week, figure out when you will write. Some ideas: upon awaking, after breakfast, before bed, after dinner, during lunch break, after work before coming home, when the kids are napping (though if you choose this one, also choose an alternate for those times the kids are not cooperating!)

Start small. Plan to write 10 minutes a day to start. When you’ve successfully written 10 minutes a day for a week or two, you can increase the time to 15 minutes. You’ll continue in this fashion until you’ve reached your goal of 30 minutes per weekday.

Important! Add the habit to your calendar and/or set a daily reminder on your phone.

What’s Next?

Do the first task on your list. If you can’t do the first task in one sitting, break it down into multiple tasks or schedule working on it a few minutes per day until it’s complete.

When the first task is complete, do the second. Don’t overlap.

Remember: your action plan is a living, breathing document that you will refine and adjust as you work toward your goal.

In the next article in this series, we’ll how to stay motivated and manage your tasks.

So tell us, how will you get started? What’s the first task on your list?

Amber Starfire offers coaching, classes, and books about writing at

Happy New Year! Get Ready For Your Best Writing Year Yet! – Part 1

Happy New Year! Get Ready For Your Best Writing Year Yet! – Part 1 17

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” 
 Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist


WHAT DO YOU DREAM OF being or achieving in your writing life? As the calendar flips to a new year, are you looking forward to new opportunities to bring those dreams to life?

Movies and fairytales aside, we know that dreams aren’t fulfilled by wishing upon them. If you want to achieve your dreams, you must do more than dream. You must set the full focus of your will — your intention — on what you want, and then you must act. Put another way, you can only arrive at your desired destination if you pack your bags and get on the road.

Today, I’d like to invite you to think about where you want to go and how you will get there. No matter the level or extent of your writing desire — from wanting to establish a journaling or creative writing practice to finishing that memoir or novel you’ve been working on — it’s all doable. And I can show you how.

To that end, over the next few posts I’m going to share with you what I do each year to set and accomplish my goals — and why my process works. I use these steps to set goals for all areas of my life, including writing/publishing, spiritual, relationship, emotional, physical/health, and financial. And I achieved 95% of my personal and professional goals this last year.

For this series, I’m going to focus on only one area: writing/publishing. You may choose to separate writing and publishing into two separate goal areas. For me, these tend to blend together, so I think of them as one.

You’ll need to arrange a quiet place and time to work through the following exercises. The time needed will vary, but I would give myself at least an hour to start. And you don’t need to do this all at once — you can take several sessions.

Ready? Let’s get started . . .


Set your overarching intention (focus) for the year.

Our goals do not live in a bubble of their own, outside the totality of our lives. If we want to grow in any area of our lives, we need to understand what we want most and who we want to Be in the world. So before forming goals for any area of your life, get out your journal and freewrite your answers to the following questions:

  • What quality to I want to infuse into my life and into all my decisions this year?
  • What quality do I need most in my life at this time?

Once you have written about what you want in your life, choose the quality that resonates most for you and distill that quality into one word.

This word will be your guiding principle, your focus of intention for the year.

Last year, my guiding principle was “balance.” I wanted (and needed) more balance between the personal and professional areas in my life. Keeping my focus on balance all year helped me make important decisions along the way, including what to keep and what to let go of doing. It gave me permission to take better care of myself and my relationships.

This year, my overarching focus is “perspective,” which is about seeing the bigger picture and seeing things from different angles, as if from an eagle’s point of view.


Write down your “big rock” goal.

You’ve probably heard of the “big rocks” concept, made famous by Stephen R. Cover, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The idea is that your life is like a glass jar that you fill up with all of your daily tasks, both important and routine. The important tasks are your “big rocks” and the routine, less important tasks are like pebbles. If you fill your jar with pebbles, you won’t have any room for your big rocks. But if you place your big rocks in the jar first, then you’ll be able to fill in the spaces with the pebbles.

At the top of a new journal page, write your answer to the following question:

If I could achieve just ONE thing in my writing life this year, what would it be?

What would be the one thing you would feel happy achieving as a writer, even if you accomplished nothing else?

Be specific. “Writing more” is not a goal — it’s a wish. In order for a goal to have power, it must be SMART, which is an acronym for the following characteristics: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Rewarding, and Time-dependent (or Trackable).

Goals can include either accomplishing something or establishing desired habits. I will give examples of both types of goals as I explain each aspect of a SMART goal.

In order to be SMART, your goal must answer the following questions:

  • What, specifically do I want to accomplish? OR What habit do I want to establish?

    Achievement goal: Last year, the What of my “big rock” goal was to “complete my second memoir, Accidental Jesus Freak,” which I’d already been working on for a year and a half. Your goal might be to “write three personal essays” or “publish two short stories,” or “write 30,000 words.” Do you see how specific your goal needs to be?

    Habit goal: But what if you don’t have an achievement type of goal like those I’ve just described? What if you really just want to write more often? This type of goal — establishing a habit — is just as valid as an achievement goal. And it also needs to be stated in a very specific way. In this case, the What is, simply, “to write.”
  • When do I want to accomplish it by? OR How often do I want to do this habit?

    Achievement goal: The When for my memoir was “by December 31st.” Yours could be “by June 30th” or any other date you choose.

    Habit goal: Using the example above, I might want to write “a minimum of 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week,” or “5 minutes per day, 7 days per week.” Again, do you see how adding this level of specificity helps to define exactly what you will do?
  • How will I know when my goal is complete?

    Achievement goal: You need to define what constitutes “done.” I defined completion of my memoir as when it had been edited, proofread, and was ready for print and ebook formatting.

    Habit goal: In the case of a habit goal, define when you will consider the habit as integrated into your life. So, for my writing habit, I might define it as: When I have consistently written 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week, for six months, I will consider that I have established this habit.”

“The starting point of all achievement is DESIRE. Keep this constantly in mind. Weak desire brings weak results, just as a small fire makes a small amount of heat.”   Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich

  • Why do I want to achieve this goal?

Your Why, your motivation for wanting to accomplish this goal is SUPER important. Without strong motivation, you will not achieve your goal.

My Why for writing Accidental Jesus Freak included the following:

– I want to feel proud of myself for having completed this second book.

– I want to reveal the deeper, inner truth of my journey, discover its universality and what it has to teach me and others

– I want to have it ready for launch in March of 2018

What are your Whys? Write them down below your What, When, and How statements.

  • How will my focus of intention help me to achieve my goal?

    This question might be a little harder to answer, as our goals don’t always have an easy correlation to our broader focus of intention. In my case, focusing on balance helped me stay the course on my one big writing goal for the year. I had other goals, but focusing on balance helped me to adjust my activities throughout the year and still accomplish what needed to be done.

    If you’re having difficult answering this question, set a timer for 10 minutes and freewrite, starting with the following fill-in-the-blanks prompt: “My focus of intention on __________ will help me accomplish my goal of ___________ by ____________.


This is the first of a 12-part series on writing goals and productivity. In Part 2 of Get Ready for Your Best Writing Year! We will cover how to establish your goal’s action plan as well as how to keep your goal visible and in front of you on a regular basis.

Amber Starfire offers coaching, classes, and books about writing at

A Woman of Worth: Laura Mitchell Keene

Laura Mitchell Keene and I met at church many years ago. She read stories in Sunday school when my boys were small, and attended a women’s writing group there, making insightful and encouraging comments. When the group disbanded two years ago, we decided to meet together at her home.

A tiny African American woman with close cropped white hair, she would greet me at the door of the house she’d built with her husband, fine artist Paul Keene, and where she’d lived alone since his death in 2009. She showed me family photos under a glass table top, her husband’s art on the walls, and in a stairwell, a poster of her great grandfather, Pierre Burr, a descendant of Aaron Burr and his East Indian servant.

It didn’t take me long to realize that this woman was a curator of her life and times. Born in 1925, she has lived through Jim Crow, racial segregation, the Great Depression, the Second World War, the civil rights movement and the second wave of feminism. Her life spans the twentieth century in America, France and Haiti, where she traveled with her artist husband.

When I proposed we gather her stories into a booklet for her family, she said, “That would be nice.” She had her own back-of-the-bus story, grew up in the A.M.E. community in Philadelphia, and earned a nursing degree at Howard University. We had some wonderful times writing together in her living room, but after two years, I noticed the stories were repeating. Her mind wandered, and I knew it was time to gather what we had and get it printed.

Since I teach and volunteer at the Pearl Buck Historic House in Dublin, PA, I asked the director of their Writing Center for advice. Much to my surprise, she arranged a meeting with all three of their editors who said they wanted to publish Laura’s memoir via CreateSpace. All I had to do was get it to them in a Word document with a few photos. Her two adult children reviewed the proof copy and filled in some dates and details. The whole process took about a year, and we had the first printing of 50 copies in our hands at the start of this past October. It sold out, and we had to order another 50!

We held two signings: one at a Pearl Buck Volunteer Association luncheon, and another at our church. Her far-flung family is buying the books through Amazon and sending her photos of themselves reading it. “I never knew this about Grandma,” her granddaughter reported, in tears.

“Who would want to read my story?” Laura kept asking. She was always the “wife of the artist,” in the shadow of his spotlight, yet she herself earned a master’s degree in education, raised two children with good humor in a racist society, and is now the great grandmother of three. I’m so pleased I helped her tell her story.

Linda Wisniewski shares an empty nest with her retired scientist husband in Bucks County, where she writes for two local newspapers. Her work has been published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Sun, Massage, gravel, the Christian Science Monitor, The Quilter and many other places both print and online. Linda volunteers as a docent at the Pearl Buck Historic House and teaches memoir workshops at their Writing Center. Her memoir, Off Kilter, was published in 2008 by Pearlsong Press. For more information, see her website.

Remaking Ourselves Through Writing Memoir

“I write to make sense of my life.” John Cheever

I recently taught my last memoir workshop at the Fromm Institute, and I’ll be sorry to leave the cocoon we had created there. For those who aren’t familiar with the Fromm, it’s an institution for older adults and features lectures from outstanding Bay Area emeritus professors on a variety of subjects that include psychology, literature, philosophy, science, theology, history, art, music, politics and creative writing.

This term, I was hired for the writing portion, “Reminiscence: A Creative Writing Workshop.” Years ago, I had taught a weeklong autobiography class for what was then Elderhostel. It was an enriching experience, diving into the past with these older adults and returning with gems from their depths.

The Fromm class has been similar. I’ve structured it so that students who haven’t done much writing can still benefit. There’s a great freedom for them and myself since I’m not grading their assignments. Nor am I focusing on grammar and punctuation errors. Content leads, and their submissions all focus on different aspects of writing an engaging narrative based on prompts that help them focus on important times in their lives.

We’ve looked at character and how to make the people who inhabit our memoirs come alive for readers that don’t know them. But characters don’t live in ether, so my students have also written about places that have nourished them in some way. Neither character nor place would be vivid without incorporating details that appeal to all of our senses. Sensory detail also sets the mood of a writing piece (exciting, happy, cheerful, gloomy, frightening, depressing, suspenseful, calm, peaceful). Since we apprehend the world through our senses, it’s essential that we include the kind of description that evoke them and also capture our imaginations.

I’ve been impressed not only by the quality of the writing I’ve seen from these mainly inexperienced writers but also from their willingness to reveal themselves during small group critique sessions. They’ve been generous in their praise of one another’s work and skilled readers, making helpful suggestions for improving the writing. But most important, they have been transforming themselves through recovering these experiences and recasting them. As James Longenbach states in Modern Poetry After Modernism, “…any account of the past, whether private or historical, is an act of personal making.” What a privilege It’s been to be present at all of these mini-births!

Lily Iona MacKenzie, author of Fling! and All This

Lily’s blog 
Fling! audiobook
Amazon Fling!
Lily’s Facebook page

Curva Peligrosa, a novel, coming in 2017

Freefall: A Divine Comedy, a novel, coming in 2018

Writing a Woman’s Life, Part 3

This is the third post of a three-part series about the writing of A Wilder Rose. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

For me, biographical fiction—novels built on the lives and times of real people—the most interesting and challenging of all fictional genres. I read all I can find, from Erik Larson’s Thunderstruck to Melanie Benjamin’s The Aviator’s Wife to Watergate: A Novel, by Thomas Mallon, and many more. And over the years I’ve been writing fiction, a great many of my books have involved real people. Each of the Robin Paige mysteries is based on someone who lived during the Victorian/Edwardian period (Winston Churchill, Rudyard Kipling, Lily Langtry). The eight Cottage Tales are based on eight years in the life of Beatrix Potter. And A Wilder Rose tells the true story of Rose Wilder Lane and her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and their collaboration on the Little House books.

In the first and second posts in this series, I told you how I became interested in the life of Rose Wilder Lane and how I began doing the research on her life—creating a timeline of her life, reading as much of her work as I could find, visiting the farm where she lived when she and Laura were working on the first three books, and—happily, in 1993, reading William Holtz’s biography, A Ghost in the Little House. That book, which Holtz had spent nearly a decade researching, introduced me to the rich treasury of primary sources in the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, where Roger Lea MacBride, Rose’s literary executor, had deposited her work. He chose that site because Rose wrote the earliest (1919) biography of President Hoover.

Herbert Hoover Library

Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, West Branch IA

I first visited the library to work on Rose’s papers in 1993. Now, you can see the scope of the holdings online, but that wasn’t available when I first began work, and it was a matter of digging for what I wanted. But after reading Holtz’s biography, I knew exactly what I wanted: the diary Rose kept during the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s. It turned out to be a Line-A-Day five-year diary, and Rose was diligent about keeping a record of her work. I photocopied the diary and letters I wanted, and took them home for further study. As well, over the years, I obtained additional photocopies, thanks to the help and support of the library’s archivists.

Reading Rose’s diary closely, I could begin to see the amount of work she put into her mother’s books. But it was only after I transcribed all 83,000 words of it (!) into a computer file that I understood how Rose lived and worked at Rocky Ridge Farm during the difficult days of the Depression. I began to get a sense of her constant worry about making enough money to support two households (her own and her parents’); the need to sandwich her work on Laura’s books into an already full writing schedule; her relationship with Troub; the debilitating summertime heat and the winter ice storms that left both Rocky Ridge and the Rock House without power for days at a stretch; the depressing economic and political news; the health concerns, her own and her mother’s; the continuous stream of guests and visitors; and more.

When I sat down to write the novel, it was Rose’s diary that was my guide and constant companion. I used it to create the story’s timeline and anchoring themes, establish the characters, develop Rose’s voice, show the family relationships, and solve (at least to my own satisfaction) the long-kept mystery of Rose’s participation in the writing of the Little House books.

In 1935, Rose was finally able to escape from the farm. After that time, she and her mother corresponded frequently. Their letters (1936-1939) were also useful to me in writing the novel, especially those that were written about their collaboration on On the Banks of Plum Creek and On the Shores of Silver Lake. From the letters, it became clear that they worked this way. Laura would deliver her draft of the book to Rose. Rose would then ask for additional information or suggest a different way of approaching the work. Laura would respond, sometimes argumentatively, sometimes apologetically, sometimes with additional details (clothing, landscape, theme). Rose would rewrite the book, using her mother’s manuscript as the starting point and incorporating some of her mother’s responses and additional material. When she was finished, she typed a clean copy and sent it to her mother to be forwarded to their literary agent, George Bye. (She would also send a cover letter that Laura would rewrite in longhand.) Bye would forward Rose’s typescript to the Harper editor—under Laura’s name, of course. Rose’s polished, publishable text led Ursula Nordstrom, a Harper editor, to remark, “None of the manuscripts ever needed any editing. Not any. They were read and then copy-edited and sent to the printer” (quoted in Rosa Ann Moore, “Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Orange Notebooks and the Art of the Little House Books,” p. 118).

My understanding of the compositional process was strengthened by my comparison of Laura’s manuscripts of Little House on the Prairie and On the Banks of Plum Creek (held by the State Historical Society of Missouri) to the published versions. This research work required quite a few hours at the microfilm computer reader at the Burnet County Library, which obtained the documents from the Historical Society for me. When you place Laura’s manuscript next to Rose’s published rewrite (which was untouched by their Harper editors), the differences are immediately and easily apparent.

And I haven’t even mentioned all the other authors whose work I consulted along the way: John E. Miller, Bill Anderson, Anita Fellman, and more. I have bookshelves full of these secondary materials, as they are called. You’ll find them listed in the bibliography at the end of the book.

All this background work took quite a few years—in the cracks and crannies of my other writing work (the mysteries you’ve been reading). I began the actual writing in 2011 (as a narrative nonfiction), decided to rework the book as a novel and did rewrites in 2012 and 2013.

The story of A Wilder Rose doesn’t end there, of course. There’s more to tell, and I’ll be doing guest posts here and at other blogs over the next few months. Watch for those, please. And I’ll be glad to try to answer your questions, if you’ll leave them in the Comments, below.


Susan Wittig Albert is a best-selling novelist, memoirist, and author of both adult and young adult fiction and nonfiction. She lives on a 31-acre Texas Hill Country homestead with her husband and frequent coauthor, Bill Albert. She founded The Story Circle Network in 1997. Her

Read part 1 and part 2 of this series.

Writing a Woman’s Life, Part 2

In the first post in this series, I wrote about why I chose to begin doing research into the life of Rose Wilder Lane. In this post, I’ll continue the story.

When I first learned about Rose, back in the early 1970s, I had no idea that, years later, I would write a novel about her—I was simply curious about her. No, make that deeply curious, for as a child, I had read and loved all the Little House books, which I had been told were written by her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder. Laura was an iconic figure, in my mind. There was no other writer quite like her.

Then I read Laura’s book, The First Four Years, which shocked and surprised me, since it didn’t seem possible that this not-very-well-crafted book could have been the work of the author of eight beautifully-written and award-winning books. But I discovered from the introduction that Laura had a daughter, Rose, and that—even though her writing career had long been overshadowed by her mother’s— Rose was remembered at least by some as a “famous author” who traveled abroad and wrote a “number of fascinating books.”

This intrigued me, and I began to read and collect Rose’s writings, discovering that she was an accomplished and impressive professional writer with a long string of newspaper stories, feature pieces, travel articles, books, and magazine fiction to her credit. I began to construct a bibliography of all the writings I could find, and added to it whenever I discovered a new article or book.

Rose’s fictionalized biography of Jack London, 1917-1918

Rose’s fictionalized biography of Jack London, 1917-1918

I also began to construct a timeline of Rose’s life, beginning with her birth on the Wilders’ claim in Dakota Territory, through the family’s move to Mansfield MO, and Rose’s early career as a telegrapher for Western Union, her days as a San Francisco Bulletin feature writer, and her travels across Europe. This part of the project got a boost around 1978 when I found a privately published booklet by William T. Anderson, “Laura’s Rose.” Although the booklet lacked citations and sources, it provided a general outline of Rose’s life, some details I hadn’t yet discovered, and a few more titles to look for. There were still a lot of gaps to fill. But because I was teaching and doing other research, my “Rose project” went on the back burner.

Rose on a walking tour of the Loire Valley, 1921

Rose on a walking tour of the Loire Valley, 1921

I was still deeply interested in Rose, however. So I  visited the Wilder farm near Mansfield, where Rose grew up. And whenever I traveled through the Midwest and the Plains states, I looked for the Ingalls family’s house sites—not an easy task, in those days before the Internet. I also managed to locate some of the articles that Laura wrote for the Missouri Realist, which made me even more sure that she could not have been the author—not the sole author, anyway—of the Little House books. Her work was simply too stiff, too uneven, and too unpolished. She would have needed a lot of help to produce those eight books—and who better to help than her much-published daughter? Meanwhile, a couple of scholars wrote articles that also questioned the idea that Laura was the sole author of my favorite children’s books. All this kept me interested in Rose (and Laura, too) while I worked on other writing projects.

And then in 1992, I learned that William Holtz, at the University of Missouri, was about to do just that. His book was titled The Ghost in the Little House: A Life of Rose Wilder Lane.  I contacted Professor Holtz, requested an advance reading copy, and reviewed it—enthusiastically—for the San Antonio Express-News. I was fascinated by the depth and breadth of his research into Rose’s life, and I found myself saying an emphatic yes, yes! to his arguments that Rose played a major role in the writing of the books that were published under her mother’s name. What’s more, his very complete biography filled in the gaps (most of them, anyway) in the timeline I had constructed of Rose’s life.

But even more importantly, William Holtz had done what every good biographer does: he had laid down a research trail. The notes and bibliography at the end of his book took me to the original sources he consulted: Rose’s letters, diaries, journals, and manuscripts, held in the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library.

And that, of course, was where I had to go next, in my efforts to learn who really wrote those wonderful books—the subject of my forthcoming novel, A Wilder Rose: Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Their Little Houses.  I’ll be writing about that part of my adventure in Part 3 of this series, Writing a Woman’s Life.

Have you ever been fascinated by a woman’s life—an ancestor, perhaps, or a little known author, or a woman whose contributions have not been fully recognized? What excites you about this person? If you wanted to research her life, where would you start? What ‘what ifs’ make you wonder about things she did or might have done? Do you know enough about her to create a timeline of her life? What information would you need to fill in the gaps? Who would you talk to? What would you read? Where might you visit? What learning trail would you follow if you wanted to discover and write about her life?


Susan Wittig Albert is a best-selling novelist, memoirist, and author of both adult and young adult fiction and nonfiction. She lives on a 31-acre Texas Hill Country homestead with her husband and frequent coauthor, Bill Albert. She founded The Story Circle Network in 1997. Her

Read part 1 and part 3 of this series.