February 3, 2021

Truth into Fiction -The Moonlight School

 Suzanne Woods Fisher

I was asked how I set my goals for writing for the new year? Have you ever heard of the 20 Mile March? It came out of the 1911 exploration to the South Pole. One team, led by Englishman Robert Falcon Scott, used good weather to their advantage. Some days, they went as far as 40-60 miles. When the weather turned bad, they hunkered down and waited it out, using the pause to rest, and to repair equipment. The other team, led by Norwegian Roald Amundsen, completed a 20-mile march daily, no matter the weather. Even if all conditions were perfect, Amundsen’s team stopped after reaching their daily goal.

Let’s shift those strategies to the writing world. Many writers wait for ideal conditions—an empty calendar, a quiet house, ideas to blossom. Other writers plow forward. While there’s no right or wrong way to achieve writing goals, do consider this: Amundsen’s team made it to the South Pole and back again. Scott’s team died, only 11 miles from a cache of food.

Back to the question. I am a 20 Mile March writer. On every day but Sunday, I aim for a specific word count. It’s not always stellar writing, but this strategy moves my work-in-progress forward. And I have not missed a deadline yet.

Most of writing is fairly isolated, even with the virus, that part hasn’t changed. But the virus had had a huge impact on how I do research, on limitations of travel, on promoting a book on-line rather than in person. Alas, this is just the reality of life for now. In a curious way, I think the virus has fast-forwarded a lot of changed behavior (such as using Zoom for meetings or working remotely). I have a hunch that many pandemic-related adjustments might become permanent.

I feel a sense of urgency to share the message of hope in my writing since the pandemic. Life is so hard, with so many losses piling up. Writers with hope, to me, are like lighted candles on a dark night. Helping others find the path to a loving God.

Many people ask where I get my ideas for a new book. The Moonlight School idea is a fun story! I listen to a classical music radio station as I write. A few years ago, the announcer made a passing comment: "On this day in history, the Moonlight Schools began." I stopped writing and googled Moonlight Schools…then Cora Wilson Stewart. Then I did some more research. And then I called my editor! She was just as intrigued as I was, and a contract was soon in the works. The Moonlight School is based on a true story of an ordinary woman who lived an extraordinary life. It is a story that belongs to all of us.

To tell you what was the easiest and most difficult part of writing my new book I have to circle back to the start of the pandemic. I was working on a draft of The Moonlight School and had a trip set up to eastern Kentucky, including meetings lined up with scholars whom I’d interviewed over the phone, and I was eager to collect photographs for future book promotion. BOOM. The trip fell apart because of the country’s lockdown. Eventually, I turned in the manuscript with a confidence that I had done enough research, but I was (still am!) sorely disappointed.

And yet…all of us have faced disappointments this year. We’ll get through this, together!

Suzanne Woods Fisher is an award-winning, bestselling author of more than 30 books, including On a Summer Tide and On a Coastal Breeze, as well as the Nantucket Legacy, Amish Beginnings, The Bishop’s Family, The Deacon’s Family, and The Inn at Eagle Hill series, among other novels. She is also the author of several nonfiction books about the Amish, including Amish Peace and Amish Proverbs. She lives in California. Learn more at and follow Suzanne on Facebook @SuzanneWoodsFisherAuthor and Twitter @suzannewfisher.

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