Thursday, February 19, 2015

Alumni Voices with Jodell Sadler–“We Get What We Need:” Can A MFA Thesis Become Your Platform?

I can remember being smitten by the interplay of art and words in the picture book form. I entered my third semester at Hamline on the wings of adventure, ready to jump in. I brought picture book faves, armed myself with printouts of research, completed dummies of my own book ideas, and was charged to move forward. Then, my faculty advisor, Jacqueline Briggs Martin, reminded me our focus would be on the text and I should look into something else. Ha! Puzzled, my world spun 360 degrees, and I flat lined before I realized what Marsha Qualey said often during our residency was true: “We get what we need.”

Fast-forward 24-hours, and, together, Jackie and I talked about an idea that fascinated me: Pacing. The many movements within the picture book form and its impact on the reading experience was a thrill to explore: the back and forth, the ebb and flow, art and words, and this got me thinking about all pacing does to connect the many elements in a picture book together into a tapestry, which weaves its way into a child’s heart for a lifetime. A lifetime. So my MFA Critical Thesis was born, but resources? There were only a few. A handful of articles on pacing existed at the time, a page here or there. I was really carving new ground and innovating my ideas on this subject. 

What happened next? I really challenged what I believed to be true of pacing: action drives story, we move ourselves to move our readers and story, we enhance the emotional journey, and support theme. I reviewed hundreds of picture books (now thousands), devoured them, and kept seeing key tools surface. Once I started jotting down the nuances of how each tool interacted and connected art to words, I became ever more amazed and ended up researching my original idea, the interplay of art and words, through a new lens, the lens of PACE.

I’ve shared my pacing material in articles in Writer’s Digest’s Children’s Writers & Illustrator’s Market and Webinars and Tutorials and in my online pacing courses, and more recently jumped into agenting.

I landed in my shiny new agenting shoes daring myself to toss my small pebble into a very big pond to see what kind of ripples I could create. I prayed I could make a difference for writers and illustrators. Since then, I have placed many projects for authors and illustrators—it doesn’t get much better than that.

So, long story short? After earning my MFA from Hamline University, I’ve grown ever more obsessed with how much pacing can do to enhance a book project. Though this journey, Pacing Writing to Wow has become my platform, and it’s helped hundreds of writers edit manuscripts stronger, and when I think back to that day Jackie urged me look further into what I was exploring, I had no idea it would become such a huge part of my success as a writer, editor, and agent—and would ultimately lead me into a career I love in children’s publishing. I can only say, Thank you! I really can’t thank Marsha Wilson Chall, Ron Koertge, and the whole Hamline Faculty enough for allowing us (me) the opportunity to “...get what we need.”

Happy writing day!

Jodell Sadler is a 2009 graduate of the MFAC program. She lives, writes, teaches and agents in Rockton, Illinois. To learn more about her, please visit her website, Sadler Creative Literary.


  1. Great article Jodell! What a wonderful job you have!

  2. Inspiring words, Jodell. Thank you for sharing your journey.

  3. Pacing . . . wow!
    We get what we need . . . double wow!
    Pacing . . . triple wow!

    Thank you for sharing with us!

  4. Great article and loved hearing about your awesome journey. :)

  5. Fabulous! Your hard work is paying off... and helping the journey of many others!

  6. Brilliant post, Jodell! Did you ever feel like a veil was lifted from your eyes because of something you read? Well, you just did that for me: "all pacing does to connect the many elements in a picture book together into a tapestry, which weaves its way into a child’s heart for a lifetime."
    Yes...I want to use the pacing tools to create a tapestry that will weave it's way into a child's heart for a lifetime...that is exactly what I want to do. ;)

  7. I love the story of your discovery and how you now weave the gold threads of your found treasure into other explorers adventures.

  8. What a resourceful post Jodell. I ALWAYS love hearing about the journey. I never grow tired of it. Thank you so much for sharing

  9. Thanks for the honest, thought provoking post. I love that you state, 'we get what we need'. We know what we want, but to find what we need is the challenge. Love this!

  10. You are da pacing guru! Yes, indeed! We get what we need...