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Welcome! We are six children's book authors with a wide range (and many years) of experience teaching writing to children, teens, and adults. Here, we share our unique perspective as writing teachers who are also working writers. Our regular features include writing exercises (our "Writing Workouts"), teaching tips, author interviews, book reviews, and answers to your "Ask the Teaching Authors" questions.
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1. Wednesday Writing Workout: Fibs!

Throughout April (National Poetry Month), I'm posting poetry-themed Wednesday Writing Workouts. Today's form is a Fib, a counted-syllable form with an increasing number of syllables per line, following the Fibonacci sequence. Each number in the series (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and so on) is formed by adding the two previous numbers. The Fibonacci sequence can “describe an amazing variety of phenomena, in mathematics and science, art and nature.”

Greg Pincus visited the Teaching Authors last year. He explained the origin of the Fib form on his blog. The New York Times article “Fibonacci Poems Multiply on the Web After Blog's Invitation” describes the form’s increasing popularity. According to the Poetry Foundation, “These short, straightforward poems are that rare thing capable of crafting a bridge between the often disparate souls of art and science.”

When I tried writing Fibs, I found that the lengthening lines seemed to suit a subject that unfolds gradually or a conclusion that slowly dawns on a narrator and/or reader.

In this poem, my early drafts stopped at seven lines. Then I realized I had more to say, so I reversed the pattern and counted back down.

Signs of Spring

my dog
through our neighborhood
in spring, when warning signs crop up
on lush green smooth-as-carpet lawns: Pesticides! Keep off!
How on our dear troubled planet did poison become
an acceptable lawn care tool?
Is grass truly green
if nothing
else can

Today is the last day to enter to win one of five Teaching Authors Blogiversary Book Bundles! Details are here.

On my own blog, I'm posting more poetry writing tips and assorted poetry treats on Fridays, including giveaways of Write a Poem Step by Step. Be sure to stop by!

JoAnn Early Macken

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2. How to Read a Poem Aloud (Revised) and 2 Giveaway Reminders

Hi Everyone,
This month, we've been having a great time celebrating our BlogiVERSEary by sharing audio and video clips of the TeachingAuthors reciting some of our favorite poems. If you missed any of them, here are the links one more time, in the order posted:

Our actual blogiversary is tomorrow, April 22. Believe it or not, we've been posting for FIVE years!

Our blogiversary giveaway runs through Wednesday, April 23, so if you haven't entered yet, be sure to do so on this blog post. And while our blogiversary celebration is coming to a close, the Poetry Month fun continues with JoAnn's weekly poetry-themed Wednesday Writing Workouts. JoAnn is also giving away copies of her terrific book, Write a Poem Step by Step on her blog.

Before publishing my last blog post, I double-checked with April regarding the formatting of her poem "How to Read a Poem Aloud," which I was sharing in my post. I was surprised to learn that she'd revised the poem since its first publication. Unfortunately, the news came after I'd already uploaded my recording of the original poem to SoundCloud and I didn't have time to re-record it before the post went live. I realized later that today's post was a great opportunity to share that revised version with you. I uploaded a new recording (email subscribers can listen to it here) and I copied the latest version of the poem below. If you want to compare the two, you can go back to my last post.

I'm hoping April will share with us her revision process, because, to be honest, I loved the poem the way it was. Of course, I like this version, too. J

                 How to Read a Poem Aloud (Revised Version)
                    by April Halprin Wayland

            To begin,
            tell the poet’s name 
            and the title 
            to your friend.

            Savor every word—

          read it one more time.

          Now, take a breath—
          and sigh.

          Then think about the poet,
          at her desk,
          late at night,
          picking up her pen to write—

          and why.
                             © April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved. 

Happy writing!

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3. "Seal Lullaby," by Rudyard Kipling [Poetry Friday]

I hope you've been enjoying our sharing of some of our favorite poems. I've really loved hearing my fellow Teaching Authors read!

I could never choose one favorite poem, but this is definitely one I come back to again and again. It has several elements I adore: rhyme, nature, the ocean, gorgeous language, a melancholy but still comforting tone, and content that acknowledges the dangers in the world but promises safety anyway.

Seal Lullaby

Oh! Hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us,
  And black are the waters that sparkled so green.
The moon, o’er the combers, looks downward to find us,
  At rest in the hollows that rustle between.

Where billow meets billow, then soft be thy pillow,
  Oh weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!
The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee,
  Asleep in the arms of the slow swinging seas.

—Rudyard Kipling

And here I am reading the poem:

I hope you're having a terrific National Poetry Month! There's so much amazing stuff being shared in our kidlitosphere--it's hard to keep up, isn't it? I do hope you'll take a couple of minutes to go to our Blogiversary Post and enter our giveaway. You could win one of five book bundles from one of the Teaching Authors:>)

Artist/writer/blogger/poet and all-around lovely person Robyn Hood Black has the Poetry Friday Roundup today at Life on the Deckle Edge. Have fun!

[posted by Laura Purdie Salas]

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4. Wednesday Writing Workout: Book Spine Poems!

Throughout April (National Poetry Month), I'll be posting poetry-themed Wednesday Writing Workouts. For today's workout, why not try a book spine poem?

Nina Katchadourian's Sorted Books project has inspired numerous book spine poems. Also check out Travis Jonker's 2014 Book Spine Poem Gallery. You can even send in your own if you're so inspired!

I tried a few and could hardly stop myself. Good thing my bookshelves are somewhat limited! Do not set me loose in a library!


Poetry Is

Note to Self

For the Next Generation

Remember to enter to win one of five Teaching Authors Blogiversary Book Bundles! Details are here. 

On my own blog, I'm posting more poetry writing tips and assorted poetry treats on Fridays, including giveaways of Write a Poem Step by Step. Be sure to stop by!

JoAnn Early Macken

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5. Happy Blogi-VERSE-ary!!!!!

Hip (to the 5th power) Hooray!
It’s our Blogiversary!!!!!
Our TeachingAuthors group blog has been teaching authors since April of 2009!

To celebrate the occasion, we’re celebrating you!  Enter our Raffle drawing to win one of FIVE Blogiversary Book Bundles – each bundle a set of five books hand-selected by a TeachingAuthor that includes at least one autographed TeachingAuthor book.  Check the end of this post for details.

But wait!
It’s also our Blogi-VERSE-ary, so smartly re-named by our reader Mary Lee of A Year of Reading, because we six TeachingAuthors chose to celebrate the occasion by reciting our favorite poem in honor of Poetry Month.

I suggested the idea once I read about the Poetry Foundation’s current Favorite Poem Project: Chicago which grew out of former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky’s national Favorite Poem Project – Americans Saying Poems They Love which celebrates poetry as a vocal art. 

Poetry Foundation President Robert Polito shared in his project description that “a favorite poem can be a talisman or mantra, a clue, landmark or guiding star and dwells deep down in our psyches.”

Thank you for your interest in the Favorite Poem Project: Chicago. Check this page regularly to view the six videos in the series which will be release twice each week starting on Monday, April 14.Hana Bajramovic
"The Order of Key West" by Wallace Stevens
Naomi Beckwith
"The Children of the Poor" by Gwendolyn Brooks
Mayor Rahm Emanuel
"Chicago" by Carl Sandburg
Thank you for your interest in the Favorite Poem Project: Chicago. Check this page regularly to view the six videos in the series which will be release twice each week starting on Monday, April 14.Hana Bajramovic
"The Order of Key West" by Wallace Stevens
Naomi Beckwith
"The Children of the Poor" by Gwendolyn Brooks
Mayor Rahm Emanuel
"Chicago" by Carl
FYI: the Poetry Foundation, located in beautiful downtown Chicago, is an amazing resource – for writers and readers, for teachers, of course, but really-and-truly, for anyone human.
To plan a (highly-recommended) visit, click here.
To explore the children’s poetry resources, click here. 
Students can find recitation tips and look for poems here.
Teachers can learn all about Poetry Out Loud in the classroom by clicking here.
So you’re never without a poem nearby, click here to download the Poetry App.

The poem I chose to recite via SoundCloud (and – fingers-crossed – successfully uploaded to today’s post so you can hear it) is Robert Louis Stevenson’s MY SHADOW.

The poem dwells deep, deep, deep in my psyche, placed there by my mean-spirited third grade teacher Miss Atmore at Philadelphia’s Overbrook Elementary.  (Think every gruesome teacher Raoul Dahl created, to the max (!), down to the spit that sprayed the air when she’d lean in close to admonish a mistake.)

In between Halloween and Thanksgiving of that third grade year, each of us was to choose, memorize and then recite before the class eight lines of a poem.  I instantly knew the poem I’d choose.  I treasured my copy of A CHILD’S GARDEN OFVERSES.  How could I not choose my favorite poem, My Shadow? I loved the poem’s sing-song rhythms; I loved its playfulness. I even recall jumping rope while I recited the poem, practicing, practicing, practicing.  I so wanted to get it right.  Standing before my classmates in the front of my classroom, beside Miss Atmore seated dispassionately at her desk, demanded Courage and Moxie, both of which I lacked.

"My poem is My Shadow,” I bravely began, and Miss Atmore stopped me, cold, mid-sentence.
“Po-em is a two-syllable word, child!” she shouted. “How many times must I tell you all that?!  Now raise your head, start again and this time, for goodness sake, speak the words correctly!”
The rhythm of the lines ran away (probably scared); I mispronounced "India" as "Indian." All I could do was stare at the two shiny pennies that adorned my new brown loafers. 
But that failed recitation serves as a landmark. Thanks to Miss Atmore, I knew then and there that when – I – grew up to be a teacher someday, everything that Miss Atmore was, I would spend my lifetime making sure I wasn't.                                (IIllustration by Ted Rand)                                                                                                                                                                                                       
Ironically, when I was first trying my hand at writing for children, I wrote a poem entitled “P-O-E-M is a Two-syllable Word.” In time the title became a line in the first poem I ever sold, to Ebony Jr. magazine.  I’ve searched high-and-low for my copy so I might share the poem, but alas, no luck.  Even today, I can’t speak the word “poem” without enunciating clearly its two two-letter syllables.

           My Shadow by Robert Louis Stevenson
I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head.
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow –
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes goes so little that there’s none of him at all.

He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close behind me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

[Note: If you're receiving this post via email, here's the link to the Sound Cloud reading of Robert Louis Stevenson's My Shadow by Esther Hershenhorn ]

             * * * * * * * *
I offer at least five bundles of thanks to you, our readers, for embracing our blog, and to my fellow TeachingAuthors too – Jill Esbaum, JoAnn Early Macken, Carmela Martino, Laura Purdie Salas, April Halprin Wayland and currently in absentia but always in my heart, Mary Ann Rodman and Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford, for embracing me.

I did indeed find that long-ago missing Moxie and each of you makes sure I maximize it bi-monthly.

Here’s to a month of poetic celebrations!

 Oh, and don’t forget to enter our BlogiversaryRaffle to win one of FIVE Blogiversary Book Bundles. 

Good Luck!

Esther Hershenhorn

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6. Favorite Poem Project: A Group Effort!

We Teaching Authors are celebrating National Poetry Month by posting recordings of us reading some of own favorite poems.

Today is my turn--lucky me! I spent a few days at a writing retreat with Teaching Authors Jill Esbaum and April Halprin Wayland, who generously helped me try something I've wanted to do for a long time: read a poem in rounds.

Here's our recording of Mary Ann Hoberman's "Counting-Out Rhyme" from The Llama Who Had No Pajama.

What fun! Thank you, Jill and April!

If you're reading this post via email, you can view the video on YouTube.

Don't forget to enter our drawing to win one of five Teaching Authors Blogiversary Book Bundles! The details are here.

After you enter, remember to visit me over at my own blog, where I'm posting more poetry writing tips and assorted poetry treats on Fridays throughout April and giving away copies of Write a Poem Step by Step. Good luck!

Poetry Friday
Today's Poetry Friday Roundup is at Today's Little Ditty. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

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7. Wednesday Writing Workout: Try a Triolet!

Throughout April (National Poetry Month), I'll be posting poetry-themed Wednesday Writing Workouts.

Today's form is a triolet, which contains eight lines. Two of the lines repeat (one of them twice), so a poem includes only five different lines. Some variation is allowed within the repeating lines.

Because of the repetition, it's a good form to use when you want to remind readers of  a certain point or make a strong impression. The form looks like this:


A and B are the repeating lines.
a rhymes with A.
b rhymes with B.

I didn't set out to write a triolet about the form itself; that just sort of happened as I tried to explain it. Here's my triolet triolet:

Self-Referential Encouragement

A tricky form, the triolet,
relies on two lines that repeat,
reinforcing what they say.
A tricky form, the triolet—
keep trying, and you’ll find a way
to manage this poetic feat.
A tricky form, the triolet
relies on two lines that repeat.

More information about the form is at Poets.org. Give it a try, and do let us know how it goes! 

Remember to enter to win one of five Teaching Authors Blogiversary Book Bundles! Details are here. 

On my own blog, I'm posting more poetry writing tips and assorted poetry treats on Fridays, including giveaways of Write a Poem Step by Step. Be sure to stop by!

JoAnn Early Macken

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8. Celebrating our BlogiVERSEary with a Favorite Poem (and Giveaway!)

A HUGE thank you to Mary Lee, who blogs at A Year of Reading, for coining the word "blogiVERSEary" when she commented on April's post announcing our celebration and giveaway.

BlogiVERSEary is the perfect word to describe our theme this year. (Wish I'd thought of it when I created our Fifth Blogiversary logo!) Since our blog's anniversary falls during National Poetry Month, we thought it would be fitting for each of us to share a favorite poem, à la this year's Chicago Poetry Foundation's edition of the Favorite Poem Project. Esther is the one who brought the Favorite Poem Project to our attention, so I'll let her talk more about it when she posts. Meanwhile, if you're a teacher or parent, you may want to go ahead and check out their poetry lesson plans and other resources (after you're finished reading here, of course!).

To make our blogiVERSEary posts extra special, some (perhaps all) of the TeachingAuthors will share their favorite poems not only in printed form, but also via an audio or video reading. It's an opportunity for those of you we've never met to at least hear our voices. Creating an online audio or video clip is new territory for me. Unfortunately, I don't have a video camera, so I'll be sharing an audio reading, as April did.

I created a new account with SoundCloud, just for that purpose, per these instructions from the Poetry Foundation. After a couple of tense days when I couldn't get my account validated, I was finally able to upload the sound clip. If you are reading this post via email, you can go online to listen to the clip here. If you missed hearing April's reading of her favorite, give a listen to her Friday post. And while you're there, be sure to enter our blogiversary giveaway to win one of our FIVE "blogiversary book bundles," if you haven't already done so.

It took me some time to decide on just which "favorite poem" I wanted to share. The first poems I thought of were classics by Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson. But I really wanted to share something a bit more child-friendly. So I went over to check out Greg Pincus's annual 30 Poets/30 Days project. Poking around on the site, I discovered the perfect poem for our blogiVERSEary: "How to Read a Poem Aloud." It happens to be written by our very own April Halprin Wayland! Greg originally posted it in his 2009 edition of 30 Poets/30 Days, on April 28, 2009, just days after our TeachingAuthors blog debuted. And now, with April's permission, I'm sharing it here, as one of my favorite poems. You can also hear me read it below.

            How to Read a Poem Aloud
                    by April Halprin Wayland

            First, read the title of the poem
            and the poet’s name.

            Be clear.

            Now completely

            Let each line

            Then read it
            one more time.

            When the poem
            ends, sigh.

            Think about the poet at her desk,
            late at night, picking up her pen to write--

            and why.
                             © April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved. 

Now isn't that just the perfect poem for our blogiVERSEary?

Happy Poetry Month, and Happy Writing!

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9. Happy 5th Blogiversary to us! Book Bundles Giveaway! Poetry Month! And Poetry Friday!

Howdy Campers ~  Happy Poetry Month!  Happy Poetry Friday!  And...

Happy 5th Blogiversary to us!

Details of our Book Bundles Giveaway below

On April 22, 2009, powered by the dazzlingly bright solar power of Carmela Martino, we started this blog.

Five years--what a fabulous ride it's been!

Five candles.  And when there are candles, someone makes a wish and blows them out. So you could say that this image represents the six active TeachingAuthors. (We're celebrating all TeachingAuthors who have been part of our blog biography.)

Campers, thank you from the bottom of our candles for reading, following, commenting and encouraging us. You're why we do this. You're why I'm terrified everytime a post is due. We want to add something meaningful and merry to the party! In celebration of You, this month's drawing is for one of FIVE "blogiversary book bundles." Each bundle is a set of five books hand-selected by a TeachingAuthor and contains at least one autographed TA book. Yay You! (Details below.)

* * * 
This month, inspired by the Chicago Favorite Poem Project, each of us will share a favorite poem. One of mine is "Liberty" by Janet Wong, from her book, The Declaration of Interdependence--Poems for an Election Year and also included in Caroline Kennedy's Poems to Learn by Heart) read (and reproduced below) with Janet's kind permission:

by Janet Wong from DECLARATION OF INTERDEPENDENCE – Poems for an Election Year

I pledge acceptance
of the views
so different,
that make us America

To listen, to look,
to think, and to learn

One people
sharing the earth
for liberty
and justice
for all.

Wow, right?  So much substance packed into 12 lines.

* * * 
This month is overflowing with poetry!  Three TeachingAuthors are celebrating in three ways:

Also, Sylvia Vardell's Texas Women University students chose poems from the The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science: Poems for the School Year Integrating Science, Reading, and Language Arts and have made "poem movies" of them.  They'll appear on Sylvia's blog all this month. My poem "Old Water" will be featured on April 6.

And thank you, Amy, of The Poem Farm, for hosting Poetry Friday today!

* * *

By now you're asking: "How can I enter to win a Book Bundle?

Our giveaway starts at midnight on Friday, 4/3 and ends at midnight of the day after our blogiversary, 4/23.

--You have a chance to win one of FIVE "blogiversary book bundles." Each bundle is a set of five books hand-selected by a TeachingAuthor and contains at least one autographed TA book.

--Books will be mailed directly to the winner, so winners must have a US mailing address.

--You have 3 entry options, and can enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options to increase their chances. (We DO verify that you've met all the criteria for each option. Incomplete entries will be disqualified.)

1) Tell us how you follow the blog (by "follow" we mean some sort of automated subscription service, such as via email, Facebook, Bloglovin', etc.) We have links in the sidebar to make it easy to start subscribing if you haven't already.

2) Leave a comment on THIS blog post. If you have difficulty commenting, you can submit comments via email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com. For this giveaway, you need to include in the comment either a) the title of a favorite poem OR b) the title of a favorite TeachingAuthor blog post.

Please be also sure to include your name in the comment so we can verify you've fulfilled this option. [Some folks don't comment with their real name and we have no way of knowing who they are!]

3) Help spread the word. Share a link back to this blog post from your own blog, or from Twitter, Pinterest, or any other way we can verify online. You must include the URL of the link in the space provided.

And good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

posted with love by April Halprin Wayland.  Monkey's on vacation.

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10. It's National Poetry Month--Give Yourself an Assignment!

Throughout April (National Poetry Month), I'll be posting poetry-themed Wednesday Writing Workouts.

On my own blog, I'll add more poetry writing tips and assorted poetry treats, including giveaways of Write a Poem Step by Step.

Be sure to check out what the other Teaching Authors are working on this month! April is posting daily metaphors, and Laura is writing a riddle haiku every day. For more Poetry Month delights, check out the list of 2014 Kidlitosphere Events on Jama Kim Rattigan's Alphabet Soup Blog. You could start reading the links above and continue for days. Just be sure to come back here on Friday for a special announcement!

For today's workout, give yourself a writing assignment. If you keep writing in the same old forms all the time, try a new one.

How about a limerick? They are silly, lighthearted, and fun. As a challenge, I decided to write one using the name of the place where I live. I first tried to rhyme with "Shorewood," but the stress is on the wrong syllable. Does anything rhyme with "Wisconsin"? I don't think so, but I didn't let that stop me!

(Note that this poem is not autobiographical. I would never do such a thing!)

A traditional limerick typically starts out by naming a person from a place:
  • There was an old man from Seville.
  • There once was a girl from Cancún.
To write a limerick, read a few first to get the anapest rhythm in your head: da da DUM da da DUM da da DUM. Lines 1, 2, and 5 each have three anapests (with some variation allowed), and lines 3 and 4 each have two.

Edward Lear made limericks famous. You can read many of his poems and see his accompanying illustrations on the Project Gutenberg site. Or look for a poetry collection in the library--most of the limericks online are vulgar!

One thing that helps is to choose a two-syllable place name with the stress on the second syllable, such as Madrid or Green Bay. Remember that you have to find two words that rhyme with the place name. Brazil might be easier to work with than Detroit. Have fun!

I'll be highlighting a whole slew of forms on this blog and my own web site throughout the month. So after you stop here on Friday (You are stopping here on Friday, right?), visit me there for more poetry fun!

Oh, and feel free to post your limericks here--we'd love to see them!

JoAnn Early Macken

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11. Hello, Poetry Month!

First of all, I'd like to add my "WELCOME, Laura!" I’m so happy you’re here. Happy, too, about all the poetry you and April and JoAnn have been posting. That has me itching get back to writing more of my own (I was going to say you all were infectious, but that didn’t sound quite right).

Since we’re headed into conference season, I thought I'd post a relevant poem I wrote a few years back. Just before a fall conference, my SCBWI regional advisor called and asked if I’d get up on opening night and give sort of a “what not to do” talk regarding conference etiquette. (We’ve all heard horror stories of writers following visiting editors into bathrooms to talk about their manuscripts, right?) Then she added, “Make it funny. And how about writing it in rhyme?” Ack!

So, using a method very similar to Laura’s when she writes nonfiction poetry, I sat down and jotted a list of do’s and don’ts, then began tweaking and taking everything way over the top. Here’s the final product:

How to Impress an Editor

It’s my first time at a conference.
This? My brand new picture book.
Let me hold your glass of wine so you can take a better look.
See? It’s bound and fully laminated.
Here’s the copyright.
Just look at how the silver glitter sparkles in the light!
My nephew did the illustrations for me.
Aren’t they great?
I’m developing a series. This is number one. Of eight.
Yes, you are a little peaked.
Let’s go over there and sit.
What? You have to do the schmoozy thing and “work the room” a bit?
I’ll come with – and show you photos of Chief Kitchy-coo, my dog.
He’s the hero of my story (written all in dialogue).
See, he flies around Chicago with his mother, solving crimes.
It’s a shoe-in for that Printz Award.
And check this out … it rhymes.
There’s a song at the beginning.
There’s a moral at the end,
and a note reminding children that the story’s just pretend.
I’ve already got endorsements from the ASPCA,
and I’ve sent one to the Oprah show. I wonder … do they pay?
Oh, you have to hit the ladies’ room?
No problem. I’ll come, too.
While you’re taking care of business, I can read aloud to you.
Hon, is everything OK in there?
You need a helping hand?
What? You have a splitting headache?
Sure, of course I understand.
You can take my little story to your room and read it there.
No, it’s quite all right. Yes, I insist. I want you to, I swear.
Let me walk you to your suite.
Oh, it’s no trouble, none at all.
Well, for goodness sake, we lucked out. Look! 
My room’s just down the hall!
Here’s an Advil for that headache.
Here’s my card. Know what? Take two.
Now, remind me of your name, hon, and … you edit books for who?
Take a hot bath.
Take it easy.
Don’t you let the bedbugs bite.
Ow, ow, ow! My foot was in there.
We’ll talk soon, then.

After I read the poem to the group, one editor took me aside and said that, sadly, the fictional writer of my poem wasn’t far off the mark. Yikes. Jane Yolen, who was one of our speakers, told me to send it to The Writer (which was still in business at the time). I did, and they published it in their April 2008 issue.

If you write rhyming picture books and haven’t yet signed up for Angie Karcher’s brand spankin’ new RhyPiBoMo, head on over and register:  http://angiekarcher.wordpress.com

You can sign up until April 16th – and remember to enter the RhyPiBoMo Golden Quill Poetry Contest. Even if you don’t officially join in, you can follow along daily. Angie has lots of rhyming picture book authors lined up to post each day with tidbits of wisdom to help you improve your own rhyming picture books. See all the details on Angie’s site.

Jill Esbaum

P.S.  If you haven’t yet entered for a chance to win Laura’s Water Can Be…, hurry! You only have a little more time!

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12. "Winter Rain" (by Christina Rossetti) and a Water Can Be... Wrap-up

Happy Poetry Friday!

I first read this poem just last month at Keri Recommends, and I love it! I've been immersed in writing educator materials and creating videos for Water Can Be... the past couple of months, and this celebration of what water does for our world completely enchants me. (The three stanzas I highlighted in blue are my very favorite--in case you don't have time for a longer poem today:>)

    Winter Rain

    Every valley drinks,
        Every dell and hollow:
    Where the kind rain sinks and sinks,
        Green of Spring will follow.

    Yet a lapse of weeks
        Buds will burst their edges,
    Strip their wool-coats, glue-coats, streaks,
        In the woods and hedges;

    Weave a bower of love
        For birds to meet each other,
    Weave a canopy above
        Nest and egg and mother.

    But for fattening rain
        We should have no flowers,
    Never a bud or leaf again
        But for soaking showers;

    Never a mated bird
        In the rocking tree-tops,
    Never indeed a flock or herd
        To graze upon the lea-crops.

    Lambs so woolly white,
        Sheep the sun-bright leas on,
    They could have no grass to bite
        But for rain in season.

    We should find no moss
        In the shadiest places,
    Find no waving meadow grass
        Pied with broad-eyed daisies:

    But miles of barren sand,
        With never a son or daughter,
    Not a lily on the land,
        Or lily on the water.

--by Christina Rossetti

Isn't that amazing? And here I am reading this poem aloud:

And this is the final day of our weeklong celebration of Water Can Be... here on Teaching Authors. Thanks for letting me share so much! If you're interested in book trailers, the teaching guide, reviews (it got starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly--my first stars ever!), etc., just check out the Water Can Be... page on my website. And don't forget to return to Monday's post to enter our giveaway for a personalized copy of my book. Just click on the Rafflecopter widget at the bottom of that post. Good luck!

Teacher and poet Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading has today's Poetry Friday Roundup--enjoy!

--Laura Purdie Salas

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13. Wednesday Writing Workout: Rhyming Nonfiction

Kids (and grown-ups) love to write in rhyme, but it’s a lot harder than it looks. And it gets even tougher if you’re trying to write nonfiction in rhyme! So, here's an exercise for those interested in writing rhyming picture books. This could also be a fun classroom activity where you ask students to synthesize information learned in a particular math or science or history unit. (I wouldn’t even attempt something like this with students younger than 5th grade, though, and even then, working as a group will be a lot more successful.)

1. Pick a topic you want to write a short poem about. I think I’ll do, um, fences. Yup, fences. Pick something you’ve never written about and don’t actually want to write a whole poem or picture book about. That will make this less stressful!

2. Define your topic in a first line. That’s a place to start. m-w.com tells me a fence is “a structure like a wall built outdoors usually of wood or metal that separates two areas or prevents people or animals from entering or leaving.” OK, I’m going to start with:

A fence is like an outside wall

Because it ends in wall (and, yes, I purposely picked a simplish word that I know will have rhyming possibilities to end the line with), I’m going to brainstorm and/or look up on rhymezone.com words that rhyme with wall that might in some way work into this poem: all, ball, crawl, fall, tall,

3. Add detail in rhyming line.

A fence is like an outside wall:
Wood or metal, short or tall.

4. Decide what else you want to tell about your topic. I like the idea that fences sometimes keep people or things or animals IN, and sometimes keep people or things or animals OUT. So that’s what I want my second half of this poem to convey. In and out are the main elements of that concept, so I’ll check out some rhyme possibilities and see where that leads me:

in – bin, grin, skin, twin, win
out – about, doubt, shout, trout

Well, those lead me pretty much nowhere, at least at first glance. Maybe I’ll try inside and outside, instead:

cried, died, tried, wide

Again, a big, fat nothing.

So, I switch gears. WHAT does it keep inside? Kids and dogs is what I’m mainly thinking of. And what does it keep outside? Strangers, people that might get hurt on whatever’s inside the fence...

While, I was thinking about that, the word divide popped into my head, which would rhyme with inside or outside. So I’m going to play with that.

5. Now try another couplet to show your concept.

A fence’s job is to divide.
A fence keeps beagles safe inside.

I don’t like that because it’s not clear. And the two lines don’t really connect. No cause or effect. Each line is true, but there’s no relationship between them. I’ll try again.

I think that second concept is too big for two short lines. I’m going to simplify to the concept that a fence keeps animals safe.

A fenced-in pasture, green and wide,
keeps grazing cattle safe inside.

6. Read over the four lines you wrote. Congratulations!

A fence is like an outside wall:
Wood or metal, short or tall.
A fenced-in pasture, green and wide,
keeps grazing cattle safe inside.

OK, mine is not going to win any prizes, but it’s a start! I have a basic definition, a bit of detail, and then a single example of one kind of fence and its job. In reading it, I see some possibilities for re-ordering and revising lines. So my second draft is:

Wood or metal, short or tall,
a fence becomes an outside wall.
Rolling meadow, green and wide,
cattle safely fenced inside.

Again, this is just very basic. But doing this exercise can help you build some rhyming/meaning muscles, so it's a great practice activity for any would-be rhymers!

Here are a couple of bits from my first draft of A River Can Be…, which eventually turned into Water Can Be…. You can see this process at work here. It’s just a combination of picking a word I KNOW works for the topic, brainstorming rhymes, and then trying out lines with those other rhymes to see which ones work both for rhyme AND for topic.

And when a word didn’t have enough rhymes to play with (like haven), I tried a synonym that was more rhyme-friendly. I hope you have fun trying your hand at a little bit of rhyme today!  
I'd love to see what you come up with! Feel free to share your four lines in the Comments!

Oh! And don't forget to enter our book giveaway of Water Can Be...! by clicking on the Rafflecopter widget in last Monday's post.

--Laura Purdie Salas

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14. How I Became a Teaching Author (+ Giveaway)

When I was a kid, I had no thought of being an author OR a teacher! As the youngest of four girls, I was always one of the students when we played school. As I think of my sisters, Miss Trunchbull comes to mind—ha! I never ever got to be the teacher! (On the plus side, this helped me become an early and voracious reader). And while I loved to read, it never occurred to me that real people wrote all those books I devoured.

With my big sisters, Janet (left), Gail (center),
and Patty (right). I'm the peanut in front.

When I started college, I planned to be a veterinarian. My first creative writing class killed that plan, and I knew I would do something with books, reading, and writing. That something turned out to be LOTS of things.

First, I became a magazine editor. When the publication was sold, I decided to try teaching (I was certified for Secondary English). I taught 8th-grade English for two years, and it was exhilarating, exhausting, and life-changing. I knew I did not have the stamina to stay in it for the long haul and try to be an amazing teacher while dealing with administration, assessment (even back then!), politics, and parents. But I loved my 8th graders and their wild creativity—and the books we were constantly reading.

Our two daughters, ca. 1998
A seed was planted. I wonder what it would be like to write kids’ books?

Then my husband and I moved to Minnesota. While doing freelance writing for grown-ups, I held part-time jobs over the years as a copyeditor, a personal care assistant for young adults with disabilities, a teacher in our school-age latchkey program, etc. When we had kids, the thousands of books we read with them nourished that seed and helped it grow: I want to write books for kids.

So, of course, I joined SCBWI and set to work learning how to do that. In October of 1999, I went to a local SCBWI conference, where two editors from educational publishers spoke. Because I was conference volunteer, I got to be one editor’s helper and I got a manuscript critique with the other. I ended up writing books for both companies.

BookSpeak! Poems About Books
(Clarion, 2011)
I had been submitting (bad) picture book manuscripts and magazine stories for a couple of years. I had a few children’s credits, but I really wanted to write a book. So when Jill Braithwaite (who was an editor at Lerner at that time) asked if I would be interested in writing an upper-elementary biography, I said, “Sure!”

Even though that was by far NOT my first choice.

And thus began my history of writing children’s books. To date, I have written about 110 nonfiction books for the educational market, 12 poetry collections, and two rhyming nonfiction books.  In fact, my newest book, Water Can Be..., comes out on April Fool's Day, and we're doing a giveaway of it here on TeachingAuthors.com! You can enter using the Rafflecopter widget at the end of the post. Enter through April 1, 2014, the pub date of Water Can Be...!

Water Can Be... comes out on April 1!
One of my biggest surprises has been how much I get to still teach. I teach adult writers through conferences like SCBWI’s, the 21st-Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference, and the Loft Literary Center’s Children’s and Young Adult Literary Festival. I have taught in-person and online classes on writing for children, finding publishers to submit your work to, and more. A colleague, Lisa Bullard, and I also mentor children’s writers through Mentors for Rent, an hourly-based critique and coaching service for children’s writers.

At a school visit in 2013

I also get to present to educators and librarians, which I love! I’m usually spreading poetry joy—in fact, in a couple of weeks, I’m going to present at the UNLV conference. I can’t wait. Presenting through IRA, ALA, and NCTE have been highlights for me.

And I get to connect to kids, too, through elementary author visits and young authors conferences. I have a blast getting kids excited about reading, writing, and poetry. And I don’t have to assess them or do any of the other ongoing tasks teachers have to keep up with.

A Leaf Can Be... (Millbrook, 2012)
Don’t get me wrong, teaching is still hard work! But it’s immensely satisfying, too. I look at how much public speaking I do now and think, Wow. Not bad for someone who was so terrified of public speaking I put it off until I was a senior in college! (Though I was not quite as bad as my best friend, who had to calm her nerves with a glass of wine before our 8 a.m. speech class on presentation days.)

My work as a teacher and an author are entwined in my mind. I can’t imagine one part of my career without the other. If I weren’t a writer, I obviously wouldn’t be invited to speak to teachers and writers and students. But if I didn’t do the teaching, I do think my writing would suffer. Getting out there and being in schools, with kids, helps me stay in touch with kids’ real lives today, especially now that my own two are officially adults—gulp.

And…that’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about my writing journey!

--Laura Purdie Salas

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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15. Signs of the Seasons

icy lakes and rivers,
snow up to
our necks,
skating through
day after
frozen day.

snowdrops in sunny spots,
parking on both sides,

and hooray--
maple sap is running!

Go outside and look.
It's safe now.
Here comes spring!

I had planned to post a poem today about sticking my neck out. As I recall, it had a really good comparison between the way a giraffe might plunge in headfirst and an amoeba slides its foot forward. Alas, I cannot find the poem on my computer. Did I ever even write it, or was it just one of those lingering ideas that never found its way onto paper or from paper to keyboard? Maybe I'll write it one day.

In whatever we write, though, our own experiences shine through. Wisconsin's winter has been the coldest in thirty years or so. Spring? We're so ready!

Today's Poetry Friday Roundup is at The Drift Record. Enjoy! 

JoAnn Early Macken

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16. My (NON) Writing Ritual: For Times When I'm Lost

I’m here to report:
there are those times when even though I’ve ritualistically readied myself to write, I am unable to move forward with my story.

I lose my way somehow.
My fingers freeze.
My North Star is elsewhere playing Hide-and-Seek.

The Good News, however?
Like that wondrous woman who lives inside our cars’ or devices’ GPS,
the one who expertly and melodically repositions our course when we turn left instead of right or bypass our designated Exit or come to a grinding halt at the wrong destination,
I know how to RECALCULATE!

Here’s my 3-Step Easy Ritual for finding my way back.

I take myself away from my writing space, sit still and quietly re-read the encouraging hope-filled greeting cards I’ve mailed myself the past 37 years (!) while out-and-about on my Writer’s Journey.

Next I re-read and think on the inspirational quotes I’ve tucked away inside my treasured Hansel and Gretl box.

#3Finally I empty my beautiful one-of-a-kind carpet bag of its contents - the notes, letters and Thank You’s I’ve received, and read my way through, savoring the words,

especiallyand always those penned long-ago by my fellow TeachingAuthor Carmela Martino when I sold, at long last, my very first picture book.

Before I know it,
I’ve recalibrated my compass, refueled my heart and found my way home to my keyboard and story.

Happy Writing – and – Recalculating (if and when needed)!

Esther Hershenhorn

The above Rx is a true-blue twofer; the 3-step ritual helps me REBOOT too!

Let’s hear it for that hard-working second-chance prefix RE! Where would we be without it?

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17. What's Your Writing Ritual? A Mask Poem about Procrastination

Howdy Campers and Happy Poetry Friday!

Thanks for hosting it today at Rogue Anthropologist, Kara!

We've been talking about writing rituals.  In her post, Carmela wrote:
"I didn't know that JoAnn likes to start her day writing in longhand before turning on her computer. Or that Jill tries to exercise first thing, even before breakfast. (Now that's what I call discipline!) Or that Laura, our newest TeachingAuthor, works best when she writes in short, intense bursts. But I was especially surprised to learn that none of them practice what they consider to be true writing rituals."

I'm not sure I have a ritual per se.

Before exercise class, I meditate for 30 minutes.  Part of my ritual as I settle down to meditate is to open an invisible book and ask to be a channel as a writer.

Perhaps my ritual is Doing Everything But Write First (which can be incredibly productive or incredibly fattening.)   

I actually call it Circling the Chair Time:

      by April Halprin Wayland
            Ancient dog
            circled in the grass
            round and round
            to tamp it down

            I am dog
            circling, too
            round and round
            as all dogs do
            round my homework,
            round my desk
            finally, working
            then I rest.
           published in Cricket Magazine       

          poem and drawing (c) 2014 April Halprin Wayland all rights reserved
BTW, the above is a mask poem--written from the point of view of something that doesn't speak.

What's your ritual? Monkey wants to know.

P.S: MUCH more on this later, we are proud to announce that Esther, Laura and I have poems in the newest edition of Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell's amazing Poetry Friday Anthology series...this one is the Poetry Friday Anthology for Science-grades K-5--wooo wooo!

 Yep, the images are small--but that's to entice you...check it out!

posted by April Halprin Wayland with help from Monkey and Eli.

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18. My Writing Rituals

Confession time: I'm the one who suggested we do a series about writing rituals. So I've read my fellow TeachingAuthors' posts with great interest. I didn't know that JoAnn likes to start her day writing in longhand before turning on her computer. Or that Jill tries to exercise first thing, even before breakfast. (Now that's what I call discipline!) Or that Laura, our newest TeachingAuthor, works best when she writes in short, intense bursts. But I was especially surprised to learn that none of them practice what they consider to be true writing rituals.

I'm surprised for two reasons:
1) I've read so many articles about the quirky rituals practiced by writers, such as those mentioned in Debra Eve's article that inspired this series, that I assumed nearly all writers had some sort of ritual.
2) I have several rituals of my own.

There. I've said it. I may turn out to be the only TeachingAuthor with regular writing rituals. If that's the case, so be it. Since I'm the one who suggested the topic, I feel obligated to be honest. Even if it means confessing that my ritual includes prayer, something I don't typically talk about on this blog.

I still remember the first time I heard an author admit that prayer was part of her daily routine/ritual. It was at one of our Vermont College residencies, and someone asked a highly-acclaimed visiting author about her writing routine. I was floored when she told the crowded room that she started every day with prayer. I'd been doing the same for years, but I'd never dreamed of admitting it in public, or hearing a fellow writer admit it. I guess I'd been raised to believe prayer a private matter. Even now, I feel a bit uncomfortable discussing hear. Oh well.

My writing ritual, which has evolved over the years, currently goes something like this:

  • I light a candle and say several short prayers, including one that my work will be a blessing on the world.
  • I pull up the music files on my computer and play some classical music to drown out other sounds/conversations going on in the house.  
  • I open my Daily Tracking Log file on my computer and record my start time.
  • I set a timer for however long I want the current writing session to last.
  • I write until the timer goes off.
courtesy of ferguweb at morgueFile
I recently added another step to this opening ritual after starting a 100-day, one hundred words a day (OHWAD) writing challenge. I read about OHWAD on a friend's Facebook page. The challenge is to write at least 100 words every day for 100 straight days--I'm currently on Day 36. If you miss a day, you have to start back at Day 1. So I've added a step to my writing ritual that includes looking at my previous day's ending word count in my Project Log and calculating my goal for today's writing session. (While my minimum is 100 words, my goal is often for 200-300 words/day, or more.) 

My closing ritual includes recording my ending word count in my Project Log, noting my end time in my Daily Tracking Log, and blowing out the candle, if I haven't already done so earlier. (Don't want my office to get smoky.) 

Interestingly, I don't close with a prayer. However, I might add one now after reading about this closing ritual in Eve's article:
"J.D. Moyer jots down ideas for the next day’s session and says a prayer of thanks (even though he’s an atheist)." 
If an atheist is willing to publicly admit that he prays as part of his writing ritual, I guess I have no reason to feel embarrassed. J

Happy Writing!

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I’ve been out and about the past few days in The Big Apple, taking in both sights AND sounds while attending the 2014 Annual SCBWI Winter Conference at the Grand Hyatt New York. 
Imagine: 1085 children’s book creators from 47 states and 20 countries gathered together in one beautiful ballroom to celebrate our community, our books, our creative efforts, each other while learning and taking heart from the words of the esteemed faculty. 

YOU can attend too, sort of and vicariously, thanks to Team Blog.  Just click here. 
I heartily recommend you do so, with a cup o'coffee or two by your side. It's an Instant Education courtesy of our Children's Book World's Best and Brightest.
You will be two-hat-sizes smarter by the time you reach Nikki Grimes' closing keynote.

Speaking of "smarter,"
why not test everything you’ve learned about voice from our past weeks’ TeachingAuthors posts by matching these unique 2014 SCBWI Winter Conference speakers (and one or two non-Conference folks I happened to meet) -

 A.   Sylvia, The Grand Central Hyatt

B.     Lin Oliver, Executive Director of SCBWI 

C.     Author Jack Gantos

D.    Author Kate Messner

E.     Author and Poet Nikki Grimes

F.     Gabriella Pizzolo, of MATILDA                             

G.    TeachingAuthor Jill Esbaum

with their identifiably-distinctive spoken words :

(1)   If you’re drawing characters, really swing your cat!”
Keynote Address: How everything I learned about fiction and nonfiction in picture books, poetry, short stories, novellas, or, angst, dialog, a hundred drafts, and good luck all end up in the crown jewel of literature: THE NOVEL

(2)  “Rule #1: You can’t have brave without scared.
Rule #2:  Never underestimate the power of failure.
Failure is a pretty good trail marker to let us know we’re going in the right direction.”
Keynote address: The Spectacular Power of Failure

(3)  “We love everyone and you’re all welcome here!  Your success is our success. The
only thing we’re missing is the Jamaican bobsledders.”
Welcome and Introduction

(4)  “May I help you, please?”

(5)  “I HATCHED was named a Sunday Book Review Editors’ Choice in today’s New York Times!!!”

(6)  It’s so important that we ask ourselves the hard questions.
Just keep writing.  You’ll figure it out eventually.
The key is to learn to trust the process.
Take 2 poems and call me in the morning.”
Keynote address: Creating the Dream through Fiction for Young Readers

(6)  Just because you find that life's not fair, it
Doesn't mean that you just have to grin and bear it.
If you always take it on the chin and wear it,
You might as well be saying you think that it's OK.
And that's not right.
And if it's not right, you have to put it right.
But nobody else is gonna put it right for me.
Nobody but me is gonna change my story.
Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty

From: MATILDA, “Naughty,” lyrics and music by Tim Minchin

Here’s hoping you earned a perfect score and took heart from the above Truths that left me hopeful, grateful, and determined to use my voice to tell my stories.
Esther Hershenhorn

Here are the correct answers: 1-C, 2-D, 3-B, 4-A, 5-G, 6-E, 7-F
Alas, I still dream of winning an SCBWI Conference Joke Contest. This year's theme? Placing a children's book character in a Winter Olympics headline.  My favorite winner was "Humpty Dumpty Disqualified for Possession of Crack."

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20. Sylvia Vardell's Poetry Aloud Here! Using Your Voice in a Poem of Instruction ~

Howdy Campers!

Happy Poetry Friday ~ the hostess for today's poetry feast is Karen Edmisten--thank you, Karen!


and congratulations to Sylvia Vardell on the publication of an updated, shiny NEW EDITION of her fabulous Poetry Aloud Here--Sharing Poetry with Children, which has been in print for over ten years (the new book is called Poetry Aloud Here 2)! I am elated that one of my poems (printed below) introduces the book.  Man-oh-man--what an honor!

Click here for Sylvia's description of her inspiring book (Booklist called the first edition "required reading for all children's librarians"), and here's the notice from ALA.

If you've been following TeachingAuthors, you know that we're in the middle of our series exploring Voice: what it is, how to find yours and/or how to teach it.  JoAnn kicked off our discussion with her definition of voice and her original poem, "I Have A Voice"; Jill continued with a real-life example of student voices and some wonderful picture book writers' voices; Carmela introduced us to a terrific book on this topic and offered an e.e.cummings poem as a stunning example of voice; Mary Ann showed us how she teaches how to create a character's voice; and Carmela came back with a Wednesday Writing Workout on distilling your own writing voice.

When talking about voice in my Writing the Children's Picture Book class, I read parts or all of the following books: Gennifer Choldenko's Moonstruck, Karla Kuskin's The Philharmonic Gets Dressed, Ruth Lercher Bornstein's Little Gorilla and Rabbit's Good News, Chris Raschka's Yo! Yes? and John Coltrane's Giant Steps, Susan Patron's Burgoo Stew, and many other books.  My heavens--what a chorus of wildly diverse voices in that flock of books!

Then I read them Edward Lear's "The Owl and the Pussy-Cat (sic)," which begins:

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
   In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
   And sang to a small guitar,
"O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
    What a beautiful Pussy you are,
         You are,
         You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!" (read the rest here)

and give them 10-15 minutes to write the same story from the POV of one of the characters in the story.  They may decide to become the Owl the Pussycat, the boat, the ring...whatever they want.  (Someone in today's class wrote from the POV of the Bong Tree!) The results are wonderful, distinct and often hilarious (Pussycat as a woman of the night, for example...)  We immediately discover both the writer's and the character's voice.

Stéphane Jorisch illustrated this version of Lear's poem...
demonstrating his own distinctive voice

So many ways to convey one's voice!

Here's my poem that's in Sylvia's book (she says joyfully)--it's a poem of instruction

by April Halprin Wayland

To begin,
tell the poet’s name
and the title
to your friend.

Savor every word—

read it one more time.

Now, take a breath—
and sigh.

Then think about the poet,
at her desk,
late at night,
picking up her pen to write—

and why.

Now it's your turn: try writing your own poem of instruction!

poem and drawing (c) 2014 April Halprin Wayland, who thanks you for reading all the way to the end

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21. Wednesday Writing Workout: Distilling Your Writer's Voice

In last Friday's post on "voice," I mentioned the book Finding Your Writer's Voice: A Guide to Creative Fiction by Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall (St. Martin's), and how it provides specific exercises for helping a writer develop his or her distinctive voice. As promised, for today's Wednesday Writing Workout I'm sharing an exercise based on one in the book. It's from Chapter Seven, "Distilling Voice." I encourage you to borrow the book from a library (or better still, buy your own copy) to read more about this exercise and others in the book.

This is basically a freewriting exercise. Since there are many variations of freewriting, let me start by describing my "rules" for freewriting (which I first introduced back in this blog post):

  • the idea is to keep your pen moving without pausing and definitely without editing
  • write with pen and paper rather than at a keyboard
  • if you find yourself stuck, write something like "I don't know what to write next but I'll think of something soon" until you do think of something
  • if your mind wanders away from your main topic, that's fine. Just keep writing.  
Now, for today's Wednesday Writing Workout: Distilling Voice.
  1. Using a timer, freewrite for ten minutes each day for a week. Write as quickly as you can, without thinking, judging, or editing. You can start something new each day, or continue where you left off the day before. 
  2. After the week is over, put aside what you've written. Take a week off without looking back at what you wrote. 
  3. After the second week, pull out your notebook and read aloud your freewrites. As you read, mark the words, phrases, or passages that "leap out at you, that grab your attention."
  4. Repeat step 1, only this time, begin each freewrite session with one of your marked words or phrases. As it says in Finding Your Writer's Voice"Using your most exciting writing as your point of departure helps you avoid introductions and leap right into what's vital."
  5. After you've done this for seven days, again put your writing aside for a week.
  6. Repeat step 3, only this time, after marking the words and phrases that most captivate you, cross out any words that you don't find interesting or unique. Read aloud what's left. What you have now should really "sing." If the writing still feels bland or weak, repeat steps 4-6.
I first did this exercise years ago and found it extremely enlightening. To quote Finding Your Writer's Voice:
"You may end up with a prose poem, a surprising non sequitur with its own sense of wholeness, a surreal story, humorous nonsense. Consider this one of your best pieces of writing. Pin it above your desk. Let it inspire you."
If you give this exercise a try, do let us know how it works for you.
Happy writing!

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22. Habits, Patterns, Rituals, Whatever Works

Today, I’m starting a new series of Teaching Author posts on a topic I hadn’t previously thought about much: writing rituals. An article by Debra Eve, “How to Create a Three-Phase Writing Ritual,” is our inspiration.

Eve begins by making the distinction between habits and rituals. Rituals include things like lighting a candle or saying a prayer—making a conscious effort to separate from everyday activities—in order to transition to a different reality to write before returning to normal life.

My pre-writing routine definitely falls into the habits category. First thing in the morning, I fetch a cup of coffee and sit at my desk. I try to write by hand for awhile before I turn on the computer. When I’m in the middle of a project, I plunge right in, scribbling on the draft I printed at the end of the previous day’s work. Between projects, if I’m not sure what to work on next, I write Morning Pages to try to discover where to focus my attention. Writing Morning Pages also helps when I'm stuck. Sometimes they are all I can do; sometimes they help me let go and move on to more productive work. Some days I also read or do a writing exercise.

I just submitted the monarch butterfly manuscript that’s been on my mind for more than four years and my top priority for several months. So I’m in that In-Between Phase right now. I’m writing Morning Pages, recycling old drafts, and catching up on mundane tasks. This clean-up process helps me let go and move on to the next exciting possibility. (I think I might have it! I started my preliminary research on my last trip to the library.)

That clean-up step doesn't qualify as a ritual, either—it's just what works for me. And that's what matters, right? But now that I've put some thought into writing rituals, I'll consider developing one. Who knows? It might be just what I need.

Stay tuned to find out what the other Teaching Authors have to say about habits, patterns, and rituals. We’d love to hear about yours!

JoAnn Early Macken

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23. Writing Rituals/Calling Up the Muse

I’m the second one to post on the topic of writing rituals. Like JoAnn, I really don’t have any. I do have a habit, which is to hit the treadmill first thing every day, then shower and eat breakfast before sitting down to write. But that's only because if I don't exercise first thing in the morning, I probably won't do it at all. The surest way to call up my muse remains putting my buns in the chair and beginning something. Anything.

Calling up the writing muse isn’t my problem. My problem is that I have trouble settling in to actually, you know, WRITE until I deal with all the writing-related stuff that comes with being an author – jotting thank you notes, replying to kids, adding an accounting entry, creating a blog post, responding to author visit requests, taking action on something that came in the mail, sending and answering important e-mails, keeping current on the few blogs I follow, etc. Once the decks are cleared, I tell myself, I’ll be free to create. But as I’ve learned over the years, those other things are never finished. Never. I'm not complaining; I enjoy the business (and busyness) of being an author.

Often, though, I get so caught up in putting out every. little. fire. that, before I realize it's happening, I've allowed them to hijack my entire day!

Confession:  I've been struggling with this lately. A lot.

Last weekend, though, I attended the SCBWI Midwinter Conference in New York, and hearing Jack Gantos talk about his strict writing routine gave me a needed jolt of fresh inspiration. (You can read about his talk here)

So now, taking a cue from my buddy (I wish) Jack, I’ve created a new schedule – and hung it near my computer – that compartmentalizes my day in a way I haven’t tried before. I’ll be putting out fires first thing in the morning and again late in the afternoon. But I have plenty of writing time in between. I need this to work, as I have three book deadlines marching ever nearer.

Discipline – my new middle name.

Wish me luck.

Jill Esbaum

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24. Welcoming our Newest TeachingAuthor!

I mentioned a few weeks ago that a new TeachingAuthor will be filling in for Mary Ann while she's gone. Today, I'm happy to welcome our newest TA (drumroll please!):

Although I've only met Laura virtually, through reading her blog posts, and via email and telephone, I can already tell she'll be a wonderful addition to our team. In case you don't know Laura or her work, here's a brief bio:
Laura Purdie Salas is the author of more than 120 books for kids and teens, including two recent books from Millbrook Press: Water Can Be ... and A Leaf Can Be ... (Bank Street Best Books, IRA Teachers' Choice, Minnesota Book Award Finalist, Riverby Award for Nature Books for Young Readers, and more), and Bookspeak! Poems About Books, published by Clarion (Minnesota Book Award, NCTE Notable, Bank Street Best Book, Eureka! Gold Medal, and more). She loves to introduce kids to poetry and help them find poems they can relate to, no matter what their age, mood, and personality, and she loves to get teachers excited about sharing poetry in their classrooms. She has also written numerous nonfiction books.
That's right, she's written over 120 books! Pretty amazing.

You can read more about Laura and her work at her website. You can also Like her on Facebook and/or Follow her on Twitter @LauraPSalas or check out her writing coaching and critiquing services through Mentors for Rent.

I hope you'll give Laura a hearty welcome when she posts here for the first time on Friday.

Also, be sure to join us again later this month when we celebrate the official release of her beautiful new book,  Water Can Be ... .

Happy Writing!

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25. Writing Rituals--Or Not

Hi! I’ll introduce myself more in a future post, but I’m Laura Purdie Salas, a temporary Teaching Author. I’m so happy to be here!

Rituals. Hmmm…I was treadmilling the other night, listening to a lovely episode of NPR’s Backseat Book Club featuring Lucy Dahl, Roald’s daughter. Start at 3:40 for a fascinating glimpse into Roald’s writing setting and rituals. I wish I had such definite, comforting rituals. But I don’t.

I do have a few elements I return to, though: light, movement, and time.

Photo: Ikea

1) Light – Sometimes I light a little candle before writing. A flickering light sets my mind at rest, somehow. I have a lantern given to me by a dear writer friend that I love to write by. 

When I’m lazy but still want that flicker, I light my little febreze fake candle:>) Excuse me: Febreze Flameless Luminary.

And when I’m super-busy, I just write by a window, with the blinds slatted upward so I get glimpses of trees and sky, but not distracting cute bunnies in the yard.

2) Movement: When I’m frustrated with my writing, I move. Can’t think of the right word? I’ll pace around the kitchen/dining room circle, or go walk Capt. Jack (when it’s not 20 below zero), or even just stand up and do 30 squats.
Photo: DuBoix,
courtesy of Morguefile

3) Time: Deadline-setting is really my only consistent ritual. I learned to be a writer in tiny bursts while blocking out life stresses. I still write best in small, intense chunks. No matter what kind of project I'm working on, I start the same way. I look at the clock. I look at the project. Panic shoots through me at my day's to-do list. Then I breathe and set a timer. “Rough draft of this poem. 20 minutes. Go.” Even if I have 3 straight hours of writing time, I probably work on 3-5 different projects during that time, each with its own deadline.

So, there you have it. Three sort-of routines. It would probably be simpler if I just started with a mug of cinnamon tea every day or something:>)

--Laura Purdie Salas

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