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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. Hitting the Target Without Really Trying

     The question I am most asked by parents is "What is the reading level of your books?"

     I am currently teaching an adult class on writing for children.  The first question I am usually asked by those students is "How do you write at an appropriate reading difficulty for an age group?"

    Those questions are not as easy to answer as you might think.

     Carmela's Friday post stated that in reaching "reluctant readers" a writer should simply write whatever they are passionate about and the readers will follow.  I have most certainly found this to be true.

     When I first began writing, "targeting" a group, or writing with a specific grade level vocabulary never crossed my mind.  Thanks to years and years of working in children's library service, I have read thousands and thousands of children's books for all ages.  When I write, my brain goes into "child mode."  That's just the way I write, period.  My normal style involves short sentences and short paragraphs using simple words.

     I was not aware of my writing style, until my then elementary school-aged daughter introduced me to "Accelerated Reader."  This was the program her school used for "pleasure" reading. (I am not sure how pleasurable it was since it was required.)  Only books on the Accelerated Reader program were counted for the reading grade.  Books had point values, based on complexity of language and interest level.

    I was thrilled to learn that all my books were on the Accelerated Reader list, which increased the likelihood of their purchase by a school library. However, I was puzzled to learn that my middle grade books, Yankee Girl and Jimmy's Stars, were not being read by the fourth and fifth graders, my intended audience.

     The mystery was solved when one of my daughter's friends told me how much she liked Jimmy's Stars "even though it doesn't have many points."  A trip to the school library informed me that both of the books had a point value of 3.  For comparison, anything written by J.K. Rowling had a point value of upwards of 7.  That particular year, my daughter was supposed to read 7 points worth every six weeks.  How could I compete with Harry Potter?

     A little digging into the mysteries of Accelerated Reader yielded the information that while my middle grade books had a third grade reading level, their content was appropriate for upper fifth grade and sixth grade students.  Considering that the subjects of those books were Civil Rights Era Mississippi and the ravages of World War II, I thought that was a fair evaluation.

     Then parents began to ask me that troublesome reading level question.  This was often prefaced with something like, "My daughter is in second grade but she reads on a fourth grade level. She should be able to read your books, right?"

     I found myself in the strange position of talking down my own books. While the child in question would be able to read and recognize the words I had written, would they be able to understand the events in the book?  It had never occurred to me that a seven-year-old might read those books.  Tough things happen in them:  racial prejudice, death, violence.  Although I didn't "target" my writing, I didn't think anyone under ten would be reading them.  I started hedging my answers by telling parents they could buy the book but perhaps they should put it away until their child was older.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.  No matter what I said, some parents completely missed the fact that some "low reading level" material might contain concepts too mature or sophisticated for a first grader who was "a really good reader."

     What did I learn from this experience?  Did this cause me to become a cautious, self-censoring writer?  Do I now write in a more complex style?

     No.

     I write what I am passionate about.  I write for my inner eleven-year-old.  It's the best that I can do.  It's all any of us can do.

     Don't forget to enter our latest book giveaway for a chance to win a copy of the 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market.  See Carmela's post for details.

     The giveaway ends Oct 31.

     Best of luck,  Mary Ann

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2. Reaching Reluctant Readers, Poetry Friday, and a CWIM Giveaway!


Happy Poetry Friday, Everyone! Today I'll be sharing a fun, "spooky" poem by David L. Harrison. But first I'll tell you about my latest publication, an article in the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (Writer’s Digest Books), edited by Chuck Sambuchino. Then, at the end of this post, you'll find instructions for how to enter to win your very own copy of the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market!


If you're not familiar with the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (also known as the CWIM), here's an excerpt from the book's blurb.
"If you write or illustrate for young readers with the hope of getting published, the '2015 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market' is the trusted resource you need. Now in its 27th edition, 'CWIM' is the definitive publishing guide for anyone who seeks to write or illustrate for kids and young adults. Inside you'll find more than 500 listings for children's book markets (publishers, agents, magazines, and more)--including a point of contact, how to properly submit your work, and what categories each market accepts." 
In addition to the market listing, the CWIM includes great articles, interviews, and success stories. This year's edition features my interview roundup article, "Writing for Boys (and other 'Reluctant Readers')." The piece contains advice and insights from four award-winning authors known for writing books that appeal to reluctant readers: Matt de la Peña, Lenore Look, David Lubar, and Steve Sheinkin

Although  these authors write a wide variety of books, and everything from picture books to young adult novels, there was one bit of advice they all agreed on: If you want your writing to appeal to boys and other reluctant readers, don't try to target this particular audience. That's right, DON'T target them. Instead, write what moves, excites, or interests YOU. Then, "revise it over and over until it hums," as Matt de la Peña said. All four of the authors shared additional, specific advice on how to reach reluctant readers, especially boys. So be sure to enter our giveaway below for a chance to win your own copy of the CWIM!  

In researching "Writing for Boys (and other 'Reluctant Readers')," I discovered some very discouraging statistics about boys and reading. Not only do girls, on average, score higher on reading tests than boys, but the gender gap is widening. Fortunately, the news isn't all dire. As Jon Scieszka, the first National Ambassador of Young People's Literature and founder of Guys Read points out on the GuysRead website
". . . the good news is that research also shows that boys will read—if they are given reading that interests them."
Poetry can be a great way to hook boys (and other reluctant readers), especially if it's short, funny, and/or focuses on boy-friendly topics, such as sports, adventure, animals, and the supernatural. You'll find some wonderful books that fit this bill on the GuysRead list of poetry books. I also recommend just about anything written by David L. Harrison. His book Bugs: Poems about Creeping Things (Wordsong), illustrated by Rob Shepperson, is chock-full of poems with lots of boy-appeal. Here's one example: 

              cicada ghosts

              Haunted skins
              cling
              emptily
              to the rough bark
             of the hackberry
             tree,

             and farther up
             where I can't 
             see,
             ghosts are 
             buzzing 
             eerily:
             zz-zz-zz-zz
             zeeeeee!

          © David L. Harrison, all rights reserved

If you'd like to see the wonderful illustration that accompanies this poem in Bugs: Poems about Creeping Things, visit this page on David's blog (after you enter our drawing below!).

For additional resources on poetry and reluctant readers, see the Poetry Foundation article "Against Slogging: Engaging Poetry in the Classroomon" and the WBEZ piece, "Writing Poetry Improves Reluctant Readers." If you're a parent or teacher, you may also be interested in Literacy Connects compilation of activities to use with reluctant reader

Finally, before you head over to check out these resources or the other great poems in this week's Poetry Friday round-up at Today's Little Ditty, you'll want to enter to win your own copy of the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market. You can do that via the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post. You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options. For option 2, "Leave a Blog Post Comment," you must share a comment to TODAY'S blog post and include your name!
(If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com. )

The giveaway ends on Oct. 31. 

Good luck and happy writing!
Carmela

P.S. If you've never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here's info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway and the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address. Email subscribers: if you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of this message to access the entry form.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

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3. WWW: All About Rhythm


As promised, I’m sharing a most original WWW I came upon while reading NAMING THE WORLD, the collection of writing exercises gathered by Bret Anthony Johnston (Random House, 2007) I reviewed in Monday’s post

The author, Paul Lisicky, titled the exercise “All About Rhythm.”  
It appears in the section “Descriptive Language and Setting.”

Lisicky writes about finding a rhythm that matches the meaning of our story's drama – not a distracting rhythm but one that is crucial, that makes our fiction sing.

He began by quoting Virgina Woolf.

“Style is a very simple matter; it is all about rhythm.  Once you get that, you can’t use the wrong words….Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes far deeper than words.  A sight, an emotion creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it.”

How can we bring a poet’s central tools to our own work, he wondered, “and be more deeply aware of pauses, sentence length, stops, even alliteration and assonance in the prose we read and write,”  all the while opening ourselves to our own rhythms?

Enjoy! Enjoy!

Esther Hershenhorn

                                        * * * * * * * * * * 

Paul Lisicky’s ALL ABOUT RHYTHM

“Take a paragraph by a writer whose work has been important to you. 

Type it out once.

Then type it again.

Once you’ve done that, substitute your own noun for each noun, your own verb for each verb.

Replace all the adjectives and adverbs.

Play with it for a few days.

Then do another version.


If you’re lucky you might have the beginnings of a story.

Or, at the least, a more intimate sense of that writer’s rhythms.”

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4. A Resource Discovery: NAMING THE WORLD!


How fitting that today, the 522nd anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World, I share with you my recently-discovered resource, thanks to my writer Bridget Conway of Camden, Maine – NAMING THE WORLD (and other EXERCISES for the CREATIVE WRITER), edited by Bret Anthony Johnston (Random House, 2007).

Johnston writes in his introduction that “much of the writer’s work must be – can only be – accomplished by doggedly venturing into territories unknown, by risking failure with every word.  His purpose in gathering writing exercises from well-respected authors was “to create an environment in which each writer feels invited and prepared to take such risks.”

Like all discoveries, this collection of focused and insightful writing exercises widened my eyes, raised my eyebrows and had my brain whirling in record time.

Indeed, Betsy Lerner, author of another favorite resource of mine – THE FOREST FOR THE TREES: AN EDITOR’S ADVICE TO WRITERS (Riverhead, 2000) describes NAMING THE WORLD as “the equivalent of a master class in writing by some of the best writers/teachers around.”

What I especially like about NAMING THE WORLD is Johnston’s organization:  8 sections, 7 of which focus on a key element of fiction.  Each section begins with relevant perceptive quotes by well-known writers, then offers an overview of the particular element. Chosen authors’ understandable, doable exercises follow, exercises designed to “demystify the common and complex mechanisms by which the specific element operates.”  

Getting Started exercises and Daily Warm-ups bookend the sections which focus on:

       ·       Character

·         Point of view and tone

·         Plot and narrative

·         Dialogue and voice

·         Descriptive language and setting

·         Revision

I loved reading how some of my favorite authors, including Joyce Carol Oates, Elizabeth Strout, Elizabeth McCracken and Richard Bausch hone their craft.

I also loved discovering authors heretofore unknown to me.
Be sure to check back on Wednesday for Paul Lisicky’s exercise on the rhythm of language.
(His award-winning book THE BURNING HOUSE is currently on reserve at my Chicago Public Library.)


I’m happy to report my Newberry Library Picture Book Writing Workshop students this semester are also enjoying the exercises, completing one per week.

Explorers such as Columbus looked to the stars to help find their way.  With that thought in mind, I hereby declare NAMING THE STARS stellar, as in *-worthy.  The collection of exercises is certain to help writers discover their stories and how best to tell them.

In celebration of Signor Columbus’ 1492 New World landing, Happy Discovering!
 
Esther Hershenhorn

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5. Lucky, Lucky Me!

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend David Harrison’s “Poetry for the Delight of It” workshop, organized by the Highlights Foundation. I’m happy to report that I found not only the poetry but the entire experience delightful. From my ride from the airport to the tour of the Highlights for Children offices to the comfy couches where we discussed poetry to the massive fireplace on the patio where we roasted s’mores, every detail was taken care of so that I didn’t have to think about anything but poetry. And the food—oh, my! We were spoiled. During breaks and in the evenings, we retired to our own cozy cabins with rocking chairs on the porches and plenty of wonderful books to read—a writer’s heaven!


David Harrison (a Guest Teaching Author in 2012) led group discussions with a reassuring blend of wit, humor, explanation, and examples. He supplied writing prompts that resulted in humorous and heartfelt poems, and he provided perceptive, encouraging critiques of our work. Poets Jane Yolen and Kenn Nesbitt visited via Skype to share their own tips and examples. Boyds Mills Press Senior Editor Rebecca Davis participated in a session about editorial and marketing practices, and Executive Editor Liz Van Doren joined us for dinner.

Lucky me! I’m still floating.

Here’s a poem I wrote there, inspired by one of David’s prompts, about waking up early:
Day 
Catbird screeches up the morning.
Acorns drop to mark the minutes.
Knock! Woodpeckers count the hours.
Crickets sing me back to sleep.
Another lucky surprise: I got to meet and hang out with our longtime friend Linda Baie, who wrote about connecting the experience to writing in one of her blog posts. What fun!

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at The Miss Rumphius Effect. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

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6. My No. 1 Tip: Writing by Hand!



Long, long time ago and in a galaxy far, far away, it was the time before computers. Even typewriters were not a common household item. At least, not in my childhood home on the front range of Colorado. Colorado Springs was small then, full of open spaces. The public library was way, way on the other side of town. There were no bookstores. The only library available to me was my school library. I checked out every book I could read. By fourth grade, my favorite authors were already Mark Twain, Jack London, Charles Dickens, James Fennimore Cooper, Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and many more. And if I wanted to have my very own copy of a book, so I didn’t have to return it, I copied the book.

By hand.

So is it a wonder that I became a writer when I grew up?

Even now, after all these decades, with the onslaught of computers, iPads and fancy programs that write text for you, I still write everything by hand. Even this article was first written by hand.

It turns out to be a good thing, to write by hand. Scientists now know that cursive writing is an important tool for cognitive development. It teaches the brain to be efficient, helps to develop critical thinking skills and refines motor control. In fact, children who learn cursive tend to learn how to read faster, generate more ideas and retain more information.

When I was copying my books in the fourth grade, I paid more attention to the details of the story. I experienced the characters on a deeper level because the very act of writing them out engaged all my senses. I had to pay attention to the words, how they were ordered, and how they were used. And, of course, I experienced the linear logic of the plot.


When I grew up, I began writing stories that featured the landscape and characters that were larger than life. A student of American history and folklore, my first books were picturebooks. If you want to know more about my picturebooks, check out JoAnn’s interview with me here!





 I continued exploring the American landscape, blending folklore and history in my first middle grade novel, Big River’s Daughter (Holiday House, 2013). The book comes recommended by the International Reading Association, and was nominated for the Amelia Bloomer Project (American Library Association, 2013). The book is listed on A Mighty Girl’s Top 2013 Mighty Girl Books for Tweens and Teens. My second middle grade historical fiction is Girls of Gettysburg (Holiday House 2014) and takes on the daunting challenge of researching the Battle of Gettysburg. For this story, I walked the battlefields four times, experiencing the very landscape where my characters lived and breathed, and died. If you are interesting in my research process for this book, you might enjoy this interview by Laurie J. Edwards, here.  The book comes recommended by Booklist as “a unique, exciting work.” School Library Journal calls the book a “riveting historical fiction.” The book is listed as a Hot Pick on Children’s Book Council for September 2014.


Of course, writers have to pay the bills. While I never planned to be a teacher, it seemed a natural fit. I teach college freshman and older students. Of course, now all the students use computers to read texts and compose their essays. And iPads, and even their phones. Most of them are proud to proclaim they have never used a pen or pencil. I make them print out the research and drafts, and have them write out their annotations and corrections on the paper. I make them experience the words and the organization in order to determine how everything fits together. They don’t always appreciate the experience. But their essays are usually better for it.

As Julia Cameron once said, “When we write by hand, we connect to ourselves. We may get speed and distance when we type, but we get a truer connection – to ourselves and our deepest thoughts – when we actually put pen to page.”

You might be interested to see more:

Why Writing by Hand Could Make You Smarter”, by William Klemm. Psychology Today. March 14, 2013.

Julia Cameron Live, "Morning Pages: why by hand?. The Artist’s Way." October 4, 2012

Bobbi Miller

Image from Morguefile




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7. 4 Reasons to Give Up Writing Creatively...and it's Poetry Friday!

.
Howdy, Campers!

The winner of  our latest autographed book giveaway is....KAY S!  Congratulations, Kay!

Today is Poetry Friday and the fabulous Jama Rattigan is hosting. A poem from my first verse novel is waiting for you at the end of this post. The poem is about... 

Creativity!

An example of creativity from morguefile.com
In case you've missed TeachingAuthors' series on Creativity, JoAnn started us off with kindness and community, Jill left us on a high note with 5 secrets of creativity, Esther got our juices flowing with a Writing Workout inspired by punctuation, Carmela offered "4 Ways I Boost my Creativity", and Mary Ann, back from a TA sabbatical (yay!), grants us permission.

My turn!

Here are four reasons why I think you should give up trying to be creative:
1) Don't you dare tell me what to do;
2) Get miserable;
3) Find someone so frickin' honest you want to hit them.
4) Write weird things.  Other peoples' brains are are loony as yours. Trust me.

1) Don't you dare tell me what to do.  For me, authentic ideas come most easily when no one is expecting a product; when I let myself play with words...the reason I fell in love with writing.

If you're our regular reader,you know I've been writing a poem a day since April 1, 2010.  I send them to my best friend, author Bruce Balan, who sails around the world in a trimaran, and he sends me his poem. (BTW, Oct. 2nd was Bruce's birthday. Since it's past his birthday, kindly sing to him the Birthday Song...backwards.)

Bruce can always smell if a poem is an assignment.  "It's stiff," he'll write.  "It's not you."

After I shake my fist at his sail mail critique, I pretend I'm not writing on assignment. I toss out everything I think I'm supposed to write and stand on my head...because I WANT to stand on my head. That's when words begin to flow from my heart.
Me, writing a poem...okay, not LITERALLY on my head...
2) Get miserable...(if you're already depressed, think of it as a big mud hole of ideas made especially for you!)  Some of my deepest, truest words are written when I am in a muddle of misery...or when I think back to some terrible time in my life, feeling every heartsick, petrified or bewildered feeling. (Why would anyone want to bring back life's worst moments in living color? You think writers might be just a teensy bit cuckoo?)

So, how can you stimulate creativity in students?  Make sure there's misery in their lives. When I read my students the tender book, I Remember Miss Perry by Pat Brisson, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch (about the death of a beloved elementary school teacher), the topics they choose to tackle are much deeper than if I give them time to write without reading it first.

3) Find someone so frickin' honest you want to hit him. I write better when someone who believes in me and who is on the writing path with me (usually Bruce) reads my work and tells me his truth. (Sometimes I want to throw darts at him for his stupid, doo-doo head honesty--good thing he's in Thailand right now.)

Exhibit #1--recent correspondence between us:

From: Bruce 
To: April 
Subject: RE: poem for September 25, 2014 
Hi You,
This feels more like a very short story than a poem.
Doesn’t have your heart in it. It feels like an assignment.
Love,
B

(See what I mean?  Can't he just pretend a little bit that he likes it?)

From: April 
To: Bruce
Subject: Re: poem for September 25, 2014 

Well, damn.

I read it again tonight and see that you're right.  But maybe I can do something with it.  But maybe I can't.

Not sure it's worth it.

I am so tangled up in my novel.  I wish I could hire someone to sit with me and figure the darn thing out.

Why do we do this, again?  I forget.
xxx,
April

From: Bruce 
To: April  
Subject: RE: poem for September 25, 2014 

"I wish I could hire someone to sit with me and figure the darn thing out."

Unfortunately that is not possible. I, too, wish I could hire someone to fix so many problems but those problems always seem to be ones I need to deal with…not someone else.

I hate that part about writing.
B

4) Write weird things.  Other peoples' brains are as loony as yours. Trust me.  Go ahead, unlock the heavy wooden door in your brain and let the odd stuff out.

Let the odd stuff out (this odd stuff is from morguefile.com)
For example, here's a poem I thought no one would get. I wasn't even sure I got it.  And listen to this: my editor didn't throw it out--it's in my book, Girl Coming in for a Landing--a novel in poems (Knopf 2002)!

WRITER: CREATOR

I want to
make something
                         beautiful.

Peaches.

If I could
make peaches--grow them
from my pen...

or stretching my palms
up to the sun, watch as
they grow from my lifeline,

that
would be something
                               beautiful.

drawing and poem (c) 2014 by April Halprin Wayland.  All rights reserved.
 Okay, I'm done. I order you to be creative. GO.
And remember, Poetry Friday is at Jama's today!

Posted by April Halprin Wayland, who thanks you for reading all the way down to the end.  

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8. Welcoming the Newest Member of the TeachingAuthors Team!


Happy October, everyone!

A few weeks ago, I posted about this being a time of transitions here on TeachingAuthors as we said farewell to the wonderful Jill Esbaum and Laura Purdie Salas, and welcomed back Mary Ann Rodman, one of the original TeachingAuthors. Today, I'm happy to announce the name of the newest member of our team (drumroll please):


Bobbi at the wheel of the Lewis R French, an 1871 windjammer schooner and a National Historic Landmark.
JoAnn and I met Bobbi while we were attending Vermont College, and we were struck by her vibrant personality as well as her writing talent. If you're a longtime TeachingAuthors reader, you may recall that JoAnn shared a guest TeachingAuthor interview with Bobbi back in 2010. But Bobbi's been VERY busy since then, as you can see from her official bio posted on our About Us page. (If you haven't visited the About Us page lately, I encourage you to check it out--I've updated the bios for several TeachingAuthors.) Here's an excerpt from Bobbi's bio:
Bobbi Miller earned her MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College, and was awarded honors with distinction for her Master of Arts in Children’s Literature degree from Simmons College in Boston. Her fifth book, a middle grade novel, Girls of Gettysburg (Holiday House) is recommended by Booklist as “a unique, exciting work.” School Library Journal calls the book a “riveting historical fiction.” The book is listed as a Hot Pick on Children’s Book Council for September 2014. Her first middle grade novel, Big River’s Daughter (Holiday House) comes recommended by the International Reading Association and was nominated for the Amelia Bloomer Project (American Library Association, 2013). The book is listed on A Mighty Girl’s Top 2013 Mighty Girl Books for Tweens and Teens. Bobbi has also written three picture books. Miss Sally Ann and the Panther (Holiday House) was selected to the Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2013 list, a cooperative project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children's Book Council. Her other two picture books, Davy Crockett Gets Hitched and One Fine Trade, also published by Holiday House, were listed on the Bank Street College of Education Best Books of 2010. When she isn't writing or researching, Bobbi teaches College Reading and Writing, Writing for Children, and Rhetoric and Professional Writing for local universities as well as online college courses. 
So, as you can see, Bobbi comes to us with impressive credentials! We're thrilled to have her join our team.

You can read more about Bobbi and her work at her website. Meanwhile, I hope you'll give her a hearty welcome when she posts here for the first time on Monday.

Happy Writing!
Carmela

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9. Permission Granted

     I'm ba-a-a-ck!  I have been on sabbatical since the first of the year.  In an ironic twist,  the person who has written little in nine months has been asked to write a post on---creativity.

     I wasn't writing, but I was still teaching my Young Authors Workshops.  I did not feel my own creativity entirely dormant, because I was encouraging creativity in my students daily.  They, in turn, forced me to explore new ways of thinking about writing.

     This year some of my older students are into fan fiction.  They are some of the best writers I have ever had.  I believe they wrote better because, having their subject pre-selected, they could focus their energy on writing well, and often.  They didn't experience the first block that a lot of my students have, finding something to write about.

     I don't like giving my writers "prompts."  Most of them attend schools where "writing prompts" are given at least once a school day to write about a very specific topic in a "journal."  I thought this was a great idea until I learned from my daughter that the "journaling" was done for the five minutes or so the teacher took attendance.   The teacher riffled through the notebooks from time to time but never actually read them.  By the time students come to Young Authors, they have had it with "writing prompts" and "journaling."

    This past summer brought the most challenging groups to my writing workshops. My students are ages 9 through 14. A few were extremely competent writers (one had even been published in a national magazine at age 11!)  As I said, some were into fan fiction. There were the superhero fans.  Since two of the workshops were during the World Cup, all some could think and write about was soccer. And then there were "the unwilling participants"---the handful that were there because their parents use day camps as daycare--and mine was the only one open that week.  I was also working under the handicap that, no matter how the city recreational department described my workshop in the catalog, most of the kids (and all of the parents) were under the impression that it was a remedial writing/grammar/English-as-a-second-language class.  (Or as the kids put it "More school.")

     How could I get such a diverse group enthusiastic and creative about writing without getting too regimented and "teacher-ish."  Focused but not too focused?  Structured but not overly so?

     First, I gave them permission to write bad first drafts. (Anne Lamott's advice from Bird by Bird, re-rephrased in G-rated terms.)  Then, as a fellow TA mentioned last week, I told them not to think too hard.  Finally, I gave them "freedom of subject" without letting them know it.

     Just as a too specific writing prompt turns my students into a block of ice, unable to proceed with the voice of their language arts teacher echoing in their heads, telling them to "write anything you want" will make half the group also go into freezer mode, because it requires them to come up with something all on their own.  I get a lot of kids who have no idea how to create something out of thin air.

     So how do you give a prompt without being too general or too specific?  Thanks to my students, over the years, I think I have come up with the best prompt.  I give it as part of a list of specific prompts, the kind they are used to (and hate.) This is to give them the illusion that they have a choice in topics.  (No one has ever picked a decoy prompt.)  Then I give them the following suggestion:

     If you could be anyone or anything, in any time or place (in this world and time, or another), could do anything you wish, and know you could not fail, who would you be  What would you do?

     This open-ended, semi-focused prompt seemed to bring out the creativity in everyone.  The fan fiction people inserted themselves into their already-created characters and world.  The soccer kids became members of World Cup teams.  Super heroes made an appearance. Some became time travelers, putting themselves in the historical past, or the unknown future.  All of them took this exercise in many directions I had not anticipated.  It was great!

     This made a great foundation for the students to expand their work.  Once they had written three or four pages, it was easy for them to turn the main character (themselves) into something more fictional.  Or, in the case of the fan fiction writers, change the pre-packaged main character into something of their own invention.  In subsequent drafts we would worry about conflict and  subject- verb agreement and logic.  The main thing was to get over the initial road blocks to creativity, a blank page and a feeling of restriction.

     I am still not back to writing. When I do get out my half-finish WIP, I hope to remember the lessons my students taught me this summer.  Don't think too much.  Don't sweat the details in the first (or second) drafts.  Most of all, I will give myself permission to imagine myself in other time.  Another place.  Accomplishing what I have only dreamed of, knowing that I cannot fail.

     It's good to be back, you guys!.

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10. 4 Ways I Boost My Creativity


Happy Poetry Friday! See the link at the end of this post to this week's round-up.

I'm not sharing a poem today. Instead, I'm continuing our current discussion on creativity. As Jill said in Monday's post: "Creativity is tough to define and tougher still to write about." I agree!

I did find a satisfactory basic definition at OxfordDictionaries:

"Creativity: The use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work."
But there are so many facets to creativity that it's hard to encapsulate the concept in one sentence. That's why I loved how Jill shared so many great quotations on the topic in her post. I'd like to add another quote to the list:
“Creation is in part merely the business of forgoing the great and small distractions.”
--E.B. White
I came across this E. B. White quote in a book I read recently: Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind, (Amazon Publishing) edited by Jocelyn K. Glei of 99u. The book is a compilation of quotes, interviews, and essays from experts in productivity and creativity. Interestingly, the tips often overlap with those in the article Jill linked to: "The Psychology of Writing and the Cognitive Science of the Perfect Daily Routine" by Maria Popova.

I don't believe there really is such a thing as a "perfect daily routine." We are each unique, and what works to activate one person's creativity might stifle someone else's. Also, I often have to adapt my routine to fit what's currently going on in my life. However, I've found 4 specific suggestions in Manage Your Day-to-Day that are really helping me resist "the great and small distractions":

1. Great Work Before Everything Else: 
"Do your most meaningful creative work at the beginning of your day, and leave 'reactive work'—like responding to e-mail or other messages—for later."
I recently made a rule for myself: No email before 10 a.m. It's been amazing to me how much this one simple rule has helped. Now instead of getting lost in email for an hour or more at the start of my day, I get lost in my current work-in-progress. Yay! I also have a second, related rule: check email no more than three times per day. This has really helped me be more focused and efficient when I do check email.

2. Jump-Start Your Creativity: 
"Establish 'associative triggers'—such as listening to the same music or arranging your desk in a certain way—that tell your mind it’s time to get down to work."
I call my "associative triggers" my "writing rituals" and I shared them last March when we did a series of posts about our writing routines.

3. Feel the Frequency:
"Commit to working on your project at consistent intervals—ideally every day—to build creative muscle and momentum over time."

In the post on my writing rituals, I talked about how I was in the middle of a "100-day, one hundred words a day (OHWAD) writing challenge." That worked at the time because I was writing a first draft. Now that I'm revising, I've modified it to a "100-day, fifteen minutes a day (FMAD)" challenge. I've committed to work at least 15 minutes/day, six days a week for 100 days. (I don't count my days off in the total.) I deliberately chose a very doable goal--15 minutes--that I could accomplish even when I have a day filled with other commitments. The challenge is working well for me so far: I began revising Chapter One on Day 1. Today is Day 27, and I'm now up to working on Chapter Eight.

4. Make Progress Visible:
"Make your daily achievements visible by saving iterations, posting milestones, or keeping a daily journal."

On Day 1 of my FMAD challenge I created a table in a Word document called Revision Log. In that document, I note such statistics as my start time, time spent, starting page and chapter, ending page and chapter, starting word count, and ending word count. Looking at my log now, I can see that my writing sessions have ranged from 20 minutes to over 2 hours. Without doing the math, I'd guess that I average about an hour a day. (If I wanted to get really fancy, I could put the stats into a spreadsheet and let it calculate my productivity rate.) For me, this log is a great psychological boost because I often fall into the trap of thinking my writing isn't going anywhere when in fact I am making slow, but steady, progress.

These are just four of the suggestions in Manage Your Day-to-Day that have helped me. Even if none of these ideas appeal to you, I hope that my sharing them here will nudge you into thinking about how to support your own creativity. Are you already happy with your routine/process? If so, we'd love to know what works for you. Please tell us via the comments.

I'll leave you with one last quote, from Jonah Lehrer's Wall Street Journal article "How To Be Creative:" 
"But creativity is not magic, and there's no such thing as a creative type. Creativity is not a trait that we inherit in our genes or a blessing bestowed by the angels. It's a skill. Anyone can learn to be creative and to get better at it."
Lehrer's article ends with "10 Quick Creativity Hacks" you may be interested in checking out. And for ten tips on how to make more regularly, see "How to Create the Habit of Writing" by Leo Babauta at Write to Done.

Reminder: Today's the last day to enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of Barbara Krasner’s picture book biography Goldie Takes a Stand  (Kar-Ben Publishing)!


Now you can head over to be inspired by all the Poetry Friday poems. This week's round-up is at former TeachingAuthor  Laura Salas's blog.

Happy writing!
Carmela

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11. WWW: Make Your (Punctuation) Mark!


Its National Punctuation Day?
It’s National Punctuation Day.
I mean it’s NATIONAL PUNCTUATION DAY!

(Of course, only a writer could so enthuse for such a day.)
As writer Russell Baker aptly put it, When speaking aloud, you punctuate constantly – with body language.  Your listener hears commas, dashes, question marks, exclamation points, quotation marks as you shout, whisper, pause, wave your arms, roll your eyes, wrinkle your brow.  In writing, punctuation plays the role of body language.  It helps readers hear the way you want to be heard.

How might I celebrate,”  you ask, “what National Punctuation Day founder Jeff Rubin calls a celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotation marks, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the very-mysterious ellipsis?
WellI recommend the following actions: first visit the website Jeff Rubin created; admire each and every pictured punctuation mark and give it its proper due; next take this test to check your command of commas/apostrophes; laugh heartily while you read Lynne Truss’ EATS, SHOOTS & LEAVES (Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference); and finally, consider completing my Wednesday Writing Workout which offers writers a chance to re-purpose the 14 standard marks of punctuation in English grammar to create original emoticons all their own. [See below.]

Enjoy!

Esther Hershenhorn
P.S.
While doing All Things Punctuation, don’t forget to celebrate your inner exclamation mark! J

P.P.S.
And for sure, don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway to win a copy of Barbara Krasner’s picture book biography of Golda Meir - GOLDIE TAKES A STAND: GOLDA MEIR’S FIRST CRUSADE.
The deadline is September 26.

                                                  * * * * * * * * * *

Those Emotive Punctuation Marks!

I M J 2 B writing about emoticons – punctuation marks RE-purposed to instantly connote an emotion when communicating electronically.

Think:  little sideways smiley faces.  :)

I learned all about them when creating my baby board book TXTNG MAMA TXTNG BABY which just celebrated its first anniversary.

[FYI: it’s now available at Joan Cusick’s JUDY MAXWELL HOMEand numerous copies will be raffled off at Northwestern University’s November 1 Community Baby Shower.]
The word “emoticon” blends “emotion” and “icon.”  An emoticon allows for a quick expression of feeling when the communication is electronic.

How might YOU (!) combine and re-arrange any and all of the 14 marks of punctuation  below to create an original emoticon?

 ?    !     .   ,   “ ”   -   _  [  ]   ( )    /  :   ;

Feel free to use keyboard letters, spacing options and numbers too.  Turn them upside down and sideways!
Think outside the []. J

Play.
Experiment.

In other words, have fun!

Think, too, of any and all emotions/situations – Joy, Distress, Anger, Confusion, e.g.
If you need inspiration, click here to see more examples.
And be sure to share them with our TeachingAuthors readers so we can use them to help them catch on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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12. 5 Secrets for Cultivating Creativity


Creativity is tough to define and tougher still to write about. I’m no expert, but I know what works for me, and likely, you know what works for you. So I thought it might be fun to see what a few famous creative people had to say about the subject. I hope one of these nuggets inspires you. I’m putting a few up on my own bulletin board pronto.  :)

 (Note:  I apologize for the wonky spacing you'll see below. It looks perfect on the "compose" page.)

To cultivate creativity:

1.  Don’t overthink.


“It’s impossible to explain creativity. It’s like asking a bird, ‘How do you fly?’ You just do.” 
                                                                 –Eric Jerome Dickey

“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”
                        –Ray Bradbury

“The chief enemy of creativity is ‘good’ sense.” 
                                                                –Pablo Picasso

“Rational thoughts never drive people’s creativity the way emotions do.”
                                                                          –Neil deGrasse Tyson



2.  Stop worrying that everything you write has to be perfect.

     “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
                                                                           –Scott Adams


“An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.”
                                   –Edwin Land

“There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.”
                                                                    –Brene Brown


3.  Just do it.

    “Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is the result of good work habits.”
                                                                   –Twyla Tharp


“Creativity is putting your imagination to work, and it’s produced the
most extraordinary results in human culture.”
                                   –Ken Robinson


“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
                                                                           –Sylvia Plath


4.  Believe in your own unique and beautiful mind.
 
                    “Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look 
                    at things in a different way.”

                                   –Edward de Bono

                 “Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous.”
                                                                           –Bill Moyers


  “Rule of art:  Can’t kills creativity!”
                                   –Camille Paglia


5.  Trust your instincts…

“A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.”
                                                   –Frank Capra


…and let yourself go.

“Creativity makes a leap, then looks to see where it is.”
                                          –Mason Cooley



More excellent posts about creativity:

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/08/25/the-psychology-of-writing-daily-routine/

http://writerunboxed.com/2014/09/12/the-surprising-importance-of-doing-nothing/

This is my last post for TeachingAuthors. I’ll miss my friends here, as well as you readers who comment to let us know you're reading (that’s always appreciated!). But I’m not disappearing entirely. I’ll be blogging at a new blog called Picture Book Builders, along with seven other published picture book authors and illustrators. Every Tuesday and Friday we'll explore one of the many, many elements that go into the making of great picture books. Hope to see you there! Check us out at www.picturebookbuilders.com


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13. On Neighborliness, “Balance,” and the Unpredictable Timing of Creativity: A Note to Myself (and You, Too, If You Need It)

The ideal circumstances in which you can create include ample free time, an absence of worries, and at least one enthusiastic supporter cheering you on. You might experience that lucky combination—or even two of the three components—once in a very long while.

In your actual life, things break, neighbors need help, and work-as-obligation fills up the hours and then the calendar. The concept of “balance” becomes a glittery myth.

You do what you can. You attend to the broken things. You take care of your neighbors (and we are all neighbors). Joyfully (or sometimes begrudgingly), you pay your dues. You wedge your creative spurts into the cracks, and you relish each happy slice.

You learn to recognize those glorious moments when everything falls into place in spite of the circumstances, and then you get busy. You make hay—or poems or paintings or pots—while the sun shines.

You do your best. And you know what, kiddo?

That’s enough.

The quarry road tumbles toward me
out of the early morning darkness,
lustrous with frost, an unrolled bolt
of softly glowing fabric, interwoven
with tiny glass beads on silver thread,
the cloth spilled out and then lovingly
smoothed by my father’s hand
as he stands behind his wooden counter
(dark as these fields) at Tilden’s Store
so many years ago. “Here,” he says smiling,
“you can make something special with this.”
Ted Kooser, Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Postcards to Jim Harrison

Book Giveaway reminder:
Enter by September 26 for a chance to win an autographed copy of Barbara Krasner’s picture book biography Goldie Takes a Stand!

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at The Poem Farm. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

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14. Book Giveaway & Writing Workout for Rosh Hashanah--What Writing Sins Will YOU Cast Away?

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The post below is refreshed and reprised from September 2013...the book giveaway of Barbara's picture book (about a slice of Golda Meir's childhood--and what an amazing leader she was even then) is NEW and ends September 26, 2014.

Howdy, Campers!

It's not Saint Patrick's Day, but we're lucky, lucky, lucky to open our doors and welcome Guest TeachingAuthor Barbara Krasner, who I interviewed last Friday, and who offers us her NEW picture book, Goldie Takes a Stand! A Tale of Young Golda Meir, to give away and a dynamite Wednesday Writing Workout for the New Year.


Feeling lucky? Enter our latest book giveaway!
Details on this post.
Here's Barbara...

...and here's the Writing Workout she's cooked up for us:

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, comes early this year and I’m glad. It gives me the opportunity to reflect on the past year and think about the coming year even before the leaves fall. I’m giving you a Rosh Hashanah challenge in three parts.

Part One: Rosh Hashanah, literally translated as head of the year, is a perfect time to think about the beginning of your manuscript. How many times do we hear that if we can’t grab the agent/editor/reader within just a few seconds, he or she will just move on to something else?

Ask yourself the following questions:

•    Do you have a compelling title?
•    Does your first line grab the reader? (My all-time favorites are from M.T. Anderson, “The woods were silent except for the screaming,” and from Kate DiCamillo, “My name is Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.”)
•    Have you presented the main character on the first page?
•    Have you presented the problem within the first page, the first chapter?

These questions apply to fiction and nonfiction alike.

What are YOUR first lines?

Part Two: The Rosh Hashanah holiday includes a practice called Tashlich, casting off our sins. The practice is exemplified in April Halprin Wayland’s New Year at the Pier (Dial, 2009), winner of the Sydney Taylor Gold Award for Younger Readers,  and the mother-daughter team of Susan Schnur and Anna Schnur-Fishman’s Tashlich at Turtle Rock (Kar-Ben, 2010).

My question to you: What writing sins will you cast off this year?

When I think about this for myself, I think about:
•    I will cast off my lack of organization – I will organize all those papers into folders with easy-to-read tabs and file the folders
•    I will cast off watching reality TV (TCM movies only) – I need more time to write
•    I will cast off working on a gazillion projects at once – I will focus on one genre at a time, and right now, that’s poetry, and okay, picture books
•    I will cast off reading several books at once – I commit to reading a book fully before moving on to another.

You get the idea. What will you cast off?

Part Three: Here’s a prompt you can write to: Recall a Rosh Hashanah (or New Year) scene from your childhood and write about it. Who was there? Where were you? What action and dialogue took place?

Thank you so much for your three-part Rosh Hashanah writing challenge, Barbara, and for mentioning my book (blush)... shana tovah!

posted by April Halprin Wayland

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15. It's International Dot Day!


It’s International Dot Day!


Inspired by Peter H. Reynold’s picture book the dot (Candlewick Press, September 15, 2009), the event, like the book itself, celebrates creativity, courage and collaboration, encouraging each of us to make our mark and see where it takes us.

If you don’t know Reynolds’ book,
run, don’t walk, to your local library to check it out (literally and figuratively), then to your local bookstore to make it your own.
I promise you: the story of a caring teacher who dares her doubting student Vashti to trust her own abilities and bravely “make her mark” speaks volumes to all of us, no matter our age, no matter our role.
My very well-worn copy has seen five years of readings.
It’s my go-to book to launch school workshops, writing classes and presentations.
It’s my recommended Rx/gift combo to anyone setting out to mine his own treasure.

FYI: at last count, 1,677,200 human beings from 79 countries around the world have already registered to celebrate International Dot Day.
Why not join them?
The more the merrier.

You can start by downloading the free EducatorsHandbook.
For inspiration, view the videos to learn how others celebrate the date.
Stop by the The Celebri-dots blog to read about the works of some famous creative souls, many of whom are children’s book authors.
And visit TheDot Gallery to see what’s been created so far.

And stay connected with Dot Day participants.
Connect the dots via
the Dot Day Facebook page,
Twitter
(use the hashtags #DotDay, #Makeyourmark)
SKYPINGopportunities
and Pinterest.

Really and truly, there is no excuse NOT to be celebrating International Dot Day, not just today but all year long.

I found my own participation in International Dot Day – i.e. creating this post, nothing less than delicious and had planned to sign off by RE-using the above Mason Dots to spell out my name, perhaps even on the dotted line.

Since that is no longer possible, and I bet you know why, I offer up the following, courtesy of Mr. Samuel F. B. Morse.

                                       -- .- -.- . / -.-- --- ..- .-. / -- .- .-. -.-
(Click here, input the above, hit TRANSLATE, then PLAY to listen!)

Enjoy! Enjoy! Vashti and I are cheering you on!
Esther Hershenhorn

P.S.
I was surprised to learn how few green and yellow dots there are in your typical box of Mason Dots.

P.P.S.
Don't forget to enter our Rafflecopter Book Giveway to win a copy of Barbara Krasner's picture book biography of Golda Meir GOLDIE TAKES A STAND! GOLDA MEIR'S FIRST CRUSADE.


 



 

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16. A Golda Meir Picture Book Giveaway! Happy Poetry Friday! And Happy Nearly Jewish New Year!

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Howdy, Campers!

We have a brand new Book Giveaway for your very own autographed copy of a picture book biography (well, a real-life slice of life) of Golda Meir--just published!  Details at the bottom of this post.

Happy Poetry Friday!
 Thank you, Renee, of No Water River, for hosting today!
The link to Barbara Krasner's poem, "The Circle of Life,"
on a site which invites contributions of poetry and prose, is below ~


Today, we welcome author, teacher, blogger, historian, poet and conference organizer Barbara Krasner into our cozy cabin for a cuppa java.
Barbara Krasner

I first met Barbara online, as she was single-handedly organizing the Conference on Jewish Story, held this May in New York.  She invited me to be on the children's panel; it was an adventure and an honor to participate.

Barbara’s interests, accomplishments and energies are unending. She began writing short stories when she should have been paying attention in SAT prep classes! She majored in German and spent her junior year in Germany. Then she spent 30 years in corporate America...but the writing bug never left her. (Can anyone relate? Me, me!)

She's now the author of four nonfiction books, including Discovering Your Jewish Ancestors, and more than 200 articles for adults and children that have appeared in Highlights for Children, Cobblestone, Calliope, and Babaganewz . Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in many publications and she was the semi-finalist in the 2013 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry.

Barbara publishes the popular blog, The Whole Megillah ~ The Writer's Resource for Jewish Story, she's the recipient of the first-ever Groner-Wikler Scholarship for dedication to Jewish children's literature, and is a member of the prestigious Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee of the Association of Jewish Libraries.

Is Barbara a TeachingAuthor?  Most definitely!   She earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, teaches children's literature and creative writing at William Paterson University, and leads the Highlights Foundation workshop, Writing Jewish-themed Children’s Books.

We’ve invited Barbara here today because her first book for children, illustrated by Kelsey Garrity-Riley, titled  Goldie Takes a Stand! Golda Meir's First Crusade  (Kar-Ben, 2014) just came out! (Kar-Ben, by the way, is the Jewish imprint of Lerner Publishing Group.)
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Mazel-tov, Barbara!


"Even at the age of nine, little Golda Meir
was known for being a leader.  As the president of
the American Young Sisters Society, she organizes her friends
to raise money to buy textbooks for immigrant classmates.
It’s not easy, and when her initial plan doesn’t work,
she’s forced to dream even bigger to find a way to help her community.
 A glimpse at the early life of Israel’s first
female Prime Minister, 
this story is based on
a true episode in the early life of Golda Meir."

Welcome, Barbara! What's a common problem your students have and how do you address it?
A common problem my students have is the fear of digging deep. To compensate, they produce redundant narrative that only skims the surface. I challenge them, as my mentors have challenged me, to take a deep breath and dive in.

Thank you--just reading that made me take a deep breath. Would you share a favorite writing exercise with our readers?

I am a certified Amherst Writers & Artists workshop leader and I really believe in the power of writing to timed prompts. A classic prompt is to recall a photograph and begin your writing session with, "In this one..."

Another favorite is to write about something hanging on the wall in a room of your childhood family home.

I want to try those!  What one piece of advice do you have for teachers?

Look for the strength of each student and build on that.

Barbara Krasner ~ teaching, speaking, inspiring ~
What's on the horizon for you?

I'm working on some Holocaust-related short stories and a couple of picture book biographies. In my master's program (Barbara's currently a candidate for an MA in Applied Historical Studies), I am looking for ways to take my academic requirements and turn them into literary projects. A new history book about my hometown of Kearny, New Jersey is an example of this. I am promoting my picture books this fall, such as my "What Would Goldie Do?" program at Jewish community centers (JCCs) and synagogues. I also hope to be teaching Writing Your Family History at my local JCC.

WOW, Barbara!  And since it's Poetry Friday in the Kidlitosphere, do you have a poem you'd like to share with our readers?

Here's a link to my poem, The Circle of Life on The Jewish Writing Project site, which invites contributions of poems and more.

(Readers, this site is well worth exploring and includes, among other things, a terrific page of questions and writing ideas for kids)

We'll close with a preview of Goldie Takes a Stand! (enter for a chance to win it below):



Thank you so much for coming by today, Barbara!

Book Giveaway
Enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of Goldie Takes a Stand!  This giveaway ends on September 26.

Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options specified. If you choose the "comment" option, share a comment to today's blog post about your experience with writing or teaching historical fiction. And please include your name in your comment, if it's not obvious from your comment "identity." (If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.)

If you've never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here's info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway and the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address. Email subscribers: if you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of this message to access the entry form.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

"Trust yourself.  Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life.  Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement." ~ Golda Meir

But wait ~ there's more! Barbara's Goldie Takes a Stand! will soon be followed by a Holocaust picture book, Liesl's Ocean Rescue (Gihon River Press, Fall 2014).

posted by April Halprin Wayland
p.s: It's nearly New Year'
s and my picture book, New Year at the Pier (Dial), winner of the Sidney Taylor Book Award for Younger Readers, celebrates the ritual of Tashlich, a wonderful, seaside gathering during the Jewish New Year (which begins September 24th and ends September 26th this year.)

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17. A Time of Transitions


This is a time of transitions here on the TeachingAuthors blog. Laura announced on Friday  that she is leaving our team. Even though she'd signed on as a temporary sub, I'd hoped we'd be able to convince her to continue as a regular. Unfortunately, other pressing demands are tugging at her. But I do hope she'll keep us in mind if circumstances change. J

Meanwhile, we wish her the best. At least we'll all be able to keep tabs on Laura over at her own blog.

Farewell to the lovely and talented, Laura Purdie Salas!
In two weeks, we'll also be saying farewell to long-time TeachingAuthor, Jill Esbaum. I'm VERY sad to see Jill go, L but she's leaving for a new, exciting adventure. I hope she'll share a little about it in her final post here. Of course, we wish her all the best, too. We're SO going to miss you, Jill!

We're going to really miss the wise and wonderful, Jill Esbaum!
But the news isn't all doom and gloom! I'm happy to announce that Mary Ann Rodman will be returning to the team! Hurrah! You can watch for her posts here every third Monday.

Mary Ann's BACK! YIPPEE!
Finally, I'm excited to report that a new TeachingAuthor will be joining the team in October. But I'm going to keep you in suspense about the new TA's identity a little while longer. J

I WILL tell you though, that we'll be sponsoring another great book giveaway this month! Be sure to see April's post this Friday for details.

Happy writing, all.
Carmela

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18. Until I Saw the Sea, by Lilian Moore [Poetry Friday]





Today is my last post as a member of the Teaching Authors blog, and I'm kind of melancholy about it. Stepping down is my choice, and I knew my time here was temporary when I agreed to do it. And there are several good reasons I need to leave the group--time being the most pressing. So in some ways it's a relief.

But...but...I am so amazed by these writers! They talk and brainstorm and support each other behind the scenes much more than I expected. They are a great group--and if I didn't have a blog of my own and too many commitments, I would be honored to stay here with Carmela, April, Esther, and JoAnn. In fact, I wish I had met up with this group years ago! You know how you meet people sometimes and think, "If I had met this person 20 years ago, I bet my life would be different right now"? That's kind of how I feel about the Teaching Authors. They might be surprised to hear this, because I've barely had time to answer emails, and I also chose not to participate in conversations and group decisions too deeply, knowing I would be saying goodbye before too long.

OK, enough melodrama, but, in honor of my somewhat melancholy mood about this, I'm sharing this poem by Lilian Moore, one of my favorite poets. This is from Something New Begins, which is out of print, but Amazon has some used copies, which I urge you to grab! It originally appeared in I Feel the Same Way. I love the slightly bittersweet beauty of so much of her nature poetry.

Until I Saw the Sea

Until I saw the sea
I did not know
that wind
could wrinkle water so.

I never knew
that sun
could splinter a whole sea of blue.

Nor
did I know before,
a sea breathes in and out
upon a shore.

--Lilian Moore, all rights reserved

Isn't that lovely? Sigh... Now, head on over to Laura Shovan's Author Amok blog for the Poetry Friday Roundup!




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19. Wednesday Writing Workout with Guest Teaching Author Sandy Brehl!

Guest Teaching Author Sandy Brehl visited with us on Friday to share some background about her middle grade novel Odin's Promise. (We're giving away an autographed copy--see Friday's post for details!) Sandy also provided today's Wednesday Writing Workout.

Thank you so much for joining us, Sandy! Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?

Since Odin’s Promise released, I’ve heard two comments most often. One reflects appreciation of the fact that characters, particularly the German soldiers, are not treated as caricatures or stereotypes. This wasn’t a conscious decision or my original intent, but my research made it clear that there were wide and varied motivations and reactions among the Norwegians and the occupiers. Surface behaviors were not necessarily indicators of genuine feelings. While the overt story may have been “good Guys VS. Bad Guys” the SUBTEXT reveals more complex dynamics at work.

I’ll suggest a favorite exercise that helps in reading AND writing with an increased awareness of SUBTEXT. I first read about SUBTEXT STRATEGY exercises in an article and later in a book created by developer Jean Anne Clyde and co-authors Barber, Hogue, and Wasz: BREAKTHROUGH TO MEANING: Helping Your Kids Become Better Readers, Writers, and Thinkers.

Here’s one strategy I use: Think of a crime drama or other dramatic series that is familiar to all. A full page print advertisement works well, too. Suggest a scene with simple dialogue (better yet, play a short YouTube clip like this one which does some of the work for you!)

Then quickly survey: “What was _________ really thinking when s/he said that?”  “How could you tell? (Body language? Earlier actions? Facial expression? Previous experience with the character?)

Since I advocate the use of picture books for all ages as compact, concise and compelling tools for sophisticated lessons, here’s one of my favorite activities: Share Chris Raschka’s picture book Yo! Yes? by reading aloud or sharing the YouTube video.

Working through the brief text page by page, discuss what each character is REALLY saying (and thinking) as he speaks; then explore the other’s reaction.

It’s likely not all will “read” the subtext identically. Some may “read” anxiety, others hostility, still others shyness or confusion, depending on their preconceptions. Keep in mind the words on the page are identical for all.

Once the story has been thoroughly explored, challenge writers to compose a story passage from a full double-page spread (or the whole story, if there’s time) with the dialogue restricted to the original text. Narration alone must do the important work of the illustrations. The finished piece should suggest the subtext but still allow for some interpretation among different readers. This might be conveyed by body postures, gestures, expressions, actions, tone of voice, etc.

If working in a group of three, two can reenact a portion of the story, replaying sections to allow full discussion. A recorder helps the team generate the best way to describe, phrase, and imply the emotions and attitudes intended without stating them outright. The finished text is then read aloud and enacted by the players, comparing to the original impact of the illustrated pages.

This exercise can be adapted to reveal underlayers of character personalities before writing:  If you know your story will have two teen boys, a mother, a younger sister, and a crabby old neighbor, imagine their responses to a single page color advertisement--perhaps a lingerie ad. Develop an internal script for each character’s thoughts when viewing the same ad. Is the crabby old neighbor a lecherous man or does he think about his wife deteriorating with Alzheimer's and remember how she looked on her wedding night? Does the mother worry about her son being hounded by aggressive young girls, or worry that he doesn’t even seem interested in girls, but his friend is drooling? Does the young girl have body image issues suggesting early anorexia, or does she disdain such images because she’s 100% tomboy?

Your interpretation of your characters’ responses might reshape your own story and its development.

As for that other frequent comment? Readers ask when they can expect the sequel so they can find out what happens next to Mari and her family. Odin’s Promise was written as a stand-alone title, but apparently there is enough subtext to generate emotional investment in my characters, which is the best compliment I could wish for. Research is well underway, with fingers crossed that this won’t be a thirty-year process.

Thank you again, Sandy! 
Readers, be sure to enter the book giveaway! The deadline is August 23.

JoAnn Early Macken

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20. Poetry Friday and Writing Longhand Vs Keyboarding

http://images.indiebound.com/400/462/9781568462400.jpg

Happy Poetry Friday! Y'all are going to start to think that I only read poetry by J. Patrick Lewis. That is not true, though he is so versatile and prolific that I could share new poems here every time I post, and you would still enjoy a terrific variety, a great education in the art of poetry. I recently received a review copy of his forthcoming Everything Is a Poem: The Best of J. Patrick Lewis (Creative Editions, 2014). That's right. Pat is a rock star, and he has a greatest hits album!

I devoured this book start to finish, and I adore it. It collects some of his poems from the 1980s up to 2010. The topic categories include Animals, People, Reading (yes!), Sports (eh--only because I'm not a sports fan), Riddles and Epitaphs, Mother Nature(always my favorite), Places, and A Mix. The forms cover a huge range, from free verse to rhyming to specific poetic forms. If you're a fan of Lewis' work (and if not, why not?), do not miss this collection.

It was tough choosing just one to share, as there are around 60 poems here. But this is one of my very favorites:

What a Day

Out of dark's rougher neighborhoods,
Morning stumbles,
none too
bright,
recalling now
the thief,
Night,
who stole her work
of art--
Light.


--J. Patrick Lewis, all rights reserved

Here I am reading this poem:




Now, on to the question of longhand vs. keyboarding, the conversation Carmela started earlier this week. I come down firmly on the side of keyboarding. I do my morning pages that way (sorry, Julia Cameron), I do my nonfiction this way, and I do my poetry this way. At least, I prefer to. I do sometimes write longhand, usually when I'm on the road and don't have a keyboard handy. (Even then, I often carry a portable keyboard that works with my iPhone and is amazing!)

I feel stilted and uncomfortable writing in longhand. My hand can't keep up with my brain, and I can feel the ideas and phrases slipping away faster than I can record them. It's like being trapped in a cave where all this treasure is quickly draining down a hole in the floor, and I only have a tiny spoon to try to grab diamonds before they disappear. So, give me a keyboard any day!

One thing I don't mind doing at all in longhand is brainstorming. If I'm coming up with ideas or just playing around with thoughts on an existing piece, I'll happily make lists and charts and such. For example, when I was first working on poems for a night collection that will come out from Wordsong, I filled a little notebook with thoughts and possibilities.

 
 
And, recently, while doing revisions, I had a typed version with me that I made notes on while riding in a car or when I only had five minutes to work. That's when longhand works best for me, when I'm sporadically jotting notes. Write a few words. Put down the paper and go back to what I was actually supposed to be doing. Oops--new thought--grab that paper.



I will say that when I did Riddle-Ku on my blog for National Poetry Month, I wrote 95% of those while riding in a car along Lake Superior in February. I had a little mini-notebook just for that project, and every time I sat down in that seat and picked up my notebook, the poems started pouring out. For very short poems, I don't mind writing longhand. But...if I'd had my keyboard in the car with me and if my phone's battery lasted longer, I'd probably have been typing:>)

You don't have to write longhand OR by keyboard to go enjoy some more poetry! Poet and teacher Heidi Mordhorst at Juicy Little Universe has today's Poetry Friday Roundup--so don't miss it!

And if you haven't already done so, don't forget to enter our current giveaway for a chance to win the historical middle-grade novel Odin's Promise (Crispin Press) by Sandy Brehl. See JoAnn's post for all the details.

--Laura

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21. Tools of the Trade


Fortunately, when it comes to the act of physically writing, I have MANY tools at my disposal.

For example, and gratefully, my iPhone.

Should my laptop refuse to reboot due to a software problem and require a 4-day repair visit to my local Best Buy's Geek Squad the Sunday before my Monday TeachingAuthors post is due, no problemo!

I simply create an email addressing the topic, request my TA administrator Carmela post it for me, along with an evidentiary photo, and remain grateful for the many and varied Tools of my Trade...as well as for Carmela. ☺️

Esther's laptop on Geek Squad counter
So, here are a few of the salient points I fully intended to post in the traditional manner via my laptop had it successfully rebooted this morning:

(1) To date my writing tools have included #2 pencils, pens of all sorts, manual and electric typewriters, a word processor, stack and laptop computers and one trusty iPhone.

(2) Thinking on this topic, examining my modus operandi when writing creatively, I surprisingly realized my multi-sensory learning style that enables me to READ must also be executed when I WRITE!

Note: Picture here the Five Senses Chart I'd planned to share.

Using my penmanship that combines both printing and cursive, because my 6th grade teacher Miss Peterson allowed us to choose and I couldn't decide, I write by hand in notebooks, on legal pads, on sticky notes, on napkins, on match books and menus and torn newspaper items when I am rolling out and exploring a story idea.

When I'm ready to roll everything up, though, and begin an actual story draft?
I'm seated at my laptop, ready to keyboard.

(3) In my Google search to learn more about multi-sensory learners, one link led to another and there I was learning all about BIC Fight for Your Write -www.bicfightforyourwrite.com.
BIC is on a mission to save handwriting.
Clicking on the Facts page at this website, I read that handwriting engages 14 different abilities, one if which is Inner Expressive Language.
No surprise there, at least for me.
Long live the Writer's Notebook!
Visit the website to learn more and maybe even sign the petition.

Hopefully my laptop and I will be back in business by Friday.
(Siddharta  promised.)
Meanwhile, I have my iPhone ....and should that require service, my Seven-year Pen.



Happy Writing, no matter your chosen tool!

Esther Hershenhorn
P.S.
Don't forget to enter our Book Giveaway!

P.S.S. from Carmela: I couldn't resist leaving in Esther's signature line from her email, just as she sent it:

iPhone compozed - sry 4 eny typoze=

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22. Clickety-clack or Scribble-dee-doo: Keyboard or Pen...what's best for you? And happy Poetry Friday!

.
Howdy, Campers and Happy Poetry Friday!

Thank you, Irene, for jumping in to host PF this week
(and, Irene!  Congratulations on the upcoming publication
of your first poetry collection for children
which has gotten starred reviews from SLJ and Kirkus!)

We TeachingAuthors are discussing handwriting versus keyboard typing--read which Carmela, Laura, and Esther prefer.

Me? I'm bi.

When I'm in a boring meeting (or even an interesting meeting), under the hair dryer at the beauty parlor, or the passenger on a long trip, I'm happy to write poems in my little notebooks with my favorite pen.
.


But I became a writer as on one of these:

and my brain and fingers still adore keys.

So I wrote two poems today in honor of both:

TYPING
by April Halprin Wayland


It’s a sound idea—
a muscular,
a strong one.

It’s strapping, able-bodied one
it’s beefy—
it’s a long one.

It’s a strapping noun,
it’s her fingers plunked down
with a most decisive click.

It’s a piece of punctuation
that’s sealed—
it sticks.



LONGHAND.
by April Halprin Wayland

liquid longhand sometimes flows
or oozes slow
it drains from a dream 
to its place on the page

where it will not linger 
no, the pen seeps deeper
beneath each line
where longhand makes its own design

poems (c) 2014 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

And if you haven't already done so, don't forget to enter our current giveaway for a chance to win the historical middle-grade novel Odin's Promise (Crispin Press) by Sandy Brehl. See JoAnn's post for all the details.(We're supposed to sign our names at the bottom of each post...so hi, it's me--April Halprin Wayland!  G'bye!)

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23. Longhand vs. Keyboarding?

Well, I had this post almost ready to go and was congratulating myself for being Ms. Prepared when – BAM! – I perused the brilliance that was April’s Friday post. I mean, poems and EVERYTHING. Color me deflated. Who wants to follow that? But here I am, up to bat. So….

Do I scrawl sentence fragments on a legal pad? Yes. Or more often on a napkin, grocery list, or the palm of my hand.


                                        Back of a recent grocery list. Hey, at least I can read this one!


Sometimes, if I’m driving, I’ll dictate a sudden insight into my iphone. And, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, sticky notes litter my desk like pastel snowdrifts more often than not.

But write an entire story in longhand? Nope. Not me. Oh, I’ve imagined it:  I’m sitting straight-backed in a wicker chair, dressed like Emily Dickinson, pouring my musings into a lovely cloth-bound notebook. Everything I write is profound and poetic. A soulful sigh escapes me every now and then as I squint at the ceiling, gathering my thoughts…

I do occasionally give it a shot (minus the all-white clothes). But, like Laura, my hand can’t keep up with my brain. The quality of my handwriting steadily declines until even I can’t decipher it. Plus I’m always, ALWAYS revising as I’m storybuilding, and seeing a page of crossed-out words/lines/paragraphs makes the smarmy internal editor (S.I.E.) sitting on my shoulder shake her head and tsk at my ineptitude.

It’s impresses me greatly to read about authors who write their stories longhand, then transfer them to their computers. That’s something I cannot even imagine. Give me a computer any day, as S.I.E. and I are happiest with greased-lightning keys and a handy-dandy Delete button.

Happy writing!

Jill Esbaum

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24. WWW: Finding Your Voice


Today’s Wednesday Writing Workout comes to us courtesy of my fellow Newberry Library writing instructor, Chicago author and memoirist Carol LaChapelle.

When it comes to teaching Memoir Writing, Carol is “it”!
And so is her book, FINDING YOUR VOICE AND TELLING YOUR STORIES: 167 WAYS TO TELL YOUR LIFE STORIES (Marion Street Press).

Carol believes each life contains the makings of a memoir.

In FINDING YOUR VOICE, she shares writing tools, tricks of the trade, exercises and prompts to help any writer access and explore memories and turn them into stories. 

Carol also includes contributions from real students who have been using her methods to show readers how productive the writing exercises can be.

You can read Carol’s most recent essays in Next Avenue  and in American Magazine.

Carol invites TeachingAuthors readers to visit her blog  ForBoomersandBeyonders - Dispatches From the(New) Middle Ages and/or to “friend” her on Facebook.

You can email her directly for information about her online writing workshops at Madmoon55@aol.com

Thank you, Carol, for sharing one of your 167 ways for our TeachingAuthors readers to find their voice and tell their stories.

Enjoy! Enjoy!

Esther Hershenhorn

 

Finding Your Voice

In addition to writing and teaching workshops, I also consult with private clients on their various writing projects.  Recently, one of them, a woman in her late 70s who is writing a series of family stories, sent me a remembrance of her beloved grandmother to read and critique. 

In the piece, Joan writes about her many experiences with her grandmother from when she was a young girl.  As I read it, I realized that I didn’t really understand what was so special about “Gram,” though I knew Joan felt there were many things, else why commit this woman to paper?

And so after marking up the draft—mostly with questions—I summed up my comments at the end, including suggestions for the next revision, then sent it back to Joan along with this note.        

 I definitely like this idea for a family story; it’s important for future generations to know the people who went before them.

 I hope my notes, especially on the last page, will help in your revision. The major thing when starting to revise is to list for yourself those 2-4 most important characteristics/personality traits of your grandmother, as you experienced them.

 You don’t necessarily have to then list these traits in the actual revision, but you want the story—the specific experiences/details/scenes—to illustrate those. In other words, here’s the evidence that supports why you believe Gram is someone worth writing about.

I also referred Joan to my book, particularly Chapter Two, “Four Really Helpful Writing Techniques.”  The fourth technique, the Character Sketch, describes how I came to write one particular memory of a high school teacher, including the process by which that memory emerged on the blank page.  

I felt this might be helpful to Joan as she attempted to more specifically capture what was essential about her grandmother.

Following is that technique, which I have copied directly from my book’s initial manuscript.  I hope it will serve as a good reminder for all of us—new and practicing writers alike—when we come to write about the very special people in our own lives.

 4.  Character Sketch:  When you use the character sketch technique, you do more than simply describe someone physically.  That’s important of course as s/he will come more alive on the page the better that you—and your intended reader—can see what that person looks like, sounds like, moves like.

But a character sketch becomes more interesting when you add the person’s relevant personality traits and significant biographical information.

 For instance, if I were to do a character sketch of one of my favorite high school teachers, I’d include her height (short), athletic skill (she was our phys ed teacher), and coloring (her small, olive-dark face).  I’d also mention how young she was, and how demanding she was of us.  I’d describe how she looked while bouncing down the school halls (even when not wearing tennis shoes), gesticulating wildly alongside her friend and colleague, a much taller, paler, and mellower teacher.  Oh, and I guess I would mention that she was a nun who dressed in the black and white habit of her religious community—both in the gym and out.

I’d include relevant biographical information—a matter of keen interest among her former students, especially her decision to leave the convent after 20 years, marry a much younger man, sail around the world with him for a year, then return home and open a pizza parlor.

As I sit here now and write about the former Sister Joseph, more images of her come to mind, each small detail leading to another, and another, and then finally to a specific scene:
 
It is 1958 and our girls volleyball team has gathered in the gym after school for volleyball practice.  As we fumble our way around the court, Sr. Joe paces up and down the sidelines, barking orders at us, her black veil tied behind her back with a fat rubber band, the dour nun shoes exchanged for bright white tennies.  Her diminishing patience at our ineptitude now exhausted, she charges onto the court and to the spike position of my team.  Pushing aside Loretta, our best player, she yells “Set me up!” to the quaking girl next to her.  The rest of us stand there still as stones, and watch as Sr. Joe rises like some fiery rocket and hammers that ball over the net.

 Coda

Not long after my book was published in July 2008, I received a very surprising email from one of its readers.  Here’s how it begins:

Dear Ms. LaChapelle,
I am the "much younger man" to whom you refer on page 33 of your new book who married your former volleyball coach. I want to tell you that I (and she) nearly fell on the floor reading that recollection. While some of the details were slightly off, the essence of Sr. Joseph was right on.

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25. Scribble-Dee-Dee is Right for Me!

I can't resist answering April's question about paper and pen vs. computer using her "Scribble-Dee-Dee." I'm so used to (and comfortable with) paper and pen that I almost never begin anything new on the computer. For me, most ideas form not in my head but in spiral notebooks with purple pens. In my usual approach, more polished, closer-to-final drafts belong on the computer.

I mentioned my habit of carrying a pocket notebook and pen in a post from four summers ago. Here's a little more on the subject.


I was surprised to see how many Teaching Authors go straight to the keyboard to record their thoughts. How about you?

Pat K. won the autographed copy of Sandy Brehl's middle grade novel Odin's Promise.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Check It Out: Life and Books in a K5 Library School Setting. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

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