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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: writing exercise, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Wednesday Writing Workout: Finding the Best Beginning, Courtesy of Lenore Look


Hi Everyone,
The clock is ticking! If you haven't entered for a chance to win a copy of the 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (CWIM) yet, see the link at the end of this post. The giveaway ends on Friday!

We're hosting the 2015 CWIM giveaway this month to celebrate the publication of my article in it: "Writing for Boys (and other 'Reluctant Readers')." The article contains advice and insights from four award-winning authors known for writing books that appeal to reluctant readers: Matt de la PeñaLenore LookDavid Lubar, and Steve Sheinkin. Today, I'm pleased to share a guest Wednesday Writing Workout from one of those authors: Lenore Look!


Here's Lenore's bio, as it appears in the 2015 CWIM:
Lenore Look recently released the sixth book in her award-winning (and boy-friendly) Alvin Ho chapter book series: Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions (Schwartz & Wade). She is also the author of the Ruby Lu series (Atheneum) and several acclaimed picture books, including Henry’s First-Moon Birthday (Simon & Schuster), Uncle Peter’s Amazing Chinese Wedding (Atheneum), and, her newest, Brush of the Gods (Random House), a historical fiction account of the life of Wu Daozi, China’s most famous painter. Lenore taught creative writing at Drew University and St. Elizabeth College in New Jersey, and frequently speaks in schools in the United States and Asia. She has also co-presented the Highlights Foundation workshop "Writing for Boys" with Bruce Coville and Rich Wallace. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, and blogs frequently at lenorelook.wordpress.com.

I'm a big fan of Lenore's Alvin Ho books, which is why I approached her about participating in the CWIM article. I haven't read Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions yet, so I'll share the blurb for it that appears on Indiebound:
Here’s the sixth book in the beloved and hilarious Alvin Ho chapter book series, which has been compared to Diary of a Wimpy Kid and is perfect for both beginning and reluctant readers. 
Alvin, an Asian American second grader who’s afraid of everything, is taking his fears to a whole new level—or should we say, continent. On a trip to introduce brand-new baby Ho to relatives in China, Alvin’s anxiety is at fever pitch. First there’s the harrowing 16-hour plane ride; then there’s a whole slew of cultural differences to contend with: eating lunch food for breakfast, kung fu lessons, and acupuncture treatment (yikes!). Not to mention the crowds that make it easy for a small boy to get lost.
From Lenore Look and New York Times bestselling illustrator LeUyen Pham comes a drop-dead-funny and touching series with a truly unforgettable character.
Sounds like a fun read! J

For today's WWW, Lenore shares a great exercise in beginnings.

Wednesday Writing Workout:
Finding the Best Beginning
by Lenore Look

When I worked as a newspaper reporter, the first thing I learned was how important the “lede” or beginning of the story is. The first sentence is crucial. It’s called the “hook” because it snags your reader and reels them into your story. Without a strong hook, your reader will get away before you can tell them the five Ws and H – who, where, what, when, why and how.

When writing fiction, your hook is not just the best way to snag your reader, but it’s the place from which you will hang the rest of your story. It’s THAT important. For me, the beginning is the hardest part of the book to write. I’m faced with all my research, my characters, what I want to say, and a few ideas for scenes. It’s overwhelming. Where do I start? I pick something and have a go at it. It’s a mis-start, or a scrub, as they call it at NASA when a launch is aborted. I have many scrubs. When I find the spark that will finally launch my rocket, there’s more trouble.  Often I will agonize over the first sentence for days, re-writing it, tweaking it, throwing it out, starting it over, again and again. But when I finally get it right, it’s blast-off! And the rest of the book seems to write itself.

Here’s my top-secret recipe for finding the strongest beginning, and I hope it helps you find yours.

How to Find the Strongest Beginning to Any Piece of Writing.
1. Sit down.
2. Open your writer’s notebook.
3. Ask the following questions:
            a. Who’s your character?
            b. What’s your setting?
            c. What does your character want?
            d. What are the obstacles in her way?
4. Summarize the story you’re telling in one sentence.
5. Write your summary sentence in the center of a blank page.
6. Now surround your summary sentence with your answers to the questions from #3. Some people call this “clustering,” – if you draw circles around each of your sentences/ideas, it begins to look like a cluster of grapes. I don’t bother with the circles, instead I make lists, and surround my summary sentence with lists that answer the questions.
7. Add your research as they fit under the different questions in #3.
8. Step away.
9. Eat some ice cream.
10. Stare at the sunset.
11. Call a friend.
12. It’s important to start the next part with fresh eyes.


How to Find the Strongest Beginning, Part II
1. Look at your messy page(s).
2. Find the smallest, most simple detail that captures your entire story.
3. What you’re looking for is the KEY to your house. Keys are small. A small detail will open the door to the rest of the house, which is your story. All the rooms in your house are the different scenes that make up the story.
4. Study carefully the beginnings to books you like.
5. Using the detail you found in #2, and the inspiration you found from #4, write the most compelling beginning you can.
6. Let it lead you into the first room of your story.
7. Finish off the ice cream.
8. Stare at the sunset.
9. It may be the last sunset you see for a while.
10. Writing a book takes a long time.
11. Cry.
12. Cry your eyes out. It’s only the beginning. You still have the middle and the end to tackle!


            Writing Exercise Text © Lenore Look 2014, All rights reserved

Thanks, Lenore, for this terrific exercise! Readers, if any of you try today's WWW, do let us know how it works for you.

And don't forget to enter for a chance to win your own copy of the 2015 CWIM, where you'll be able to read additional helpful tips from Lenore. See my last blog post for details. The giveaway ends October 31.

Happy Writing!
Carmela

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2. 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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3. 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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4. 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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5. Wednesday Writing Workout ~ NEWSPAPER STORY STARTERS ~ !

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Howdy, Campers!

Before we get to today's Wednesday Writing Workout, I wanted to share author and bookseller Elizabeth Bluemle's latest post on her Publishers Weekly blog, ShelfTalker.  It moved me.  It's called "The Best Author Letter Ever."

Yes, Virginia, we--authors and teachers--can change a child's life.  Here ~ in case you need to dry your eyes:


And now, on to today's Wednesday Writing Workout!  But first some background:

Last month I was fortunate to participate in the beautifully organized Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival in Hattiesburg, Mississippi...

April Halprin Wayland, Robyn Hood Black, and Irene Latham
play with food poems for their panel,
 
“Take Five! Create Fun with The Poetry Friday Anthology"
photo by Beck McDowell

...where I met the wonderful Beck McDowell,

 Author Beck McDowell

...author of the eerily timely novel, This is Not a Drill (Penguin), published just a few weeks before Sandyhook.


Beck gives us today's 

NEWSPAPER STORY STARTERS

1) Give this exercise about 20 minutes.

2) Divide the class into groups of two or three.

3) Let them choose newspapers and magazines from a stack you've brought in.

4) Their job will be to select a news article and make up their own story using the article as a starting point.  They'll add characters, twists, etc. to create an even more engaging story.

4) Each group elects a spokesperson.  The spokesperson shares a two-to-three minute synopsis of the "story" they've outlined, beginning with what the article actually said so everyone knows their starting point and how the group changed it.

Beck says, "...you're demonstrating where ideas come from and how a real event can trigger a story idea that's ultimately totally different from the original."

Thank you, Beck!

 BONUS: while writing this, I came across
"102 Ways to Use Newspapers" in the classroom. 
Monkey combs his favorite paper for story ideas

P.S: My Writing Picture Books for Children class in the UCLA Extension Writers Program (which I've taught since 1999) started this week.  I hope to use the newspaper exercise in class this quarter.  Let me know how it works!  And if you have any suggestions on how to make it more effective, my students will be most grateful--please take a moment to scribble a comment!




Finally, don't forget: there's still time to enter our blogiversary giveaway for a chance to win one of four $25 gift cards to Anderson's Bookshops. See this post for details.


And after you've entered, take five minutes and do a free write.  Remember to breathe...and to write for the fun of it ~
picture of Monkey and drawing of dancer by April Halprin Wayland. 

posted by April Halprin Wayland

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6. Wednesday Writing Workout--STAND ON YOUR HEAD and revise!

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Howdy Campers!   Welcome to another edition of TeachingAuthors'

TeachingAuthors--and most writing teachers--have taught and discussed versions of this exercise over the years—and it's worth repeating.

Last week I tweaked it just a bit and the raw results in student writing was much more personal than when I've used this exercise before--their stories were notably stronger.

In my UCLA Extension Writers' Program class on Writing the Children's Picture Book, I spend one of the three-hour classes on rewriting.  I tell my students, "the information I'm about to tell you may be a tad depressng."

Then I show them a stack of revisions of my 1087-word picture book. I read an early draft, a middle draft and the final published book.  I show a PowerPoint which details the long journey to publication:

TIMELINE OF ONE OF MY PICTURE BOOKS
•    April 2000: interviewed expert on topic; wrote first version
•    April 2002: additional interviews
•    October 2004: accepted by publisher
•    January 2005: author’s revision sent to Dial
•    July 2005: editorial notes promised
•    December 2005: editorial notes received
•    January 2006: author’s revision sent to editor
•    January 2006: line edit promised “soon”
•    March 2006: line edits promised “May at the earliest”
•    May 2006: no line edits yet
•    May 2006: illustrator accepts offer
•    September 2006: considerable line edits received
•    September 2006 (about 12 days later): edited ms. sent off with new title
•    May 2007 titles still under discussion—August 2008 projected publication date
•    September 2007—book delayed until summer 2009 because illustrator is delayed.
•    April 2008—tiny edit: five small word changes
•    Fall 2008: illustrations arrive—wow, wow, WOW!
•    June 2009: book ship—yippee!
•    Summer 2009 lots of PR
•    September 2009: official launch—bricks-and-mortar and blog tour

      = 38 versions from start to finish.


After depressing them with the timeline, I did something different this time.  I read them the touching picture book, I Remember Miss Perry, written by Pat Brission, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch (he's also the illustrator of New Year at the Pier).  It's about the death of a beloved elementary school teachers and how her students work through it by sharing happy memories of her.  It's a delicious book about a topic no one wants to talk about--the kind of book that every school needs in its library, because when you need it, you need it immediately.

I want my students to feel they can tackle any topic in a children's picture book as long as it's written honestly.  As long as it rings true.

So, here's the exercise:

1) Have your students brainstorm for five minutes, writing a list of experiences from their childhood that rocked their world. 

Tell them to jot down whatever comes to mind, writing quickly. They don't need to worry about neatness or spelling or complete sentences--they're making notes for themselves.

Here are some possible topics:

When did you do something that made you feel grown-up?

Maybe you helped paint the kitchen.
Maybe you did something that helped someone older than you solve a problem.

When did something scary happen to you?
Maybe your dog ran away.
Maybe your parents separated.

When did something joyous happen to you?
Maybe your family moved into a nice home for the first time.
Maybe you learned how to skateboard or read.

2) Give them just five minutes to circle one of the things on their list that they want to write about and then write a brief outline of the whole story. 

3) Tell them to change one thing about this story.
Tell them: BE WILD!  
Tell them: STAND ON YOUR HEADS AND BALANCE SAUSAGES ON YOUR TOES! 
They might change:
~ Point of view.  Instead of first person, try third person.  Or perhaps the family dog tells the story.
~ Time period.    Instead of the present, try setting it in ancient times, in the 1920s, in the future.
~ Place:              Instead of on a farm, try setting it underwater, in a volcano, on an island, in New York.
~ Characters:      Instead of people, try ground hogs, lightning bugs, elevators, a jar of pickles or cows.
~ Plot:                Instead of the cricket finding his home at the end, perhaps he gets even more lost.  Or instead of the bully getting her comeuppance, throw a party for her and see what happens.

As I said, this is the first year I've read my students that book before we launched into this exercise; the stories were more heartfelt than in the past.
They tried riskier subjects, subjects that were closer to their skin--and every idea was worth pursuing.
I hope you try it--either in your own writing or with students.  Then let me know what happens!
And, hey--thanks for reading this!
April Halprin Wayland


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7. Wednesday Writing Workout to fill your well: Poets in the Gallery!

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Howdy, Campers!

It's Wednesday, and you know what that means!  It's time for another TeachingAuthors

!

Do you ever feel as if your idea well has run dry?  Here's an exercise that's sure to tap into ideas you didn't know were waiting to pour out.

I've taken the adult poetry class, The Courage to Write, taught by Anthony A. Lee, several times.  He's a terrific poet and a kind and generous teacher.  

Tony's classes are held in a building which also houses an art gallery.  During one class, we wrote poems based on the following exercise...and then came back at night to read our poems at the opening of the art exhibit. Scary and invigorating!

Note: although the exercise below is written to inspire a poem, you can use this exercise to begin a poem or a story.
POETS IN THE GALLERY!
based on a workshop by Anthony A. Lee
  1. Go to a gallery or any place where art is displayed.
  2. Which photo, painting or sculpture calls to you?  Walk around until you find it.
  3. Sit down in front of it.  Breathe deeply.  Close your eyes.  Listen to the sounds of the gallery.
  4. Open your eyes.  Look at the art for a full minute.
  5. Now, begin writing.  Describe an image in the artwork. Just report it; write exactly what you see.
  6. Once you have that image on your paper, begin a poem with the word "I."  The only rule is to write in the first person. 
  7. Write as fast as you can. Write without a plan. Whatever happens, happens.
  8. Describing something, as a journalist does, is the Reporting Voice.  That voice comes from the lips, the mouth, the throat. 
  9. Writing about feelings comes from a lower, truer, sometimes scarier place.  This is the Deep Voice.  This voice attracts readers.  It connects them to your story.  Be brave.  Find the feelings.  Go there. 
  10. When you’re done, write it again, taking out as many words as you can. 
  11. Write it a third time.  Do you really all those “the”s, “and”s, or “a”s?  Try taking them out. 
  12. Now, take out all the adverbs.
  13. Next, take out most of the adjectives.
  14. Poetry is word music.  Read your work aloud. Do you like the sound of your poem?
  15. Don't hide your light under a bushel—your poem is a gift to be shared.  Bring someone you love to that piece of art.  Share your poem with them.  Bring an extra copy and leave it by the artwork.
Tony says: asking your students (or yourself) to describe an image in the artwork is better than telling them simply to write something about the piece of art, which will make some students freeze.

Try it!  Have fun!

And, apropos of nothing, here's a sign I saw in Seattle recently which made me laugh:

This post was written by April Halprin Wayland.  Thank you for reading it! 
(Our cruel and heartless blog mistress makes us put our names here so we can't hide from our subscribers.)

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8. Wednesday Writing Workout

Today's Wednesday Writing Workout is one adapted (with permission) from a blog post by Pulitzer Prize Finalist author Lee Martin. Martin writes both fiction and nonfiction and teaches in the MFA program at Ohio State. The following exercise is a simplified version of one he has used with his advanced undergraduate creative nonfiction students. You can find his version here if you wish.

1.  Locate yourself in the natural world.

2.  Sketch in the sensory details of the place. Take in your surroundings. What do you see and feel? Now close your eyes. What sounds stand out? Can you distinguish specific scents?

3.  Let those details lead you to a statement that expresses a mood. This is simplest if you go ahead and use the word "feel" in your statement. The way the leaves whisper high above my head makes me feel wistful, wishing to be up there among them, sharing secrets. Or Far away a dog howls for attention, making me feel lonely.

4.  Carry that mood inward. Make statements about what being in that place is like for you. Martin suggests:  Being in this place makes me feel/wonder/think/question. . . .

5.  Come back to one of the details of the place, perhaps a detail that you featured in the first step of this activity. This time find something new in that detail. Martin suggests, for instance:  I keep coming back to the sight/sound/smell of. . . .    Why does that detail stand out for you?

Putting yourself into the natural world, allowing yourself to see and experience it more deeply, can open you – and your writing - in ways that may surprise you. Or even trigger an idea for a brand new project.

Come back Friday to meet an author who turned a close encounter with nature into a joyful and educational picture book.

Happy writing!

Jill Esbaum
P.S.  You can still enter our contest to win a copy of Sonya Sones' new novel in verse, To Be Perfectly Honest. Click here!

3 Comments on Wednesday Writing Workout, last added: 8/29/2013
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9. Happy New Year! Guest Teaching Author Barbara Krasner offers a Wednesday Writing Workout (actually THREE workouts)!

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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 offers us a dynamite Wednesday Writing Workout for the New Year.


As long as we're feeling lucky, enter our latest book giveaway!
Details at the end...
Here's a bit about Barbara:  In the fall of 2014, her picture book, Goldie Takes a Stand! A Tale of Young Golda Meir, will be published by Kar-Ben, the Jewish imprint of Lerner Publishing Group. In addition, she's written 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.

She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, an MBA in Marketing from Rutgers University, and blogs at The Whole Megillah/The Writer’s Resource for Jewish-themed Children’s Books.  Barbara is currently on the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Poetica, Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, Mused-BellaOnline Literary Review, Jewishfiction.net, in the Paterson Literary Review; she was a semi-finalist in the 2013 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry in the upcoming Nimrod International Journal (!!)

Barbara is definitely a TeachingAuthor, teaching creative writing in the English department of William Paterson University and a workshop, Writing Jewish-themed Children’s Books at the Highlights Foundation.

You see what I mean when I say we're lucky to have her come by today?  WOWZA!

And now, here's Barbara with 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) 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 shana tovah!

But wait! Before you head off to write about a memorable New Year, be sure to enter for a chance to win a copy of Lisa Morlock's terrific rhyming picture book, Track that Scat! (Sleeping Bear Press). 
and...

posted by April Halprin Wayland

3 Comments on Happy New Year! Guest Teaching Author Barbara Krasner offers a Wednesday Writing Workout (actually THREE workouts)!, last added: 9/13/2013
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10. Bullying...A Writing Prompt for our Wednesday Writing Workout

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Breaking News:


April's poem, "When Mom Plays Just for Me" will appear on Children’s Poet Laureate Kenn Nesbitt's homepage www.PoetryMinute.org at 8:00am Eastern Time on Thursday, October 3 and will remain there for 24 hours, when it will be replaced by another poem. (April's poem will remain on the site but not on the home page.)  Its permanent link (which won't work until 10-3-13):
http://www.poetryminute.org/when-mom-plays-just-for-me-by-april-halprin-wayland/


Howdy Campers!

Remember to enter our current giveaway of Alexis O'Neill's book, The Kite That Bridged Two Nations ~

Welcome to another edition of TeachingAuthors'...


Okay...raise your hand if you've never been bullied.

Yeah, me, too.

Mary Ann kicked off our discussion on bullying for National Bullying Month (who knew?) with a deeply affecting post, I Wonder What Happened to Todd: A Bully's Tale.

Bullies I've known remind me of turtles: mostly they stay in their civilized shells, and then, without warning, they stretch their heads out and snap off someone's finger.

I had to chair a meeting of a non-profit organization this weekend to decide what we were going to do about a member who is a bully.

I'll call our guy Bluto.  Bluto, like the turtle, was usually friendly--he'd come early to set-up chairs, help collect dues, etc.  Every once in a while, though, he'd explode at someone shy, someone weak, someone Not Important.  In the latest incident, the atmosphere in our meeting was so toxic, people felt afraid for their safety.  Things had clearly gone too far.

Attending a meeting to figure out how to handle Bluto was not on the top of my list of fun things to do on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.  Ahead of this would have been eating a porcupine, finding out my father was a single-celled alga, and staying in bed all day.  

Staying in bed all day--
a great alternative to being a grown-up...
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In preparation for this meeting, I spoke at length with an expert on disruptive behavior.  I learned:
1) Bullies pick on people who are weaker than they are.
2) You need to stand up to a bully.
3) Be empathetic.
4) Create clear boundaries.

I can always use a good script.  She gave me words to use (or not):

We need you to take a time out from our organization for six months. This is the natural consequence of your actions. We hope you understand. This is also hard for us.  We're saddened. We hope you will use the next six months to work on this.  At the end of six months, if you chose to come back (and we hope you do) we hope you'll have taken the opportunity to work on this.  We'll meet with you and talk with you before you come back to a meeting.  We hope you do work it out.  People are afraid of you and you need to look at that. If you cannot, boy, we're sure going to miss you.  This is a great loss for us. (Hug him.)

At the end of six months, here's what's expected: Civility. You can't yell. You can't create a threat. You need to listen.


Interestingly enough, during the meeting on what to do about Bluto, Mary Kate shot out an angry comment. At that moment I realized that I'm as afraid of Mary Kate as I am of Bluto.  I remembered what I had learned from the expert, took a deep breath and said, "Could you not speak so angrily to me?"

Mary Kate's response was dramatic.  She looked at me in surprise--almost as if I had awakened her from a dream.  She apologized. During the rest of the meeting she was kinder to all of us than she'd ever been.

Amazing how that works.  And that sense that I awakened a bully from a dream?  That's sometimes how I feel when I eat too much...suddenly I wake up and say, "Whoa!  I think we're finished with lunch!"


I wouldn't be surprised if bullying behavior was an addiction, like smoking, drinking, overeating, compulsive spending, hoarding, etc.  Hmm.


So, today's Wednesday Writing Workout focuses on 2013 National Bullying Month's theme, The end of bullying begins with me.

Here's your writing workout:
1) Who is a bully?  Choose Bluto (of the Popeye fame),someone who once bullied you, or someone who intimidates you today.



2) Pretend that bully is in front of you now.  Jot down how you feel or how you felt as a child facing that bully.  Include details of the place, smells, physical sensations (has your stomach turned to acid? Are your palms sweaty?).  Include weather, background noises you hear or can't hear because you're so frightened, what gives you courage or how you ate a box of cookies later to blot out the fear.

4) Now: make a boundary.  Write what you wish you could have said to the bully.  Scribble to your heart's content. Be annoyed.  Be angry.  Be clear.  Tell that bully to BACK OFF!

5) That's your raw material.  Now go ahead and write the bully story or poem you really, really really need to write.

P.S: I'm pleased that one of my poems appears in the terrific book, THE BULLY, THE BULLIED, THE BYSTANDER, THE BRAVE edited by David Booth and Larry Swartz (Rubicon Publishing)


Thank you for stopping by today! 

Remember to go to this blog post for the Book Giveaway details for The Kite That Bridged Two Nations.  And g'luck!Alexis, by the way, is also the author of a wonderful picture book about a bully, The Recess Queen.
~ posted by April Halprin Wayland who is no longer afraid of Tom P, from second grade.

2 Comments on Bullying...A Writing Prompt for our Wednesday Writing Workout, last added: 10/4/2013
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11. Wednesday Writing Workout: Putting Together the Pieces of Your Story


Today I'm pleased to share a Wednesday Writing Workout contributed by the inspiring and talented author Margo L. Dill.


I first met Margo some years ago at an SCBWI-Illinois writing conference. I believe she'd already sold her first novel, the middle-grade historical Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg (White Mane Kids), but it hadn't been published yet. With today's post, we join Margo's blog tour celebrating the release of her second novel, Caught Between Two Curses (Rocking Horse Publishing), a YA light paranormal romance novel about the Curse of the Billy Goat on the Chicago Cubs. Margo has two more books under contract--both picture books--one with High Hill Press and the other with Guardian Angel Publishing. Besides being a children's author, she is also a freelance editor with Editor 911: Your Projects Are My Emergency! and she is part of the WOW! Women On Writing e-zine's staff. There, she works as an editor, blogger, instructor, and social media manager. When she's not writing, editing, or teaching online, Margo loves to spend time with her husband, stepson, daughter, and crazy Boxer dog, Chester, in St. Louis, Missouri. You can learn more at Margo's website.

Here's a summary of Caught Between Two Curses:
Seventeen-year-old Julie Nigelson is cursed. So is her entire family. And it’s not just any-old-regular curse, either—it’s strangely connected to the famous “Curse of the Billy Goat” on the Chicago Cubs. Julie must figure out this mystery while her uncle lies in a coma and her entire love life is in ruins: her boyfriend Gus is pressuring her to have sex, while her best friend Matt is growing more attractive to her all the time. Somehow, Julie must figure out how to save her uncle, her family’s future, and her own love life—and time is running out!
As a die-hard Cubs fan, I'm really looking forward to reading Margo's new book. (I'm hoping the main character solves not only her problem, but the Cubs' curse too!)

And now, here's Margo's three-part Wednesday Writing Workout.

Wednesday Writing Workout: Putting the Pieces Together

Writing a novel is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with my daughter. I’ve been teaching her to do the edge pieces first and then fill in the middle. This reminds me of writing a novel because writers usually start with an idea, maybe a plot or an interesting character with a problem—in other words, our border. We build our foundation for a story by piecing together our ideas. But sometimes, that beginning border, even with a few pieces filled in the middle, is not finished or even sturdy. Here are exercises I use with my WOW! Women On Writing novel students to add more pieces to their puzzle and come out with a strong, final product—a finished, publishable novel! (These can also be used with short stories and picture books.)
  
1. Create characters with internal and external problems.
The characters I remember best are the ones that struggled with both internal and external problems. What’s the problem your character has that he must overcome in the novel? Trying to raise money for a new bike? Figuring out how to deal with a sibling? Tired of moving around and always being the new kid at school? These are all external problems, and the ones that our plots are built on. 

But your character also needs an internal problem! In Caught Between Two Curses, Julie has to break two curses; but while she does this, she also struggles with her self-esteem and confidence as well as what love means. These are her internal struggles. While she rushes around to save her uncle, the events in the novel help her grow and work through her internal problems.

Just ask yourself these four questions either before you write your novel or even during revisions:
     a. What is your main character’s internal struggle?
     b. How does he or she solve it?
     c. What is the external problem in the novel that affects the main character?
     d. How does he or she solve it?

2. Brainstorm problems
If you find yourself with a strong border for your novel—an exciting beginning and an ending that will leave readers talking for years, but you are stuck in the muddy middle, make a list of 10 problems that a person can have that’s the same age as your main character and in the same time period. For example, my novel’s main character is 17, lives in Chicago in present day. Problems she can have are: pressure to have sex, temptation to do drugs, failing classes, negative body image, disloyal friends, etc. 

Once you have this list, are there any of these problems that you could turn into a subplot for either your main character or a minor character or sidekick? Subplots can often dry up the muddy middle and keep readers hiking to the end.

3. "Then what?"
The last exercise asks a simple question, “Then what?” Each time you answer, make the problem or situation worse for your main character. You don’t actually have to use all of these horrible situations in your book, but they may help you push your main character a little harder. Here’s an example:

     Julie learns a curse is on her family.
     Then what?

     The curse makes her uncle fall in a coma.
     Then what?

     Julie’s grandma says her uncle will die before he is 35 if the curse isn’t broken.
     Then what?

     He is 35 in less than 5 months.
     Then what?

     She has no idea what to do to break the curse.

Using these writing exercises while you are piecing together your novel will give you a complete story in no time! 

Thanks, Margo, for this terrific Wednesday Writing Workout. Congratulations on your new novel. I look forward to reading it.

Readers, do let us know if you try these exercises. If you'd like to read about where Margo gets her inspiration, check out this blog post. And if you haven't already done so, be sure to enter our current giveaway for a chance to win The Poem That Will Not End: Fun with Poetic Forms and Voices (Two Lions). See April's interview with the author, Joan Bransfield Graham, for complete details.

Happy writing!
Carmela

0 Comments on Wednesday Writing Workout: Putting Together the Pieces of Your Story as of 6/11/2014 8:03:00 AM
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12. Wednesday Writing Workout: Dialogue Secrets You Don't Want to Miss, courtesy of Kym Brunner


Today I'm happy to share a guest Wednesday Writing Workout from the amazing Kym Brunner, who is celebrating the release of not one, but TWO, novels this summer.


When I met Kym at an SCBWI-IL conference a few years back, I couldn't get over her enthusiasm and energy. I had no idea how she found time to write, given that she was a busy mom with a full-time teaching job (teaching middle-schoolers, no less!).

According to her bio, Kym's method of creating a manuscript is a four-step process: write, procrastinate, sleep, repeat. She's addicted to Tazo chai tea, going to the movies, and reality TV. When she's not reading or writing, Kym teaches seventh grade full time. She lives in Arlington Heights, Illinois with her family and two trusty writing companions, a pair of Shih Tzus named Sophie and Kahlua.

Kym's debut novel, Wanted:  Dead or In Love (Merit Press), was released last month. Here's the intriguing synopsis:
Impulsive high school senior Monroe Baker is on probation for a recent crime, but strives to stay out of trouble by working as a flapper at her father's Roaring 20's dinner show theater. When she cuts herself on one of the spent bullets from her father's gangster memorabilia collection, she unwittingly awakens Bonnie Parker's spirit, who begins speaking to Monroe from inside her head. 
Later that evening, Monroe shows the slugs to Jack, a boy she meets at a party. He unknowingly becomes infected by Clyde, who soon commits a crime using Jack's body. The teens learn that they have less than twenty-four hours to ditch the criminals or they'll share their bodies with the deadly outlaws indefinitely. 
And here's the blurb for her second novel, One Smart Cookie (Omnific Publishing), which came out July 15:

Sixteen year old Sophie Dumbrowski, is an adorably inept teen living above her family-owned Polish bakery with her man-hungry mother and her spirit-conjuring grandmother, who together, are determined to find Sophie the perfect boyfriend. 

But when Sophie meets two hot guys on the same day, she wonders if  this a blessing or a curse. And is Sophie's inability to choose part of the reason the bakery business is failing miserably? The three generations of women need to use their heads, along with their hearts, to figure things out...before it's too late.



Today Kym shares a terrific Wednesday Writing Workout on dialogue.


Wednesday Writing Workout: 
SHH! DIALOGUE SECRETS YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS!
by Kym Brunner 

Quick! After a person’s appearance, what’s the first thing you notice when you meet someone? If you’re like most of us, it’s what comes out of their mouths. First impressions and all that. But when you read, you can’t see the characters, so your first impressions are made based on what the characters say, not how they look.

Simple concept, right? Not so simple to deliver.
SO…HOW DO YOU MAKE YOUR CHARACTER MAKE A GOOD FIRST IMPRESSION?

Give them something to say that’s:
  • Believable
  • Fits their personality
  • Consistent, yet unexpected
  • Short and natural
1) Believable Dialogue

How do you know if it’s believable or not? Put on your walking shoes and get out your notebook! Head to the spot where the prototype of your character would go. Need to write teens talking together at lunch? Go to a fast-food restaurant near a high school. Want to know what couples say when they’re on a date? Head to a movie theater early and go see the latest romantic comedy. You get the idea.

***HINT: LISTEN AND TAKE GOOD NOTES. I promise you’ll forget the words and how they said them if you don’t.
2
2) Dialogue that fits the character’s personality

There’s a famous writing cliché that says a reader should be able to read a line of dialogue and know who the character is without the identifying dialogue tag.

The key is being the character when you write his or her lines. Imagine YOU are the sensitive butcher who is very observant (seriously, picture yourself looking out of the eyes of the butcher with your hands on a raw steak) and then write his or her lines. Better yet, listen to a butcher talk to customers and/or interview one to ask his top three concerns about his job. You might be surprised to learn what those things are…and so might your reader.

***HINT: SWITCH INTO THE MINDS of all of your characters (even the minor ones) as you write to create words that only THEY would say.
Image courtesy of smarnad/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
3) Consistent, yet unexpected? Huh?

Your job is to make sure your characters are real, that they speak the truth (or not, depending on who they are). In real life, characters might keep their thoughts to themselves. Not so in fiction. Characters that are pushed to the brink must speak out––to a best friend, to the cabbie, to the offending party, to the police.
Yes, we want dialogue to be authentic, but it IS a story and it does need to intrigue your readers. So let them speak their mind and propel the story ahead by providing interesting thoughts for your readers to mull over.

***HINT: TO KEEP PACING ON TRACK, use frequent dialogue to break up paragraphs of exposition.

4) Short and Natural

Cut to the chase. No one likes listening to boring blowhards, so don’t let your characters be “one of those people.” Remember tuning out a boring teacher? That’s what didactic dialogue and info dumps feels like to your readers. Only include information that’s absolutely necessary for the story’s sake and skip the rest. You might need to know the backstory, but keep it to yourself.

***HINT: READ ALL DIALOGUE OUT LOUD. Change voices to the way you imagine the characters interacting and it’ll feel more “real.” If you’re bored with the conversation, so is your reader. If it doesn't sound the way a person really talks, cut it or revise it. Listen to real people and you’ll notice most of us talk in short sentences with breaks for others to add commentary.

So there you have it. Write dialogue that’s believable, fits the characters, necessary, and natural and your readers will come back for more!

*****
Hopefully you’ll find authentic dialogue galore in Wanted:  Dead or In Love, which features two alternating POVs––one from Monroe (a modern-day teen who becomes possessed internally by the infamous Bonnie Parker), and the other from Clyde Barrow himself (who works hard to take over the body of Jack Hale, a teen male).

And if cultural humor is more your style, you’ll get a helping of Polish spirits along with a bounty of teen angst in One Smart Cookie.

Kym Brunner

Thanks so much, Kym! Readers, let us know if you try any of these techniques. Meanwhile, if you'd like to connect with Kym, you can do so via her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. And if you'd like a taste of Wanted:  Dead or In Love, here's the book trailer:


Happy writing (and reading!)
Carmela

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13. Beginnings and Endings

It's that time of year...  Today I turned in my syllabus for the fall semester.  Oh, summer, I miss you already. 

Of course we've all been engrossed in the Olympics this week, cheering for Michael Phelps (hometown boy), Gabby Douglas, and all the rest.  Looking at track, at gymnastics, at swimming, it occurs to me -- you can be a breast stroke specialist and so-so in the free; outstanding on the vault and a little shaky on the beam.  Like "sport," writing involves a HUGE compendium of skill sets that need to come together in a rather miraculous way to make even a passable final product. 

Like athletes, writers have coaches (editors) and fans; we also need to put in our time (thousands of hours) and sweat. Unlike athletes, we have more than one chance on the big stage to get it right.  Hallelujah.  This is great news!  Yet trying to convince my students that editing is not only important but a gift remains one of my biggest teaching hurdles.

This week I've worn my article-writer hat; my scriptwriter hat; my picture book writer hat.  I just signed up for a romance writing class this fall, so we'll see whether I have a romance writer hat in my closet.  However, my teacher hat is rather new and stiff still.  I find that one of the greatest challenges in college comp is teaching students global skills and grammar skills; research skills and sentence-level editing. Some students have had many of these skills since they were very young; others don't know where to put periods or apostrophes.  However, some who struggle with grammar are still among my strongest writers on a global level.  And how do you differentiate instruction for students you see for a whopping two-and-a-half hours per week?  Whew!

I have spent the last week contemplating last year's syllabus -- what worked and what didn't?  What do I want to keep, tweak, revamp, delete? One exercise that was fairly effective last year involved introductions and conclusions.  Many introductory comp students have had the five-paragraph essay format effectively drilled into their heads.  They think they are required to write an introduction that concludes with a three-point thesis; that the introductory sentence of each of the next three paragraphs should repeat one third of the thesis statement; and that the concluding paragraph should begin with a restatement of the thesis statement, going on to summarize all that has come before.

Many students are shocked when I suggest that it is not good practice to say the same thing three times; in fact, many are shocked by the mere notion that they can write more than or fewer than five pargraphs in one essay.  We spend much of the semester working toward the notion that the five-paragraph format is a template that can be molded to a variety of shapes, forms, and purposes.

Our textbooks concentrate on suggestions for making introductions and conclusions more interesting: start with dialogue; start with a story; start with an interesting fact.  In the final paragraph, end with a story; bring your reader back to the beginning; offer a tip or a suggestion; look toward the future.

Many students nonetheless are resistant to these ideas and continue to write summary-type paragraphs that add zero interest to their papers.  So we tried this writing workout:

Writing Workout

Rewrite your introduction once, and then do it again.  Use two different techniques (anecdote, interesti

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14. Priming the Writing Pump

    As long as I have lived in Georgia, (eleven years now), the state has suffered from drought. I don't remember what a green lawn looks like.  My yard (and everyone else's) has turned cornflake brown, with lots of bald spots. Lake levels have dropped until people with "lakefront homes" now have "mud front homes." Fourth of July often includes a ban on fireworks.  Even sparklers feel hazardous when everything around you has turned to kindling.

    The writing life has it's dry spells, too.  We all have them, even though we don't like to admit it.  After all, we are writers. This is what we do.We are supposed to be endless founts of creativity. We are "supposed" to write every day. When we don't, we feel guilty. OK, I feel guilty.  For me, not writing is in the same league with not working out and eating junk food.  A few days of not writing and I come down with a bad case of brain fog.

    My first experience with a dry writing well came at the end of my MFA program at Vermont College. After two years and four drafts,  I thought I had finished Yankee Girl. (Wrong. I had another two years and three drafts to go.) Feeling very pleased with myself I jumped right into a new novel.  I had a setting and some characters so I thought I was good to go.  I wrote the first couple of chapters and sent them off to my faculty mentor, Randy Powell for critique.

   Randy made his usual cogent comments on the writing, but ended his last letter with a comment I thought odd at the time. Sometimes, after a big project like Yankee Girl, he wrote, it's good to let the creative well refill. What was he talking about?

   A year and another "finished" novel later, I figured out what he meant.  I had three hundred pages of writing; I didn't have three hundred pages of a novel.  I'd pushed myself to write a novel, when I really didn't have a novel in me at the time.  Sigh. Fortunately, by then I was working with an editor on yet another revision of Yankee Girl. From those three hundred pages (which are still lurking in  my hard drive) I learned to let a story simmer on a back burner awhile. Writing Yankee Girl drained me, emotionally and creatively. I should have given myself some time off. I should have let my well refill, as Randy had suggested.

    However, time off can turn into goofing off.  You can't just sit around waiting for rain to refill your well.  The trick is to keep writing, keep priming the pump until you get your mojo back.

    I should know. I am halfway through my current work-in-progress.  For a variety of reasons, I am too creatively pooped out to do the story justice, right now.  So what am I doing?

   Writing this blog, for one thing. Knowing that I will be talking to you all every other Monday has kept me going.  I am also lucky enough to have a series of Young Writer's Workshops lined up for this school year.  Working with students always energizes me.

   But what if you don't write a blog or have a continuous supply of workshops and school visits to keep you sharp?   What if you don't have the time or energy to journal for even fifteen minutes?

   Writer's Workout I try to find at least three things every day that I want to write in my journal. Three things that make me stop and

3 Comments on Priming the Writing Pump, last added: 8/15/2012
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15. Book Giveaway and Guest TeachingAuthor Interview with Heidi B. Roemer

Happy Poetry Friday, Everyone!

Today we're celebrating by featuring a guest TeachingAuthor interview with the wonderful poet, author, teacher, and now, editor, Heidi Bee Roemer. And I'm THRILLED to announce the forthcoming release of the brand new poetry anthology edited by Heidi and Carol-Ann Hoyte: And the Crowd Goes Wild! A Global Gathering of Sports Poems--ATCGW for short. The anthology, which is illustrated by Kevin Sylvester, includes 50 sports-related poems by poets from ten countries. I am honored to be one of those poets, and I have to say that I'm in some pretty amazing company, including Charles Ghigna, J. Patrick Lewis, David L. Harrison, Avis Harley, Priscilla Uppal, and my former fellow TeachingAuthor, JoAnn Early Macken. ATCGW is geared for children ages 8-12, and showcases nearly 30 different poetry forms. A portion of royalties from both the paperback and e-book editions will be donated to Right to Play, an international organization that uses sports and games to educate and empower children facing adversity.

And great news for our TeachingAuthors readers: you can enter our drawing for a chance to win your own paperback copy of this terrific anthology, autographed by Heidi (or her co-editor, Carol-Ann, if you live in Canada). See details at the end of this post. If you don't win our contest, see the official CrowdGoesWild website for information on how to a copy. (The e-book is only $3.99!)

In case you don't know Heidi Bee Roemer, here's an excerpt from her bio: With nearly 400 poems, articles, and stories in various children’s magazines and anthologies to her credit, Heidi is also a song lyricist and children’s book reviewer. Her debut book, Come to My Party and Other Shape Poems, (Henry Holt) received starred reviews and was nominated for several awards. Her newest books are both from NorthWord Press: What Kinds of Seeds are These? and Whose Nest is This? Heidi is a former instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature, and currently serves as a writer-in-residence for several Chicago Public schools.

I had the privilege of taking a poetry class with Heidi a few years ago, and I can tell you from experience that she's a great teacher--several of the poems I wrote while in her class were eventually published in children's magazines or anthologies. When I saw Heidi's call for submissions for ATCGW, I initially submitted a couple of reworked  poems from that class. Then Heidi sent a follow-up call, asking specifically for poems about paralympic athletes--athletes with physical limitations. My first thought was: How can I write about a paralympic athlete when I don't know any? Then a few days later I remembered watching my son run his first marathon, and how inspired I was by all the paralympic athletes who participated. One runner in particular, a British man who ran on two prosthetic limbs, had left such an impression on me that I still recalled the awe and respect I felt watching him. So I wrote a list poem called "At the Chicago Marathon" as a tribute to him, and that was the poem accepted into And the Crowd Goes Wild! A Global Gathering of Sports Poems. I don't want to make this post too long, so I'll share just the first stanza of my poem here:

                         At the Chicago Marathon

      The crowd roars as another runner rounds the bend.
      I stretch on tiptoes to see:
           white visor,
           dark sunglasses,
           rope necklace,
           muscled arms,
           red-white-and-blue shirt—the British flag, not ours,
           four black numbers on a white rectangle: 1776,
           same as the year our country declared independence from his. 
      . . .
poem excerpt © 2012 Carmela Martino.  All rights reserved.  

(Note: You can see a photograph of Richard Whitehead, the inspiration for this poem, running in that race here. That day he completed 26.2 miles in 2 hours, 42 minutes, and 52 seconds, setting the world marathon record for a leg amputee and placing 212 out of over 36,000 finishers. He will be running in the 100m and 200m races at this week's 2012 London Paralympic Games. According to the official website, those events will be held on Sept. 7 and Sept 1, respectively. You can read more about him at his website.)

And now, for the interview:

Heidi, will you tell us how you became a TeachingAuthor?
     My “on the job training” experience as a teacher is based on nearly 300 school presentations and library visits. As a poet-in-residence for Chicago Public Schools I learned how to make poetry lessons informative, lively and fun! In 2001 I was accepted as an instructor for The Institute of Children’s Literature, a college-credited correspondence course for adults who want to write for children. I also teach poetry to adults and children in various local venues.

What's a common problem/question that your students have and how do you address it?
     New poets often write rambling, overly-long poems and approach revision with reluctance. Most rookie poets need guidance on how to trim, tighten, and tweak their words. Someone wisely wrote: “Poetry is a can of frozen orange concentrate. Add three cans water and you get prose.” I agree! Want practice writing succinctly? Write terse verse because it contains only a few words per line. Children’s terse verse may be sprinkled with rhyme, alliteration, assonance, and wordplay. Closing lines should illicit a response from the reader—a sigh, gasp, smile or giggle. To understand how to write stellar poems for children in any poetic form, I often direct aspiring poets to magazines such as High Five, Babybug, Ladybug, Spider, Hopscotch, Boy’s Quest, Fun for Kids, Turtle, and Humpty Dumpty. Those wishing to be published in these specific magazines should study not just one issue, but two or more years of back issues.

Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?
     Try writing terse verse—it’s not as easy as it looks! Short lines force the writer to trim excess words. Focus on a single age-appropriate topic using mostly concrete nouns and vivid verbs. Establish a word pattern and engage your young reader by incorporating a lighthearted, playful tone. Terse verse, also called cryptic rhyme, was popularized by author Verla Kay in Orphan Train, Gold Fever and other books. Writers who wish to master this poetry form should read Verla’s complete cryptic collection. I’m pleased to say that ATCGW contains a delightful terse verse written by U.S. author, Ellen Ramsey. I won’t give away her surprise ending, but here are a few opening lines:

          “What Do You Do With….”

          A weight?
          Lift it.
          A racquet?
          Swing it.
          A rope?
          Climb it.
          A bike?
          Ride it. . . .
poem excerpt © 2012 Ellen Ramsey.  All rights reserved. 

Do you have any suggestions for teachers on how they might use And the Crowd Goes Wild! in the classroom?
     Educators will find ATCGW an easy fit with school curriculum. One suggestion is to engage students in related physical activities. For example, Laura Purdie Salas’s roundel is about goalball, an official sport of the Paralympics games; visually impaired players chase a ball that contains a bell inside. Using a cat toy with a bell inside, let blindfold students try to toss and catch the toy, aided only by the ringing sound. Patricia Cooley’s free verse about chess, “The King’s Gambit,” can also be creatively adapted. Students can hold large cardboard replicas of chess pieces (rook, pawn, bishop, etc) and play a life-size game of chess.
     ATCGW can be used as a study of various poetry forms. The end pages identify nearly 30 poetic forms found in the anthology, such as haiku, limerick and shape poems, as well as less familiar forms: cleave, etheree, and palindrome. Keeping a poetry journal, students can study the various forms and write a new poetry form each week.
     ATCGW also introduces students to poets featured in the book. Some contributing poets are recognized and revered around the world, others are just at the cusp of their writing careers. Students can visit the poet’s website or blog. If the poet has published other books, students might read those as well. Geography can play a role in classroom studies, too! Students can use pushpins and a world map to indicate where each poet lives. Once the study is done, students may write an email or letter to their favorite poet.

ATCGW is your first project as editor. What’s the experience been like? Would you do it again?
     My dream job is to be a poetry editor for a children’s magazine. So when the book’s creator, Carol-Ann Hoyte of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, asked me to be part of this international “Olympic-related” sports poetry project, I jumped at the chance. It’s an exciting experience to discover new talent and see a book come to life. Yes, I would love to edit another poetry anthology—or children’s poetry magazine, for that matter!

I know you’ve lined up a number of events to promote ATCGW around the world involving some of the contributors (including ME!). Would you tell us about some of those events?
     Carol-Ann and I are excited about our upcoming book launches this fall. The U.S. launches will feature eight Illinois poets. ATCGW’s official “Poetry Team U.S.A.” includes contributors Cathy Cronin, Patricia Cooley, Heather Delabre, Claudia Kohlbrenner, Eileen Meyer, Patricia Murphy, Heidi Bee Roemer, Michelle Schaub, and (yay!) today’s TeachingAuthor interviewer, Carmela Martino! My heartfelt thanks, Carmela, for letting me tell your dedicated followers and fellow poets about And the Crowd Goes Wild! A Global Gathering of Sports Poems. I hope your readers will check the listings below and join us for an hour of poetry, poets, prizes and fun surprises!

Thank you, Heidi, for this great interview, and for allowing me to be part of And the Crowd Goes Wild! A Global Gathering of Sports Poems. Below is information about the book's first two launch events. I'll be posting additional dates and times next Friday. Meanwhile, don't forget to enter our contest for your chance to win an autographed copy. See the details at the end of this post. 

First two launch events for And the Crowd Goes Wild! A Global Gathering of Sports Poems:
In Canada:
Thursday, September 13 at 7 p.m.
Selwyn House School
95 Cote St. Antoine Road, Westmount, Montreal

In the U.S:
Wednesday, September 26 at 6:30 – 7:30 p.m.
Mokena Library
11327 W. 195th Street
Mokena, Illinois 60448

Finally, details on entering our giveaway:

You must follow our TeachingAuthors blog to enter for a chance to win an autographed paperback copy of  And the Crowd Goes Wild! A Global Gathering of Sports Poems. If you're not already a follower, you can sign up now in the sidebar to subscribe to our posts via email, Google Friend Connect, or Facebook Network blogs.

There are two ways to enter:  
  • by a comment posted below OR
  • by sending an email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com with "Book Giveaway" in the subject line.
Whichever way you enter, you MUST give us your name AND tell us how you follow us. If you enter via a comment, you MUST include a valid email address (formatted like: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com) in your comment. Contest open only to residents of the United States and Canada. Incomplete entries will be discarded. For complete giveaway rules, see our Book Giveaway Guidelines.

Entry deadline is 11 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012 (Central Standard Time). The winner will be chosen in a random drawing and announced on Sept. 12.  
Good luck! 

And after you've entered, don't forget to check out this week's Poetry Friday round-up at Poetry For Children.

Happy Writing!
Carmela

18 Comments on Book Giveaway and Guest TeachingAuthor Interview with Heidi B. Roemer, last added: 9/19/2012
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16. Book Giveaway! The Author's Name Rhymes with Halloween: FORGET ME NOT by Carolee Dean

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Howdy, Campers! Happy Poetry Friday! Info about how to enter today's Book Giveaway is far, far below.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by the Paper Tigers--thank you!

Years ago, I attended an informal farewell lunch after speaking at a writers' conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  I was tired and wasn't feeling well and very nearly skipped that lunch.  Luckily, I didn't. That's where I met the dynamic and sparkling Carolee Dean.

I have since had the great pleasure of being on a panel Carolee put together for this year's International Reading Association Convention in Chicago.  (That's where I learned how generous, well-organized and cool-under-pressure she is.)

Carolee keeps a gazillion plates spinning in the air at once.  She not only works in public schools as a speech-language pathologist, she also teaches writing, helps sponsor middle school and high school poetry slam teams, and is the author of three young adult novels all including original poetry.  They are: COMFORT (Houghton Mifflin), TAKE ME THERE (Simon Pulse), and the JUST ABOUT TO BE PUBLISHED paranormal verse novel FORGET ME NOT (Simon Pulse, Oct. 2, 2012)--which you, yes you can WIN in our Book Giveaway--woo-woo (details below)!

So let's meet Carolee in person.  Hey, Carolee--how did you officially become a TeachingAuthor?

I've spent over a decade working in the public schools as a speech-language pathologist with students of all ages and a variety of challenges. The most difficult thing for most of them is writing, and understandably, many of them hate doing it. I'm always trying out activities to inspire my reluctant writers. Sometimes the activities work. Sometimes they don't. When they do work I like to share them with other educators because I know how difficult it can be to continuously come up with inspiring lessons.

Among some of my better ideas is a twelve step story analysis method I call The Secret Language of Stories. I've given presentations on it at several state, national, and international conferences including the International Reading Association 2012 in Chicago where I co-presented on an all day panel with you and TeachingAuthor
Esther Hershenhorn. I have a description of the twelve steps
on a tab at my blog.

What's a common problem your students have and how do you address it? 

It's easy to get stuck staring at a big white page or a blank computer screen. I can't tell you how many times I hear the words, "I don't know what to write."  I reply, "writing isn't about knowing. There is no magic right or wrong answer as there is in other subjects.

Writing is about choosing, about considering the infinite possibilities and picking one." To this the student inevitably replies, "I still don't know what to write." Then I usually give the stumped pupil a whole list of suggestions which he or she usually doesn't like because that blank computer screen is still just so darn intimidating.

One strategy that has worked extremely well for me is to create a PowerPoint with directions on each slide for what part of the story to write on that particular slide. I also include suggestions about what kind of accompanying images to select. I usually let kids choose the images first since the pictures often inspire their writing. This has worked extremely well with even the most struggling writers. Kids love power point and they love Google Images.

I have some high school students who read and write at first and second grade levels and they have come up with some of the most amazing stories.

(Directions for Carolee's PowerPoint story along with a downloadable PowerPoint can be found under the Teacher Resources section of her blog).

Would you share a favorite writing exercise with our readers?

I like to get kids talking about stories before they write them. There is a strong connection between oral language and written language and it often helps to verbalize ideas before putting them down on paper.

One of my favorite activities is to cut out unusual pictures from magazines. Advertisements often contain images that may be interpreted in a variety of ways. I play music and then ask students to walk around the room. When the music stops I tell them to sit down in front of a picture and describe to the class what they think is going on.

We do this several times and I've found that the random nature of the activity takes off the pressure to think of something good. After they've all come up with two or three ideas, we sit down to write. I often use the structure of poetry for this stage of writing because the focus is on ideas rather than grammar.

I LOVE that idea, Carolee. I can see using it in my classes for adults writers, too. Okay, so tell us...what's on the horizon for you?

I'm in the process of writing up The Secret Language of Stories as a teacher sourcebook and I just wrote an article for Cynsations exploring the history of verse novels going all the way back to Homer and the Iliad and the Odyssey.

In the immediate future, FORGET ME NOT, my paranormal verse novel, is coming out October 2! It's about a girl who has been cyber bullied and hides out from her tormentors in a deserted part of the school only to find herself stuck in a hallway full of ghosts.
(Read the great Kirkus review of FORGET ME NOT here and another terrific review of her book here.)

Sounds wonderfully SPOOKY, Carolee--and just in time for Halloween! 

And finally, since it's Poetry Friday in the Kidlitosphere, would you share a poem from your new book with our readers?

Absolutely.  Here is an excerpt from FORGET ME NOT:

WRITE IT OUT

That's what Ms. Lane,
my writing teacher,
would say.
Spill it out onto
the page.
Sometimes it's
the only way

for thoughts heavy
as bricks
to become feathers
and fly away.

I could go
to her class.
Get my head
together.

I'd sit next to
Elijah.

I wonder if
he's heard.

Even if he has,
I know

he
wouldn't say
a word.

poem © 2012 Carolee Dean. All rights reserved

Wonderful!  Thank you SO much for stopping by to talk with us, Carolee!

Here's the exquisite book trailer for FORGET ME NOT:


Campers!  Join Carolee's Ghost Tour which starts Oct. 3, and check out the original jewelry made especially for Carolee's book launch!

Carolee has generously offered to autograph a copy of  her about-to-be-published book for our BOOK GIVEAWAY.  Yay!  To enter, just follow these rules:

You must follow our TeachingAuthors blog to enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of Forget Me Not by Carolee Dean.  If you're not already a follower, you can sign up now in the sidebar to subscribe to our posts via email, Google Friend Connect, or Facebook Network blogs.

There are two ways to enter:
1) by a comment posted below
OR
2) by sending an email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com with "Book Giveaway" in the subject line.

Just for the fun of it, tell us a true ghost story of your own in 50 words or less. This is optional!

Whichever way you enter, you MUST give us your name AND tell us how you follow us. If you enter via a comment, you MUST include a valid email address (formatted this way: youremail [at] gmail [dot] com) in your comment. Contest open only to residents of the United States. Incomplete entries will be discarded.
Entry deadline is 11 p.m. Thursday, October 4, 2012 (Central Standard Time). The winner will be chosen in a random drawing and announced on October 5th.

Good luck, Campers!

13 Comments on Book Giveaway! The Author's Name Rhymes with Halloween: FORGET ME NOT by Carolee Dean, last added: 10/9/2012
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17. The Warm Up

If you read the blog last week (and did your homework) you're well prepared to get going! Got comfy clothes? Kidding! Any good workout has to start with some stretching and warm up so we don't jump in and hurt ourselves. Writing is no exception. So I want you to do the following exercise. You can do it each day and use a different outcome or you can do it once and jump into something you're dying to start. Think of it as a game. 

 Take the character you created last week and pick one from each of the following categories then write a couple pages. Just write. You don't have to show anyone, just see where it takes you.

World:

  • Deep space
  • Kentucky
  • The Amazon
  • an apartment in New York
Antagonist:
  • An animal
  • A rival at work/school
  • The weather/world itself
  • A psychopath
Goal:
  • Safety
  • Love
  • To retrieve something of value
  • Save a relative
Okay now here's the fun part - don't make it obvious! Mix it up. Have her fight the world itself in an apartment in New York in hopes of retrieving something of value for example. You can mix these up and add your own as the week goes on so you try something new each day. OR you can use the first try to help you in whatever project you're working on now. Your choice. 

Ready? Set. Go!

10 Comments on The Warm Up, last added: 12/6/2012
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18. Cardio for Writers

So we're all warmed up and stretched! The holidays are approaching. In fact, Chanukah is already here. So let's jump into the meat of it, shall we? If you've done your homework then you have your brain working on different scenarios and hopefully that wonderful imagination of yours is rearing to go. 

Now it's time to work on something that will keep you focused on your story even when visiting Santa at the mall. Whatever your book is - whether you're just starting it or revising - take your favorite scene, you know the one, it's the one that keeps playing in your head, that you know you have to write for this book or work your way to or polish till it shines. That one. Take it and write it. Right now. Out of context, out of order. Just write.

It feels naughty doesn't it? To dive into the whipped cream before the main course? But why not? You can always redo it. In fact, that's your homework. Redo it every day a different way. OR write another favorite scene you see coming. Even if you end up not using it, it will get you in the mood so to speak. It won't take long, and you'll enjoy it. Heck, you might even find yourself working the whole book around it. That's happened to me believe it or not. 


11 Comments on Cardio for Writers, last added: 12/16/2012
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19. Light Winter's Darkness this Poetry Friday!

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Howdy, Campers ~ Happy Poetry Friday!

Jama's hosting Poetry Friday today at Alphabet Soup 
(which is www.jamarattigan.com in case this link doesn't work)
...and if it's at Jama's it's sure to be tasty!

For my last post of 2012, I'm going to break from our series on publishing opportunities (see Esther's last two posts and Carmela's post, with more to come!)...

I've been thinking about my family and our, well, interesting year (especially the part about my husband dying of a heart attack and being brought back and now being completely and miraculously fine); about hard times and hope, about sunrises, candles, glowing kitchen windows at night, and about the dark of winter and the glint of winter sunlight.



WINTER SOLSTICE: GIRL TALKING TO THE SUN
 by April Halprin Wayland

On a hard day's chill,
when my heart stands still,
Sun, oh, Sun, where do you disappear?

Then Sun answers me,
answers quietly,
Look around, little girl, I am here, I am here.

© 2012 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

I am Jewish; I just recently learned that the fifth night of Hanukkah (which can be spelled many ways) is the first night in which there are more flames than darkness, more candles lit than unlit, and represents the triumph of light over darkness. 

I love that.

 
Okay...ready for today's writing workout, Campers?

WRITING WORKOUT: A Light in the Darkness

1) Take a cozy moment to scribble ten ideas triggered by the phrase, "a light in the darkness" or by the 1:06 minute video above.  Jot down memories, images, or the name of someone in particular who helped light your way in a dark time.

2) Consider imitating the rhyme scheme of the poem above:
A/A/B
C/C/B

3) Or write a 100-word story.  

3) Or write forget #2 and #3 and write the poem or story you were meant to write today.

4) Write like a little kid who is so jumpy-excited to get a piece of paper and a pencil she can barely sit still.  Give that little kid a chance; let's see what gift she creates for you this holiday season!

And speaking of gifts, don't forget to enter to win a gift for yourself or for some lucky teacher in your life: an autographed copy of JoAnn Early Macken's, Write a Poem Step by Step. I have her book and it's terrific!  See JoAnn's guest post for details.


Not actually in Southern California where I live, 
but in Phoenix, several years ago.
Still, a pretty note of light and hope 
with which to end the year...


Happy Holidays One and All!

13 Comments on Light Winter's Darkness this Poetry Friday!, last added: 12/23/2012
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20. Do the Unexpected

How are you all fairing with our workout? The holidays are in high gear right now, and we're physically working out getting in that last minute shopping, but we can't ignore our writing muscles. 
Last week we wrote the scene that grabbed us. Now we're going to do the scary thing and throw something in the mix. Take whatever part of the book you're working on and add one of the following, then see what happens. Remember you don't have to keep it, but it's a great exercise to test out your characters. We love to torture them!

  • Your character finds out someone close has just died.
  • Your character is injured.
  • The antagonist shows up unexpectedly. 
  • Severe weather interferes (e.g, storm, earthquake, heatwave)
You have to do this exercise the first half of the week, because we're doing double time now that we have our heart rates up. The second exercise is this:

Take another character from the same book and put them in the same situation to see what happens. 

Did you learn something about the other character you didn't know? What did that do to your perspective? I'd love to hear if you found anything interesting from this! Don't be afraid to email me. Good luck!

8 Comments on Do the Unexpected, last added: 12/18/2012
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21. Wind Down

Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate it! 

You've all done a great workout with me! Thanks. And if you didn't squeeze it in, that's okay - you can go back and do it when you're ready. I hope you found some inspiration in there. Today we stretch and wind down so we can spend time with family.

So all I want you to do is write down your next goal. Be specific and positive. Like, "I will write ten chapters by February." Or whatever applies to your situation. Then put it in a place you'll see it often. On the fridge, cork-board, computer background, whatever. 

And one more thing...

RELAX AND HAVE A GREAT WEEK!

4 Comments on Wind Down, last added: 12/26/2012
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22. Memory Poet-Tree: a Wednesday Writing Workout

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Howdy Campers! Welcome to...

My mother says that everyone remembers the trees of their childhood.

I recently attended the annual FOCAL (Friends of Children and Literature) Luncheon hosted by the Los Angeles Public Library Children's Literature Department. Each year, FOCAL gives an award to an outstanding children's book with California content.  This year's award deservedly went to my friend Joanne Rocklin for her wonderful book, One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street (Abrams).

This book bubbles over with the voice of middle graders.  It's a wonderful and truly amazing work, as the avalanche of great reviews and awards attests.

Joanne's acceptance speech was thoroughly Joanne: full of enthusiasm, aware of her audience, bursting with love.

I had such a great time, I bought one of the centerpieces, made by
Ray Moszkowicz's art students at Palms Middle School:
 Each detail of this inspired centerpiece references her book.

Joanne's memories of her beloved orange trees inspired my poem that day (I write a poem a day); I thought perhaps a memory of a tree in your life might inspire you, too.

I wrote about our Meyer Lemon tree and how incredibly generous it is.  See for yourself:

I want to share my lemon tree poem with you...but here's my dilemma: dozens of my poems have been published in poetry anthologies...but recent contracts specify that poems can never have been published--even on a blog.  ACK!

But wait! I see that I've blogged on this topic before... so let's use a poem I've posted previously:

WINNING
by April Halprin Wayland

I sit under this tree
to sit under this tree.

Not to win anything.
Just me and tree.

If the wind happens to drop
a sweet plum in my lap, though,

I would never say no
to a plum.
poem © 2013 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved
 
Now it's your turn. 
1) Close your eyes. Think of a tree from your childhood...or any tree of significance to you.
2) List details of that tree that cover all five senses, or write snippets of your memories of the tree.
3) Or you may want to simply plunge in, and see what memories sprout from your pen or keyboard.
4) Consider putting your poem (or was it a story that emerged?) into a form...or not.
5) Consider sending your poem to someone who would remember that tree.
6) Leave a comment about this exercise.  :-)

Don't forget to enter to enter our Book Giveaway to win
Brenda Ferber's Valentine's Day picture book,  
The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever (Dial)
 All the details are in Esther's post below. 

And thanks for coming to today's Wednesday Writing Workout!

poem and lemon tree photo © 2013 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

13 Comments on Memory Poet-Tree: a Wednesday Writing Workout, last added: 1/19/2013
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23. A Magnet Poem

Last year at the Perth Writers Festival family Day  I got a free magnet board and enough letter magnets to spell my name. This year  got a sheet of magnet words. Today I finally opened both - and wrote a poem. Not a great photo - actually very hard to photograph because of white background and tiny size of words. But lots of fun.

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24. The Progressive Poem's denouement!

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Howdy Campers!

Remember to enter to win in our 4 x 4 Blogiversary Celebration!

Today I have the absolute honor and (as Esther would say) knee-buckling responsibility to write the last line of 2013's Progressive Poem.  Yay!  And yikes!

The brainchild of Irene Latham, this Progressive Poem has been moving from blog to blog, growing poet by poet, for 29 days until it's come here for one final line.  For the poem and a list of contributing poets, see below.
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At the end of a month posting rough drafts of poems about dogs, I think you could say that this, too, is a rough draft.  As Laura Puride Salas says, it's poetry improv.  Yes, and a poetry game.  It's been fascinating to read the process of those who've proceeded me.

When I got the line by Denise Mortensen, it's such a great line, I thought I should just write THE END.  Then I could talk about how a poet needs to know when to quit and when a good line's a good ending.  That would be funny. If only I had the courage!

But I don't.  So off we go!

Here is the list of the poets who each contributed a line (in this space, some appear to be a line and then some, but they are all really one line each), and below their names is the (yikes!) finished poem.  Take a bow, poets!
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DAY/LINE + POET

P.T. BARNUM'S GREAT TRAVELING MUSEUM, MENAGERIE, CARAVAN, AND HIPPODROME*
by Thirty Poets on a mission in the Kidlitosphere...see list above

When you listen to your footsteps
the words become music and
the rhythm that you’re rapping gets your fingers tapping, too.
Your pen starts dancing across the page
a private pirouette, a solitary samba until
smiling, you’re beguiling as your love comes shining through.

Pause a moment in your dreaming, hear the whispers
of the words, one dancer to another, saying
Listen, that’s our cue! Mind your meter. Find your rhyme.
Ignore the trepidation while you jitterbug and jive.
Arm in arm, toe to toe, words begin to wiggle and flow
as your heart starts singing let your mind keep swinging

from life’s trapeze, like a clown on the breeze.
Swinging upside down, throw and catch new sounds–
Take a risk, try a trick; break a sweat: safety net?
Don’t check! You’re soaring and exploring,
dangle high, blood rush; spiral down, crowd hush–
limb-by-line-by-limb envision, pyramidic penned precision.

And if you should topple, if you should flop
if your meter takes a beating; your rhyme runs out of steam—
know this tumbling and fumbling is all part of the act,
so get up with a flourish. Your pencil’s still intact.
Snap those synapses! Feel the pulsing through your pen
Commit, measure by measure, to the coda’s cadence.

You've got them now--in the palm of your hand!
Finger by finger you’re reeling them in—
Big Top throng refrains from cheering, strains to hear the poem nearing…
Inky paws, uncaged, claw straw and sawdust
Until… CRACK! You’re in the center ring, mind unleashed, your words take wing--
they circle, soar, then light in the lap of an open-mouthed child; the crowd goes wild.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

* Barnum's circus was originally called "P.T. Barnum's Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome," which is pretty much what our poem is. ("Greatest Show on Earth" was added later...that's us, too!)

It never hurts to join forces...

 
...ask all the thirsty pooches at the dog park!
Let's play some more!

Hey--where'd everybody go???

G'bye to Poetry Month 2013!  See you next year!

Posted by April Halprin Wayland

28 Comments on The Progressive Poem's denouement!, last added: 5/3/2013
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25.

Hello, all!

First things first:  If you haven't yet entered to win in our 4 x 4 Blogiversary Celebration, go! Do! Who wouldn't love selecting a few FREE books from one of our favorite indies?


Secondly, wasn't yesterday's Progressive Poem a blast? Thanks, April! A tough act to follow, for sure, but it's Wednesday, and that means it's time for a workout.

This week I've tapped one of my favorite teaching authors, novelist Sharelle (pronounced like Cheryl) Byars Moranville. Sharelle holds a Ph.D. in English and has taught as an adjunct professor at various colleges and universities. She's also a regular workshop leader at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Workshop. Here she is, prepared for warmer temperatures:


Sharelle's beautifully-crafted novels include the award-winning Over the River, The Purple Ribbon, A Higher Geometry, The Snows, and her latest, The Hop (Kirkus:  "an enchanting adventure.") I'm a great admirer of Sharelle's writing, which is filled with powerful sensory details and layers of emotion that go straight to a reader's heart. 


Here's a backstory exercise Sharelle uses with her writing students – and for her own stories, as well.
  • Diagram the important places in the story. For example, the main character's house. Show the layout, the directional orientation (for the cast of light, breeze through the house, etc.) Think about the view from each window.
  • Furnish the house. Think about the furnishings and what those reveal about backstory, character, and conflict.
  • Pick a particular item in the house – a keychain, a coffee mug, a knick-knack, a lamp, a toothbrush – and use it as a prompt for exploring backstory, character, and conflict. Use it to create a scene between two characters.
  • Pick an item in the house that will become a motif in the story – i.e., invested with an emotional content, like the backpack in Susan Patron's The Higher Power of Lucky or the pearls in Kimberly Willis Holt's When Zachary Beaver Came to Town.
Be sure to check out Sharelle's website:  www.sharellebyarsmoranville.com

Happy writing!

Jill Esbaum




7 Comments on , last added: 5/3/2013
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