A poem a day keeps the blues away

April is National Poetry Month.  Several teachers and writers are participating in writing a poem a day to celebrate.  I don't know if I'll make a poem a day, but it is time to put my thoughts into poems.  Here is one for today that I wrote in honor of Great Grandma's 90th birthday celebration.  I want to be just like her when I grow up!

A Birthday Celebration

Laughter rings through the air.
Little boys race in and out
of chairs and legs.
A baby sleeps
while passed from arms to arms.
The miles are shrunk for a day
as we gather around the table together.
At the center
Great Grandma soaks it all in:
Soaks in the laughter and love
Spread through the years
and across generations.
Now the love returns tenfold
until it overflows
and fills us all.

How I Write

This is the end of the How I write series sponsored by Ansha Kotyk.  Check out the list of other writers here.  This is your last chance to gain from their wisdom as they reflect on how they write in an open post.   Thank you to Ansha and Kristine for inviting me to take part in this series.  I have grown as both a writer and teacher from this opportunity to pause and think about what it is that I do when I write.  I have learned much from all the writers.  Don't worry I will be coming back to posts when I get to those points in my novel.

This summer I have made the transition from dreamer to writer.  How do I know?  For starters, I am still writing.  Usually at the end of the summer I put away my writing and pour all my energy into teaching.  The writing dreams go in the box under the bed, not to see the light of day until the next summer.  And summer is never long enough to write that novel (or finish the rest of my ambitious to-do list).  School started two weeks ago here, and I am still writing.  I am going to see this first novel through.  I can sense the end of the first draft even if I'm not there yet.  I have ideas for my next novel, too.  I am much more comfortable with the fact that my first novel sucks.  But I'm learning with every word I write. 

During a ten mile bike ride last Sunday I even figured out what this first novel is all about.  Not too bad for being almost 3/4 of the way through it.  It's enough to energize me through the rest of the first draft and give me a clearer idea of what to look for in revising.  More than anything else, I've learned that I can do this. 

Two writers have been especially generous dishing out encouragement on their blogs.  I thank Laurie Halse Anderson for sponsoring WFMAD this month.  For those of you not following her, that's write fifteen minutes a day.  I can do that--even when school has started, even when leading a youth group on a week long mission trip.  I've missed only one day this month.  That's BIG for me.  Even if I haven't been following her inspired prompts this month, I will be back.  Check it out.  Maggie Steifvator must be lurking in my head because she writes just what I need to hear when I need to hear it.  Check out what she has to say about seven steps to starting a novel.  It applies just as well to getting through this first draft. 

I am still writing.  What about you?
  • Current Mood

Books and classes

Once again I'm joining theHow I Write series hosted by Ansha.  It is an awesome resource to see how different writers approach this process of writing.  I know I'm learning a lot.  Click on the links above to see the list of all participating writers.

I'm coming at this writing as a teacher first.  I teach 8th grade language arts.  As I tell my students the first day of school, we do two things in my class:  we read and we write.  My goal as a teacher is to help them do both those things better.  What do I go to to make myself a better reader and writer and teacher?  The single best resource I've found is the National Writing Project.  At a local site (mine is the IUSWP site in southern Indiana), twenty or so teachers come together to share best lessons, research writing instruction, and WRITE.  If you teach K-12 as well as write, find your closest local site and jump in.

I'm still exploring books on writing craft.  Of course, I still have Strunk and White's Elements of Style on my shelf.  I have also learned much from writers who have shared their stories as a writer along with their tips of the trade.  I'm not a horror fan, but I enjoyed Stephen King's On Writing:  A Memoir of the Craft.     Through my writing project site, we have discussed Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird:  Some Instructions on Writing and Life and Elizabeth  Berg's Escaping into the Open:  The Art of Writing True

For both writing and teaching, two authors I go back to again and again are Ralph Fletcher and Georgia Heard.  I use their lessons myself and share them with my students.  In fact, I shared a lesson I learned from Georgia with my students today. 

What are your favorite books on the craft of writing? 

Ding! Is it done yet?

Once again I'm joining the How I Write series hosted by Ansha.  It is an awesome resource to see how different writers approach this process of writing.  I know I'm learning a lot.  Click on the links above to see the list of all participating writers. 

This is the point in the series where I simply run out of experience, at least for a novel.  I'm still plugging away at my first draft, and I know it is not anywhere near ready to submit or query.  I do have experience finishing short pieces--memoir and poems, mostly.  How do I know when they are done?  Can I apply the same concepts to my novel?  I expect I can.

I will probably follow the advice I give my students:  Your writing is ready when the words on the page match the ideas and images in your head.  It's never perfect, but when you have it as close as you can get it, it's ready.  Just like my students, I want an easier answer--it's done after x number of revisions or when it gets an "A."  It's not the same for every piece of writing.  Some are done with just a few drafts; others I sweat over for draft after draft after draft.  I find it helps to have a trusted reader respond as well.  Do they get it?  What questions do they have?  What holes do they see?

No matter how hard I've worked on something, I always feel a small thrill of terror when I send it out in the world, even if it's just letting my twelve-year-old daughter read my WIP, something I let her do last week.  Her response?  Mom, hurry up and write so I can finish reading it.  Maybe there's hope for this novel after all.

I am looking forward to hearing from you on this topic.  How do you know when your writing is ready to send on? 

More on revising

Once again I'm joining the How I Write series hosted by Ansha.  It is an awesome resource to see how different writers approach this process of writing.  I know I'm learning a lot.  Click on the links above to see the list of all participating writers. 

The whole idea of revising a novel scares me.  How do I even begin to wrap my brain around something that large?  Fortunately, I don't have to reinvent the wheel.  Two of my favorite writers have generously shared how they revise on their blogs.  Their blog series have been very helpful in helping me get a handle on this process of revising.  Now, as soon as I finish drafting, I can dig into revising the novel as a whole.  As I said last week, I'm not waiting to start on some of the scene by scene revisions.  They seem to happen as I go along.

First, Laurie Halse Anderson shared a month's worth of revising tips on her blog.  Here is Tip # 1.  It is well worth going through the entire month. 

Second, Maggie Steifvator did  weeklong series on revision on her blog.  Actually, it might have spread more than a week, but I'm not complaining.  Here's the first post.  Go check it out. 

One thing I've noticed from reading lots of blogs by authors I like is that they receive lots of support and encourgement from the critique groups.  I must confess I'm jealous.  I have not found a critique group or even a partner yet and am feeling quite lonely.  I've gotten some hints on where and how to start looking, so that is one of my next steps as a writer. 

But before I do that, I'm taking part in WriteOnCon.  It's a free, online writing conference hosted by six new writers eager to share what they've learned.  It runs August 10-12.  It's not too late to sign up!

What is your best advice on revising?

Off line and writing

I'm looking forward to a week away from all electronic gadgets.  I'm taking a group of teens on a mission trip to western North Carolina (my home state, but down east).  Instead of spending time in virtual communities, we'll be building real community and maybe even some real home repair.  We are going to the same mission center I worked at during my college summers, so it's a homecoming for me.  I look forward to rocking on the front porch overlooking Lake Chatuge, eating good cooking, and helping make some one's life a little better.  If last year's trip is any indication, we'll also be in for some rousing games of spoons and spontaneous dancing. 

The week after we return, school starts again.  I teach 8th grade language arts (formerly known as English).  Then I will squeeze my own writing in among teaching reading and writing and grading piles of papers.  I love reading what they write and commenting on it, but the grading, not so much.  I had hoped to have finished a first draft of my WIP this summer, but it's not quite there.  So I'll keep plugging away along with my students, starting with Laurie Halse Anderson's WFMAD.  Since I banned all electronics from this trip, the laptop stays home.  So I've got my draft so far printed out, hole-punched, and placed in a binder.  It's going on the mission trip with me.  I even left myself wide margins to take notes in.  I will definitely be rereading, maybe revising.  Heck, I may even go crazy and draft by hand.  It will be great practice at sqeezing in writing whenever and whereever, the way I will have to write during the school year. 

Will you be joining Laurie in WFMAD?  I know I will. 

Revision at first

It is time for How I Write, a series about writing sponsored by Ansha.  This series has been an incredible learning experience for me.  Go now and check out how other writers do it, too!  Just click on the link above to find the list of participating writers. 

When I teach revision to my eighth graders, I use Play-do to introduce basic concepts.  First, they create a picture using Play-do.  Once the pictures are "finished," I lead them in revising their pictures.  They get one minute to add something to their picture.  Then they get a minute to take something away from their picture.  (You should hear the protests at this point--taking away is hard.)  Finally, they have to change something on their picture.  After they have a chance to admire and comment on each others' creations, we discuss how it all relates to writing.  This lesson becomes one I refer to through out the year as we write together. 

I find myself going back to these basic concepts as I work on my novel this summer.  I also find myself going back to the other bit of basic advice I give my students:  read and reread what you've written.  I haven't finished my first draft yet, but as I reread what i've written, I will see sections that bother me.  Most of the time I see I need to add more--more description, more thoughts and feelings of my MC, more tension and conflict, more action.  Just like my students, I find it hard to remove sections I've written, even when I know it's better fo the piece as a whole.  Right now I know my Prologue is too long at fifteen pages.  I needed to write all of it to understand my characters, but I don't think my readers will need all of it, at least not at that point.  As I keep going, I will also find things that just need to be change...did I start at the best point, or is there a better beginning? 

Since I haven't finished the entire draft yet, most of the revision I'm doing is on one scene at a time.  It's what I can handle right now since my experience is with writing and revising short pieces--poems and short memoirs.  The thought of revising an entire novel still scares me.  How do I wrap my brain around something so large?  Come back next week, and I'll share the advice I've learned from some of my favorite authors.  How do you begin revising your writing? 

(Un)stuck in the Middle

Once again I'm contributing to the How I Write series sponsored by Ansha.  Click on the links to see a list of other contributing writers.  Trust me, it will be worth your time.  I've learned much from them already this summer.  This week's topic is motivation--or getting through the middle pages.

Let me tell you, I'm there, stuck right in the middle.  If I plotted my novel instead of pantsing it, I might know just how far in the middle I was, but I have no clue how much further I have to go.  This week is better than the past few weeks have been.  At the end of June I could barely force myself to sit down at the computer and open the file for my  WIP.  When I did open it, I stared at the screen.  Words came slowly.  Nothing happened.  I was convinced that everything I had previously written was utter drivel.  How could I go on?  I didn't even know where my novel was going in the next paragraph, much less the next chapter.  I was not just stuck, I was petrified. 

How did I find my way out of this stuck-ness?  First, lots of deep breathing.  Then I read lots of blogs by other writers and learned that I was not alone.  Many of my favorite writers had been in the same place I was now.  In fact, it seemed to be expected to hit such rough patches at some point while writing.  I told myself if they could get through it, so could I.  But the writing wouldn't come any easier.

Then I went on vacation.  Really, this vacation had been planned since last fall, but it came at a good time in my attempt to draft this first novel.  While on vacation, I took a vacation of sorts from drafting.  Rather than continue to the slow plod to nowhere, I explored the world of my novel.  I asked myself lots of questions about the world of my novel.  I answered my questions.  I interviewed my characters and let them tell me their stories.  I wrote scenes from before the story of my novel.  The whole time on vacation, my mind kept coming back to my story.  What was important about this story?  What was its heart?  Where did I want it to go next?  These thoughts roamed around my head while driving from one tourist destination to another, while bouncing in the waves of Lake Michigan with my daughter, while drifting off to sleep.

Once I got home, I reread my novel from chapter one, something I had not done in a long time.  I added some scenes and changed others.  By the time I got to my where the story stopped, I found I was ready to keep going, and so I have.  So can you.  Whatever it takes--just keep writing and know you are not alone.

How do you face those stuck periods in your writing?