Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Welcoming the Newest Member of the TeachingAuthors Team!


Happy October, everyone!

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


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

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

Happy Writing!
Carmela

Monday, September 29, 2014

Permission Granted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     It's good to be back, you guys!.

Friday, September 26, 2014

4 Ways I Boost My Creativity


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Now you can head over to be inspired by all the Poetry Friday poems. This week's round-up is at former TeachingAuthor Laura Salas's blog. One of the links there is to a post at  Today's Little Ditty in which Michelle Heidenrich Barnes shares a fun little poem by our own April Halprin Wayland!

Happy writing!
Carmela

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

WWW: Make Your (Punctuation) Mark!


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

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

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

Enjoy!

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

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

                                                  * * * * * * * * * *

Those Emotive Punctuation Marks!

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

Think:  little sideways smiley faces.  :)

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

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

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

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

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

Play.
Experiment.

In other words, have fun!

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

5 Secrets for Cultivating Creativity


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

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

To cultivate creativity:

1.  Don’t overthink.

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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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


3.  Just do it.

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


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


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


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

                                   –Edward de Bono

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


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


5.  Trust your instincts…

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


…and let yourself go.

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



More excellent posts about creativity:

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

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

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


Friday, September 19, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s enough.

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

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

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

JoAnn Early Macken

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

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

.
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

Monday, September 15, 2014

It's International Dot Day!


It’s International Dot Day!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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