Friday, August 29, 2014

Scribble-Dee-Dee is Right for Me!

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

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


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

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

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

JoAnn Early Macken

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

WWW: Finding Your Voice


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

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

Carol believes each life contains the makings of a memoir.

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

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

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

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

You can email her directly for information about her online writing workshops at madmoon55@hotmail.com. 

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

Enjoy! Enjoy!

Esther Hershenhorn



Finding Your Voice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As I sit here now and write about the former Sister Joseph, more images of her come to mind, each small detail leading to another, and another, and then finally to a specific scene:

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

 Coda

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

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

Monday, August 25, 2014

Longhand vs. Keyboarding?

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

Happy writing!

Jill Esbaum

Friday, August 22, 2014

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

.
Howdy, Campers and Happy Poetry Friday!

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

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

Me? I'm bi.

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


But I became a writer on one of these:

and my brain and fingers still adore keys.

So I wrote two poems today in honor of both:

TYPING
by April Halprin Wayland


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

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

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

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



LONGHAND.
by April Halprin Wayland

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 18, 2014

Tools of the Trade


(Carmela here. I had to post this on behalf of Esther. Read on and you'll understand why.)

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

For example, and gratefully, my iPhone.

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

I simply create an email addressing the topic, request my TA administrator Carmela post it for me, along with an evidentiary photo, and remain grateful for the many and varied Tools of my Trade...as well as for Carmela. ☺️
Esther's laptop on Geek Squad counter
So, here are a few of the salient points I fully intended to post in the traditional manner via my laptop had it successfully rebooted this morning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Happy Writing, no matter your chosen tool!

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

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

iPhone compozed - sry 4 eny typoze=

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Poetry Friday and Writing Longhand Vs Keyboarding

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

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

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

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

What a Day

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


--J. Patrick Lewis, all rights reserved

Here I am reading this poem:




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

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

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

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



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

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

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

--Laura

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wednesday Writing Workout with Guest Teaching Author Sandy Brehl!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JoAnn Early Macken

Monday, August 11, 2014

Writing Longhand vs Typing: Does it Make a Difference?


Which do you prefer: writing longhand with a pen (or pencil) on paper or typing on a keyboard/electronic device? This is the question I posed to our TeachingAuthors for the series of posts I'm kicking off today. As I considered my own answer, I found some interesting information on how our writing tools may affect our creativity.

I was about twelve or thirteen when I first started writing for myself (as opposed to for school assignments). Back then, the only alternative I had to writing longhand was a manual typewriter on which I could eek out maybe 10-15 words per minute. So longhand it was. I wrote poetry, journaled, and did all my school assignments in longhand. When necessary, I then transcribed my written words to the printed page via my beautiful blue Smith Corona.

cropped version of photo by mpclemens, per CC rights 
By the time I started working as a freelance writer (MANY years later), personal computers had arrived on the scene. And I'd learned to type MUCH faster. So, for the sake of efficiency, I adapted my writing process to compose directly at the keyboard (as I'm doing with this blog post), but only for the nonfiction pieces I wrote for newspapers and magazines. For my "creative" writing--journals, poetry, short stories and my first novel--I stuck with longhand.

Then came graduate school, with its requirement of forty typed pages of writing per month. Once again, I adapted. I sat pounding out fiction--first short stories, then novel chapters--directly at the keyboard. For the most part, that worked fine. But every so often, I'd get stuck. I couldn't find the right words, or the words didn't have the right rhythm, or I couldn't get the feelings to come across on the page. I'd sit staring at the blinking cursor, my fingers frozen on the keys.

That's when I'd go make another cup of tea. Or stretch. Or take a walk. Sometimes that helped. But not always.

One day, while working on Rosa, Sola, I got the idea to take up a pen and write out a question for Rosa, my main character. I asked her what she was feeling in the particular scene I was working on. Then I closed my eyes and tried to imagine I was in Rosa's shoes at that moment. I opened my eyes and wrote the answer to the question, longhand, from Rosa's point of view. I was amazed at the words that flowed from my pen. They not only gave me insight into Rosa and her feelings, but also ideas for what would happen next in the story.


From then on, whenever I got stuck, no matter what I was writing, I turned to paper and pen. And almost every time, the writing was better than what I'd struggled to generate via the keyboard.

I decided to research why for this blog post. Chris Gayomali's Mentalfloss article "4 Benefits of Writing by Hand," like most of the other articles I found, says writing longhand makes you a better writer mainly because it slows you down. I think there's more to it than that. Otherwise, I could get the same benefits if I just typed slowly. But that doesn't help me at all.

I suspected that the difference really has something to do with how the physical act of putting pen to paper affects the creative side of our brain, our "right brain." Typing, on the other hand, seems to involve more of our logical left-brain.

Researching further, I found a Paris Review interview with poet and author Ted Hughes in which he said:
In handwriting the brain is mediated by the drawing hand, in typewriting by the fingers hitting the keyboard, in dictation by the idea of a vocal style, in word processing by touching the keyboard and by the screen’s feedback. The fact seems to be that each of these methods produces a different syntactic result from the same brain. Maybe the crucial element in handwriting is that the hand is simultaneously drawing. I know I’m very conscious of hidden imagery in handwriting—a subtext of a rudimentary picture language. Perhaps that tends to enforce more cooperation from the other side of the brain. And perhaps that extra load of right brain suggestions prompts a different succession of words and ideas.
This explanation rings truer for me than the "slower is better" theory. What do you think? I'd love if you'd let us know in the comments.

But first, you may want to also read Kelly Barson's fascinating article "Writing from Both Sides of the Brain" in the Hunger Mountain journal. Just make sure to come back here when you're done!

Okay, so if you read Barson's article, you know it includes several references to Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way (Tarcher). Cameron also recommends writing longhand, at least for "Morning Pages." As it happens, I'm currently preparing to teach a new 12-week workshop on The Artist's Way at the College of DuPage that will begin at the end of the month. This Wednesday, August 13, I'll be presenting a free Lunch Break Lecture giving potential students a "taste of" the workshop. If you're in the area, I hope you'll join us. Check my website for details.

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

Happy writing!
Carmela