Friday, July 30, 2010

Out & About at SCBWI...and Why Does She Keep Two Journals?!?

Hi, Gang!
A quick reminder about TeachingAuthors’ latest book giveaway for Karen Romano Young’s intriguing graphic novel about a girl who keeps a doodles-and-writing journal, Doodlebug: A Novel in Doodles.  Entry deadline is 11 pm (CST) Wednesday, August 4, 2010. For details, read this post.

More about keeping a journal in a minute.

But first...I’m at the SCBWI’s 39th Annual International Summer Conference in my home state of California! (TeachingAuthors’ very own Esther Hershenhorn is featured on the first web page about the conference with her timeless article, Confessions and Secrets of a Veteran SCBWI Conference-Goer!)  2010 is SCBWI's biggest year ever, with over a thousand attendees!
The photo is from SCBWI's's actually from the annual Winter Conference...but you get the idea: big, enthusiastic crowd!
This is the ninth year I’ve critiqued manuscripts.  Wow.  I AM old!  I love having this unique role at the conference.  Each attendee who pays extra and submits a manuscript ahead of time is given a half hour slot during the conference.  They are escorted (some on trembling legs) into a long room where there are more than fifty members of the faculty sitting across tables, talking quietly with writers about their manuscripts.

Critiquing means you have lots of work before the conference.  It takes me at least an hour--sometimes two--to write the critique I give each of the ten or so writers I'm assigned.

My favorite part is having a full half hour to talk with each person about their work.  As we’ve just read in the last few posts on critique groups, you walk a fine line…you want to encourage…and you also want to help make that manuscript the best it can possibly be.  You do NOT want to squash the person’s fragile ego like a bug on the sidewalk.  That’s easy to do!

I do my best to follow Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford's suggestions: "PQP -- Praise, Question, Polish.   Start with praise.  Always.  There's something good you can find.  Somewhere.  Always. Usually you can find a way to end on an encouraging note, as well. In between, be constructive, be specific, and offer suggestions."
Be gentle!  That's the writer's heart...
Luckily no one gives me suggestions about the entries in my journals...not that either of them is private.  As I wrote in a previous post about journaling, “Do I still keep a journal?  You betcha.  I’ve been emailing it to a dear friend, one day at a time, for years—I call it my blog with one reader.  And she actually reads it.  Now that’s a friend!”

That's the journal I call my news journal, and satisfies the journalist in me.  But something was missing.  The artistic flying-squirrel-crazed-angel part of me didn’t have a platform.  Where were my poems, my colors, my thoughts that didn’t march in a logical procession? 

When I took the Poem-A-Day Challenge in April of 2010, I wrote and posted a poem each day for the month of April.

That challenge forced me to put poetry among the top three priorities in my life (The other two?  Health and family).  A writer is SUPPOSED to make writing a top priority …but this?  This was like pouring jet fuel into my poetry paper airplane!

So even though the official Poem-A-Day Challenge ended on April 30th, I’ve kept a daily poetry journal, in which I write one poem a day, ever since.  I email each poem to one of my best friends, author Bruce Balan, who is sailing around the world in his trimaran named Migration (named for his picture book, The Cherry Migration.)  Right now he’s in Tonga.  How cool is that?
Here’s the exercise about keeping a journal which I assign to my students at UCLA Extension.  It’s from this post.

“Write a one-minute journal each day.  Take only one minute to record the thing you most want to remember about that day.   It can be weighty—that your friend passed the bar exam, for example.  But it could be that one moment—seeing the long slant of the sun on a skateboarder as she skated past.”

Go ahead.  Attack a fresh page--with words and/or doodles--for one minute.  You’ll be glad you did.
And of course, write with joy.        
Drawings (c) by April Halprin Wayland

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Book Giveaway and Guest Teaching Author Interview with Karen Romano Young

Today I'm pleased to introduce you to our guest TeachingAuthor:
  Karen Romano Young. I met Karen at the American Library Association convention when it was last held in Chicago. (Could it be a year ago already?) When Karen told me about her book, Doodlebug: A Novel in Doodles, (Feiwel & Friends) I knew I wanted to interview her for our TeachingAuthors blog. Well, Doodlebug came out this month, and we're pleased to help Karen celebrate its release. See below for information on how you can enter to win an autographed copy! And be sure to read the Blogosphere Buzz section at the end of this post for news of accolades for our blog and links to a couple of terrific resources.

Karen Romano Young is the author of more than 20 books for young people, and the illustrator of three. Doodlebug: A Novel in Doodles is her first graphic novel. She is also a deep-sea diver and science writer--she spent most of June on an icebreaker in the Arctic Circle! You can read about the trip in her guest posts at the blog Science+Story. Karen also blogs regularly at Ink: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Finally, to find out more about Karen, see her website.  And now for the interview:

Karen, how did you become a TeachingAuthor?
      The children’s librarian at my hometown public library asked me to lead a writing workshop for a group of particularly passionate sixth-graders.  The Young Writers’ Workshop was born!  It is still going strong.  Begun in a tiny conference room at the library, it moved to my studio barn and now is a traveling workshop, conducted for writers ranging in age (so far) from 6 to 80.  The sixth-graders are now graduating from college.  Among them are several who are published or going into publishing.
      In addition, I’m on the faculty of Western Connecticut State University as a mentor teacher in the MFA program, and have the pleasure of teaching dedicated and talented students. I’ve also mentored writers on a one-on-one basis, including Rutgers One-on-One, a conference that matches aspiring writers with authors and editors.

What's a common problem/question that your students have and how do you address it?
      One eternal question is the one about the writing that doesn’t come out the way you thought it would when you began it.  This is such a common experience for any artist, and I think knowing that you can expect it to happen can help you deal with it when it (inevitably) occurs.   We all think we’re alone as writers, and we’re all afraid of failure. One solution is to recognize that your work is going to come out differently; another is to accept that you’ll go through a process as a writer in which you continually evaluate your work, finding the strengths and weaknesses and, draft by draft, working to improve them.  My hope is that writers take that pressure they put on themselves (we all do) and turn it into energy to keep working on successive drafts until the proverbial tuning fork is still.

Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?
      I like quick responses and questionnaires.  I have a “pop quiz” for first time workshoppers with questions such as “Would you rather be hated or feared?” and “Polar bears or penguins?” or “What is today’s hairstyle called?”  These are nonthreatening, open-ended ways to spark people’s feelings that they are creative, original, and funny.  It also opens the discussion of how we writers compare ourselves to one another, and how we love an audience.  After the writers answer this quiz, we’ll share answers together – which also serves as an icebreaker.
      Another favorite is a blank sheet with a grumpy face on it (it’s actually Trina Schart Hyman’s Ugly Bird from Cricket magazine) that says “Just who do you think you are?” This can be a five-minute quick write, and has led to some great work from writers. They write from their own points of view, or that of characters, and sometimes create a brand-new character. 

Can you tell us a bit about your new book, Doodlebug, and how you came to write and illustrate it?
     In Doodlebug,  Dodo discovers journaling and drawing together, and uses them to tell her story, in which she tries to deal with classroom attention issues by drawing, and finds her own place in a new city and school.  The result is Doodlebug: A Novel in Doodles. Take a look at Doodlebug and you’ll see that the whole book is handwritten and hand-doodled.  There is barely any print-type text in it at all, just maybe in the copyright pages.  It’s fun and funny and really heartfelt, and I absolutely love doing a novel this way.
     I have been writing letters to my friend Noonie since college – lots of years! – and she has always told me I should do something with the little drawings with captions and speech balloons that I include in my letters.  When I heard about some writers who were participating in March Novel Madness (in which you commit to write a novel in a month), I decided to take a stab at doing a novel the way I used to write to Noonie.  If it stunk, it would only be a month wasted!  Instead, it turned into what I think is a fantastic way to write – by writing and drawing practically simultaneously – doodlewriting! 

So is it your actual handwriting in the book? How did you submit the manuscript to your editor? How did it being handwritten affect the editing process?
      Yes, it's my actual handwriting and doodles and block letters and crazy fonts and so on. Here's a sample page:
To see more doodle-writing samples, watch the YouTube clip at the end of this post.
I wrote/doodled the book in a couple of sketchbooks.  To submit it, I scanned it, printed it out, and bound it in a spiral, so that it still looked like a sketchbook.  When it was accepted by Feiwel & Friends, I had to send the actual sketchbooks in so they could scan them.  They still have them, under lock and key!
     There were just a few small edits -- a word changed, deleted, or moved here or there. At one point I sent in some additional stuff that got photoshopped in -- things like the name "San Francisco" and an exclamation point. :-)

Do you have any suggestions for teachers on how they might use Doodlebug in the classroom?
     Certainly!  Using doodle-writing, I’ve been working with kids to show the elements of story, including character and dialogue in particular.  My Doodle-Writing workshops encourage kids to experiment with facial expressions,  classic cartooning symbols – as well as new ones they make up, layout, creative lettering, and much more.  The response is immediate, and deep. It’s easier for most kids to see a story visually – what makes a character, for example – than through words alone.  Kids are always drawing. Just about everyone I’ve had in a workshop has something or someone they draw all the time, and learning about that – and working with that – has led me to a new understanding of the power of kids’ creative force.  Drawing – and writing about drawing – opens a door into the real life inside everybody. (Teachers, be sure to check out the P.S. at the end of this post for links to info on doodle-writing with students.)

Would you share a funny (or interesting) story about a book signing?
      I’m NOT a shy person – except around children’s book people. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to write books for children – to be an ARTHUR, before I found out how the word was really spelled.  Children’s book authors are my rock stars, and I am truly terrified to meet some of them, because I am in so much awe.  Years ago I worked in the marketing department at Weston Woods, a studio that makes films of picture books.  At a Christmas dinner, I found myself sitting at a table with Robert McCloskey, the author of ONE MORNING IN MAINE, BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL, and MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS, among others.  I was speechless, awed into silence, and thank goodness my husband noticed that I was overcome and held up the conversation so I wouldn’t say something like “Did you really keep ducks in your bathtub?”
     It happened again at my first SCBWI conference, in New York City, where the keynote speaker was E.L. Konigsburg. Naturally her line for book sales and signings was the longest, and as I waited, I kept stepping backward each time my part of the line neared her table. Finally I was the last person in the line. I don’t know if you know Konigsburg, but she is pretty sharp, and she must have noticed what I was doing.  And I had noticed exactly what she had written in most people’s books, which were mostly paperbacks – something nice, but short.  When she finally got to me and my hardcover FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES, she looked into my eyes, then wrote a truly lovely little note wishing me all the best in whatever I was trying to do.
     I am not quite cured.  At several conferences, I was near enough to rub elbows with Brian Selznick, author of  THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET, but just couldn’t pull off introducing myself – even though I certainly watched plenty of other brave souls do it!  At last I arrived at ALA, where Horn Book editor-in-chief Roger Sutton was doing one of his short interviews. Sutton asked Selznick how the response to HUGO had changed his writing. Selznick’s answer: it had made him realize that the place he was in while writing HUGO (a place of great fear and trepidation) was where he should be as a writer.  That rang true to me – it was where I had lived the whole time I was writing DOODLEBUG – and touched my heart so that no matter how many other people introduced themselves to Selznick after that, I stuck around until at last it was my turn. I told him I had been walking around him for a year or two, and that his comment had finally given me courage to talk to him and to thank him for what he’d said.  He was so nice. I guess, after all, writers are human.  But please – don’t ask me to talk to Sendak. 

Thanks for your detailed responses to my questions, Karen. After reading about your new book, I'm sure our readers will want to read it as much as I do.

Readers, to enter our drawing for an autographed copy of Karen Romano Young's Doodlebug: A Novel in Doodles, you must follow these Entry Rules:
  1. You must post a comment to today's blog post telling us why you'd like to win a copy of Karen's book. 
  2. You must include contact information in your comment. If you are not a blogger, or your email address is not accessible from your online profile, you must provide a valid email address in your comment. Entries without contact information will be disqualified. Note: the TeachingAuthors cannot prevent spammers from accessing email addresses posted within comments, so feel free to disguise your address by spelling out portions, such as the [at] and [dot].
  3. You must post your comment by 11 pm (CST) Wednesday, August 4, 2010. (The winner will be announced on Thursday, August 5.)
  4. You must have a mailing address in the United States.
  5. If you win, you automatically grant us permission to identify you as a winner on our TeachingAuthors website.  
For more information on our winner selection/notification process, see our official giveaway guidelines.

Blogosphere Buzz
  • Hurrah for us! Our TeachingAuthors blog has been named to a list of "Top 10 Blogs for Writing Teachers." And we're in among some impressive company! You can read the complete list at the website. There is, however, a small error in the description of our blog. Instead of:
    "Six authors of children’s books who also write run this blog . . ."
    it should say: "Six authors of children’s books who also TEACH run this blog . . ." As our readers know, we are all writing teachers as well as published authors.
  • Alexis O'Neill has launched, a new blog filled with tips and resources for children's authors and illustrators. Alexis is indeed a school visit expert. If you're a published or soon-to-be-published author, you'll want to bookmark her site and visit it often. As Alexis says: "The first challenge is to get a book published.  The next challenge is to keep it published.  And children’s authors and illustrators who have an active school visit schedule not only build fans for life, but they also sell books and can keep backlist titles in print for years."
  • Lee Wind recently posted a terrific interview with award-winning author M. T. Anderson, who will be the morning keynote speaker at the SCBWI conference this Friday. Check out what Anderson says about voice, "branding," and writing fantasy
Whew! I think that's all for today.
Happy Writing!

P.S. After completing this blog post, I discovered that Karen has lots of great resources related to Doodlebug here on her website. And check out the following YouTube clip to learn more about doodle-writing. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

On Critiques and Root Canals

I began my Friday in the endodontist's chair, effectively muted by a curtain-like drape, pervasive numbness, and numerous dental implements.  As the dentist violently excavated the roots of my molar, she made small talk about her brother-in-law, who had written a science fiction novel "for fun."  She said she'd read the first few pages at his request and that the writing was "childish," in a style that might be appropriate for a 10-year-old, but with subject matter that would never interest a 10-year-old.  A very valid criticism, I'm sure.  Unfortunately I was unable to ask whether she'd shared this opinion with her brother-in-law and, if so, whether family harmony had prevailed.

Critiquing is, frankly, a bizarre business.  As writers, we desperately seek feedback from others, secretly longing only to hear, "It's wonderful, it's perfect, don't change a thing!"   

Of course, when one gets feedback that's so resonant, so right-on  -- even if it involves a total rewrite, it inspires its own kind of writers' high.

Then there's the rest.

As a teacher, I find that one of my most frequent sources of frustration is students who totally ignore feedback.  Sometimes, I'm sure this is a factor of sheer laziness; sometimes, it's sheer stubbornness.  There are certain notes that are objectively indisputable.  "This sentence is a comma splice."  There are certain notes that are a factor of my own personal biases.  "You cannot use a photo of the Virginia Tech shooting victims to convince me that gun control is a bad idea." 

My day job involves constant editing, rewriting, feedback, discussion -- for the good and for the not-so-good.  Not a day goes by that I don't think of my high school teacher, Mrs. Weingarten, who taught me the critiquing method that I wish everyone on the planet followed:

PQP -- Praise, Question, Polish

Start with praise.  Always.  There's something good you can find.  Somewhere.  Always. 

Usually you can find a way to end on an encouraging note, as well.

In between, be constructive, be specific, and offer suggestions.

I try to run a workshop-based version of English 101 -- "try" being the operative word. I vary my methodology every semester, but I have yet to hit upon a procedure that truly works well. I've asked for voluntary online critiques via Blackboard (even dangling offers of extra credit), but usually only the same few students post.  They are typically reluctant to give specific feedback, and the most commonly read comment is, "I really liked your paper!"  In-class critiques are also difficult because there are always the students who have written something of a highly personal nature that they are loath to have classmates read.   (And of course I encourage them to write about personal topics and would never want to inhibit their honesty by forcing the issue.)  There are also the (many) students who don't finish their rough drafts in time for the critiquing session.  Then -- the very worst thing -- there is the specific feedback that makes the writer feel as though his work has just been gutted and spat upon.

Last semester, I had a student who was writing  a paper in which she argued that war should be ended.  I told her this was not a controversial premise, as she wasn't going to find anyone who would argue that war is a good thing.  I advised that she come up with some sort of specific plan or proposition to advance her cause.  She did and wrote an excellent paper.  Her peer reviewer hated it and was unstinting in her criticism of the"bias" of the paper.  I asked the peer reviewer what she would have found a more palatable thesis, and she replied that she felt that preemptive bombing of everyone in the Middle East was the solution to achieving world peace.  Let's just say I'm glad she did not write her paper on the topic of war.  I advised student #1 to ignore her peer review, but I know the damage to her psyche had already been done.    

Even more subject to personal bias is fiction.  If I were an editor, I would reject Faulkner (too obtuse).  I would ask for heavy edits on some of the most-loved children's books.  Who am I to say what's good and what needs work?  I'm just me.  I always remind students that writing is a highly subjective endeavor.  If they don't like my notes, they can feel free to ignore them.  If they feel strongly about something, I want them to feel confident and remain true to their ideas.  Just be prepared to explain themselves. 

Critiquing is a necessary part of the writing process for most of us.  We are too close to our own work to see what is often obvious to others.  Finding a nuturturing group whose members will offer honest, helpful, intelligent feedback is the ticket to making sure the process works.  

As you sit, mute, listening to others' commentary on your beloved manuscript, remember -- a critique shouldn't feel like a root canal.  And if it does, follow your gut.  It might be a sign that it's time to find a new group.  --Jeanne Marie

Friday, July 23, 2010

Summertime, and the Livin’ is Busy!

This summer, I’ve been occupied with monarchs, photographing every stage I can locate from eggs to caterpillars to butterflies. I dug up milkweed plants from the backyard, brought them inside, and moved them back outside when so many eggs hatched that caterpillars threatened to take over the house. I saw caterpillars become chrysalises, watched the chrysalises change from green to black, and happened to be there when a few of them emerged as butterflies. Lucky me!

Yesterday, 8.4 inches of rain fell here in two hours; a neighborhood rain gauge measured 11.2 inches for the day! Streets flooded, sinkholes opened up, and the governor declared a state of emergency in Milwaukee County. A few blocks away from our house, water in basements was measured in feet, not inches. We live on a hill, so even though our yard was underwater, our basement had only seepage that flowed in rivulets to the drain. Lucky us!

I’m teaching two six-week summer courses that end next week. Although I love seeing my students’ original, creative, thoughtful work, I’m looking forward to focusing on my own writing again during the semester break. Lucky me again!

I could surely write volumes about the value of working with a trusted critique group--especially mine! But because I know we’re all busy, I’m going to limit myself to a few suggestions.
  • Don’t underestimate the benefit of having extra sets of eyes looking over your work. In every writing group and workshop I’ve been part of, each member focuses on a different aspect of a manuscript. While one sees big picture issues such as plot, another asks whether a character would actually behave that way, and another looks at vocabulary, rhythm, or rhyme. Each group member brings a different perspective and a different set of expectations. Take advantage of all those points of view!
  • My students often ask how to know what to include in a critique of another writer’s work. I tell them to trust their instincts. When you read through a manuscript the first time, notice the places where something grabs your attention. Underline those spots, whether you admire the language, you don’t understand something, or you don’t even know exactly why the words caught your eye. Then go back and focus on those spots to figure out what stood out and why.
  • Whether you are critiquing or being critiqued, be specific. When your work is in the spotlight, let others know what you are looking for: big picture issues for an early draft or fine-tuning suggestions for a nearly finished manuscript. When you critique someone else’s work, praise what you find well crafted and be tactful about what doesn’t work for you. If you are unsure of something, ask questions about the writer’s intentions.
Student papers await my comments, and the forecast calls for more rain. Back to work!

JoAnn Early Macken

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Thumbs up for The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide!

I enthusiastically award Becky Levine’s how-to book The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide (Writer’s Digest, ’10) my high-and-hardy Thumbs Up! The guide delivers everything its cover promises, and then some: firstly, how to choose, join and run a Writing Group but secondly, how to give and receive feedback, self-edit and make revisions, whether a Writing Group member or not.

Where, oh, where was this book when I needed it, not only at the start of my writing career but mid-way through, when my doubts and fears worked overtime to imprison me in my Writing Room?
It’s just what the (Writing) Doctor would have ordered.
Indeed, it’s just what this Writing Teacher recommended last week as I declared my summer Newberry Library Write Place Workshop students Writing Group-ready and fondly bid them au revoir.

Becky Levine is a writer and it shows.
Her published works include both fiction and nonfiction for children as well as nonfiction books for adults. She also reviewed for the Horn Book Guide.
She experienced first-hand the community aspect of writing.
She also realized early on that when armed with the proper tools, a writer can succeed.
Becky’s Survival Guide underscores and maximizes that community mind-set while offering writers a nifty set of editing tools.

The teacher in me couldn’t help but notice the author’s consideration of her audience - writers, especially (but not limited to) writers for children – and the thoughtfully-answered questions they would, could and should have about writing groups and the critique process.
The writer in me smiled at the author’s earnest, positive tone, the clarity of her writing and the focused yet comprehensive presentation of her subject matter.

The book is sectioned to include Writing Group Basics, Critiquing Fiction (for Adult, Young Adult and Middle Grade readers), Critiquing Non-fiction, Critiquing Books for Younger Children, Revising and Self-editing and finally, Maintaining an Evolving Group.
The Fiction section gives each element of narrative – plot, scene structure, character, point of view and voice, dialogue and description, its very own chapter.
Especially noteworthy: the clearly-written hands-on worksheets, the “Show-don’t-tell” critique examples and a representative critique sample that accompanies each section.
[Note: classroom teachers looking for Peer Group guidelines and criticism practices will find much gold to mine.]

E.B. White reminded writers, “Verbs drive the sentence!”
Becky Levine’s verbs say it all: choose, decide, join, participate, submit, evaluate, commit, communicate, read, write, critique, receive, recognize (weak spots) and analyze (the weaknesses).
Actualizing the majority of those verbs ensures survival, but even better, success.

Becky Levine’s website features an inviting photograph of an open road, labeled appropriately “Moving Forward on the Writing Path.”
Writers travel their own plotlines daily, overcoming obstacles, detours, construction and unexpected road closings.
The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide makes moving forward doable, preferably in the company of other writers and appropriately-tooled to write.

As luck would have it, Becky Levine is celebrating the six-month-release of her book with a book give-away!
Alas, the deadline is tonight, Wednesday, July 21.
To enter, visit Becky’s website and leave a comment at her post. She considers the sharing of a happy critique story the frosting on the anniversary cake.

Esther Hershenhorn

Monday, July 19, 2010

Taking the "Eek" Out of Critique Groups

     Writing is the best job in the world. . .most of the time. I enjoy writing in my pajamas with the cat on my lap (or keyboard, depending on her mood).  Solitary soul that I am, there are times when I wish another writer was in the next room. Someone I could ask "Could you take a look at this? What do you think?"

   Enter the critique group. I have been allergic to the word "critique" after a bad experience with a college acting class. Every monologue, improv, or scene was subject to the opinion of the rest of the class. This would turn into a free-for-all, where the "critiquing" was mostly negative, and often downright personal and mean. No way would I ever subject my writing to that kind of abuse.

On the other hand, I desperately need meaningful feedback. I learned pretty quickly that editors don't make suggestions in a rejection letter. (Now you are lucky to get any sort acknowledgment from an editor.)  When I first started submitting, I racked up quite a collection of form rejections. Every now and then some kind soul would scribble at the end of those letters,"like your style, try again." Those meager words of encouragement would keep me going for weeks.  Still, these cryptic messages didn't give me any idea what I was doing right or wrong.

    Years later I learned about critique groups. By then I had learned that editors did not offer suggestions to a newbie out of the slush pile. I also learned that a good critique group is not the literary equivalent to being burned at the stake. A critique group is a small group of writers of the same genre (both of my current groups consist entirely of children's writers.), who meet on a regular basis to read and offer feedback on each others work. Unlike that awful acting class, the criticism is specific and non-judgmental. "I love this" or  "I don't like this kind of story" are not comments you hear in a good critique group.

    I am lucky to be a member of two terrific groups; one that meets monthly, and the other, quarterly. Why two groups?  For me, the monthly group nurses me through a novel, from chapter to chapter, revision after revision, asking questions, pointing out inconsistencies and cheering me on. The quarterly group is able to read and comment on larger amounts of work...say, entire novel...and can concentrate on "big picture" issues of characterization. plot structure and pacing.  I couldn't survive without both of them.

   Like my awful acting class, there are not-so-efficient critique groups. A good critique group requires a considerable investment of time and commitment. In my monthly group of six writers, I spend an average of 12 to 15 hours a month reading and commenting on their writing. Additionally, both of my groups meet an hour or so away. Given Atlanta traffic, and the time I've already invested in the work of others, it would be disappointing if the others in the group weren't offering me the same sort of commitment.

It is an understood rule that a writer should not try to "defend' his work during a critique. I feel everyone is entitled to their opinion. I have learned to not run home and immediately change everything everyone mentioned as a "problem." Unless I have a major brainstorm in the middle of a session, I won't even re-read the critiques for a week or so. By that time I can view the comments more objectively.

Another understood rule is that you should not criticize something unless you can also offer a specific suggestion for change.  Knowing that a character is "not believable" is not very valuable to a writer unless he is also given an idea of why the character is unbelievable and solid ideas of how to fix this.

I have been in critique groups where the people have all been perfectly lovely and polite, and they all just loved everything everyone had written.  This is not a critique group; this is a support group. It's always nice to hear when good stuff about your work, and we do support each other, cheerleading and backslapping is not the primary purpose. We are there to help each other to become better writers. Or in the immortal words of my husband, "No one ever learned anything by being told how great they are." Not exactly how I would have said it, but he's write. Writing is an evolving process. You never come to a point where you can say "I've learned it all."

You're critique won't let you. They'll be there suggesting, arguing and advocating, right up until the day you bring your newly published book to group.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Poem about Acceptance Speeches

Hello and happy Poetry Friday!  Today's poem is below.

I'm off to accept the Sydney Taylor Gold Medal for Younger Readers given by the Association of Jewish Libraries at their annual international convention.

I'll be giving a presentation the morning of July 6th as part of the session called "Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Jewish Book". The friendly organizers told me that they open this session with a presentation by the author of the award winner for younger readers--moi!there                                

That evening there's a terrific awards banquet.  I know it's terrific because I attended last year--the AJL convention was in Chicago right before ALA

My speech will be five minutes long.  Five minutes, an hour--I seem to sweat about the same amount!

So of course I've been thinking about this speech.
Acceptance Speech

by April Halprin Wayland

In six days
I will speak to two hundred Jewish librarians
and seven of my relatives
for five minutes.

I will thank the librarians—all librarians.
I will thank my relatives—all of my relatives.
I will thank my wonderful illustrator
in Montreal with his 82-year-old father

I will not tap dance like Shirley Temple
or sing “My Grandfather’s Clock”
or put on a dinosaur mask.
I probably won’t even buy a sparkly new dress that makes me look thin and sexy.

Here is what I would like to do:
look up at the ceiling.
Take a deep breath.
unbutton my chest

then gently lift out my heart
and place it on the podium
to share with these golden people in this banquet hall
as they finish their chocolate raspberry truffles.

TeachingAuthors are on vacation until July 19th.  We'll miss you and hope you  miss us, too! 

So--what about your own writing?  Why not drop a writing pad in your purse or backpack and listen/look/smell/ be mindful for moments of inspiration.  

Write one paragraph or a poem a day 
about anything in the entire galaxy, 
just for you, 
just to keep your hand in it, 
just for the joy of writing.

Have a fabulous Fourth and a great Bastille Day--and remember to breathe.

A perfect summer afternoon: 

poem and drawing (c) April Halprin Wayland