Friday, November 29, 2013

Oops! THANKU Round-up and Happy Poetry Friday!

Howdy, Campers!
Today we mark the end of TeachingAuthors' annual Two Weeks of Thanks-Giving!--AND Poetry Friday!
Thank you, Carol, for hosting today!

Oops.  I fell asleep during class this week...'ll be posting Wednesday AND Friday this that, April? .
I forgot I was scheduled to post twice this week; instead, I mistakenly combined them into one post this Wednesday!  One post was to have been Alexis O'Neill's Wednesday Writing Workout...right, did that...

...while the other (um...THIS one...) was to be the last post in TeachingAuthors' annual Two Weeks of Thanks-Giving, which began with Esther’s post launching the Thanku, a haiku which thanks someone. 

This year we've been posting about someone who makes a difference in ensuring others receive a quality education.

Today, in hopes that you'll forgive me, I'm repeating my Thanku, and also adding links to two blogs that joined in this year's celebration.

My Thanku is for the amazing teachers whose classes I've taken through UCLA Extension's Writers Program, where I now teach.  This is "the largest open-enrollment creative writing and screenwriting program in the nation." I appreciate all those author/teachers who set aside their own work and made time to teach me in my writing infancy. They include Ruth Lercher Bornstein, Susan Rubin, Myra Cohn Livingston, Sonia Levitin, and many, many others.
Actually, I'd like to include all the TeachingAuthors we've ever interviewed too--each of them takes more time then you may realize to answer our interview questions and offer writing exercises. Thank you to:
Authors who hold a
light and slow their pace so we
may walk beside you.
Also grateful, here are links to two fab writers who posted Thankus on their own blogs:
  • Jan Godown Annino offers giving thanks for Florida hills and dales, another reflecting gratitude for a grade schooler's drawing;
  •  Michelle Heidenrich Barnes writes an acrostic thank you to a long-ago teacher who enCOURAGEd her.
Here are our six posts giving thanks this year (and if you have time, be sure to read the comments, which include many our readers' own fabulous Thankus!)
And always, always we are grateful to those of you who follow this blog and join in the conversation ~

 posted by April Halprin Wayland with help from Monkey, seen here relaxing with a hot cuppa tea.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wednesday Writing Workout from Alexis O'Neill--and a Thanku!

Howdy, Campers!
Teaching Authors are in the middle of our annual Two Weeks of Thanks-Giving.  It began in 2011 with Esther’s post which launched her new form, the Thanku (with the same syllable count as a haiku--5-7-5, it thanks someone).  As JoAnn so nicely wrote, it "charted the path to Thanksgiving through poetry".

This year we’re each posting about someone who makes a difference in ensuring others receive a quality education. We invite you to join us by posting your own poems, which can take the form of a Thanku. We’ll include a round-up of links to participating blog posts on November 29.

It's my turn, and I'd like to thank the amazing teachers whose classes I've taken through UCLA Extension's Writers Program, where I now teach.  This is "the largest open-enrollment creative writing and screenwriting program in the nation." I appreciate all those TeachingAuthors who set aside their own work and made time to teach me in my writing infancy. Those teachers include Ruth Lercher Bornstein, Susan Rubin, Myra Cohn Livingston, Sonia Levitin, and many, many others.

Actually, I'd like to include all the TeachingAuthors who visit our blog, too--each of them takes more time then you may realize to answer our interview questions and offer writing exercises. Thank you to

Authors who hold a
light and slow their pace so we
may walk beside you.
And speaking of authors who light the way, it's time for our TeachingAuthors'...

Today's exercise is from author and energizer bunny Alexis O'Neill (whose newest book, The Kite That Bridged Two Nations was just launched to wide acclaim) and who sat down with me here for an interview recently.  Take it away, Alexis!

The Writer’s Edge--Wondering and Finding Evidence
© AlexisO’Neill. All rights reserved 

BACKGROUND: Writers begin as observers. Writers are curious about the world around them, both past and present. Photographs and paintings are gateways to information and emotion, two powerful tools in a writer’s toolbox for writing either fiction or nonfiction or creating other works of art.

GOAL: To give students practice in supporting their conclusions with evidence.

OBJECTIVE: Using a photograph or painting as a stimulus, students will generate a list of “wonder questions” (“I wonder who . . . what, when, where, why, how, if”) related to the image, express those questions to the group, and then attempt to answer as many of those questions using evidence found in the image. They will also express how the image makes them feel.

  • Paper
  • Pen or pencil
  • A projected photo or painting of a wild mammal, reptile or bird, or children from another era or culture in a setting (not just a portrait)
  • Timer

  • Ask the students for a list of words that can follow the phrase, “I wonder . . .” (i.e. who, what when where why, how, if) Have them write these words on paper as a guide.
  • Ask students to put their pens down and look at an image for exactly one one minute.  Tell them that the only thing they have to do during that one minute is look at the image and “wonder” about it. Use a timer to keep this accurate.
  • Make the image go dark. Tell the students to pick up their pens. Give them one minute to write at least one, but as many as possible, “wonder” questions that came to them when they looked at the image. Tell them that what they write is just for themselves and will not be collected.
  • Bring the image back to the screen and begin timing.
  • At the end of one minute, have them put pens down and share their wonder questions. When they share, they must begin with the phrase, “I wonder . . .”
  • As each student expresses their “wonder” question out loud, just repeat it, but do not comment on it.
  • After collecting “wonder” questions, begin having them find answers in the image itself.  For example, you might say, “Jamie said, ‘I wonder where this is?’” Then you might invite Jamie to take a guess, but say, “Be sure to tell me what you see that makes you say that.” Each time a student guesses an answer to his or her “wonder” question, say, “What do you see that makes you say that?”
  • It might be helpful to make a Who, What, When, Where, Why, How, If chart and put their guesses and the evidence they see under appropriate columns.
  • Give students a chance to express any feelings the image might generate.
Not all questions will be answered by the visual evidence alone. But the chart will provide an outline for questions that students can answer through further research.
I wonder what's up there...
EXTENSION: Writing begins with observations of real life and curiosity about unanswered questions. Students will use unanswered questions about the image in this exercise as a springboard for further research. After a period of research students can pool their answers and identify where they found the information. Discuss the kinds of writing decisions they can make to express what they have learned and what connection they make to it. They can do this through, for example, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, a persuasive letter, or a work of art or music.

Thank you, Alexis!  Readers, I wonder...what you and/or your students will write? And I wonder...will some of you send us your Thankus

We TeachingAuthors hope your Thanksgiving--large or small, formal or in flip-flops--is yummy and loving.
Posted by April Halprin Wayland

Monday, November 25, 2013

Two Weeks of Thanks-Giving

Growing up  in a dinky town had its advantages. One of them was becoming friends with the town librarian, Loretta Schutte. I'm not sure what her qualifications were, but in addition to running the library proficiently, this community-minded whirlwind was Justice of the Peace, Mrs. Santa Claus, and, later in life, Mayor for many terms. 

For some reason, Mrs. Schutte also gave us Girl Scouts the final okay when we fulfilled the requirements necessary to earn new badges. I remember my mom dropping me off, and I'd run into the library (or her house), where Mrs. Schutte would quiz me, then congratulate me with a big smile before signing her name on some form or other. Looking back, I have no idea why she was the Girl Scout Grand Poobah, except maybe our leaders thought she was just important and intimidating enough to lend legitimacy to the whole matter of badge-earning? We made sure we knew what we were talking about before going for a new badge, that was for sure.

Anyway, she always had a book or three to show me, books she thought I'd find of interest, and she challenged and encouraged my reading from Day 1, especially during summer reading programs. I was recently going through boxes of papers my mom saved from my childhood when I found this little Book Register Folder from the summer after kindergarten . . . I wonder what the prize was for reading all these books.  :)

I had a blast looking up these titles/authors on Amazon. Sadly, I don't remember reading (or hearing read) any of these – it was 50 years ago, after all. But as someone who grew up to write her own books and appreciate those early authors, I was happy to see, among others, Ruth Krauss, Dr. Suess, Hans Christian Anderson, and even Jane H. Yolen's first picture book, See This Little Line? Wowser!

So, Mrs. Schutte, this thanku's for you.

Your steadfast nudging
kindled a lifelong passion
for words and pictures.

Thanks, Mrs. S!

Jill Esbaum

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thanku to School Librarians

Happy Poetry Friday! As part of our Two Weeks of Thanks-Giving series, today I share a Thanku poem in honor of school librarians. After you're done reading here, be sure to check out this week's Poetry Friday roundup at Katya Czaja's Write. Sketch. Repeat. blog.

As JoAnn mentioned on Friday, we're focusing on education-related thank you notes this year, in part to honor this week's celebration of American Education Week.

One goal of American Education Week is to "honor individuals who are making a difference in ensuring that every child receives a quality education." When I read this, I thought immediately of school librarians, whom I consider the unsung heroes of education. I worked as a library aide for several years and saw first-hand the difference librarians can make it students' lives at both the elementary and high school level. Contrary to what some people think, today's school librarians do more than buy books and stock shelves. They educate students in computer skills, research skills, and critical thinking. Many school librarians are on the cutting edge of information technology, and they are the ones educating not only students, but also teachers, on the best use of that technology. You can read specifically how in this document prepared by the International Society for Technology in Education.

Several studies have shown that full-time librarians have a positive impact on student performance, as discussed in this report by Keith Curry Lance that I found on the Laura Bush Foundation website.   Dr. Lance also co-wrote the article, "Latest Study: A Full-Time School Librarian Makes a Critical Difference in Boosting Student Achievement," that appeared in School Library Journal in March 2013. According to that article:
"Consistently, reading and writing scores are better for students who have a full-time certified librarian than those who don’t. Students who are economically disadvantaged, black, Hispanic, and have IEPs (i.e., students with disabilities) benefit proportionally more than students generally. These findings suggest that staffing libraries with certified librarians can help close achievement gaps." 
So today I'd like to honor and celebrate school librarians with a simple Thanku poem. (A Thanku poem is a haiku that expresses gratitude. You can read more about the form in Esther's post.) I'd especially like to pay tribute to four school librarians I've had the privilege of working with: Jennifer Brown, Susan Gibbs, Gayl Smith, and Debbie Turner. I dedicate the following poem to them, and to librarians everywhere:

School librarians,
thank you for helping students
be better thinkers.

Now, I hope some of you will join in our Two Weeks of Thanks-Giving by posting a thank you note on your blog. Comment with a link to your post and we'll include it in a roundup on November 29, the last day of our series.

And don't forget to head on over to Write. Sketch. Repeat. for today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thank You, Students

Dear Students,

      You know who you are.  The Carriage House Gang from Barrington Hall, Roswell, Georgia.  The adults and many, many children of my years at the Margaret Mitchell House, Atlanta.  All the way back to my actual first writing students, the students of Adamsville Junior Senior High, Adamsville, Tennessee who spent their homeroom in a crash course essay seminar I taught in the library.  Are you all listening?

     Thank you.  All of you.  I "remembered" this past weekend (via a Facebook post from a former student) that some of you in the seminar also served as first readers for my very first (and very unpublished) novel.  I was thrilled when you won those essay contests.  In return, your enthusiasm for my own writing encouraged me that maybe, just maybe I could be a writer.

      My years at the Margaret Mitchell House taught me how to critique and edit on the fly, since each one week camp (or five week workshop) would publish (desktop) an anthology of their work for them to take home. Each student had to produce at 3-5 pieces of work, no more than ten handwritten pages.
Sounds manageable enough until you realize that I had to have the work by Wednesday afternoon, and then had 24 hours to edit the work of up to 22 4th through 9th graders...who were used to working on computers and not-so-used to writing long hand.

    My current students at the Barrington Hall Young Authors Camp have helped me rediscover the joy of words. In a more focused group (no more than twelve students, grades 4th to 9th) we are able to walk around town (Roswell is a small, but historic town, home to Teddy Roosevelt's mother), observe, investigate the historical sites, and contemplate how history informs our lives and stories.

     I hope all of you have taken something away from our time together. But whatever you may have gained from me, know that I gained ten times more from you. Thank you all.

Posted by mary ann rodman

Reminder from Carmela: We hope some of you will join us in this series of Two Weeks of Thanks-Giving posts by posting a thank you note on your own blogs. Comment with a link to your post and we'll include it in a roundup on November 29, the last day of our series.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A TeachingAuthor's StudentTeachers Thanku

I conclude each of my Writing Workshops with my sincere thanks.
“Thank you,” I say, “for the privilege of sharing my love of writing and All Things Children’s Book so I could help you tell your good stories well.”

And because my Newberry Library and University of Chicago Writer’s Studio students teach me as much (if not more!) than I teach them –
about writing for children and the writing process,
about our Children’s Book Community,
our literature,
“Thank you too,” I add, “for all you’ve taught me.”

This time around, though, my ten lovely and talented Fall Newberry Library Picture Book Workshop students did more than teach me.
They re-connected me to the long-ago Beginning Writer I once was -
the Wannabe who voraciously read through library and bookstore shelves,
who hungrily soaked up how-to advice,
who greedily gobbled up anyone’s words to help realize her long-held Dream.

                       Morgue Files/Imelenchon/ IMS00268

For the past six weeks, while doing my best to seed and feed my Newberry picture book writers so they would grow and bear fruit, so to speak, I inhaled their Newness
their wonder,
their drive,
their earnestness,
their fears and doubts,
their hesitation,  
and once again I was “new” too.

My Newberry “New Berries” not only fed me.
They juiced my batteries.
I remain ever grateful.

Thanku to My Ten Fall 2013 Chicago Newberry Library Students*

     My delicious class -   
                 a bounty of new berries,
                 each ripe with story!

*Beth Carey, Dee Conomy, Anne Dutro, Debby Edwards, Maureen Kanefield, Carol Kerman, Barbara McClure, Patricia Mided, Laura Mills and Hana Yoo

Happy Thanks-giving to my newest crop of writers and our TeachingAuthors readers!

Hip! Hip! Hooray! for Gratitude.
Esther Hershenhorn
Please join my fellow bloggers for the next two weeks as we write Thanku’s – and – celebrate American Education Week.
Poetically honoring someone who made a difference in your Life, mind-expanding or otherwise, is good for the heart.
It’s also easy-peasy.  :)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Two Weeks of Thanks-Giving 2013 plus National Education Week

Today, we Teaching Authors begin our annual series of Thank Yous, which began in 2011 with Esther’s post that charted the path to Thanksgiving through poetry. Because next week is National Education Week, we’re all posting about someone who makes a difference in ensuring others receive a quality education. We invite you to join us by posting your own poems, which can take the form of a Thanku. We’ll include a round-up of links to participating blog posts on November 29.

A quality education includes teachers who are treated fairly and with respect. Here in Wisconsin, teachers are portrayed as the enemy by a vindictive governor whose divide-and-conquer strategy resulted in the union-busting Act 10, proposed to address a projected state budget deficit. Teachers, health care workers, fire fighters, and other state employees flocked to the state capitol to take part in massive protests.

The bill passed anyway. Its slimy tentacles still reach into school buildings and teachers’ wallets.

But protests continue. One group, the Solidarity Sing Along, has met at the capitol to sing protest songs every weekday since March 11, 2011. Its Facebook page says, “One of the many missions of the Solidarity Sing Along is to create positive, progressive change through participatory song.” Despite more than 200 arrests (for singing!), the group just celebrated its 700th Sing Along. (You can read about the Solidarity Sing Along and its role in Wisconsin history in the new book Unintimidated: Wisconsin Sings Truth to Power.)

My cousin Maureen, a retired teacher, has been a regular participant since the beginning of the Solidarity Sing Along. She shines as one example of the many who still stand up for children, education, and free speech. My poem began as a Thanku, but the format couldn’t contain it.
Truth, freedom, justice
ring out in your voices,
some day (keep singing!) throughout the world.
Thank you, Maureen and the Solidarity Sing Along!

What do we do next? Work for change. Find, support, and elect government leaders who care about education. And keep singing.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at  Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup.
JoAnn Early Macken

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Working Those FOUR Senses: A Wednesday Writing Workout

     As writers, we try to be conscious of using all five senses in our writing.  Those of us blessed with all five in working order actually have a tough time doing this. Why?  Because most of us perceive the world through what we see, with what we hear coming in a close second.  I have scanned a page of my writing, highlighting the use of each sense with a different colored marker.  Whatever color I use for sight winds up being the predominant color.

     So how do you sharpen up the use of other ways perception?  Well here is this weeks's workout.
Wednesday Writing Workout

    This is a fun exercise I do with my writing students. If you are doing it with your students, do not tell them in advance the purpose of the exercise.

     Write down your favorite food. Be as specific as possible. Chicken noodle soup?  Is it homemade or  canned?  Mac and cheese?  Boxed or a special combination of noodles and cheese and something else that your family eats.  It can be anything.  (No nutrition police permitted commentary on this one.)

     Next, close your eyes.  Imagine you are eating your favorite food.  After a minute of thoroughly imagining, open your eyes and describe your food...without using any visual details. Don't list ingredients.  Here are some suggested prompts.

      1.  Is it hot or cold?

      2.  What is the texture?  Hard, chewy, soft, gummy, slippery, stringy, crunchy, crispy, slushy, squishy?  How does it feel on your tongue?

     3.  Does it make a sound when you eat it?

     4.  If it is something you eat with your hands, how does it feel in your hands?  Dry, crisp, greasy, soft, firm.....?

     5.  Is there another sensation you experience? Steam in your face? Is it so cold your teeth hurt?  Or so warm you can feel it go all the way down your throat to your stomach?

     6.  Taste? Sweet, sour, salty, savory? A combination? (You can not use an ingredient to describe taste...chocolate-ly, tomato-ish, fishy.  (One of the best description I have heard for "fishy" is "tastes like the ocean.")

     7.  Smell is tough without saying it smells like one of the ingredients.  You could say it smells sweet or spicy or

   Depending on the skill level of the student (or yourself) this should take between five and ten minutes.   Pencils down.

    Ask for volunteers to read their descriptions. The groups tries to guess the food.  The best descriptions are the ones most quickly recognized.  Every now and then I run across someone  describing an obscure dish.  I allow hints (culture of origin, whether it is eaten and home or in a restaurant).  If no one guesses correctly within a reasonable (couple of minutes) amount on time, I allow the student to go ahead and tell the group the answer, and then to go on and tell something more about the food.  Is it an everyday dish or only eaten at a certain season or holiday.

    Here is my example of my favorite food:

      It is sweet and salty, crunchy but soft, yet sometimes sticky.  Well mostly soft. Sometimes parts of it are hard enough to chip a tooth.

    Answer:  Kettle corn.

    Now get those other senses working!

    Posted by Mary Ann Rodman  

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The HappyWanderer

     Any former Girl Scouts out there?  I had a very short stay with the Girl Scouts, but during my time I learned any number of songs guaranteed to drive any adult insane if you sing them for hours on end on a road trip.  One of them was "The Happy Wanderer."  You know..."I love to go a wandering, along the mountain path, and as I go I love to sing, my knapsack on my back."

    OK, that's all I remember, but you get the gist.  What does this have to do with writing? April kicked off our current thread on Friday...are you a pantser (a person who just starts writing and finds their story as they go along) or are you a planner (someone who outlines and draws story arcs before you open a single document file?)

     I am somewhere in the middle, a "happy wanderer."  I am horrible at outlining. When we had to outline term papers in school, I would write the paper first, then go back and outline what I wrote. Even worse, I find it impossible to think in a linear fashion. I write a last chapter, then something in the middle, then something that I know will go somewhere, I just don't know yet.  For years I tried writing in sequence, one chapter after the other, only to find myself stuck on chapter two, every time.  I somehow thought that writers had it all in their minds, in order and a real writer's sentences flowed, one after the other, in the right order.

    Obviously, I was not a real writer.

    Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird (my personal writing bible) gave me permission to write horrible first drafts.  She gave me permission to write chapters as they come to me, in whatever order that might be.
I dislike rules, so my new rule for myself was "Just get the story down, anyway you can."

     However, I don't start writing the minute I get an idea. I live with it for a long time. At least a year, often longer. (You don't want to know how long I've been "living" with my current WIP). I do my research. My research leads to to subplots, new characters who then beget other characters. In other words, I wander.

    My first drafts are twice the size of my final one. I throw in everything but the kitchen sink. I pack for trips the same way. I put in way more stuff than I need, because, hey, you never know what you might need.  When I can't close my suitcase, I start re-evaluating. Do I need this?  Really?

    When I get to the end of my permissibly awful first draft, I start taking stuff out. Lots of stuff. The best piece of writing advice ever given to me was in the Vermont College MFA Program.  Here it is:  If you can't decide whether to take something out, ask yourself "How does this move the story along?" (Or as my writing students and critique group members know it as HDTMTSA). If that character, that scene, that description does not move your action forward, take it out.  In writing for kids, you really don't have the luxury of writing just to "admire the scenery" so to speak.

   So the answer to the question....I know my main characters well before I start (which I suppose is a form of outline), I know my setting, and I sort of know the emotional arc of the story. But how my characters get to where they are going?...that happens as I write. And re-write. And wander.

     Sooner or later I come to a place that feels like the end of the journey.  I'm done wandering, and am now wondering.  Wondering about the new place and characters that have been waiting ...possibly in my happy wanderer "knapsack on my back."

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

P.S. Today is Veteran's Day, where we remember those who have served out country in war and peacetime. This is a picture of two my favorite veterans., My mom, WAVE Frances Smith, and her brother, Seaman Jim Smith of the Merchant Marine. My Uncle Jim was the real life inspiration for Jimmy's Stars.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Are You a Plotter or Pantser? Poetry Friday, AND...a 2 Weeks of Thanks-Giving Teaser

Howdy, Campers--and Happy Poetry Friday!

Diane of Random Noodling is today's host ~ thanks, Diane! 
(My poem's below.)

Okay, Campers...

Are you a Plotter?

Or a Pantser?

Do you plot, plan and outline before you begin, or do you write by the seat of your pants, plunging right in? See my TeachingAuthor blogmate (and confessed Pantser) Carmela's column on this topic (and this post...and on and on...and if you want to lose yourself completely down the rabbit hole and never get down to your own writing, Google "pantser")

Or maybe you're a Hybird?

Marc, of says Hybirds are those who "…plot part of the book, or loosely plot the whole thing, and then pants their way through the gaps. Or they might pants their way through portions, but plot other, more difficult scenes to help them keep track of things or to get through it without stumbling or sidetracking...

Marc continues: "I believe that a person is, by nature, one or the other, and only a select few can do both effectively. If you’ve been trying to plot out a novel, and find that you are having trouble, try just writing down whatever comes to your head and pants it for a while. Conversely, if you get stuck pantsing it, try plotting out the next scene and that might help you get moving again."

Me? I'll confess, I'm no hybird.  I'm a full-on, La-La-La, finger in the fudge jar, painted flowers on my face Pantser.

by April Halprin Wayland

When you sit down to write do you fret and grow hot,
design or outline your book's intricate plot?
Is there sweat on your brow, is there blood on your blotter?
Do you work with a ruler?  Kid, are you a Plotter?
Do you run out the door under moonlight to dance?
Do you scribble your tales by the seat of your pants?
Are there horses and fig trees and strange dream enhancers
in your room where you write—Honey, are you a Pantser?
(c) 2013 April Halprin Wayland

I'll admit it: this is a stereotyping poem...some of my best friends are Plotters!  I had fun writing it but it's probably just a tad too snarky to be true.

And that may be a downfall of being a Pantser.  Sometimes I let the adventure of where the heck are we going with this? to overpower the story I meant to tell.

What about you--are you a Plotter, a Panster or a Hybird?  Write a poem with your answer in our comments!

And now for a quick teaser about TeacherAuthors' annual Two Weeks of Thanks-Giving!

We're hoping you'll join in the celebration! Simply post a short thank you (preferably in the form of a Thanku or some other poetry form) to someone who's made a difference in ensuring others receive quality education (see this link )—we’ll include a round-up of links to participating blog posts.  Start thinking about who you'd like to thank now--then post your thank you here between November 15-29th!

all photos courtesy

posted by the seat of my pants by April Halprin Wayland.  Thank you for coming.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wednesday Writing Workout: What's Your Writing Manifesto?

Last Friday, in honor of November being the month of NaNoWriMo and PiBoIdMo, I shared links to some articles/blog posts about how other writers approach their first draft. I was especially intrigued by a blog post by Shelley Moore Thomas, author of The Seven Tales of Trinket (Farrar, Straus Giroux), in which she describes using a writing "manifesto" as a springboard to her first draft.  She says:
"Before I even write a word:  I have a document (the manifesto) in which I write down all the dreams I have and ideas about the story.  This is a fun time, a time when I won't allow myself to  write the book because usually I am busy drafting or revising something else at the time." 
As soon as I read that, I decided I wanted to write my own manifesto for my next novel. Here's an excerpt from the three paragraphs I have so far:
I want this story to give readers a glimpse of what it feels like to be an outsider who is so desperate to fit in that she's willing to deny her own talents and gifts. . . .  Even though the story will be character-driven, I want there to be aspects of mystery and suspense as my character discovers not only how she received her special gift but also how she will comes to terms with figuring out whether/how to use it.  
Obviously, I have a lot of work to do yet to flesh out this manifesto. But the process of writing just a few paragraphs of it has made me excited to go deeper and think harder about both the character and her story.

Now it's your turn. For today's Wednesday Writing Workout, answer this question, either for a current work-in-progress, or a story you have yet to start: What's your writing manifesto?

In other words: what are your hopes and dreams for this story?
What type of structure/form will it take?
Who will you write it for?

I encourage you to go back and read Shelley Moore Thomas's post all the way through for inspiration, and also to do what she does: think of your manifesto as your "playground."

And remember: you'r not writing the story yet, you're writing about the story. Have fun!
Happy writing,

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Little Inspiration From Those in the Trenches....

Happy Monday! As Carmela mentioned in her Friday post, some of us have taken the leap, challenging ourselves to boost our output throughout November with PiBoIdMo or NaNoWriMo (and if you're doing both, hats off to you!). I thought it might be fun to poll friends and see why they made the commitment to one or the other. May their thoughts inspire you – whether or not you're participating!

Question:  Why are you participating in Picture Book Idea Month or National Novel Writing Month?

Jewel: Sometimes my writing mind focuses on one subject and picture book ideas lay dormant. I am actively participating in PiBoIdMo to help me discover hidden picture book ideas just behind my two eyes and under my thick skull.

Miranda: Because for about every 30 ideas I have, I usually get one good picture book. So it's a way to ensure that I continue to fill my idea notebook, and to do it with others makes it more fun – and keeps me accountable.

Dorothia: I love to brainstorm. To me, PiBoIdMo is like a piece of flint chipping at the imagination to ignite new ideas. It's exciting to be a part of this huge creative spark.

Lee: I tend to over think things, worrying too much about making my writing 'perfect.' Having to come up with 30 pb ideas in 30 days is a great way to force myself to create on the fly, giving myself permission to come up with abysmal stuff that maybe isn't as abysmal as I think it is!

Dianna: There's something invigorating about joining a large group of people who collectively love writing and work feverishly together for an entire month. Perfection not needed!

Linda: It will be fun brainstorming new pb ideas every day and then  having a file of ideas to follow up on for the next few months. Since it can just be ideas, titles, and characters, there's no pressure to come up with a whole story in one sitting.

Debbie: The best thing about PiBoIdMo is it gives me a good "excuse" to set aside time to work on my writing. Knowing that others are doing the same thing is motivating, and the competitive side of me loves a good challenge....Especially one I know I can reach.

Breanne: I got my idea for my novel a year ago. Since then I've been slogging through a rough draft. I got to over 60,000 words and felt the whole thing was just a mess and that I still didn't know my characters. I've regrouped and added a new character that changes the dynamics of the whole story. I don't expect to reach the superhuman goal of reaching 50,000 words in one month, but I'm hoping that by participating in NaNo events, I'll more than double my usual paltry monthly word count – and gain some momentum with my WIP that will hopefully result, someday, in a draft that I want to show to beta readers.

Lisa: I love PiBoIdMo! It's the only time of year when all ideas – the great, the bad, the silly – are truly appreciated. So often writers view work through a certain lens: is it good enough? Who would publish this? What will my critique group/agent/editor think? This platform offers the freedom to experiment with the emphasis on effort. And who knows, the right combination of coffee and chocolate may just yield the dream.

Wendy: I'm doing NaNoWriMo as an exercise this year – to force myself to purge words instead of overthink words, which can suck away my enthusiasm for projects, especially a big project like a novel.

Elizabeth: NaNoWriMo gives me the jump start I need to put pen to paper without the dreaded temptation to self-edit.

Erica: I like the idea of a challenge and I think having a schedule will teach me to become more diligent in my writing adventures.

Kimberly: Since I have a full-time job and own a business my writing often gets pushed to the back burner. By doing PiBoIdMo I'm hoping that the routine of sitting down every day to try and write something simple will start a writing habit that I won't want to break after a month.

Pat: NaNoWriMo jumpstarted my return to writing one year ago. The deadline drives me and encourages creative juices. I don't plan.....I write and see what happens.

Renee: I am participating because I'm riding the wave of success with Woody's World that earned a Silver Medal in the international Children's Literary Classics Awards program. I figured I would write a new book, this time focusing on a girl growing up in the 60s rather than a boy growing up in the 30s. I usually have an historical component with character education in my fiction for pre-teens.

Katie: I think November is the perfect time to focus on fresh ideas before the complete craziness of the holiday season sets in. It also heightens my awareness to the little snippets of ideas that are floating around in our days.

Elise: Every time I finish a manuscript and dummy I waste several days feeling panicky and fresh out of ideas. (I need an arsenal to work from!) I also thrive on deadlines, so a daily assignment is right up my alley.

Patricia: I signed up because I love coming up with ideas for picture books. I have an "idea box" I keep my index cards in. PiBoIdMo gives me the opportunity to fill my box with at least 30 ideas. When I've finished one picture book and I need to let it "simmer" – or when I'm waiting to hear back from editors/agents – I can go to my idea box and start another PB. I also signed up because I like getting the inspirational messages from other PB writers.

Amy: Time to walk the talk and take the WANTING to write picture books more seriously; to have faith in my creativity for 30 consecutive days is also a good exercise in commitment to the story writing dreams... "The best way to predict the future is to invent/create it myself." –A. Lincoln

And on that note, go forth and write! Best of luck to you us all!

Jill Esbaum

Friday, November 1, 2013

Writing Challenges that Provide Inspiration, Support, and Prizes!

Happy November! Today I'll be sharing some resources I've gathered in preparation for beginning a new writing project. But first, if you're looking for a way to jump-start your picture book or novel writing, I want to recommend you sign-up for one of this month's writing challenges: PiBoIdMo or NaNoWriMo. I'll introduce you to both below. Two weeks from today, we'll invite you to participate in our annual Two Weeks of Thanks-Giving. I hope you'll take some time out from the challenges to join in. And when you're done reading this post, you can click on the link at the end to visit today's Poetry Friday round-up.

November is both Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) and National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). These challenges provide inspiration, support, AND the chance to win some fun (and possibly career-changing!) prizes. Perhaps best of all, they provide concrete, specific goals with a built-in deadline: November 30!

1) Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo): Here's a description from the official website:
"This challenge is to create 30 picture book ideas in 30 days. You don’t have to write a manuscript (but you can if the mood strikes). . . . You might think of a clever title. Or a name for a character. Or just a silly thing like “purple polka-dot pony.” The object is to heighten your picture-book-idea-generating senses. . . . Daily blog posts by picture book authors, illustrators, editors and other kidlit professionals will help inspire you. By the end of the month, you’ll have a fat file of ideas to spark new stories."
As an added bonus: "Participants who register for PiBoIdMo and complete the 30-idea challenge will be eligible for prizes, including signed picture books, original art, critiques and feedback from one of five picture book agents." These are some highly respected agents, too! You can see the list on the official registration page. So, if you're a picture book writer, I suggest you join our own Esther Hershenhorn and Jill Esbaum by signing up for this challenge!

2) National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo): Here's a description from the official website:
"National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 p.m. on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel."
While I've never officially participated in NaNoWriMo myself, I did organize a pseudo-NaNoWriMo event to write the first draft of my YA historical back in January 2009.You can read a little about that event in this blog post. (My friend Megg Jensen was one of the other writers who participated in that challenge, in which she completed a draft of her novel Anathema.) You can read about the "prizes" for NaNoWriMo participation provided by their sponsors on this page.

In recent years there's been some backlash against NaNoWriMo, which I addressed in this blog post that was written BEFORE I learned that bestselling YA novel Cinder (Feiwel & Friends) was a NaNoWriMo project (as were its sequels!).

Special note to writing teachers: NaNoWriMo has a Young Writers Program (YWP) with online resources for educators, including a classroom kit. See their Educator Resources page for details.

While I'm not participating in either of these challenges, I have been thinking about/gearing up to start a new writing project. That's prompted our next TeachingAuthor topic: I've asked my fellow TeachingAuthors to discuss how they approach new projects, along with the perennial question: "Are you a plotter or a pantser?"

If you're not familiar with the term "pantser," it refers to someone who writes without outlining first, or what some call "seat of your pants" writing. I've confessed here before that I'm a "pantser." But that doesn't mean I don't do any prep work. I typically spend time journalling about the characters and plot possibilities. I also set up a three-ring binder with partitions labeled "characters," "plot," "setting," "themes," "title ideas," etc. I think of this more as preparation, though, than plotting. How about you? How do you approach a new writing project? 

Lately, I've been collecting articles about how other writers approach a first draft and/or how to write a first draft quickly. These articles include:
If you've read any of these articles, or have tried any of the techniques mentioned in them, I'd love to know what you think. Meanwhile, I'll be back next Wednesday with a Wednesday Writing Workout inspired by one of them.

Now you can head on over to TeacherDance, where Linda is hosting today's Poetry Friday Round-Up.

Happy writing!