Friday, January 29, 2016

1 Writerly Thing I Love

Howdy, Campers!

Happy Poetry Friday! My poem and the link to today's host are at the bottom.

Before we begin, I wanted to let you know about our 30-Day Boost Your Productivity Challenge, which starts on Monday, February 1st.  Read all about it here....and then join us!

Today I'm kicking off our series, Something I Love About Writing.  Our series could also be called These are a Few of My Favorite Things...

So--what is Something I Love About Writing? ...Surprise!  It's you guys! People I meet through this blog, classes, conferences, critique groups...the entire Kidlitosphere.

You're my Writerly Peeps.  You're one of my favorite things about writing. Here's an example of how you duck tape me together when I'm falling apart...

I am mucking through the thick mud of fear again surrounding my verse novel. 

Recently I wondered, What's the worst thing that could happen?  I asked this out loud around Barbara Bottner's magic table (see my poem about her magic table here.)

Barbara and our gang held onto the table (and me) as I swayed under the weight of that question. Then I knew. The worst thing that could happen is that I'll finish it but it will never get published. Or it will get published and go out of print, unnoticed. Or worse, it will be reviled by critics and readers.

Once I put it into words, my fear lost some of its power. Not all of it's power. But some.

I will finish my book, bundle it up, give it a lunch pail and send it out into the world. Then I will have my coffee and not worry about how it is doing out there. That's none of my business.

...with vanilla soy milk & stevia

 My Writerly Peeps. My besties.

Here are two more examples of how you keep me from throwing in the towel; then a poem; then we're done and you may go write for the rest of the day.

Example #1:
As some of you know, I write a poem a day and send it to my best friend. He, in turn, sends me his poem. Bruce can be brutally honest and I am grateful that he is. This week I sent him a poem about driving a truck up a mountain and wanting to park it. Hoping someone will come by to lead me up that dark, winding road. At the end of the poem I make it to the top but no one is cheering.

A poem about my fear, of course.

Here's what he wrote back:

This one is so powerful. It really is terrific.
Well done. 
And you are right in your thinking. What is the worst? It just means you have to do what you have to do. And we told students for a long time that you don't write for money or fame or accolades (though we want them desperately).
I will be at the top cheering for you.


Example #2:

The other night I emailed a picture book to Barbara's group thinking it was pretty good, almost there...and they came back saying,"a mess...not working...unclear...possibilities..." The truly remarkable part of all this is that I could HEAR the rest of the comments. In the past, I would have heard "A mess..." and shut down in fear and shock, taking it as a confirmation that I am [doo-doo].

When I related this to Rebecca Gold, my other best friend and wonderful writer, she wrote back:

I love how you keep going and going and going .....

You're a REAL writer.


So my favorite writing thing? My writerly peeps. Those who support me and tell me the truth.

And here's my poem (first you must sing the Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers lyrics to Favorite Things)

(Note that the box mentioned in the first verse was actually just delivered by UPS about 30 minutes ago. I got ten copies of New Year at the Pier and a nice note from my publisher saying that it's going OP. It'll stay in print on Kindle, of course, but bye-bye hardcover copies...*sigh*)

by April Halprin Wayland
...with apologies to Hammerstein and Rodgers

Note: you must SING this. Out loud...I'll give you this hint:
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens...
As I am writing this list of my favorites
I hear a box landing out on the pavement.
Is it a box full of butterscotch mints?
No—it's my book that's just gone out of print.
Five after midnight and I'm full of passion,
writing a book that I know I will cash in.
Next night my teacher says, "This is a mess."
All of the heads of her workshop shake...yes.
When my brain says, "All your work reeks"
When I feel like [doo-doo]
I simply remember my writerly peeps
And put off the quit.
poem and drawing copyright (c) 2016
by April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

Thanks for hosting Poetry Friday, Catherine, of Reading to the Core!

posted with love and a little too much coffee by April Halprin Wayland

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Wednesday Writing Workout: 30-Day Boost Your Productivity Challenge

In my last post, I discussed three software tools that help me be more productive and focused. In today's Wednesday Writing Workout, I'm going to suggest you take a look at your work habits and see how you can do the same. I'll also invite you to join me in a "30-Day Boost Your Productivity Challenge." And I promise--no special software required!

First, I'd like to share a bit of background information about goal-setting and habit formation. If you're not interested, or don't have time to read that, feel free to scroll down to the Wednesday Writing Workout.

At the start of a New Year, many of us set ambitious goals and resolutions for various aspects of our lives, including our writing. Unfortunately, by the end of January, we've often let those goals fall by the wayside.

When this happens to me, it's usually because:
a. I didn't write down and track my goals,
b. my goals were too ambitious,
c. my goals weren't specific enough,
d. my goals weren't easily measurable and/or
e. I didn't reward myself for sticking to them.

Recently, I read about the importance of creating goals that are SMART, an acronym for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Time-bound. For more on SMART goals, see this website, which includes sample worksheets for setting SMART goals. (Note: I haven't downloaded their worksheets or have any relationship with the company.) Below, I share examples of some SMART goals for writers.

For me, though, SMART goals alone don't always provide enough motivation, especially when
I'm working on a long-term project, such as writing or revising an entire novel. I've found I also need some sort of reward.

In The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (Random House), Charles Duhigg explains that habits, both good and bad, consist of a three-part loop: Cue, Routine, and Reward. Some habits are so ingrained, we aren't even conscious of the reward. However, with some thought and experimentation, we can not only break bad habits but also create new, healthy, ones. In this excerpt from his book, Duhigg talks about the habit loop and how we can change it. 

I'd discovered my own need for rewards even before reading Duhigg's book. I'd also found that for big projects, it helps to set mini-rewards along the way, and not just a big reward at the end, as explained in this Huffington Post piece. The mini-rewards may be as small as literally giving myself a gold star on a calendar that I use to track my achievements. And that brings me to today's Wednesday Writing Workout: 

Wednesday Writing Workout:
30-Day Boost Your Productivity Challenge

Today's Wednesday Writing Workout consists of three parts:

1. Identify ONE (and only one) SMART goal that will help boost your writing productivity, and appropriate reward(s) for success. 

Some goal possibilities:
  • Get up 15 minutes earlier than usual, 6 days/week, and use that time only for writing.
  • Write at least 500 (or 250 or 100) words per day on your work-in-progress, 5 days/week.
  • Reduce time spent on social media by 30 (or 20 or 10) minutes per day, and use the saved time for writing.   
(For more examples of SMART goals for writers, see this blog post. )

2. Track your progress on a regular basis.  

Since one of the keys is that your goal be Measurable, it shouldn't be difficult to track your progress. This could be as simple as keeping a handwritten log where you note that day's results. Or maybe a calendar where you give yourself a gold star on every day you're successful. Or, if you like the idea of using software to track your performance and provide statistics and reminders, you can try one of the apps I mentioned in Friday's post. Whatever way you decide to track your results, make sure it's simple and easy, and maybe even fun. Otherwise, you're unlikely to stick with it.

3. Find someone you can be accountable to and report your progress to that person regularly. Better still, announce your commitment in public and get the support of a whole community!

Charles Duhigg says in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (Random House)
"The evidence is clear: If you want to change a habit . . . your odds of success go up dramatically when you commit to changing as part of a group."
I'm lucky to have a terrific writing buddy who I check in with on a weekly basis. However, to encourage all of you to try today's Wednesday Writing Workout, I'm going to participate in this 30-Day Boost Your Productivity Challenge, too, as follows.

1. My goal: spend at least 2 hours/week revising my current work-in-progress.
I've been so busy with teaching and freelance writing assignments that I've let my current work-in-progress (WIP) fall to the wayside. Two hours/week may not seem like much time, but I want to make sure the goal is Achievable given my other responsibilities. Since those 2 hours aren't going to appear out of nowhere, I have a related goal: to get up 15 minutes earlier per day, six days a week, and to spend those 1 1/2 hours on my WIP. I'll get the other 1/2 hour by cutting out 30 minutes of television time per week. For my reward, I'll treat myself to a latte at a coffee shop. J

2To track my progressI'll use the Timesheet app to log my time and note what page I'm revising at the end of each writing session.

3Find someone to be accountable toThat's YOU, our readers! 

To keep things simple, I've set the 30-Day Boost Your Productivity Challenge to run from February 1 through March 1. (February conveniently has 29 days this year.) I'll share my first progress report with you two weeks from today, on Wednesday, Feb. 10, and then the final results on Wednesday, March 2.

I'm hoping some of you will join me in this challenge!  You can tell us your specific goal to boost your writing productivity via a comment to this blog post, or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page, or in an email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com. I'd love to know how you plan to reward yourself, too. I hope you'll also return to report on your progress on Feb. 10 and March 2 as well. 

And, if any of you live in the Chicago area, maybe you'd like to join me for that latte some time in early March to celebrate our success!

Meanwhile, happy writing!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Sign Write Here!

 When it came to the best way to begin this post which belatedly (by 2 days) celebrates both National Handwriting Day and its inspiration - John Hancock, the handwriting, so to speak, was on the wall.
Or at least, on a piece of paper torn from my Composition Notebook.

The folks at the Writing Instruments Manufacturers Association (WIMA) created this
holiday in 1977 to celebrate penmanship.  
For obvious reasons, John Hancock’s January 23 Birthday offered up the most appropriate date.
There is that slight dispute as to the actual date of birth, depending on which calendar is used – the modern-day calendar (January 12) or the Gregorian calendar (January 23).
What’s not in dispute, however, is that John Hancock’s floridly-penned name that topped the list of the Declaration of Independence signers is synonymous with “signature.”

For the record, “handwriting” is “writing done by hand, especially the form of writing peculiar to a particular person.”
What’s peculiar about my handwriting, as seen above, is that it is a blend of both print and cursive forms, for which I owe my sixth grade Penn Wynne Elementary teacher Miss Peterson sincere thanks.  She allowed us that year to choose between the two. I gladly chose print, though in time it took on the fluid movement of cursive.
I labor when a true signature is necessary.
It is the only time I write in cursive.

I thought a lot about handwriting before I put pen to paper, then fingers to keyboard.
·         There were WIMA’S celebration exercises to consider,
·         criticism of the Palmer Method by which my parents learned to write,
·         research on cursive writing and how it increases dexterity and verbal expression,
·         the 2016 Zaner-Bloser National Handwriting Contest,
·         criticism of the Common Core standards that don’t include handwriting,
·         and what our handwriting says about us.

Each of us, of course, has our own unique handwriting.  Characteristics include:
·         the specific shape of letters (round or sharp)
·         regular or irregular spacing between letters
·         the slope of the letters
·         the rhythmic repetition of the elements or arrhythmia
·         the pressure to the paper
·         the average size of letters
·         the thickness of letters

Some liken our handwriting to a fingerprint.  I liken it to voice. 

For instance, here’s a sample of my Father’s hand:

Here’s a sample of my Mother’s:

Both were Palmer Method devotees.  I’d know their writing anywhere.

My sister’s hand smacks of calligraphy.

I love when I suddenly come upon a card or saved letter or book inscription that bears their writing or their signatures.
It’s as if they’re speaking, only visually, and once again they’re standing beside me.

And that got me thinking to how we sign our names today when texting or emailing or digitally communicating.
Is it possible to create that identifiable visual voice, that signature that tells the world who and what we are, that somehow connotes our peculiar singularity?

Once again I was lost in thought, Googling my way through the possibilities.
There’s the actual handwritten signature we can scan and copy.
Or the fingered scrawl the Square app invites.
We can add a photo, an icon, a symbol.
We can vary the font, its size, its color.
We even have the means to create our own emojis.
Like Zorro we can draw three lines to form a Z.
Or maybe, a telling quote beneath our names is all we need to let the World know us?

Here’s hoping many of our TeachingAuthors readers will share their signatures in a posted comment.  I’m downright curious.

And meanwhile, Happy Belated National Handwriting Day!

Esther Hershenhorn
“The sun doesn’t stop shining because people are blind.”

Friday, January 22, 2016

3 Software Tools for the New Year

Today I'm wrapping up our series on people/places/tools that help our writing by sharing three software tools I like to use. I don't have a poem today, but at the end of this post, I've provided a link to this week's Poetry Friday roundup.

1. Scrivener 

Some time ago, I mentioned that I was giving Scrivener a try. Some call Scrivener (from Literature & Latte) a word-processing program, but it's so much more--it's a powerful software tool for drafting, editing, and organizing all types of writing, including fiction, nonfiction, scriptwriting, and poetry/song lyrics. After taking advantage of their very generous 30-day free trial (which counts only actual days of use and not calendar days), I went ahead and bought a copy. Scrivener has many terrific features, but my two favorites are the Outliner mode and the Corkboard. Here's a snapshot of a sample corkboard from the Scrivener website.

Gwen Hernandez, author of Scrivener for Dummies (Wiley & Sons), shares what she thinks are Scrivener's Top Ten Features here. She includes the ability to set and track writing targets on her list, and I definitely agree!

If, like me, you're on a tight budget, before purchasing, be sure to do a Google search for discounts on the regular price, which is currently $40 for the Windows version. You can often find a deal. For example, Literature & Latte often sponsors a special on Scrivener in conjunction with NaNoWriMo.

2. Timesheet Time Tracker 

I've kept logs of my time spent on writing-related tasks for years, usually recording the data in a table in a Microsoft Word doc. For some of my freelance assignments, I put the data into an Excel spreadsheet that allows me to total the time automatically. With the new year, I decided I'd like an app that would not only allow me to track my time but also give me statistics on the percentage of time I spent per day/week/month on different activities. I researched my options by reading online articles on the best free time-logging apps (like this piece) and online reviews, and then tested a few of the recommended apps. I'm currently using Timesheet Time Tracker by Florian Rauscha. I found it easy to learn and use. I especially like that you can color-code both projects and tags. Here's a sample screenshot from their Google Play page:

Overall, I'm pretty satisfied with the Timesheet app, but the labels on the statistics charts are sometimes difficult to read, even on a 5" smartphone screen. I'm thinking an app that I can also use on my Windows PC may be better, so I've just downloaded Toggl to give it a try. (I read about it in this article.) Do any of you readers have a time-tracking app to recommend?

3. Habitbull 

While downloading new phone apps, I searched for one that might help me track some goals I've set for the new year and came across Habitbull. You can use it not only to record whether or not you meet a goal, but also to specify the number of times you do something or, if you're a writer, the number of words written in a day. I like that Habitbull includes the option to set reminders. And it lets you color-code, too! Here's a screenshot I found posted in this article on how to use it. (Note: the article is from 2014, so the instructions might not all apply to the current version.) 

How about you, Readers? Do you have any software tools you can recommend to improve our writing productivity?

Here are links to the other posts in this series, in case you missed them:

Esther started by telling us about Shaun Levin’s My Writing Life.
April shared a great 49-second video tip that's part of a series from UCLA Extension Writer's Program.
Bobbi wrote about mentors and inspirational writers.
April gave us a writing workout tied to the video tips she'd mentioned in her previous post.
JoAnn posted about the "pep talk" she received from reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic.
And Carla discussed some of her research tools.

Although Esther will blog about something new on Monday, I'll be back on Wednesday, 1/27, with a Wednesday Writing Workout that follows-up on today's post.

Don't forget to check out this week's Poetry Friday roundup over at A Teaching Life.

Happy writing!

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Tools I Need to Use

I’m working on my next nonfiction book right now.  It was announced in Publishers Weekly:

 "Mary Cash at Holiday House has bought at auction Buried Lives: Slaves of George Washington's Mount Vernon by Carla Killough McClaffertyBuried Lives will bring to light the forgotten lives of the slaves owned by Washington for a middle-grade audience. Publication is tentatively set for fall 2017; Susan Cohen at Writers House did the deal for North American rights."

I must admit it:  I’m thrilled that the book was sold at auction!!  Yippee.  It is every author’s dream that their book will be sought after by more that one editor at the same time.   I’m also thrilled that my new book baby will be brought into the world with Mary Cash at Holiday House.  It is a good fit. 

My writers group waiting with me as the auction details were coming in.
(Annmarie, Loriee, Monica, me, and Darcy)

So now, a whole new level of work begins for me.  I move into high gear on the research.  In thinking about what sort of tools I use for this phase in a book, I use both new and old methods of research.

The “new” method of research comes first.  Today, so many primary source documents are online that it has simplified some types of research.  For example a few years ago, to do the type of research I do, would have required traveling to research libraries and taking pages of handwritten notes of details taken from primary sources.  Today, many documents are online.  Often I can find the actual document, and a transcript of that document.  History at my fingertips!  In the comfort of my pajamas I print them out.   

Then comes the “old school” method.   Once I’ve printed out the research, I read through them, mark them up, and make margin annotations.   Then I create a very fancy retrieval system I like to call---wait for it-------file folders.   Then I put the file folders in a plastic tub.  Then I use another fancy-schmancy method to separate sections of folders:  a file folder turned on end with post-it notes.  It’s about as old school as it gets.
My fancy filing system.  I use post-it notes to simplify things if I change the file names.
 The beauty of writing is that there isn’t one right way to do anything.  Each author works on their craft in their own unique way. 

Carla Killough McClafferty

Friday, January 15, 2016

Timing, Luck, and a Cabin Fever Poem

For a little while, it seemed that all my online friends were posting about this book. So I reserved it, waited for my chance to check it out, and read it several times. It landed in my library pile when I was looking for a little pep talk, and I found one.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear is full of common-sense reminders about courage, trust, and persistence, along with anecdotes that illustrate the concepts. In a friendly, conversational tone, Elizabeth Gilbert describes how fear can hold us back, details the value of good ideas, and suggests working with “stubborn gladness.”

Every once in a while, something comes along to remind me that I’m lucky to be doing work that I love. I appreciate the nudge.

Esther started this series on helpful writing books or tools with Shaun Levin’s My Writing Life.

April continued with a fun video poetry prompt.

Bobbi wrote about mentors and inspirational writers.

April gave us a writing workout via video tips.

Here in Wisconsin, we’re enjoying our second day of above-freezing temperatures after our first blast of seriously cold weather in the New Year. Here’s a poem I wrote during that cold spell.

Cabin Fever 
Is cabin fever an actual thing?
You don’t have to tell me. I know.
I’m looking out at the world outside:
Ice. Wind. Snow. 
A medical diagnosis
would probably not help a lot.
I have all the symptoms, so I’m pretty sure
that’s exactly what I’ve got. 
I’m antsy. I need to be moving,
but I don’t know where I could go.
Fleece and down won’t keep me warm
when the wind chill is thirty below. 
A walk inside a busy mall
or a yoga class might bring
a bit of relief for a little while,
but I’m thinking, Come on, spring!

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Keri Recommends. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Wednesday Writing Workout: Pick a Tip, Any Tip

Howdy, Campers, and welcome to another TeachingAuthors' Wednesday Writing Workout!

Today's WWW is based on last Friday's post, offering writing tips via under-one-minute videos.

Well, how 'bout it--are you dressed in your spiffy new 2016 workout clothes, ready to go?

Then let's get going!


Look--we know all these tips, we've heard most of them before...but personally, I need to hear ideas over and over and over—and, more importantly, I need to try them over and over and over--before they stick.

My assignment to you: watch these videos for no more than ten minutes (they're addictive), then sit down and write for ten minutes, using one of the tips which reinforced what you already knew but had forgotten to take down from the shelf and dust off.

If you're a teacher, watch them with your students and discuss which tips spark a desire to write the most.

And here's another idea. Mary Lee, from the blog, A Year of Reading, says she's thinking that her students could create their own under-a-minute writing tips. What a great idea, Mary Lee!

I especially like this 49-second tip by poet Rick Bursky in which he says "Poetry doesn't require if you don't know what to do, what comes next, simply change the subject"

I also like the way instructor Wendy Oleson suggests pushing the way we explore the senses...using synesthesia. My favorite of her examples:  "The dormitory bathroom smelled like a Jackson Pollock"

Now--off you go! Make that smelly dormitory sing!

posted with nose plugs by April Halprin Wayland with help from Monkey

Monday, January 11, 2016

Ode to Virginia

Everyone knows of my high admiration for grand friend and Master Guru Eric Kimmel. Eric and I have been friends for a long time. In fact, you can read our interview here. He inspired me to study folklore and taught me the importance of my voice.

Likewise, my longtime friend and mentor Marion Dane Bauer taught me the emotional power of story. You can read our interview here.

But another inspired my writing, one whom I wish I had met and hope we might have been friends. Publishing over forty books, Virginia Hamilton (1936 – 2002) won every national and international honor in children’s literature. By the end of the life, she was “the most highly honored American author of children’s books.”

Reading biographies are a means by which we can become “mentored” by writers and other innovators of culture. We can gain insight into life’s challenges, learn from other perspectives, and become inspired by their victories.

Reading “Virginia Hamilton: Speeches, Essays & Conversations” (edited by Arnold Adoff & Kacy Cook, Blue Sky Press 2010), is like having an afternoon tea – or a barbecue! – with Virginia. And wow! What a conversation we are having!

“Every fiction has its own basic reality…through which the life of characters and their illusions are revealed, and from which past meaning often creeps into the setting. The task for any writer is to discover the “reality tone” of each work – the basis of truth upon which all variations on the whole language system is set. For reality may be the greatest of all illusions.” (Illusions and Reality, 1980).

Of course, Hamilton’s body of work are central to the canon of African American literature, and much has been written about her determination to tell the “black people’s journey across the American hopescape.” As Hamilton states, “I see my writings and the language of them as a way to illuminate a human condition.”

I offer that her work, and her wisdom, goes beyond the singular “a”, or one, to encompass “the” human condition as a whole. She coined the phrase “parallel culture” to extinguish the hierarchy reflected in the terms minority and majority, and “their connection to less and more.”

“I write books of strong plots and opinions. They are books for survival. They teach youngsters how best to live in their worlds of limits. Always in writing I must test those limits through the story lines. I believe that the wall of limits moves back when the reader reads something, she is changed by what she reads. I know I am changed by what I write.” (A Storyteller’s Story, 1993).

Every writer always faces the unknown, says Hamilton. It begins with the blank page and goes from there.

“Every pause, every exclamation point in the writing of a book has to be imagined. It’s not easy because one can’t see what’s coming; one has no idea how it sounds and what it will do…That’s the writer’s hope, at least, to create something new and original.” (Frances Clarke Sayers Lecture, 1999).

Virginia Hamilton taught me that writing serves a very important purpose, one that goes beyond the individual. Sometimes it is so easy to get caught up in the corporate side of the writing business and the blockbuster mindset that tends to run it. We succumb to the downheartedness of constant rejection, and all our insecurities are magnified. We forget the higher calling. Why we write our stories in the first place. Having this conversation with Virginia Hamilton reminded me of the importance of Story in our lives.

Virgina Hamilton’s legacy resonates through the cosmos.

If you could share tea -- or attend a barbecue -- with anyone, past or present, who would it be?

Bobbi Miller