Friday, June 26, 2020

MY Favorite Grab ‘N’ Go Writing Exercise: The Name Poem!

This month my fellow TeachingAuthor bloggers and I are putting forth our favorite Writing Exercises for you to grab and go.
April shared her new In One Word poetry form, Bobbi her favorite Writing Workshops, and Gwendolyn her practice of typing out favorite texts and/or passages,
Carmela advised us to try something new and Mary Ann reposted her Creative Eavesdropping exercise.
My favorite Writing Exercise is an Oldie-but-Goodie, too: The Name Poem.

I came upon this exercise serendipitously when my Holiday House editor Mary Cash requested I drop my character Howie Fingergut’s grade from Fifth to Fourth.
I of course said: “Of course!” 😊
But it was fifth graders I knew like the back of my hand. I’d never taught fourth graders.
It was a few weeks later, while seated in a Fourth Grade classroom at The Frances Parker School in Lincoln Park, that my eyes zeroed in on the Name Poems dotting the walls.
Name Poems?
Name Poems!
I could define my character Howie and his singular world view with but 5 adjectives! Why hadn’t I thought of this earlier?

Howie’s name poem not only helped me nail Howie. It helped me nail his heart and thus, what he was after.  Howie, it turns out, had longed to change his “I” word to “Important.”

I recommend my students and writers create Name Poems for their characters.
I don’t know why but this exercise always works.

What also works, though, is to create a Name Poem for yourself!
It’s a sure-fire way to see just where your story crosses paths with your character’s.
Katherine Paterson wrote that, when it comes to our characters, it’s simply “one heart in hiding…reaching out to another.”

Imagine my smile when I discovered just how much I had in common with Howard J. Fingerhut.

For the record, once you grab this exercise to define your character and/or yourself, choosing defining adjectives isn’t the only way to go. Think about verbs, nouns and even favorite expressions.

Thanks to Karen’s Got A Blog for hosting today’s Poetry Friday.

Happy Writer-Muscle-Building!

Esther Hershenhorn

Friday, June 19, 2020

Trying Something New: Syllable-Square IN ONE WORD Poem

Happy Poetry Friday! I share a link to this week's round-up at the end of this post, below the poem I wrote using a new form invented by my brilliant co-blogger, April Halprin Wayland! But first, I want to share another in our series of GRAB 'N GO WRITING EXERCISES.

When I first became interested in writing for young readers (many years ago!), I took a continuing education class on the topic at our local community college. I'd fallen in love with the picture books I was reading my young son and wanted to write some myself. I spent the first five weeks of the class working only on picture books. Then, as one of our last assignments, the instructor asked us to write in a different form or genre. I ended up writing the first chapter of a young adult novel. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed that assignment. I went on to finish a complete draft of the novel and applied to Vermont College MFA program with the intention of revising the novel for publication. That particular novel ended up in a drawer, but writing it helped me discover my novelist's voice and eventually led to the publication of my two novels.

So I want to give you the same exercise today: Try Something New! Write in a different form or genre than you're used to. If you're a picture book writer, perhaps try a short story or a chapter of a novel. If you're a novelist, you could try a picture book. But if that doesn't sound fun, then perhaps try a short story, or a different genre of novel. For example, if you typically write realistic, contemporary stories, you could try fantasy or historical. Whatever you decide, I'd love if you'd report back here on how the experience was for you.

My poem today is also the result of trying something new. April kicked off this series of GRAB 'N GO WRITING EXERCISES by introducing the IN ONE WORD poetry form she invented. Well, my poem today is in that form. As it happens, my current work-in-progress is a collection of poems in a variety of forms with connections to math. For example, I've written several Syllable- Square poems, where the number of syllables per line equals the number of lines. I first learned of this form from JoAnne Growney's Intersections–Poetry with Mathematics website. One of my favorite Syllable-Square poems is Growney's 5x5 "Counting the Women."

For today's poem, I decided to use April's IN ONE WORD form to write a Syllable-Square. For this form, you choose a core word, and then each line of the poem must end with words made from the letters in the core word. I chose the word MATHEMATICS as my core word. According to the Wordmaker website, you can make 420 different words from the letters in MATHEMATICS! That was rather overwhelming. So I started to choose words from the list that most appealed to me. The word mismatch ended up being the key that unlocked the poem for me. I've included a bit more of the poem's backstory (as April calls it) below. I also share a great poetry writing app I recently discovered.

The poem's backstory: After writing the first line, poetry and math, I new my poem would be a 5x5 Syllable-Square. I played around until I had a decent first draft I liked, then shared it with my dear April, who gave me some helpful suggestions. As I revised, I realized I wanted to make the poem more "mathy" by including words with math connotations. That's when it occurred to me to incorporate perfect (as in perfect numbers) and powerful (as in raising to a power). I initially hyphenated power-ful to make the connection clearer, but decided the line looked cleaner without the hyphen. In case any of you aren't familiar with the term, the last word, STEAM, is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. Finally, I wanted a title that also consisted of 5 syllables, to match the lines of the poem. I couldn't think of anything clever so I initially used the first line "Poetry and Math." But then I realized that the poem was the result of "Trying Something New," which happens to have five syllables! 😊 I'd love to know what you all think of the end result. In particular, would you hyphenate powerful?

Now for the poetry-writing resource I mentioned: Not long ago, I discovered a phone app with tools that help with poetry and songwriting: Lyric Notepad. It's available for both Android and iPhone. One of its great features is the line syllable counter--it's caught my counting errors numerous times. The app also highlights words that rhyme, though the "near rhyme" function doesn't work that well, in my opinion. If you use it, just be careful to save your work elsewhere, too. I've lost revisions to poems even after I've "saved" them in the app.

For more poetry, be sure to check out today's Poetry Friday round-up by Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect. And if you'd like to see videos of STEAM poetry, be sure to visit the STEAM Powered Poetry site.

Posted by Carmela

Friday, June 12, 2020

Turn Your Reading Passion Into Better Writing

Years ago, when I first decided I’d like to write books for children, I attended a program about Oklahoma history. One speaker mentioned Bass Reaves. Bass escaped from slavery in Texas, crossed the Red River arriving in Oklahoma Territory ready to begin a new life. He learned the lay of the land and survival techniques from Native Americans. Eventually, he became a United States Deputy Marshal under Hanging Judge Parker and always found the outlaws who dared to hide from him.

I fell in love with Bass. I quickly decided I was the perfect person to tell his amazing life. I even found an editor who was somewhat interested in my attempts to capture his story.

Then one day, the editor sent the email that broke my heart. She explained she would not be publishing my manuscript. I was devastated! My heart was broken. I don’t remember her exact words, but I read – there is a new Bass book and it’s so much better than your feeble attempts. I still feel the pain! I remember attending an American Library Association conference and there in the distance was BAD NEWS FOR OUTLAWAS – THE REMARKABLE LIFE OF BASS REEVES, DEPUTY U. S. MARSHAL, Written by  Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Bass in all its glory. I quickly changed directions and walked down another aisle. It was such a painful moment in my writing life. I’m tearing up now as I think about it.

My husband thought my reaction was over the top. “Write something else,” was his remedy. The editor emailed, “Send me something else.” SOMETHING ELSE! I had nothing else. My writing life was over and it had just begun.
Well, it took time (years) but I recovered and I continued to write. Then one day I bought a copy of BAD NEWS FOR OUTLAWS. It’s fabulous! A page-turner! No wonder it received so many awards. It is a thousand times better than my feeble attempts.

Recently, I met Vaunda at a conference and told her my pitiful story. She hugged me and my world righted itself.
I also typed it and I could see, feel, and understand why I loved it and what made it successful. I began typing other books that moved my spirit.

I challenge you to type a favorite book or even a page or two of a longer work. What makes you cry, smile, or laugh out loud? Why was it hard or easy to put down? What made you decide it would have a place of honor on your bookshelf?

Think about your responses. You might discover a technique that will lead to stronger writing.

Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks

Friday, June 5, 2020

Creative Eavesdropping

Young Writers at work!
It's not officially summer, but teachers count the seasons by the school year. Normally, summer "begins" for on the last day of school. For a lot of us, that was early we've been in "summer" for going on three months already!  I'm calling the time since Memorial Day, "second summer." Then on June 21, there is "real summer."

Teaching Authors posts Writing Workouts on Wednesdays but we figure everyone is blurry-eyed and Zoomhausted.  Some of you may be desperately exhausted looking for a ready-to-go writing exercise for yourself or your students. Hence we are offering you Grab 'N' Go Writing Exercises.

This past week has been emotionally draining.  So in the interest of retaining my sanity, I'm offering a "Classic Workout." In other words, I've posted this exercise before. However, since it was in 2013, and it's just the exercise and not the original post I'm re-using, hopefully it will be useful. I first learned of this exercise, in a slightly different format (intended for adult writers) in a workshop led by Louise Hawes. (Thanks, Louise for the inspiration!) This is great for kids who "can't think of anything to write about"...and worn-out adult authors whose brains need a jumpstart.

I call it "Non-Sequiturs." My students call it "That Eavesdropping Thing."

I am an inveterate eavesdropper. I started as a kid, listening through heating grates and the old drinking-glass-to-the-wall trick. I graduated to picking out bits of oddball conversation overheard in public places...buses, check out lines, restaurants. It never fails to amaze me, the things that people will talk about...loudly! public. Maybe they feel invisible in crowds of people. I'm glad they do. It has provided me with endless writing inspiration. 

Here are a few "classics" from my list...

"...and then he carried my grandmother's table out in the yard and burned it." (Overheard in a really long check-out line at Old Navy.

"I like Sprite better than Coke, because it's clear, you can see what's in it. I don't trust Coke. You can't see what's in it because it's all dark and stuff." (Heard on a commuter train, from a woman who then claimed she worked for Coca Cola.)

"Life ain't no Swiss picnic." (Don't remember where that came from!)

"I need a present for a girl I don't like very much." (Two teen girls in a jewelry store.)

The possibilities are endless.

So, randomly pick two quotes. When I'm doing this with students, I ask them to write down two quotes...which they have been asked to bring to class...on separate slips of paper. I tell them they can only use one sentence...not an entire conversation. They should not identify the speaker in any way. Just the quote. Then each student draws two slips.

Take the two random quotes, and somehow connect them in a scene. You write without any thought of this becoming part of a longer work.  You are only writing a scene.

For this exercise, a scene includes:

Characters--when I use this with students, I insist that there are at least two named characters. I ask the students to imagine what kind of character would say this? Adult or kid? Talking animal or mythical creature?  

Setting--where does the scene take place? Outer space? A school bus? Soccer practice? In a fantasy world. (Don't get me started on building fantasy worlds...that's another post.)

Of course, in actual writing, scenes include a lot more stuff...but we're doing away with all that for the moment. We're just getting your writing motor running.  For kids who can never think of something to write, this exercise frees them up a lot. You just have two characters and two sentences. I do tell my young writers that their scene needs to be a full page (handwritten) minimum, that includes other conversation and action. And it has to make sense. The non-sequiturs cannot continue to be non-sequiturs in the context of the scene. The sentences are a seed...grow your scene around them.

Often, this exercise grows into a story for the students. The first time I did this exercise in the aforementioned writer's workshop, it became the nucleus for my book, Jimmy's Stars. Other times, the characters have jumped from the exercise into a story that had nothing to do with the original scene. It's one of those "writing magic" things. 
Available on Kindle!

So time to get that writing motor running!