Thursday, May 31, 2007
Tomorrow I'm leaving for a family vacation and will join up the rest of the Baldwin crew in Arkansas. I hope to catch up on writing fiction--it seems as if I rarely have time for "fun" writing anymore! Later in June, I'll share what I learn in the process.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
I was looking through some old files and found the following excerpt that I wrote 7 years ago:
"During a routine sports physical my eleven-year-old daughter, Lori, was diagnosed with scoliosis. Our family was shocked and she was scared. She worried that she would have to wear a brace and when her orthopedist confirmed her fear and said that her 27-degree curvature required a brace until she stopped growing, it was tough news to swallow. Then when he showed her a young man’s body brace it was hard to control the tears. What would the other kids at school think? How noticeable would it be? Could she still compete in sports? Lori was full of questions.
We went the route that families with scoliosis patients go: x-rays, measurements for the brace, waiting, and then finally, getting the brace fitted.
The first two days were the hardest as we tried to figure out what Lori could wear that would fit over the brace. We finally found one pair of shorts that were handed down from her older sister—just to go shopping in. Several trips to Old Navy and the mall, and several exchanges later we finally settled on a set of “brace clothes” and a few non-brace, for when she would be at camp, biking, or running(She was greatly relieved when the doctor OK’d taking the brace off for sports and other “necessities,” like going to an amusement park with friends).
At school the first day most of her classmate didn’t believe her when she told them she was wearing a brace. The next size skort and shirt cleverly concealed it.
I encouraged Lori to write her feelings and experiences down in a journal. “Maybe you can write a story about a girl with scoliosis, one day,” I told her. After a few entries, the journal dwindled down and her brace became a non-issue. Friends, relatives, even her orthopedist all commented that they couldn’t tell she was wearing a brace.
I knew that the dreaded brace was no longer Lori’s enemy when a few months later I asked Lori if she was ready to write her story. “I would Mom,” she answered, “but there’s really no conflict.”
That was from the mouth of a writer-in-training. Postscript: Lori successfully wore her brace for three years.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
In an e-mail correspondence with Kim Griswell, Coordinating Editor at Highlights, I mentioned that even though I've written about Paul Stankard several times, the article I wrote for Highlights Magazine is probably the best explanation I have written about the paperweight process. My 19-year-old daughter Lisa (who actually visited his NJ studio and saw the process several years ago) read the article and said, "Now I know how he does it!"
I told Kim that I have always maintained that when someone writes for children, they write the best. She responded, "Absolutely! You can't fudge things or be unclear when you're writing for kids. It's the toughest kind of writing to do, and the most rewarding."
That proves two things. Highlights is for kids of ALL ages, and writing for children and young adults is not something that writers do before they go on to "real" writing for adults.
I asked Julie Graddy, the publisher at Maupin House to comment on why teaching through reading is "hot" right now, and this was her response: "The link between reading and writing is obvious, but no one has been taught how to teach the two concepts together as reciprocals. With all the time constraints that teachers have, it makes sense to be able to open up the K-5 reading block and use writing as a strategy for teaching reading. All the research supports it." Julie Graddy, Publisher, Maupin House.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
"My seven year old daughter, Clarity just got done reading the article about you in Highlights Magazine. She was completely enthralled in your work. She loves art, nature, painting, clay, etc. I think she could see herself doing something like this. She just won First place in her school science fair for a project on Honeybees. The judges told her the display was a work of art. She even made a 3 segment bee out of Sculpey clay and fastened it with velcro. Not too bad for a seven year old. Is there anywhere in Northern California we could see your work?"
Is there anything more thrilling for a children's writer than to have a reader become excited about a subject because you wrote about it?
I don't think so!
Monday, May 21, 2007
I just wanted to let you know that I'll be giving three presentations at the South Carolina Home Educators conference on June 15-18 (Scroll down and you'll find me on the speakers list). I'll be giving workshops on "Mining Your Students' Lives: Writing Fiction in Middle and High School", "Show Them How to Create a Character (and More) With a Little Help from the Masters", and "Making the Red Pencil Your Best Friend: Fostering Critical Thinking through Focused Revision." You will learn skills that you will be able to take home and use with your children…and probably a few that you'll try out yourself! My hands-on workshops are always fun and go so fast that the hour is up before I even know it. Hope to see you in Sumter.
Friday, May 18, 2007
As I'm writing my second IRA proposal on "Show Don't Tell: How Creating a Genre Setting Enhances Reading Instruction" I am once again thinking about how I have learned to be a writer because I am a life-long reader. Lots of time writers give the same advice as I do, "If you want to write, read." But what should an adult or young adult be looking for when she reads? How do novels or short stories become writing textbooks?
When I read (or listen to an audio book) I look for the following:
- How has the author created realistic dialogue? How do the characters' voices stay consistent through the story?
- For that matter, how does the character himself stay consistent through the story through his reactions, emotions, and thought patterns?
- How does the author use similes or metaphors to help me picture the character or setting? Is the text heavy with figurative language or is there enough of this spice thrown into the mix to enhance the story?
These principles can be applied to creative nonfiction as well as to fiction. My first "official" creative nonfiction book that I read was Susan Orlean's book, "The Bullfighter Checks her Makeup." (For homeschooling parents: You might want to read this first before recommending it to your children.) Orlean has a magnificent grasp of language and tells stories through her nonfiction essays.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
How many of you have students who write a first draft, turn it in, and considered it "done"? Most students would rather eat beets and liver for dinner than rewrite their stories, essays, or papers. Why is that? Perhaps it's because we haven't taught them what every published writer has realized: good writing depends on multiple rounds of critique, revision, and re-writing. Even though students may lack the maturity to realize that "written" does not equal "finished" or "publishable" But we can help them in this process by communicating that their own red pencil is really their best friend, not something to be "forgotten" at home, buried in the deep recesses of their backpack, or thrown away.
How can you communicate this important principle?
- Accept critique of your own work. When you write a sentence on the board, ask your students if they can think of a more vivid verb than what you have written. Is there a more specific noun? A more descriptive adjective? (Notice that adjectives are last on the list and adverbs are not even included! Lively writing is empowered by active verbs and precise nouns.) For some fun activities on using vivid verbs, see pp. 5 – 13 of Jane Kiester's book, Blowing Away the State Writing Test, also from Maupin House.
- Give your students tools so that they can critique their own work. When they have the red pencil in their own hands, they have responsibility and power. Click here for a free mini-lesson on peer editing from my book, Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Middle School.
- Encourage your students that all professional writers spend a lot of time and effort revising their work. "Very few stories are aced on the first shot. Leo Tolstoy rewrote Anna Karenina seventeen times. Jean Auel calls the revision stage 'where I get a handle on the book.' And Isaac Bashevis Singer considered the wastebasket the 'writer's best friend.'" Nancy Kress, Contributing Editor, Writer's Digest, July, 2005.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
I think it does!
I've been thinking about this topic as I've prepared a proposal for the IRA (International Reading Association) 2008 conference. My main idea is that there are many crossover skills between fiction and nonfiction such as focus, organization, including appropriate details, and practicing writing mechanics. On top of that, writing a short story that the student has brainstormed herself is more fun (and actually more work, but don't tell anyone!) than writing the traditional 5-paragraph essay. I also think that students who have practiced using figurative language, imagery, and literary techniques when writing a story will be more likely to use these devices when writing nonfiction. With the addition of the written portion of the SAT, it seems that fiction writing can be one way to help students become more well-rounded writers comfortable using a variety of literary devices.
If you have had experience teaching fiction to intermediate or middle school students and have seen crossover of these writing skills to essays or research writing, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last week Paul Stankard, an internationally acclaimed paperweight artist, called. A friend of his mother's who lives in Nebraska, was reading the June issue of Highlights to her grandchildren and was excited to find the article I had written about him. I have written about Paul for many glass magazines, but have never heard him so thrilled to see his work in print where kids could read about his Paperweight Magic. He was so proud of the fact that his grandchildren could read about him! His pride mirrored my own: I was thrilled to be able to bring his story to two million Highlights readers.
Monday, May 7, 2007
On another note, the Charlotte SCBWI group had our monthly meeting on Saturday morning. Even when I don't bring something to be critiqued myself, I always learn from the give and take that we share. Over the 12 + years which I have been moderating this group, I have learned a tremendous amount from the process of answering the questions, "What is wrong with this piece?" and "How can this writer make her work better?" These same questions are the same which writers of any age must ask of themselves and of their peer's work. This process of critical analysis is one that I advocate in my book and "Red Pencil" workshops.
To all homeschool educators: Maupin House's 50% discount is this week only (May 7-12) and applies to all books and all products. Just use TA07 when you check out. www.maupinhouse.com
Friday, May 4, 2007
If you haven't already checked out my first review at Teaching K-8, please read it here.
My conference schedule now includes the National Middle School Association meeting in November when I'll be presenting, "Making the Red Pencil Your Best Friend: Fostering Critical Thinking Through Focused Revision."
Teachers- check this out. In honor of Teacher Appreciation week, from May 6-12 Maupin House (www.maupinhouse.com) will be giving 50% off ALL their titles. Just use code TA07 when you check out.