Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pay It Forward - But How Much? by Claudia Mills (December theme)

Both the good and bad thing about having my blogging turn fall later in the month is that I get to read everything posted on our chosen topic by my fellow bloggers before deciding what I want to contribute to the ongoing conversation. This month I've had the chance to be struck by the outpouring of generosity of my fellow writers: so many people giving so much to others in so many ways. So it's time to release just a teensy weensy bit of my own inner Scroogism.

I believe in paying it forward. I've been the beneficiary of great kindness from fellow writers, and I've tried to pay forward as much, and more, than I've received. But . . .

What are we to do when we get requests to read and comment on manuscripts - sometimes full-length novels - from (and these are all real examples from my own life): our child's kindergarten teacher, our child's fifth grade teacher, colleagues at work, our pastor, friends of friends of friends - many of whom may be extremely offended if any of the criticism we offer is actually in any way critical? Most recently, one former grad student contacted me because his wife had written a book and needed feedback on it:"Of course, I thought of you." He said he could give her comments himself (though he has never written or published any fiction), but he thought it would be better if the comments came from someone else. "You know, the usual thing, what is your audience, etc. etc." He told me it would probably take me less than an hour.

What should I have said? What would you say? How do we balance generosity to others with respect for our own time and talents? How much is too much?

Here are some guidelines I'm in the process of working out for myself.

1. It takes just a few minutes to write back to someone to give at least some morsel of encouragement and tidbit of advice. Usually, in my case, the advice involves information about the existence and resources of SCBWI.

2. Sometimes, if a manuscript is short enough, it takes me less time to give a couple of general comments than it does to explain why I'm unwilling to do so. I can certainly tell people that what they have is too long to be a picture book, or would work better in prose not rhyme, or would work better without the illustrations provided by their cousin's sister-in-law's neighbor.

3. If it's a longer manuscript, I feel no guilt in declining for reasons of time and offering referrals to writer friends who critique for a well-deserved fee.

4. If someone lives locally, I truly never mind meeting for tea. I've done this many, many, many times, and without exception the people have turned out to be absolutely fascinating and delightful, where it was a gift to me to get to know them. This is exactly how paying it forward should feel.

As for my former grad student, I told him that what he thought would take a mere hour would actually take me more like a full day of careful reading and reflection, for a manuscript that fell outside my area of professional expertise. I told him about the value of a writing group, using my own group as an example, and offered suggestions for how his wife might find one.

I always want to give SOMETHING. But I don't give EVERYTHING. Because if I did, I'd no longer be able to give ANYTHING.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Passing it On (December Theme, Sarah Dooley)

Ever since I was a kid, sitting cross-legged on a stool in author Joy Lackey's kitchen while she looked over my poetry, I knew writers were a giving people. Whether you are brand new to writing (and eleven years old, no less) or whether you're a published author, there is always someone willing to lend a hand. Authors read each other's query letters. We listen to each other's pitches. We smatter ink across each other's paragraphs. We offer advice. Encouragement. Caution. Reason. Hope. We serve as cheerleaders, coaches, and critics as needed.We are everything from a bickering family to each other's biggest fans.

So many people have helped me on my writing journey, starting (but certainly not ending) when I was a child. Some of those early experiences with the wonder that is the writing community helped me to stay with this craft.

As authors, here are a few ways we can pay forward the help we were given and assist a new generation of writers:

1. Encourage a child to read. There is no better way to grow future writers than to put books – your own and others' – into kids' hands.

2. Encourage a child to write. Provide the space. The paper and pens. The prompts. Whatever you need to do to help kids jump in.

3. Teach kids to value each others' writing. There is nothing more rewarding than helping kids create their own writing community.

4. Be honest. Cheerlead. But don't only cheerlead. Kids need to know that writing is fun, but that it is work, and that there is value to second drafts, and third drafts, and beyond.

5. Be a fan. Kids need someone to want to read their writing, to cherish each turn of phrase, to wait with bated breath for the next installment.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Paying it Forward by Danette Vigilante

Paying it Forward by Danette Vigilante

Something good happened to me in fifth grade— my teacher sparked within me the love of reading, and that gift has never stopped giving.

As an adult, I became a reading volunteer at my local elementary school because of what I had been given all those years ago. His name was John and, like me at his age, he was a poor reader. I wanted more than anything for him to know the excitement and joy of getting lost in a good book. I wanted him to want “just one more page,” to want more when the book was done, to wonder and think about the characters and their lives.

I spent two years, one hour three times a week, with John, building up his reading skills word by word, book by book, giggle by giggle, high fives by high fives. And like a vitamin taken regularly, each story began to strengthen not only John’s skills, but his confidence.

I hope that one day John pays forward what I have given him, and that his gift never stops giving.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Pay it Forward/December Theme by Bob Krech

I've enjoyed reading this month's posts about how colleagues have payed it forward and the kindness they have received in their journeys as writers. I've had similar experiences. The writing fraternity is in general a very giving and supportive group to be a part of.

While helping clean up my college daughter's room this past week, I came across a copy of The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien which came out in 1990. For those who don't know it, this is a collection of short stories based on O'Brien's experience as a soldier in Vietnam. I'd read a couple of the stories in anthologies over the years, but this past week I've been able to really read and enjoy the whole book.

When I thought about this month's theme and about this book it occurred to me how as writers we can choose to share our experiences with others as another way of paying it forward. To tell the truth about important things can be a real service. Some readers may be hearing your truth for the first time and learn from it. Some may share the author's experiences or sentiments and have their feelings and ideas validated.

Not all of us are writing books as important or searing as The Things They Carried, but these other stories we write, humor and fantasy and fun stories, also pay it forward. We share things that made us laugh and helped us escape to fantastical places, and there are many readers out there who need just that as well.

So writers, remember during this holiday season, your stories are gifts to many. Gifts that can stimulate, challenge, strengthen, and validate as well as amuse, relax, and enlighten.

Thanks for sharing your gifts. Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

PASS IT ON December Theme from Tamera Will Wissinger

Welcome. Gather round the fire, friends. I would like to share the opening lyrics to one of my favorite camp songs from my youth, written by Kurt Kaiser:

It only takes a spark to get a fire going,

And soon all those around,
can warm up in its glowing.

Fire image from:
The song is called PASS IT ON. It is a song of faith and, to me, this small phrase perfectly embodies the pay it forward concept. Taken literally, what can be more comforting to a group of people than a roaring fire on a cold late fall day? Taken figuratively, what can be more compelling to a person than being a spark that helps ignite a positive fire in and for others? This month, I went on a search for other pass it on inspiring messages and here’s what I found:

What do we live for if not to make
life less difficult for each other?
      George Eliot

The time is always right
to do what is right.
      Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Three things in life are important:
The first is to be kind.
The second is to be kind.
And the third is to be kind.
      Henry James

Happiness is a by-product of an
effort to make someone else happy.
      Gretta Brooker Palmer

Be kind, for everyone you meet is
fighting a hard battle.

Kindness in words creates confidence.
Kindness in thinking creates profoundness.
Kindness in giving creates love.

If I can keep one 
heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain.
      Emily Dickinson

We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow man.
      Herman Melville

And I was delighted to discover this sweet Little Willie poem from Henry Burton, where I will end my quest for today.

PASS IT ON by Henry Burton

Have you had a kindness shown?
Pass it on!
‘Twas not given for thee alone,
Pass it on!
Let it travel down the years,
Let it wipe another’s tears,
Till in Heaven the deed appears –
Pass it on!
Pass it on. It’s simple. It’s for everyone, everywhere, in every time. It only takes a spark…


Tamera Wissinger is the author of GONE FISHING: A Novel in Verse, THIS OLD BAND, and the forthcoming THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO GOBBLED A SKINK. She spends part of every day on the look out for ways to pass it on, some days she's more successful than others. Occasionally it’s through a grand poetry interaction with an enthusiastic group of students or a festive meal prepared for family and friends. More often, it arrives in the form of opening a door for someone else, adding to the red bucket whenever the Salvation Army bell ringers are near, or smiling when nobody expects it.

With the exception of the PASS IT ON lyrics by Kurt Kaiser, which I know by heart, all other excerpts are from: The Book of Positive Quotations, Compiled and arranged by John Cook, Fairview Press, Minneapolis, 1993 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Payback Time

As writers, it's a thrill to see our books finally come out into the world.  All of us appreciate the work and time it took to get there.  I'm not merely talking about our writing support groups and the readers who buy our books.  I'm going further back - to school.  Back to the teachers and librarians who turned us on to books and got us hooked as readers, and eventually as writers.  For me, all it took was an A+ on a creative writing assignment.  And, my very own library card.

If it hadn't been for the positive academic experiences I had at school, I might not be where I am today.  Memorial School was a K-8 school with some great and memorable teachers who encouraged writing in all its forms: essays, poetry, outlining, sentence diagramming, story telling, letter writing.  Their encouragement led to a Language Arts Award at 8th Grade graduation, and a life time love of the written word.    

 So, it was a joy for me to go back to my elementary school - Memorial School in Old Bridge Township, NJ - and present the librarian an autographed copy of WHEELS OF CHANGE to share with the student body.

Being able to pass on that feeling to a new generation of readers and writers, and to say "Thank You" - one book at a time - is the best kind of payback I can think of.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Cool to Be Kind (from Jody Feldman)

Paying it forward. 
The Golden Rule.
What goes around comes around. 
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 

Call it what you will, say it as you wish, but in the end it all comes down to:


 In life in general, and in this writing life in particular, I have been surrounded by acts of kindness, both random and planned. Three often come to mind, especially because each occurred before my first book was published.
  • An award-winning, book-to-movie author, in town for a school visit–someone I barely knew–had her school hosts include me in their dinner just to get me started meeting educators.
  • Before a conference, another major award-winning author, who could have been a thousand other places and with dozens of established authors, sat and talked to me at great personal length about being part of this book world. 
  • Even before that, long before I was under contract, two well-respected authors took me under their wings, and suddenly I was no longer lost or companionless at my first SCBWI Annual Conference in Los Angeles. 
 Do these authors remember their kindnesses? Doubt it. At least they probably don’t remember them with great clarity. Similarly, I hope I don’t remember a great majority of my own attempts at being kind. I hope, for all of us, it’s woven into the fabrics of our lives.

And yet, there are times, when it just feels right to make a conscious gesture. Like here and now.

In that spirit, I'm happy to offer you a chance to win a free Skype or in-person school visit.* If you’re a teacher, librarian, media specialist, school administrator, parent, or you just have fondness for a particular school, and your school would prepare for and welcome my visit, please enter below. I may just throw in a T-shirt and a book or two, also.
(*One winning school receives a full, 45-minute Skype visit; OR if possible by mutual agreement, an in-person school visit which must either be within a two-hour drive of St. Louis, in a city where I happen to be traveling, or with you covering travel expenses. Enter by December 21, 2015.)
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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

December Theme: Paying It Forward
By Marcia Thornton Jones

I appreciate the concept that when someone does something nice to me I can ‘pay it forward’ by doing something nice for someone else instead of just ‘paying it back.’ I love hearing stories of people having their coffee, lunch, and toll booth fares paid by someone that went through the line before them. In fact, I tried to do that once by pre-paying the adoption fee at the Humane Society for the ‘next adopting family’ who chose an animal and filled out the paperwork (the Humane Society wouldn’t let me do that, by the way). The ideas and experiences already posted for ‘paying forward’ the good that comes into our lives are inspiring, and I’m looking forward to reading more this month.

But to be honest, I never totally clicked with the phrase because when I think of ‘pay’ I think of things like ‘pay back’, ‘you get what you pay for’, and ‘paying bills’. To me, ‘pay’ infers debt, responsibility, and obligation. I tried to think of a word that ‘felt’ better to me. Gifting is the closest I could come because when I think of ‘gifting’ I think of giving instead of paying.

Then I started wondering:

·         What kind of givers are my characters? Are they selfless? Do they shop for perfect gifts? Or would they buy the first thing they came across? Would they go to a mega-store and grab gift cards so they wouldn’t have to bother with shopping? Or would they go from store to store, searching for just the right things.
·         What were the best gifts they’ve given? Did those gifts involve special thought or effort? Were they store-bought or hand-made? Were sacrifices involved? Who were the recipients? What were the recipients’ reactions? How did the recipients’ reactions make the gift-giving characters feel?
·         What kind of gift-receivers are my characters? Are they gracious? Do they make sure the givers see them wear or use the gift? Do they ask for the receipt if they don’t like a gift? Do they roll their eyes and say, “I don’t want this,” before handing it back to the giver?
·         What were the best gifts my characters ever received? Were they hand-made? Was the monetary worth less or more than the sentimental value? Who were they from? What were the circumstances?
·         What were the worst gifts received? What did my characters do with them? Regift them? Throw them away? Toss them into a cow pond? Build bonfires and burn them?
·         Are my characters the kind of people that see the blessings, kindnesses, and good fortunes in their lives as gifts? Or do they consider themselves entitled to those things…and more? Do they appreciate the good? Does their good fortune inspire them to gift others?
·         Or do my characters focus on the negative? On the slights and the insults and the misfortunes? Instead of ‘paying it forward’, are they more intent on pay back? On getting even? On revenge?

Who knows? If I take a few minutes to answer these questions then maybe, just maybe, my characters will gain insights into their story journeys and then they will ‘pay it forward’ with transformative growth that resonates with readers and their own life journeys.