Monday, May 23, 2016

Smack Dab--Out of the Classroom! The Treasure Hunt for Books, by Dia Calhoun

Summer is almost here! That means, or I hope it does, reading outside--under trees, in trees, in hammocks, on beaches, boats, camp-outs, picnics . . . .

Students always get assigned summer reading. But now is the time to ask them to make a list of three books they WANT to read this summer. This is the time to teach them the joy of recreational reading.

And if you hear the inevitable refrain . . . "I can't think of anything," send the student on a treasure hunt. Take her to the library and turn her loose to browse among the shelves. The only assignment: find three books to read that look interesting. Any books except graphic novels (we want them to READ). We need to teach the joy of random browsing among books. The joy of finding unexpected treasure that opens up your world. 

Happy Summer Reading!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Racing Against the Clock by Laurie Calkhoven

I'm racing to meet a deadline and don't have time to write about time, but I did want to share a trick I use to get myself to write on those days when I really don't want to write.  I tell myself that after a free writing session I can stop for the day. Then I set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes, pick up a pen, and go.

Writing by hand works best for this. Something about the connection between the subconscious and the page. I always find myself racing to beat the timer, not thinking so much about the words as I am about finishing the scene (or whatever) in the allotted time. Usually by the end of the 15 minutes, some interesting, juicy things have bubbled up because I turned off my thinking brain. And because juicy, interesting ideas bubbled up, I want to write. (But not always, and then I honor my promise to myself and stop for the day).

On another note, check out these cute covers for my first Easy Readers (being published in August).

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Words I Won't Say on My Deathbed (May theme) by Claudia Mills

I've always taken issue with this much quoted statement, attributed to Rabbi Harold Kushner: "No one ever said on their deathbed, 'I wish I'd spent more time at the office.'"

This might be true of people with dull, dreary, soul-draining jobs. But I don't think it's true of people who love their work deeply and fiercely, as many writers love writing. I disavow the implication that family always comes first, always, always, always. On my deathbed I'm not planning to regret the time I spent writing my books. I may well wish I had written even more, that I had allowed myself to luxuriate even more fully in the work that gave so much joy and meaning to my life.

Actually, on my deathbed, I'm hoping I won't waste my last moments on regret at all. I hope I'll say, "I'm glad I wrote all those books. I'm glad I spent all that time with my family. I'm glad I spent time reading books I still cherish. I'm glad I spent time walking in the mountains. I'm glad I spent time laughing with friends."

Today, however, is a day where family definitely comes first. Today my second grandchild, Madilyne Jane, is going to be born, via cesarean section, at 12:30. I'll be watching my first grandchild, Kataleya Lee, while her parents are busy with the birth of her little sister, and then Kat and I will go down to the hospital to welcome a new little person into the world. That's a pretty swell way to spend a day.

But dear Rabbi Kushner, I'm also happy I wrote my most recent middle-grade book, The Trouble with Babies, and that I dedicated it to Kataleya, "my favorite baby in the whole world." Now I need to write one to dedicate to Madilyne. I won't start on it today, or even this week, as I'll be too busy savoring every minute of this new addition to my family. But I'll start writing again next week. After all, on my deathbed, I don't want to say, "I wish I had written a book for Madi, too."

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Time a Feeling Takes by Naomi Kinsman

When I re-read my own writing or when I read my students' writing, sometimes I feel a vague sense of disconnect. Intellectually, I may know how a character feels. My heart, however, isn't connected. When I'm working with students, I might ask the question, "Why does she feel that way?" My student will point out how they've already written a sentence or two about the feeling. They may have even included body language or interior monologue to show rather than tell me how their character feels. But while I can see the emotion in the words on the page, I still don't feel it.

I've thought a lot about this puzzle. When you work with students, they ask uncomfortable "why?" questions. It's not enough to explain that a passage isn't working. I have to explain what isn't working in practical terms. I have to help the writer feel the problem herself. The difficulty is that so much of what a character feels already exists in the writer's mind. The writer fills the emotional gaps with her background knowledge to the point where she doesn't see the gaps at all.

In many cases, I've come to realize this disconnect is actually a time problem. Not exactly a story time problem, but more a reading time problem. Writers need to include enough material between one emotion and another to allow their readers time to transition between one emotion and another. Scientists have told us that when we read, we not only imagine the experiences of the characters, but we feel them as though they are happening to us. When we read, the synapses that fire in our brains are the same that fire if we encounter a similar real life situation. Maybe this is why we need time, as readers, to feel each emotion a writer asks us to feel. we can't hop from anger to disappointment, because our brains need time to feel each of those feelings fully. We end up feeling left out if the writer speeds ahead too fast, and our emotional connection to the character is interrupted.

This is not an argument to slow down everything in a story. Sometimes a fast pace is the perfect solution. However, when it comes to big feelings, and particularly a change between one big feeling and another, I find the best way to bring the moment to life is to feel my way, paying particular attention to time. I ask myself a series of time questions, such as, "How much time would it take to feel this emotion?" "How would I react?" "What would change my feelings suddenly?" "How would I react?" and so on.

For me, time is a key factor in making a story feel right. I approach each emotional moment in much the same way that I approach emotional moments as an actor. I think about timing, pauses, action, silence. I find that the most effective way to deepen a story emotionally is to feel my way to the timing that works best. Like many parts of writing, there is no real right or wrong, no way to know if I've allowed my reader enough time. And yet, I do find that by listening to feedback from readers, I gain a better sense of where I've rushed, where I need to slow down, and sometimes even where I need to speed up. I use them as my "audience" and put on my director hat to assess what's working and what may not be, yet.

I wonder how other writers approach emotional timing in their work, and whether people have specific strategies for addressing problem areas. If you do have one, please share! I enjoy gathering additional tools to fill my writer's toolkit, and we can all benefit from your insight, too.

~~~~~~~~~~~~Naomi Kinsman is an author, educator and creativity coach. She is the author of the FROM SADIE'S SKETCHBOOK series and recently collaborated with singer, Natalie Grant on the GLIMMER GIRLS series. Naomi is also the founder and Executive Director or Society of Young Inklings, which offers classes, mentorships and publishing opportunities for young authors ages 6-16.  Society of Young Inklings utilizes WRITERLY PLAY, the improv-based teaching methodology that Naomi developed, as the foundation for all of its programming.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The River of Time by Bob Krech

Isn't it interesting how time can be used in stories. I think immediately of stories where time is of the essence! The hero only has so much time to defuse the bomb, save the hostage, score the winning goal, get to the treasure, and so on.

I think of other stories where time is more leisurely. The story progresses at its own pace and the plot develops gradually, even casually. Time does not seem to be much of a factor. It passes, but we hardly notice. Time here seems almost like a backdrop of a play.

Then I remember listening to Richard Peck (A Long Way from Chicago, A Year Down Yonder) talk about writing at a conference. He shared about how since he was writing for children, he tried to think from a child's perspective. For most children, their activities, thoughts, concerns, and lives closely follow the seasons and holidays. September brings school and new teachers, classmates, clothes, books, sports, then comes Halloween and the huge decisions about what to be, where to go, who to go with, followed by Thanksgiving and football and food and relatives, and then, best day of the year - Christmas! Kids then have to trudge through January, February, and March to get to Spring, and baseball and games outside again, and the woods and fishing, and then wonderful summer and vacation!

In Peck's writing, the holidays and seasons, are much more than a backdrop. It seems to me he looks at a child's year like a river that they are navigating with special destinations along the way. These destinations are the holidays, the seasons, and special events like birthdays and weddings. When we write for kids, especially our middle grade readers, I think this is a valuable perspective to maintain.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Test of Time by Deborah Lytton: May Theme

I think every writer plays with time.  We set up deadlines with word counts and calendar due dates so that we can keep ourselves on a schedule.  My writing time is very limited.  As a mother of two with a day job as an attorney, I write at odd hours either late at night or early in the morning or sometimes even in school pick up lines.  The thing I find most interesting about finding time to write is that if I am truly connected with the story I am telling, then time ceases to be an issue.  I am so excited to get back to writing that I no longer have to carve out moments to work.  I have to carve out moments for everything else.  My best work comes from complete immersion in a manuscript.  And if I'm not finding time to write, then I know that the lack of time is just an excuse.  For the story I am forcing myself to work on isn't the one that is truly in my heart.  The best manuscript is the one that meets my test of time, for when I work on it, I no longer remember how long I have been writing or how many words are on the page.  I am inside the story and living and breathing the characters.  In those moments, I can do the impossible.  I can stop time. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Stopping Time by Darlene Beck Jacobson

Why does there never seem to be enough time?  As writers we try all sorts of "tricks" to add time to our day.  Get up early, stay up late.  Skip the exercise workout, skip lunch.   In the end, we're not adding any time, we're merely missing out on those things we need.  Twenty four hours is what we get, and nothing we do can change that.

We have no control over time; we can only try to capture bits of it in our stories.  Like a camera freezes a moment of time in a photo, a writer can stop time - however briefly - by recording precious moments through storytelling.

My daughter recently turned 30. To celebrate this milestone birthday, she asked to see her baby book and the journal I kept of her firsts - right up through her toddler hood and elementary school years.  What a joy it was to laugh at her sweet and stubborn steps toward independence.  To smile at her "babyisms" while learning to communicate.  I'd forgotten many of the things I'd recorded all those years ago.  Sharing these "time capsules" together, brought those bits of time back.   I had the delicious pleasure of reliving them, if only for a moment.

Writing is important work.We who put words to paper capture time.  By doing so, we make time travel possible.  When we are gone, our words live on.  For one small moment, time stands still.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

7:11 a.m. ... post from Jody Feldman

I must have some fascination with time. No explanation comes to mind. I’ve never experienced tragedies nor victories due to any timing on my part. I haven’t broken any land-speed records, not in my wildest dreams. I do, though remember, between 4th and 5th grades, shaving 4 minutes off my timed mile run time in gym class, but I can probably attribute that feat to my legs having grown and me having learned how to take advantage of their length..

Maybe it’s just hard-wiring that has me seeing how much laundry I can fold in three minutes or why I feel the need to time myself on my daily walks or why I get some pleasure when I catch a digital clock hit certain numbers. Then again, isn’t 12:36 one of the most perfect times?

But time and again (coincidental phrasing not originally intended), it so happens that time has played some major roles in my books. That’s not surprising in The Gollywhopper Games books, which feature competitions. But I’ve also structure some ticking clocks in The Seventh Level, where my main character must follow instructions to potentially get into his middle school’s secret society.

Then there are my works-in-progress. I’m working on two of them simultaneously. (I do not suggest it. And yes, I could’ve brought you a whole different entry on time management.) But when I started writing this, I realized that both books do, indeed, play with elements of time, very differently, but in ways essential to each character’s journey.

And this all got me wondering why. What is this fascination? Maybe Dr. Freud might’ve had some theories. Maybe it would all come to light under hypnosis. Maybe if I questioned my family, old friends, former neighborhood kids, they might remember something I just can’t right now. But you know what? I’m not sure that it matters. Besides, I don’t have the time.