Poetry Month Day 10

In my class this week with Chris LaTray he shared this poem from Jim Harrison.

Harrison is not a poet I was familiar with before this month and this poem resonated with me when Chris read it aloud. It served as a mentor text for us to write our own I BELIEVE poem.

My poem ended up being a lot of one liners that are different things I believe. A list poem almost.

Here is an excerpt of my draft:

I believe how the numbers lay on your W2 does not dictate your worth.

I believe 5 year olds should be listened to and heard.

I believe your title doesn’t mean jack shit to whether I respect you or not.

I believe reading is the gateway to everything,

But coffee is another.

Others that shared in our Zoom class took one belief and expanded it.

It is always fun as a writer to hear other people’s approaches to prompts and their process.

I suppose I could take each of my lines and expand it as well for a different feel and more in depth look at the emotions and experiences underneath.

I Believe
By Jim Harrison

I believe in steep drop-offs, the thunderstorm across the lake
in 1949, cold winds, empty swimming pools,
the overgrown path to the creek, raw garlic,
used tires, taverns, saloons, bars, gallons of red wine,
abandoned farmhouses, stunted lilac groves,
gravel roads that end, brush piles, thickets, girls
who haven’t quite gone totally wild, river eddies,
leaky wooden boats, the smell of used engine oil,
turbulent rivers, lakes without cottages lost in the woods,
the primrose growing out of a cow skull, the thousands
of birds I’ve talked to all of my life, the dogs
that talked back, the Chihuahuan ravens that follow
me on long walks. The rattler escaping the cold hose,
the fluttering unknown gods that I nearly see
from the left corner of my blind eye, struggling
to stay alive in a world that grinds them underfoot.

What is inspiring you this month?

Poetry Prompt Day 2

It’s Poetry Month! Day 2!

This is the poem I used as inspiration for my own poetry writing today.

“On Turning Ten” by Billy Collins

This is a poem I have used with countless students and adults over the years. There is the idea of imagination that I am always drawn to. What did you pretend to be when you were little? I always pretended to be a mermaid or a fairy. This can be a beginning for you.

What lines sparkle for you?

I wrote my own version in my notebook today.

I hope you enjoy reading this poem and/or writing in response to it.

*****

I will tell you I am having issues with the transition back to a world of extroverts. People seem to be wanted to hit a delete or rewind button and have not reflected or learned from the last year. I will admit that the lock down was comfortable to me and it is closer to my ideal life than I knew before the shelter in place orders. I struggle now that the world is going back to “normal”.

My poetry class started last evening and it is an interesting group of people! The teacher is using The Daily Poet a book I have used often and was actually looking for on my kindle earlier yesterday.

I am eternally thankful that I have had the opportunity to take so many classes and workshops over the last year+ because so much is offered on Zoom now.

Do you have beloved poetry resources to share? I would enjoy seeing them in the comments!

Poetry Prompt Day 1

Welcome to Poetry Month!

This is the poem I used as inspiration for my own poetry writing today.

This poem made me think of Hermit Crab structures I use for flash fiction. This poem reads as a math problem and made me think of trains. I also put a line about trains in my own version in my notebook.

I hope you enjoy reading this poem and/or writing in response to it.

Who is Your Favorite Poet?

Welcome to Poetry Month!

I was introduced to Naomi Shihab Nye many years ago at a teacher writer conference. Laura Robb did a presentation I went to and she used the poem,”Secrets”. I still use this poem when I teach and read it often.

When I returned from the conference I found more poetry written by Nye. Here is one I use every year with students for annotation and quickwrites.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48597/burning-the-old-year

I am drawn to all the words that remind me of fire in this poem. I have written in response to this poem more times than I remember and something new always comes out of it.

I hope you enjoy reading this poem and/or writing in response to it.

Currently.. #sol21 #day20

Every day in the month of March I post to my blog and then share on The Two Writing Teachers. I comment on at least 3 other posts.

I’m currently…

Listening to the fan.

Loving my coffee and the fact I am not pressed for time today.

Drinking water and coffee.

Thinking about plans for the spring and summer.

Wanting to not leave the house.

Procrastinating about cars and taxes.

Needing some rest and some way to recover. I am so tired.

Reading poems and other blog posts.

Worrying about money and coordination of events. Also trying to anticipate all the needs of my in person cohort students that are starting next month.

Wondering how I can get my brain to let go and not overanalyze.

Anticipating the beautiful weather.

What are you currently up to?

Short Story Show and Tell

A Look at Craft Focusing on One Short Story

I have a list of stories I return to that I use as models for writing. One I love is Amber Spark’s Thirteen Ways to Destroy a Painting from her collection The Unfinished World. You can listen to the story here.

Amber is one of the short story writers I follow closely. In interviews she talks about how she takes old fairy tales and puts a modern spin on them which I admire.  Her most recent collection is magical and I highly recommend it. 

One of the many aspects I love about this story is that the title draws me in because of the use of the number. There is something seductive about numbers, especially thirteen. There is much debate about the luck of thirteen. The structure of the story also follows a numbered sequence. The story is told with a time traveler attempting to destroy a painting that stubbornly keeps reappearing in her own time. 

Another element that is a takeaway for my own writing is how she uses the repeated element of an object. In this case it is the painting. The painting is an anchor in the story and is referred to in each numbered section. Each iteration of the painting shows the title changes and the size depending on how the time travelers actions affected the painting. These are small details that contribute to the pacing of the story. You keep reading to find out what happens to the painting next. 

As you read, you wonder if she will succeed and destroy the painting eventually. Your brain also knows there are thirteen iterations and then some conclusion will occur.  There is also perseverance as a theme in this story. She doesn’t try to just destroy this painting three times (Magic 3 in fairy tales often) it is 13. There is a stubbornness there from the time traveler which we wonder about throughout the reading.

Time travel is always an element I am drawn to but I have seen it done well and done horribly in short stories and in novels. Satisfying time travel is hard to pull off. Time travel requires a relationship with magic for the author and the reader.

This story also reminds me of the connection between the writing practice we do and how that eventually emerges in a finished piece. Kathy Fish teaches an exercise in her flash fiction classes where you take a scene and write it three different ways. This story shows how an author can do this and make it a published story. This idea also reminds me of an earlier exercise in the course with the I don’t remember prompt and how a similar list shows up in Tobias Wolff’s Bullet to the Brain. I have learned to pick out some of these freewriting elements and how they show up in published pieces.

The characters are identified by their labels in this story, not by name. The names do not matter in this story and gives the reader a bit of distance. The painting itself falls into this category for me as well. The descriptions of the people are tight and pack a lot in a few sentences. For instance: 

He is so young, the artist, a white smooth face in the dark of his walk-up. She supposes this will be easy-from the empty, hungry tilt of his face, to the stooped posture from painting under this sloped attic roof.

The artist looks at her aghast but defiant. The artist knows his way around this kind of truth.

Another pacing technique I noticed is shown in section seven through ten. As the reader is moving through the destruction attempts, this section is written in two sentence bursts with repeated phrasing. This reiterates that the painting still exists and you can feel the frustration of the time traveler’s efforts.

Seven: The time traveler sets fire to the unfinished painting. The painting is still there.

Eight: The time traveler pours acid on the unfinished painting. The painting is still there.

Sparks is a short story writer that achieves a satisfying ending sometimes with unanswered questions which is a reason I read this type of story in the first place. Kelly Link is another author that does the same. Link is more blatant in her “unfinished” endings and has been unapologetic about it.

Thirteen Ways is a story I feel is satisfying but also has sticking power.  When I first read this story I kept coming back to it. I felt a connection to these characters and the frustration from both sides.

I appreciate the style Sparks writes in and underline many of her sentences.

Here is a sentence I love from section Thirteen:

She was more in love with life than with him-she’d never have believed how black and long the days could stretch over her, mean and empty, like shadows in the winter.

I would love to hear your impressions of this story and lines that popped out to you. This is a piece I have used to teach short story to my middle school students along with Neil Gaiman’s Click Clack Rattle Bag. 

I hope you enjoyed it and found something in it for your own writing.

Need a writing prompt today?

I am sending out a writing prompt for the last 100 days of 2020!

Here is today’s:

If you like this prompt come join my Patreon and have them delivered to your inbox every day!

Six Ways To Be A Better Writing Teacher

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I have been able to attend several writing conferences through my work over the years. One that had profound impact on me was the writers at work hosted by Ruth Culham in Sun Valley Idaho. I did not know the landscape could be so beautiful in a place I associate with potatoes. This education celebrity met with her small circle of authors every year to plan workshops for the year. Then she opened it up to other educators. The travel there had been adventurous for me with a small plane flying through a thunderstorm. It reminded me of the first time I was on a plane when I was 6 years old.

One of the speakers was Ralph Fletcher. He talked about how all teacher needed to be a writer with a lowercase w. The only difference between a writer with a capital and lowercase w is that capital w writers get paid. If you write, you are a writer.

As teachers, we need our students to learn to write in order to express themselves. I have found through my coaching and my own education experience that writing scares the hell out of most people. There is not a lot of instruction in writing in teacher prep courses. Why would you expect your students to do something that you are unwilling to do?

My Action List:

  1. Bradbury Challenge
  2. Unpack the Text
  3. Learn Through Your Ears
  4. Write in the Edges
  5. Challenges
  6. Join a group of creatives or writers

Bradbury Challenge

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Ray Bradbury said read one poem a night, one short story a night, one essay a night, for the next 1,000 nights.

This is his formula for an MFA. It works.

It is impossible to not be a better writer if you follow this formula. Read what you like from authors you like. It does not have to be any way connected to the grade level you teach.

recommendations:

Essays: Natalie Goldberg, Ray Bradbury, Zadie Smith, David Sedaris, Roxane Gay

Short stories: Nancy Stohlman, Kathy Fish, Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link

Poems: Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Naomi Shihab Nye

Unpack The Text

When you read a piece you particularly write then study it. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What works in this piece and how does it make me feel?
  2. How did the author achieve this feeling in me?
  3. What are my favorite lines?
  4. What can I try in my own writing that the author does?

Action: Write something inspired by the text you studied.

Learn Through Your Ears

One of the ways I take advantage of extra time is to listen to podcasts. I love writing podcasts in particular. I listen to podcasts mostly in the car and during workouts. There is a rotation but I always learn something.

Favorite Podcasts:

  1. Why is This Good? Naples Writers’ Workshop
  2. How Do You Write? Rachael Herron
  3. The Writers Well Podcast J Thorn and Rachael Herron
  4. How Writers Write
  5. Stop Writing Alone Nicole Rivera
  6. Qwerty Marion Roach Smith
  7. Fierce Womxn Writing
  8. Good Life Project
  9. Any podcast with Karissa Kouchis as a guest.

I also like audio courses. I have been listening to Tony Robbins and his Personal Power 30 day program and his Beautiful State training.

Listen to what fuels you and write down the memories and stories that come to mind as you listen. Write about those ideas.

Write in the Edges

I learned a long time ago that if I want to make sure I do something, I have to schedule it.

Write now, open your planner/schedule and plan a 10 minute writing time for the next 7 days.

During that time write:

  1. A memory
  2. Whatever comes to mind
  3. The story about one of your notes
  4. A reflection of a favorite line from something you read
  5. A new story based on a title of something you have read
  6. Morning Pages
  7. Anything in response to a journal prompt
  8. How you are feeling in that moment

My advice is also to carry a notebook and write down ideas that strike you, an overhead conversation, an interesting detail, a 5 senses description of where you are throughout the day. I strive for at least 10 snippets a day.

If you don’t like the notebook use a note taking app on your phone. I am partial to Google Keep. It backs itself up (I lost a whole note app full of gems I can never get back – a whole other story.) You can share notes and also easily make it a Google Doc. You can also use voice to text in this app which works for me when walking or driving. If you run and try to talk there are weird connections of words the device will pick up!

Challenges

Challenges give me a structure and a schedule. There are small challenges and large ones but I gravitate to 30 day or 100 challenges. Some examples are: Storyaday May and September, NANOWRIMO, #the100dayproject, Five Minute Friday (FMF), and Two Writing Teachers blogging.

Storyaday: This challenge is hosted by Julie Duffy and it is just what it sounds like: one story a day for the month of May and/or September. I have challneged my middle school students to do this challenge as well.

NANOWRIMO: National Novel Writing month. This challenge is to write a 50,000 word manuscript in the month of November.

#the100dayproject: A creative challenge that starts at the beginning of April. The artist creates something every day. In 2020, I wrote a random sentence every day and am creating a short story based on these sentences. Some people do post it note drawings, or doodles, or paintings, or 100 word essays, or poems. It is up to you!

FMF: Hosted by Kate Motaung Kate posts a word on Friday with a great visual. You write with this word for five minutes.

Two Writing Teachers Blog: Every Tuesday, teacher writers post on their own blogs and link up on the TWT blog. In March there is a daily blog challenge where there is support and lots of comments.

Join A Group

There are lots of groups to choose from. Lots of time if you take a class or workshop you can find people you want to continue to talk to after the course is over. There are many writing groups online that are more public like Twitter and Instagram.

There are communities you can join such as Storyaday Superstars, Ninja Writers, Sarah Selecky Writing School, Teachwrite, and Jackie Aston. Almost every author you follow has a connection to a community somewhere. I found Storyaday by Googling several years ago. Find your people!

The point is you want to find a group that is nourishing to you. Some are paid, some are free but you may have to try a few before you find the one where you fit.

Connection

After you try one or all six of these ideas, your brain will start to make connections to how this translates to your classroom. It can even be one of the things you write about during your scheduled 10 minutes.

If you write, you are a writer.

Your students will listen to you more as a model of being a writer rather than being someone who just talks about writing. There must be action.

Next Right Step

Make a change in your writing life today. Write something. Buy a notebook and a pen you like.

Your students will thank you.

Sign up for my newsletter here.

My 5 Favorite Newsletters

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1

Half Baked Harvest

https://www.halfbakedharvest.com/nine-favorite-things-150/

One of my favorite messages on Sundays are the Nine Favorite Things post from Half Baked Harvest. The photography is beautiful as well as the recipes. Fair warning: Scrolling through will make you hungry.

2

Writers Write - Daily Writing Links

A daily newsletter with interesting content. There are writing tips, vocabulary words and a writing prompt every day.

3

Every two weeks a new post comes out from Sarah. Always interesting and well written.

https://www.sarahseleckywritingschool.com/letters/

4

This newsletter is always full of great thoughts and links.

5

This newsletter is one I refresh my inbox hoping it will show up to read it. It is always honest and worth the read every week.

https://mailchi.mp/5f7876dd1f84/sundaynightnewsletter

+1

Of course, there is my own! If you like my writing and want to know the latest news from me please sign up for my newsletter! Usually, it comes out on Fridays and whenever there are special announcements!

Fire #SOL20

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It is summer. It is the season for heat. Wisconsin has been providing temperatures in the 90’s the last couple of weeks. It doesn’t stop me from action whether that be writing or running.

What is getting you fired up?

As always, I am doing a lot of things at once. It is how I work. After much deliberation to what the right time was I put together a collection of my short stories for Amazon. You can find that here.

Why Is Life So Hard?: A Short Story Collection by [Tammy L.  Breitweiser]

I am fired up about my health. I am eating healthier, following a plan that works for me and settling into a lifestyle rather than a diet.

I am fired about about school in the fall. I am learning about what e-learning should look like (just in case) and working on activities and units for my K kids.

I am fired about writing. Daily writing and working with my communities is exciting. I am listening to podcasts, rereading Big Magic, and taking notes on my walks and runs. I am finding new podcasts.

One I will recommend is Cutting Chai Stories. You can find that here.

Cutting Chai Stories

You can now listen to my podcast on Spotify too.

With my coaching program, I am doing lots of work around identity. This is working for me in a career sense and also a writing sense. Lots of exploration for me and thinking.

Lots of exciting things happening in this season of summer. I am trying to get as much joy as possible!

What is firing you up?

Monday Morning

A Story and a Prompt for You!

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It’s Monday. It’s summer. There is a laid back feeling even in the times of the Corona virus.

Yesterday was filled with writing, running, a coach session, and great conversations. It was also a reminder that I am too hard on myself and I am impatient.

One of the takeaways from my coaching session yesterday was that I light up when I talk about the workshops that I teach and the adventures with my kids. I will be sharing more about those two areas of my life in my newsletter and this blog in the coming weeks.

If you still need to sign up for my newsletter, you can click here!

This week we are taking the kids canoeing on the Wisconsin River. We have tried to go before but have run into obstacles like a too high river in Indiana. Hopefully, no issues this time.

One of the best parts of the adventures with the kids are the crazy things they say that I write down. Every Christmas, we make a photo album of the year’s adventures. These are not always trips either. We play games and create things inside the house as well. The book is also filled with fun things everyone has said. Often you will hear someone say, “Put that in the notes!”

While in the car last week my youngest said randomly from the backseat, “It illegal to die in some places.” Which, of course, was met with, “WHAT?” In fact, this is true, and he learned it on YouTube. Someplace they were running out of graves and made it illegal to die, at least on the books. Then he called the graves, “grave houses.” This comment led to a discussion of how in New Orleans they bury people above ground.

I have a writing prompt for you today.

I have a book I ordered during the lockdown called Now Write! Fiction Writing Exercises From Today’s Best Writers and Teachers. I finally cracked it open last night and dove into an exercise. Every couple of pages there is a new prompt. I did one pertaining to surrealism by Laurie Foos. It is noted you can do this exercise with a group, or alone.

If you do the prompt on your own, you are not allowed to look ahead!

Choose a verb that ends in -ing, then a body part, and an inanimate object.

Go ahead…I’ll wait. Now write them down before you read on!

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Now, put your words into this sentence: After a long day of verbing, he/she discovered that his/her body part had grown insert inanimate object.

I had fun with mine and after a long day of transcribing my character had a mirror that had grown out of his arm. It led to a weird little story about being to infinitely able to see into illusions and dreams.

I have published my book on Amazon. You can check that out here.