3-2-1 Creative Sparks

3 Podcasts

The Secret Library Podcast

The new season started today and Caroline’s theme is the Nourished Writer. You can check out the podcast on most podcast catchers. You can click here for more information.

I always feel like I get deep advice and conversation from this podcast. It is one that I do not miss. I knew the new season was starting and kept thinking yesterday was Thursday because of it!

Keeping A Notebook

Nina LaCour is amazing. You need to listen to her podcast just to listen to her voice. It has a dream like quality that takes me to another place.

Her podcast is intermittent. During the pandemic she shared writing prompts and her feelings about the isolation with a spin off called Shelter In Place. She is real and honest. Another podcast I never miss an episode of.

The last couple are celebrating the publication of her new book, Watch Over Me, which is a ghost story. She read an excerpt and then talks about how she wrote that section and where the inspiration came from. It makes my writer heart so happy!

MFA Writers

I have been obsessed lately with MFA programs. This podcast is an interview format. An MFA student is asked questions about their writing and their program. How it works and details about workshops and boundaries pertaining to the individual program.

2 Writing Prompts

Set a timer for ten minutes. Let you pen move and do not censor yourself.

1 Book

Cait Flanders is an author that has a style of writing that is also magical. Her new book came out Tuesday and I am already a couple chapters in. I pre-ordered this book which is not something I do often.

Adventures in Opting Out cover by Amanda Sandlin

Writing Prompt and an Announcement

Starting on September 23rd if you join my Patreon community you will receive a daily prompt for 100 days like the one above. We have a Slack community as well so you can join other writers.

September 23rd starts a special time period – the last 100 days of 2020! Can you believe it???

The last 100 days is the perfect time to give yourself a challenge. You can join mine or create your own. I would love to hear what you plan to do.

Last year I vowed to do one yoga pose a day for the remaining 100 days of 2019. A friend wrote 100 word essays. The possibilities are endless. You could answer the same morning and evening questions. I follow Karissa Kouchis who is a national trainer for Tony Robbins. She has challenged herself to answer the same morning and evening questions for the next 30+ days for a training. I have been answering them in my journal as well.

What questions would propel you into a new reality if you committed to them for 100 days? One of the exercises in Tony Robbins Personal Power class is to construct questions you ask yourself every day. I have a list in my Google Keep Notes.

Here are the questions I am using right now from KK:

Morning:

  1. What are you most happy about in your life right now? How does that make you feel?
  2. What am I most proud of right now? How does that make me feel?
  3. What am I most committed to right now? How does that make me feel?

Do you see a pattern here?

Evening:

  1. What have I been given today?
  2. What have I given to others?
  3. What have I learned today?
  4. How has today added to the quality of the overall investment in my life?

Happy writing! Happy reflecting!

I would love to hear your ideas for the last 100 days. It is a perfect time for a self imposed challenge!

#IWSG September

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

September 2 question – If you could choose one author, living or dead, to be your beta partner, who would it be and why?
The awesome co-hosts for the September 2 posting of the IWSG are PJ Colando,J Lenni Dorner,Deniz Bevan,Kim Lajevardi,Natalie Aguirre, and Louise – Fundy Blue!

The schedule feels new for the month of September. In the Northern Hemisphere it is time for school. Labor Day marks the beginning of time that feels different. Summer days fade and all the color seems different. Nature begins to shift.

The day for me always begins with writing and coffee. Sometimes it is 15 minutes of writing and gulping down hot liquid because now I am bound by the clock more than my natural rhythms. Today it is more than two hours because I am up early. Lots of words and coffee both.

My initial instinct for this question are my go to favorite authors. Neil Gaiman and Kelly Link start the list. I am not sure I could sit with them and talk writing and not be intimidated. I am sure they are lovely people. I have seen them both speak. One of the best times I have seen Neil speak is with a video call with V.E. Schwab. The mutual admiration was adorable.

I have tried to locate all the talks Kelly has given online. I hope one day to travel to her bookstore in the East.

Another author I would like to sit down with is Amber Sparks. In these pandemic times I have been able to hear her speak on several panels about writing. I admire her writing and her style. Sitting across a table talking about how stories get onto the page would be thrilling.

In all honesty, sitting down with any writer who writes and talking about technique and how words get on the page is thrilling to me. I love that conversation almost as much as the writing itself.

For my writing class I have to prepare a short story show and tell. This title is perfect for September, isn’t it? I take a favorite story and examine the craft. How it is put together from my perspective. I am looking forward to this exercise. Taking time to look at a story line by line is like having a conversation with the piece itself. There is no way to know what the exact intent is of the author but I can have this experience with the story. It is a different type of experience I can sink into.

As an educator, one of the reasons I like to hear authors speak is to get the nugget about writing the story no one knows. It is why I love podcasts. I heard David Shannon, the children’s author speak many years ago and learned he always puts his little white Scottie dog somewhere in the illustrations of his books. When I told my students this information there was a “Where’s Waldo?” hunt for the little dog. It is fun and makes you feel like you are in an inner circle of writers.

The inner circle is a great place to be.

Happy Writing!

I would love to hear what your favorite short story is….

Weekend Coffee Share

A Cup of Coffee and a Conversation

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Welcome back to the weekend!

This has been a long week for me. It is the most I have been out of the house since March and it feels weird. I know that really doesn’t need to be said. It is an often expressed sentiment. I have learned I do prefer to be at home. I like the flexibility of being able to go to school in order to get materials or teach certain lessons.

What are you going to have today during our chat? I will have my normal black coffee. I have cream and sugar if you like. The coffee is hot! I am so glad you joined me for our chat today. I look forward to our time together on the weekends.

If we were having coffee I would tell you I went back to work on Monday. It was a day to work in my classroom. We are in person at the building but are only allowed to be without masks alone in our classroom with the door closed. The kids are attending virtually starting on September 8th. I struggle with the emotions surrounding this return. On one hand, I am glad to be back to a “normal” schedule but there are rules that I do not understand. Tuesday I was on Zoom all day. Literally. It doesn’t make sense to me why I have to be in the building when I was in a Zoom meeting for 7.5 hours. I can get a modified schedule but it has to be pre-approved and COVID related. Wednesday was a work day as well. Honestly, I cannot even remember what I did that day. I know I took down decorations from the last teacher. I put up learning target icons and threw a lot away. At the staff meeting we were told we are not allowed to have any personal furniture in the room. The earliest we will have students is the beginning of November.

There has been little conversation about what the virtual school day will look like. It seems every time we ask it is a slightly different answer. I am used to pivoting and am trying not to worry about what I do not know. I am choosing to deal with the new details as they present themselves.

I also have to go back to my question: How does this serve me? I can hyper focus on work and not get distracted. I have all my materials in one place. I will keep thinking on this path.

It is also confusing because on some of the days the meetings did not start until 8, but then I was required to be at school til 4pm. This was not clearly indicated and on two of those days I was there at 7:30 a.m. I am glad I only live 10 minutes away from my building but with all the change this is another irritant.

If we were having coffee I would tell you I started my day with the normal routine of writing and coffee first. This helps me start the day the right way for me.

If we were having coffee I would tell you I walked several times this week, but had to do it after school. It was hot this week. Dinners were the latest they have been all year as well.

If we were having coffee I would tell you it seems like a lot happened this week but there isn’t much to write about. I feel like the life that fueled me this week was after the afternoon hit 3:30 or later.

If we were having coffee I would tell you I started my Story Intensive class this week. We did introductions within the small class of 8. There were a masterclass for us to listen to and some lessons on freewriting. I will post my week 1 assignment later today.

If we were having coffee I would tell you I was on a celebration call for my Write Free class from Caroline Donahue. It was such a wonderful class and I recommend anything she does. She is offering the class again. She also does IG lives every Friday morning which are worth the time to tune in.

If we were having coffee I would tell you I received three letters this week! I was so excited to get happy mail.

If we were having coffee I would tell you I was a bit more vulnerable newsletter. I know I need to tell more of my story and why I do what I do. I was asked again this weekend, “How do you get so much writing done?” I plan to examine this idea and others more in depth in my newsletter. If you haven’t signed up yet, you can here.

How was your week?

What inspired you?

Until our next coffee share! Be safe!

Create An AWESOME Ritual

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Every August there is the feeling like air is slowly leaking out of a balloon. As each day ticks by on the calendar we get closer to the first day of school.

How do you get ready?

This year the world is not the same which is the perfect opportunity for you to create a new kick ass ritual. You need a series of actions that lead to going back to the school year.

I use EL education materials and one aspect of this curriculum is CREW. Crew is the term EL uses which I used to call Family Meeting. It is time about learning and relationships. A book was released and I ordered it right away. It should be here by Monday!

Back to school shopping: In order to be a happy writer and teacher I need supplies. I have many friends that do not even have kids who are thrilled all the supplies are displayed in the middle of all the stores.

I am going to buy some new school shoes. It goes back to going shopping with my grandparents. A new outfit too.

I will also search the names of my new students (when they are available!) I keep checking.

I will plan the first week of school and start making my massive pile of read alouds.

Another thing I am doing this year to connect my personal passions with my professional ones is starting a Patreon. I kept trying to figure out how to serve my readers and people in my professional circle in a streamlined way. I have been saying lately that my offerings are for “Teachers and Friends of Teachers”. It makes for the most interesting group and mix of life giving conversations.

There are 142 days left in 2020. I have going to do a #100writingpromptproject for the last 100 days. My supporters will get access to a daily prompt, an exclusive community, and write in times to get together with others.

I also am expanding my coaching services and workshops. Now all the information for my events will be in one place. I am super excited!

Check it out for yourself and see if anything resonates with you!

My questions for you today:

What are you currently excited about?

What steps can you take to make a new ritual?

Can We Talk?

How Verbalization Can Help Us All Be Better Writers

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Last summer I was honored to attend a literacy conference where Cornelious Minor spoke. I took copious notes and was able to have many conversations with colleagues in the evening. That is the advantage of being at a multiple day conference – you can chat with your tribe about what you learned that day and move forward with plans for the schools.

Over the last 25 years as an educator and attendee of conferences, I have learned to synthesize my notes at the end of the day. I read back through them and fill in the gaps of half written sentences and ideas. I fill out more of the story that was shared I want to remember as an example for teaching later. I also make checklists of action items, things to further research, and people I need to talk to.

I learned Minor also takes notes in a real notebook and carries it around with him all the time when he does workshops. He is full of stories of living in New York and of students and teachers he has worked with. He had to scan all his old notebooks recently because the paper journals were taking too much room in their small NY apartment.

This conference was full of personal connections for me as well. Not only did I have the advantage of having great friends with me to confer with but also a consultant we had worked with for years. I also was able to meet someone in person from Twitter and a connection from a reading board we both had served on at different times. Overall it was three days of connection and learning.

I reflect on this experience this morning and wonder when this will happen again – if ever.

Another way I synthesize info is to skeleton plan a workshop before I even leave. I think about if I were teaching this material to others when I return to where ever I am going what would my spin on this look like. Since the beginning of my career I have paid attention to the nuts and bolts of how presentations are deployed. How did the presenter get everyone engaged? What questions did they ask? Did they do an ice breaker? How did they get people to talk? How did they build relationships? I compare these ideas to my own style and make notes about how it would look for me.

If I am taking a plane I always write and make action plans in my notebooks on the way home. There is something about being away that has a magic spell quality to it. When the wheels touch down at the home airport you have to return to the normal schedule. You fall back into natural tendencies and routine and don’t always use the new learning.

When I started teaching I also made a pact with myself that if I took time to be out of the classroom, I would make sure to use one thing the day I returned.

I do love to give presentations. I have had to move to a virtual world which bring its own complications, but I know how to pivot!

Writing matters.

It gives us tools to deal with struggle. Everyone has experiences and something to say. We have all been broken in some way or another. This applies to us (teachers, or friends of teachers) as writers and our students.

Writing gives us power over our struggle. A way to deal with it and reframe. To try out ways to tell it to other people. It is a powerful device of possibility.

As teachers we create what I call the “greenhouse effect”. We set up all the circumstances for students to have learning experiences with the most amount of obstacles out of the way. This is why we have huge classroom libraries, and over plan. Sometimes we do this too well. The goal is for students to have productive struggle in a balance as to not create frustration and shut down. A certain amount of struggle is needed for learning and retention.

Exercise:

Take out a notebook and a pen or your laptop. Set the timer for 7 minutes. Write whatever comes to mind on the topic of:

Possibility and Power – What do these words conjure up for you?

Do not censor yourself. Just write what comes. Keep your pen moving no matter what comes out.

Ok, the timer went off! You can stop. What did you notice about your thoughts are centered around these two ideas? How does that translate to your classroom?

Verbalization

When we are teaching, one of the most powerful questions we can ask is, “What do you think?” and then wait for the answer. When I have asked this question to students I get the blank stare and many times this statement: “No one has ever asked me that before.”

“What do you think?” is a question we need to be posing more often in order to give them writing practice. We ask students to write a genre after giving only one or two models many times. This is simply not fair. Verbalization can allow practice 9-10 times before writing which gives them a much better opportunity to write a higher quality piece with more confidence.

Talking before writing helps students know what they want to write down. It takes practice to figure out what we want to say. (How many drafts of that email to your principal did you write?)

The person who is doing the talking is the one that is doing the learning. Think about the last time you were in your real life classroom. (I know…go WAY back…) who was doing the talking? In my coaching experience, I would venture to guess you will say the teacher unless you teach a curriculum like EL education where student talk is built in. This is a by product of feeling like there is never enough time. Teachers need to “cover” material for students to be exposed. The worst feeling in the world is to not get to a concept which we know is tested on the high stakes exam and feeling like we didn’t even give our students an opportunity to answer even in a minimal way.

A strategy to get them talking is to use what interests them. This can range from Pokemon to zombie ants. Get them excited and engaged and use that talk to your advantage.

Exercise:

Look at your phone and find a picture that is meaningful to you. If you were to share with someone why it was meaningful, what is the story you would tell?

Storyboards

What is a Storyboard? | Storyboard Template | Storyboard Maker

Another way I have encouraged talk before writing in my classroom is to use an idea I learned from Linda Rief. A simple storyboard of 3-6 boxes is a powerful tool for talk. I have students think of an exciting or an embarrassing story to tell their classmates. I set the timer for 5 minutes and have them sketch and stick figure out the story within the 3-6 boxes. Minimal words are used here. There is a limit of 2 words per box.

Then the student tells the story, using their storyboard to a classmate. The listener gives feedback to what they enjoyed about the story and asks questions about where they are confused.

After three rounds of this practice with different partners the students write their story. The amount of detail and flow to the stories after this exercise works wonders.

How could you provide more opportunities for talk before writing in your classroom? I would love to hear about them in the comments!

IWSG August

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

August 5 question – Quote: “Although I have written a short story collection, the form found me and not the other way around. Don’t write short stories, novels or poems. Just write your truth and your stories will mold into the shapes they need to be.”
Have you ever written a piece that became a form, or even a genre, you hadn’t planned on writing in? Or do you choose a form/genre in advance?

I have always been a writer but through my narrow writer experience I thought I had to write a novel. I had tried many times before finally figuring out flash and short stories were my favorite medium. I finally listened to the right podcast and found my tribe!

This summer the phrase, “Truth is always the best story.” keeps coming up. It has surfaced so many times I know to pay attention. As a fiction writer many of the stories I write are based in truth with the reality skewed a little. The characters feel my feelings similar to spaces I have been in. The settings are places I have been with the details changed to bend to my will. Why is it always the places we have been (and not currently in) are so much easier to write?

One of the reasons I love short stories is because I am able to play with the form. I have written stories in the form of job postings, mad libs, and recipes. I have written Twitter length stories and ones comprised of random sentences over time. No writing is wasted I have learned and many lines I have come back to that have marinated over time.

I never get bored writing or reading short stories.

There is magic in an author taking a story and weaving magic in a few 100 words. I have many models of great writing and I study them. I do not read in the same way anymore. There is pleasure but always intention to learn something new now.

One of my favorite things about writing is that it surprises me. I swear by freewriting for everything. If I do not know what I am thinking about a situation in my life I freewrite. It opens my eyes and helps me get out of my own way. I have learned to write and let it flow without censoring. Often a line or a word will appear on the page without conscious thought and it is a delight! When a description comes out in a unique way or a memory is triggered it is a delightful writing sessions. There are also those moments where I write a short piece and know I have another one that will go with it perfectly in the drive.

Short stories have a sense of mystery and uncertainty. Kelly Link is the master of short stories that do not answer all your questions. You are left wondering. A great short story is the one that stays with me and I keep wrangling with it to figure it out in a satisfying way.

As a writer this is part of my service to my readers – to make them think and feel something different than before they read my piece. I am always striving to do it better.

Can I Ask You A Question?

An Examination of Interrogatives

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Questions and ideas should be the ax that breaks open the frozen sea within us.  -Kafka

How much thought do you put into the questions that come out of your mouth? Do you write out questions to ask in your classroom? Your journal? Are you on automatic pilot?

I love great questions personally and professionally. As an introvert I like to have an ice breaker question ready when in a social situation. I do not mind silence, but I have noticed people around me do not. I am not a fan of the typical, “What do you do for a living?” question. One of my favorites comes from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron which is, “If you could live 5 imaginary lives, what would they be?” I have found this question leads to all kinds of interesting conversations.

Another conversation question I like is: What is inspiring you lately?

In the classroom, I often plan out higher order questions I want to be sure to ask. The lower level questions come to mind more easily but lessons need to contain more than just surface level content. According to research, teacher questions should be varied and from several category types according to Bloom’s Taxonomy in order for them to be effective. These categories are familiar to every teacher I know: knowledge, comprehension, application, synthesis, analysis, and evaluation.

I always love the questions that show how students make connections I would never think of. Connection to other subjects and the world in my experience yield the most interesting conversations. The more questions they students ask, especially the ones that the teacher cannot answer, show students how to research and inquire deeper about their curiosities.

I have found the most effective questions can come from students by having them write questions for each other. I have a space on my board where I pose interesting questions to my students. I love when they suggest one for the next day.

With the high stakes testing becoming the norm, DOK or Depth of Knowledge has been my go-to sentence stems for teaching and coaching. A simple overall breakdown looks like this: DOK 1 have only one answer. DOK 2 you must use information or a concept and usually there are two steps. DOK 3 requires reasoning and usually a more complete answer requiring steps DOK 4 requires synthesis and making a judgment -it requires investigation.

Another simpler method to help teachers if the DOK levels are overwhelming, is “thick and thin question stems” seen below. This is also a great way to teach students to write more robust questions.

Life is better when you ask better questions to others and yourself.

Let’s Talk About Cold Calling

If cold calling is done correctly, it is not a punishment. Many teachers and adults in workshops use it as a tactic to try to control the room by shaming someone who is not paying attention. Don’t do this. It does not motivate anyone to answer you moving forward.

The culture you create in your classroom feeds how your students ask and answer questions. If risk and curiosity is nurtured in the learning environment then they will ask and answer. If you have to shame students into answering your questions, I would examine the engagement and interest level of your lessons.

As a coach I have said many times: Sometimes it is a teacher problem, sometimes it is a student problem and sometimes it is both. Own the areas where you need to improve in order to reach your students.

Cold calling is designed to be a positive technique. You can read more here about it used effectively from Doug Lemov.

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What are your favorite questions to ask? What is inspiring you lately? I would love to hear in the comments!

Life Experiments

How Trying Something New Can Help You Be A Better Teacher

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Someone who follows their curiosities is far more interesting than someone who does not. Life experiments are fun challenges that allow you to play with an idea.

I love to read life experiment memoirs. A.J. Jacobs has made a writing career out of this idea. He tried different skills or lifestyles and writes about it. The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell is also one of these books. Another is The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store by Cait Flanders. I find these books inspiring to try something new.

Several years ago I went to a conference (will these even happen anymore in real life? Jury is still out…) and the speaker talked about an experiment with questions.

I love great questions. They lead to fantastic conversations and insights. Questions are great ice breakers and I have used ,”What music are you listening to in your car right now?” and “If you could live 5 imaginary lives, what would they be?” I even did a question and answer experiment and wrote about it using the 36 questions that lead to deep connection.

Inspired by the conference, at the next workshop I taught I only asked questions. I made no statements at all. i answered all questions with a question. In theory, this seems like a simple task. Humans like validation I learned. I wanted to see how my teachers would react if I turned everything back on them. Part of my personality is to be the person who gives a direct answer and my teachers know this. It isn’t always the answer people want, but it is the honest one. Many teachers come to me as a coach wanting me to give them permission to do something. In this meeting, I answered every question with a question and it drove them a little nuts. There was some anger in spurts as well. Some questions I asked were simple, “Well, what do you think?” and “How would that look in your classroom?” Finally at the end I told them what I had done. They were relieved and then we discussed how much we rely on validation and feeling seen with answers in workshops and even conversation. They talked about how they felt during the meeting and couldn’t pinpoint what it was that was making them uncomfortable. The questions made them feel unsure about what they were contributing. It was exhausting and I haven’t tried it again. Some of the teachers turned the tables on their students and asked only questions within the next week. It allowed focus on asking great questions in the classroom too.

Following your own self imposed challenges can lead to some fun. I have done challenges like eating vegan for two weeks. I learned I love cheese on my pizza and don’t want to give that up. I also learned how much dairy is in processed food that shouldn’t be – like lentil soup. I read labels much more carefully now.

Summer break allows me to experiment with time. Every summer there is always a reading project. One year, I read books only in one genre and another a whole author’s backlist. I have written many times about my Bradbury Trio challenge. Ray Bradbury, the famous brilliant author, said to be a better writer a short story, a poem, and an essay before bed. This experiment has changed the way I write. The input of wonderful writing and structure has shaped my owns words on the page and I am grateful to all the writers who are my models.

Last summer I imposed “The Writer Schedule”. I imagined what my schedule would look like as a full-time writer and followed it. My first thoughts are about creation in the morning. I wrote short stories and submitted them. I revised my novel. I entered contests. I also observed the world, created experiences, wrote at the coffee shop, made trips to the library and used bookstore, read, listened to podcasts and wrote down these impressions. There was also time for writing conversation with other writers I know. I recorded my wild life as Mary Oliver would have wanted me to. There were also naps. Many details made it into stories and some were just for me in my notebooks.

What experiment will you try?

Ideas to Try to See What Happens

  1. Copy a poem every day in your notebook
  2. Declutter one item per day for 30 days
  3. Perform a random act of kindness for 30 days
  4. Journal every day
  5. No social media for a week
  6. No reading for a week
  7. Walk in the forest
  8. No coffee for a week
  9. A news fast
  10. Cold shower for 3 minutes to start your day
  11. Buy nothing new for a month
  12. Go ziplining
  13. Rent a canoe
  14. Try a weird fruit you never have (you may have to YouTube it to figure out how to eat it!)
  15. Compliment a stranger every day

Growing and sharing these stories with your students is fun. Seeing their reactions to something they didn’t expect you would do is a glorious feeling. Even if the experiment doesn’t go well, you will always get a great story out of it!

I would love to hear which experiments resonate with you. Do you have one I haven’t thought of? Let me know in the comments.

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.

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