There have been several times in the trajectory of my teaching career over 22 years that I have questioned whether I am in the right place and doing the right things. I’ve been struggling with this concept for quite a while.
Tuesday my mindset shifted while listening to Marc D. Hans. He is a man who does a lot and deals in Design Thinking. He is so much more than a teacher. After listening to him, I feel like I am in the right place again. I cannot put my finger on exactly what he said that resonated but overall he was INSPIRING. I needed to be inspired by someone dynamic. During the experiences he led us through I was ALL IN. It felt amazing and everything that he said made sense to me. I will be coming back again and again to my notes for the weeks to come.
5 Takeaways (there were so many more for me!)
Storytelling – every concept he talked about was connected to a story from his life. We were able to get to know him and he made his point. Even though I know that narrative is how our brains like to learn I often forget. Marc reminded me.
Be Comfortable with the Uncomfortable – Being an introvert causes me to push out of my comfort zone with people all the time. The first activity he did that dealt with our phones pushed me – but I did it and I didn’t die. I have to remember that sometimes the payoff is better than the uncomfortable feeling. This idea ties into me sharing my own writing too.
Make the SUBJECTIVE OBJECTIVE – naming things and examining exactly what it is can give perspective. Our perception of how people might react causes us to not start things because of our own limitations. We talk ourselves out of a lot and get in our own way. It reminds me to ask myself, “What is the worst that can happen?” Usually, it isn’t as bad as I first think.
Humans crave GENUINE EXPERIENCES with others. I vow to stop answering “Fine” or “Good” when people ask me how I am.
“Relationships are the difference between being a teacher and an employee.” How we care about the adults and students around us matters.
The literacy coach and consultant Lisa Vahey has been a jewel in my life over the past two years. There are many reasons for this fact, but the most prominent in connection to today’s post is that she has introduced me to people that I never would have met any other way. I never would have met Marc if it wasn’t for Lisa.
I am so glad that I was able to go to the workshop on Tuesday and Wednesday. I really left feeling inspired and I had some great conversations with teachers I work with.
I encourage you to look up these two people – you will not be sorry. You might even get inspired too!
As a person, I am scattered a lot of the time. Partly, it is my personality. Partly, it is because my life dictates it. Different personality traits tend to work within different roles I occupy in my existence. I believe quality work comes from focus. If I am having a hyper-focused period I can get a heap of work done and I feel on top of the world. Other times I am drudging through trying to find more time. In order for writing to be read, it has to get written.
I love hearing about other writers’ and teachers’ processes. I always think there is going to be a magical idea that will make the difference. I change processes always trying something new. It if works for you, keep it or modify it for you. Pay attention to what speaks to you.
As a writer, I distract myself with all kinds of activities but that can cost me. (Hello Twitter and random rabbit holes of information on the internet). You might be reading this blog as an aversion right now. So read the post and get back to work.
Let’s maximize our time and get more done with some tips about productivity.
Put these tricks in your bag of brilliance.
Trick 1: Don’t Spin Your Wheels
Don’t get in your own way and waste time with silly mistakes. Make sure you are following the guidelines for your project. Make notes for each project to focus on and remember where they are! Keep notes, resources, and research for the same project together. I often need to remember this myself. I have started writing short reminders at the top of the doc for the current project for quick reference that includes word count, graphics or not, research still left to do, and special instructions for this project.
Trick 2: Don’t Let the Good Ones Get Away
My ideas and interesting sentences come to me mostly at the wrong times – when I am in the shower, or driving or waiting in a line. Yesterday I had to wait for about 3 hours over the course of the day. Instead of getting irritated I researched and got some planning done. I think about what I am working on all the time, but my mind doesn’t stop. There is no perfect time for ideas to hit you. I am able to get more words on the page when I sit down to write them if I have been marinating on the ideas. I use the time to think about phrasing and connections to bigger ideas. More time thinking away from the computer means more completed projects. The magic doesn’t happen by accident even though we want everyone around us to think so.
Trick 3: Never Be Alone
Going back to the idea of being scattered – Keep a notebook with you at all times. I like paper for notes ideally but I spend a lot of time on the go. I have the Google Keep app on my home screen. I can write and send it to my drive easily. I don’t have to waste time rewriting those notes. You never know when lightning strikes and you have to be ready. There is nothing more frustrating than a great sentence floating away into the sky because you didn’t have anything to write it down with. As a juggler of life and time, we have to take advantage of time in the edges. Write it down immediately! Ideas fly away fast when they aren’t captured.
I like the KEEP app because you can open different notes for different projects and label it. I have a list I keep of 10 writing ideas. For me, 10 is the magic number. Not only does this help with the current project but if lightning strikes for a new idea you work on for another time. All great ideas must be captured!
Trick 4: Talk To Yourself
My thoughts run a little wild sometimes. I joke with my friends that I have too many drawers open in my brain at one time. You too? I have to use a dictation function when I cannot write, usually in the car or on a run for me. This one takes some getting used to. If you do not speak clearly sometimes you get some pretty weird word combinations. It isn’t all bad, sometimes I work the weird phrase into a piece!
Trick 5: They Are Called Deadlines for a Reason
No one wants to miss an important opportunity because cannot remember the date. Yes, we get busy but deadlines are deadlines. As a professional, you must turn your work in on time. Google or another calendar app can help block schedule time with a specific purpose so you get the work done. I schedule a lot into my calendar. In fact, I do this first thing in the morning. Then my phone alerts me to what I had planned to do that morning. Nothing calls a scattered mind to focus like an alert from yourself on your phone.
Trick 6: Sometimes it is a no pants day…sometimes it is not
I am a pantser no matter what I am writing. I like to write “from the seat of my pants”. I DO NOT LIKE TO PLAN, but I get more words done in a shorter period of time if I do. I make a lot of lists. I use a formula to figure out words per 15 minute chunk and allot time frames for myself. Then I put my ass in the chair so I write better, faster.
*Decide how many days during May on which you’re going to write.
*Write and finish a story on those days
My goal was to write 30 stories and I wrote 31 stories in May 2018.
Every June, Julie hosts StoryFest at her blog. You can check out some other amazing short stories by going there June 23-24!
Here is my Day 21 story for you to enjoy! Comments are welcome!
Man Murdered by Tree in Minnesota Forest
By Mountain News Service on May 21 at 2:43 p.m. Stearns County, Minn. —
Authorities are investigating the death of a man found with a bullet wound to the head in the Birch Lake Forest on May 20.
“We are shocked and saddened to confirm the death of Mr. Maxim Foster,” a spokesperson from the park office confirmed. “He was using dynamite to extract trees in an overgrown section of the forest when he was fatally injured.”
There had been previous reports from 15 years ago of an attempted murder and suicide in the Birch Lake Forest. A bullet from the attempted murder had been lodged in a tree and never recovered.
It is speculated the bullet fired from the tree when Mr. Foster blew the tree to bits. It apparently held a grudge and fired upon the man, killing him.
I attended a new writer’s group last night. There were 13 people attending and I was the only newbie. The group is well established with a 30 year history.
Introductions were made around the table and 6 people read their pieces of writing. The author reads their piece aloud and the rest of us follow along with a copy provided by the author. Sign ups are provided ahead of time through email.
There were a variety of readings. One woman read Chapter 4 of her novel, one woman read a poem about texting, one essay about a sale and snowmobile ride (quite funny), one essay on holding hands, a short story about a bazooka bubble gum knife, and an essay about fishing.
There was some light critique, some more well received than others. Copies are written on then passed back to the author. I figured this part of the process out after the 4th reading!
One author specifically asked for us listen for a particular craft aspect before he read which I appreciated. I always find it easier to give feedback when given a direction.
Overall it was nice. The meeting lasted 2 hours and is held in meeting rooms at the county library. It is impressive that a group that has been around for 30 years still has several of the founding members attending.
It was refreshing to hear other people read their work. With it being my first time, I just listened. There was some side conversation with the 3 ladies sitting by me which was pleasant.
Everyone talked about their writing as something they are really compelled to do whether paid or not. Several writers expressed their difficulty in finishing projects.I do believe it is the right group for me and I will be attending the next meeting. I have to pick something carefully for the first reading because my stories tend to be dark or strange, and I do not want to concern anyone. They need to get to know me a bit first.
As I was thinking about this new group I was reflecting on the writers group experiences I have had in the past. Most of my writer contact is online now. These other groups were not purely writing groups so in my mind I put them in a slightly different category than the one I attended last night.
More than 15 years ago I took a journaling class that was held at an independent bookstore I frequented. The group clicked so well we continued to meet after the official class was over. The leader of the group graciously opened her home and we meet for many years after that initial meeting. We met through births, sickness, the bookstore closing, and changes of jobs. The form of writing was informal so there wasn’t any critique. The food was always fantastic! Christmas time there was the best blank journal exchange you have ever seen!
I still talk to the leader of the group although the calls and texts span between larger and larger blocks of time. We even co-taught a journal writing class for young girls at the United Way. The leader and I attended a few writing events over the years but none of them ever felt right for us individually or as a pair.
I also was invited to join a writing event sponsored through a writing group 5 years ago. There were sessions on a Saturday morning. I met my friend Jane and started to meet with her Book Club but we didn’t talk about writing so much after that first event. We were both gravitated toward each other during the potluck after the sessions were over. We both liked what the other said when we intro-ed ourselves in the first session. She is a smart woman and always interesting to talk to, especially about books.
I hope this new group has the longevity of the other groups I have been honored to be a part of. I feel like it was the right time for me to find them. I will keep you all posted!
Shaunta Grimes is the founder of Ninja Writers. One of the articles on her Patreon (of which I am a supporter) and her Medium page is about how to change your writing in one hour a day. If you click on her name above it will take you to the Medium article.
She uses a simple acronym but it is powerful to me.
The idea is to do each of these 6 things for 10 minutes. Just 10 minutes…
R = Read
I = Come up with 10 ideas a day
T= Talk to people who don’t live with you
R= Regroup – review and plan
Writing and reading for 10 minutes a day isn’t normally an issue for me. I always have a notebook and book with me. If I am stuck without physical materials, I also have my phone which has my Keep app and Kindle app. Technology can be wonderful!
The I resonates with me and Julie Duffy’s idea sparks. As a writer, I am constantly observing and taking notes. I love it. It is fun for me. My notebooks are for idea gathering not really writing. The writing happens mostly on the computer. I have started writing a list of 10 ideas, which has worked well over the last 2 days.
T is the one I have the most trouble with. I could go for days without talking to people and be just fine. I can get away with texting which technically is talking to people. (wink, wink)
Exercise isn’t an issue for me usually either. I am a runner but have been opting for shorter runs lately since I have been so tired. I am really ready for the summer break and the break from driving. I walked the dog yesterday in the sun at the park and that was satisfying. I will be running with my daughter this summer more often so that is a good pattern to get into again. I am allowing myself to walk, and not always feel the pressure to run which will help my mental state.
The regroup section is the one I am working on this week. I do this mentally sometimes, but unless it is teaching I usually do not write the goals down. I have set some monthly goals for writing so will regroup at least at the end of the week to check my progress.
Routine is an interesting concept to think about. I do love routine but I also am a rebel. Just because the routine is good for me or it’s comfortable is the exact reason I go against it. I sometimes get impatient with the routine and do not take the time to enjoy it. I just want to get through it. It is something I am working on.
It was one more than my goal. I figured I would give myself one off day. I had so much fun I didn’t use my freebie.
What I Learned From Writing Everyday…Again
I participated in StoryADAY May 2018 hosted by Julie Duffy from storyaday.org. This is not the first writing challenge I have particpated in this past year. For those who do not know, November is not only known for Thanksgiving in the US but also for NANOWRIMO — National Novel Writing Month where thousands of writers challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in the 31 days. There are days that word count is easier to achieve than others.
Storyaday has the advantages of a Superstars forum (for a small fee) and daily prompts (for everyone). The Superstars have the bonus of videos from the creator with some further explanation.
The Superstars community and writers that commented on the daily posts were great. The camaraderie was amazing and there is a bond with people who you are accountable to everyday. There is a warm fuzzy feeling when you know other people are in the same situation as you are.
The idea that others were in the same routine as I was helped to motivate my writing the couple days I was reluctant to put pen to paper. There is comfort in the idea of other people following the same crazy plan that you are!
2. I like having conversations about writing. I seek out other Storyaday writers, Twitter writers and recently joined a real life writers group. Critique is nice, but not always the conversation I want to have. Through Storyaday we had three Zoom chats with Superstars and we talked about how we write and why. It was quite enjoyable.
3. Establishing the daily writing habit is good for me and my practice. I am more creative when I do a little per day. It is thinking and planning that helps the juices flow. I was always looking for a story spark and that habit has continued past the challenge.
4. I love monthly writing challenges! I participate in the TwoWritingTeacher blog challenge in March, Storyaday in May and NANOWRIMO in November. There is also CAMPNANOWRIMO in April and July!
5. The Storyaday prompts required me to plan more. I am usually a pantser — I write from the seat of my pants. I sit and write and just let whatever flows out materialize on the page. I thought about the prompt thoroughly before diving into the actual writing which made the words flow faster. With my long commute to work, I was able to listen to the prompt direction video and then think about my story beats and write it later in the day. This method worked well even if I just constructed the first couple of sentences.
6. A joyful part of the writing process for me was being able to combine ideas for stories I wanted to write with the prompt most days. It was satisfying to take a spark I had and mold it to the prompt idea which made it more layered and interesting and therefore a better story!
7. Many prompts were so much fun or effective I will come back to them again and again. I will also use some of them with students.
I love the idea of taking a random list of words and constructing a story.
I also enjoyed telling a story from 3 different perspectives.
The MICE prompt was new to me and I did some extensive research for this day.(Check out the Writing Excuses podcast for a great explanation)
One prompts was to take a story from earlier in the month and rewrite it from a different perspective. This prompt was surprising to me. I learned so much about the secondary character! I don’t normally gravitate toward this type.
Using prompts is not always a “writers block” solution for me. Just using them to start writing is a favorite practice of mine.
7. The StoryADay writing podcasts are awesome and batch listening to them is inspiring. They are the only writing podcasts I listen to over and over.
8. Morning writing is more effective for my personal routine. I could write later in the day but it was slower and felt more laborious. The flow was pretty steady in the morning but I believe coffee had something to contribute.
9.Most of the month I wrote on the computer. When thinking or planning to figure out what to say, I wrote longhand or sketchnote. To get words on the page and not overthink it, I type.
Writing Goals Moving Forward
Continue to write daily
Complete at least one short story a week
Visit the Storyaday.org website for Wednesday prompts
Submit 3 pieces monthly
Revise at least 2 days a week to prepare stories for submission
Remember the conflict!
Revisit all the prompts from May 2018 and rewrite all new stories. It is a writing experiment to see how different the stories would be!