The 20/20 Experience

Having student writers connect to the strategies of a contemporary singer can inspire some to do the work to make their writing better. Justin Timberlake is my new inspiration for writing.

While on a long drive recently, I was listening to a Ryan Seacrest’s interview of Justin Timberlake regarding Justin’s recently released 20/20 Album.


What a brilliant album title. What struck me is how Justin came up with the title for his new album 20/20. He said, “This is music you can see.” My understanding of that is that music that you hear is to be really seen and experienced with another sense – that of sight and visual recall.

Isn’t that how we want all of our writing to be? Not just read – but experienced through our sense of smell, taste, touch, hearing, to connect with the reader at a deeper level – to connect with the emotions and memories of the reader?

head and heartTo connect to the emotions of a character, I always taught my students that characters in their writing need to share from the head, their intellect, as well as the heart, the emotions. In fact, I would have them sketch a quick gingerbread body shape and put a heart and a brain in the appropriate spots. Then I would have them draw a line from each organ to what line/s of dialogue or what line/s of narrative would connect the reader to each of these response areas. This seemed to get the results I was seeking.

Connecting with responses to the intellect always came easier than connecting to the emotions. Digging deeper requires more evaluation into the vulnerability of a character.  Digging deeper to reveal emotions is always a risk but a risk worth taking as it makes writing the 20/20 experience that readers crave.

Thanks JT for your current inspiration.


Creative Silence

I just finished reading Wallace Stegner’s 1971 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Angle of Repose.  I so enjoyed. Others did as well as it was voted one of the top 100 novels about the West by the San Francisco Chronicle.  Angle of Repose

This book takes place in various early mining communities of the late 1800’s. The main character is a displaced Victorian artist and Easterner, Sarah Ward, an educated artist who married a mining engineer and unwillingly moved out west from mining camp to mining camp in support of his career.

Stegner’s novel is based on the letters of artist, Mary Hallock Foote, who married an engineer and lived and wrote of early Western mining life. Foote was an accomplished artist, illustrator, and writer whose works appeared in many magazines of the day, including the Atlantic Monthly. Stegner quoted from 35 of her over original 500 letters and sketches in the mountains around Colorado, Idaho, and California to create the voice of Sara Ward.

 Mary Hallock Foote

An excerpt that really spoke to me was Stegner’s description of the silence of Sara’s surroundings: and outside the silent, house, the silent moon-whited mountains, the vacant moon-faded sky. No cry of bird or animal, no rattle of hoofs among stones, no movement except the ghostly flash along the surface of the river, no noise except the mutter of water as muted as ruminations.

 Stegner goes on to contrast Sara’s silent environment to that of the 1970’s: 1970 knows nothing about isolation and nothing about silence. I so agree:  In our quietest and loneliest hour we have continual background noises vying for our attention. Even the hum of fluorescent lights invade our silence without our even knowing it.

What does silence do for a writer? I write best when background noises create isolation from the concerns of daily life which tug at me. Actually, one of my favorite places to write is in the car on long trips with my husband. When we run out of interesting things to chat about – which doesn’t take long on some trips – the hum of the road invites my brain to engage in random thoughts that soon burst into a whole.

I have to jot these ideas down else I forget them when life intercedes. I’ve actually written a rough draft of my next children’s book on my iPhone as we traveled down the highway.

What about you? Where do you create best? How does silence play into your creativity?

Esbru and Revision Strategies


Wednesday, the Esbru, the Empire State Building run up takes place this Wednesday in New York City. Kelly Ripa, of Live with Kelly and Michael, will participate as will many others who will run up the 1, 576 stairs in 86 flights in dark, cramped, oxygen limiting conditions to raise funds for Multiple Myeloma Research and other worthy causes. I say bravo to them for their single-mindedness and dedication to this task.  From what I’ve read, success in this task requires the use of a variety of training strategies

newyorkageempirestatebuildingrunup01-w440Strategies benefit writers in their climb to the top as well. Last week, when presenting my children’s book at a K-8 school, a 7th grader asked me what is harder – writing the beginning, middle, or end of a book. I responded that the middle is the hardest and qualified it with “actually, the revision of the middle is the hardest. Writers usually know where they want a piece to begin and end, but getting the delicious details and connections right in the middle is the hardest.  Revision is a beast that one must constantly try to harness with a variety of strategies.

Some of the revision strategies I find helpful in my race to perfect my writing include the following:

Reading a piece out loud is a favorite of mine. I used to advise my students in testing situations to pretend they were sitting in our author’s chair sharing with the class, and to read their piece out loud – inside of their own head – so as not to disturb others. Otherwise, I suggested that they really read the piece out loud. So many glaring errors appear during the out loud reading of one’s work. This reading aloud is like a team that supports any competitor whether it be a race or a creative task.

Another favorite revision strategy of mine involves bouncing ideas, or sections of my writing off of others. Their input and honest feed back often prompts such additional creativity for me. The right person must be picked for this task. Having one say, “That’s really good,” is not helpful to a writer. I trained my students to respond with specifics about what they liked thought lacked details or proper connections in a piece of shared writing. I also reminded them that listening or reading a piece for revision is not the same task as being asked to edit a piece. It is so much easier to correct punctuation and spelling than to really get to the heart of what needs to be fixed about the writing. This frankness and specificity is what helps me improve my writing. Don’t you agree?

A final strategy that I use throughout the writing process is to carry my idea everywhere I go. I keep the piece front and center in my thinking and jot ideas down for revision on the notes section on my smart phone. Some of the best ideas come when I’m listening to presentations or seminars on a variety of topics. It just seems that when my brain’s energy moves on to direct itself to other tasks, fresh creativity sneaks in the other side of my brain. Once again, I try to hold on to the idea long enough to politely jot it down on my phone while not disturbing the speaker. This strategy keeps me pumped up and keep my eye on the prize of writing my best piece.

These are some of my most productive strategies to climb to the top in my race to improve my writing What revision strategies work best for you?

Children are Real Writers

A recent incident in California highlighted the value of children’s writing.  It seems two cousins wrote a book of 157 rules to live by, and then lost it in a Wal-Mart parking lot. A young worker who retrieves carts found the book, recognized its value, and advertised for its owners.

Now that girls and book are reunited, I hear that publishers are seeking the rights to publish the book of heartfelt rules like, “Don’t bite the dentist,” and  “Don’t keep saying please, if someone says no.” book of rules

Just like all real writers, these girls wrote about what they know best: their rules were gained from their life experiences and the advice of their parents. Like all real writers, these girls developed the skill to closely observe life around them.

As a teacher, these are the skills I tried to hone in my students. This kind of teaching takes time, but the benefits pay off. You may have seen post of my students’ work in my blog before; they wrote some amazing pieces – and they valued themselves as writers.

Teaching students to be real writers can come very early. I recently helped my seven-year-old granddaughter write some poems inspired from her Christmas book, Where the Sidewalk Ends  by Shel Silverstein.  See if you think she’s a real writer, too.

 Racing ©

by Delaney

Depends on if the

Judge is fair.

Depends on the

Sneakers you wear.

Depends on if

They count the nose.

Depends on if

You have long toes.

Depends on if

The track is square.

Depends on if

There’s dusty air.

Depends on if

You are not fat.

Depends on if

They put down a mat.

The race is won

By the raciest one.

The Groomer ©

by Delaney

I do not want my fur to go.

I do not want my nails cut low.

I do not want my long ears shaved.

I do not want my body bathed.

I do not want to have to wait

Locked up in a tiny crate.

My mom arrives

And hugs me so

All my worries

Far to go.

Practice Economy in 2013

I love estate sales although they sometimes reveal too much about the owners who left behind these treasures:

I didn’t know my neighbors had such a wealth of treasures within their everyday looking home.

I wonder where these folks are now?

I wonder why no one in the family wanted these treasures?

I wonder why anyone would keep so much stuff?

Recently I attended the estate sale of an elderly couple who had hundreds of repeat items: over 200 fishing rods and reels, five washboards – who needs more than one? Do you use a separate one for colors and whites? Every clothes pin ever encountered, and a myriad of other treasures.

What caught my eye, though, was a bucket of seventeen, rusted hand saws. This bucket of decrepit repeats really spoke to me. What message was I to receive from this excess?bucket of old saws

Words are the tools of writers just as saws are to the carpenter. As a writer, I am reminded of the oft repeated criticism of my writing: “use fewer words” or “get to the point quicker.”  There comes a point where getting the right angle on an idea or a project requires economy. Choosing the right tool creates that economy. Repeated use of any tool lessens the value of the final product.

My New Year’s Resolution is to practice economy of words.

What writing goal do you aspire to in this new year?

Inspiration from Books

Beginning writers of all ages often don’t know how to channel their thoughts into a finished product. Using literature can often mold that creativity into a fine finished product. I’m not talking about plagiarism – just inspiration.

For example, I’ve used an excerpt from Nobel Peace Prize and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel’s memoir, All Rivers Run to the Sea to inspire both adult and student writing: Elie Wiesel

It was with the twenty-two letters of the [Hebrew] aleph-beth that God created the world, “ said the teacher, who on reflection was probably not so old. “Take care of them and they will take care of you. They will go everywhere. They will make you laugh and cry. Or rather, they will cry when you cry and laugh when you laugh, and if you are worthy of it, they will allow you into hidden sanctuaries where all becomes . . .” All becomes what? Dust? Truth? Life? It was a sentence he never finished.

 My students’ jobs were to finish that last sentence. After brainstorming all the things that words created with the letters of our alphabet allow us to convey, some inspired musings resulted:

Without the alphabet, emptiness attacks and wins. These 26 strong letters are my world, or at least define my world. These letters help me form the words that share who I am as a writer, a mom, a teacher, a lover-of-life. Words that began with “It’s a girl,” will define who I am when I die.

These letters form the words that allow me to help those I love:

“Talking about it will help the hurt go away.”

“Don’t worry, I’m here with you.”

“You will always be remembered.”

“Your life mattered.”

In the end, words formed from these 26 letters make all the difference.

What are some of the most important words these letters form in your life?

The Many Gifts of Playtime

Puzzles, Leggos, dolls, and oh so many more gifts provide opportunities for children to use that right-brain, creative side of themselves. Don’t forget to add the magical ingredient: an adult to “play” alongside the little one. 740577_giddyup_horsey

Besides being fun for the child, the adult has the opportunity to model the importance of using the imagination. The insights into your child’s amazing brain can be priceless with this investment of your time.

For example, during play time spent with my grandchildren, they created a scenario where the six-year-old was explaining many basics of our culture to the four-year-old who was supposed to have come from another planet.

Their simple dialogue was so pure and precious to hear. They discussed the meaning of love and family. His questions probed deeper into the basics and she came up with pure and simple answers. Their conversation went something like this:

He: What do you mean by love?

She:  Love is what families share.

He: What is a family?

She: A family is parents and children who take care of each other.

He: What are parents?

She: Parents are who brings babies home to take care of until they’re grown.

He: What’s a baby?

She: A small, helpless human who needs love and care.

He: What’s a human.

She: I’m a human.

He: Oh.

I felt honored to be included as a participant in this personal conversation. They were not the least hesitant to be open and honest in my presence because I’m in included in their inner circle so often.

My heart swelled with pride at the compassion and tenderness she showed about family values. His continued digging into the meaning of her words also inspired me with his logic and good listening skills.

I would have missed this opportunity to glimpse into their hearts  and minds if I hadn’t said yes, to the ongoing invitation to “play with us.” That’s another blessing of being a grandparent. That’s another reason I wrote the book.

I hope you also confirm the RSVP to this invitation as often as you can. The blessings you will achieve are more precious than gold.