When Writing Takes a Backseat – Author Toolbox

If your September has been anything like my September, then you have been a busy bee. School started, so my days are filled with teaching, lesson planning, and after-school activities. (Thank you #51Writers for today’s topic of Oxford commas. As you can see, I am definitely on #teamoxfordcomma!)

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Image from here.

The problem…

Okay, so we’re busy. What is the problem exactly?

My novel is suffering! That’s the problem. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t had any quality writing time since July’s Camp NaNo event. I was working on the second round of revisions for my paranormal mystery novel, and I’m still not finished.

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Camp NaNoWriMo

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still writing in order to use mentor pieces in my classroom, but that’s not helping my novel. Which leads me to the big problem… What do we do when our writing takes a back seat?

1. Figure out why you’re not writing.

When faced with several non-writing days in a row, take a few minutes to analyze the reason or reasons. Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do I have writer’s block(No, I know what I want to write next.)
  • Do I know which step of the writing process I’m on, or what I need to do with this step? (Yes, I’m working on revisions at the moment.)
  • Am I struggling to complete my first draft(No, my first draft is finished… This particular one is, anyway.)
  • Am I unsure where my brainstorming is leading? (No, I’m not working on brainstorming.)
  • Do I have all my writing tools available? (Yes, I have everything I need. I could probably use a bit more time, though.)
  • Am I simply busy with everyday life? (Yes! That’s it!)

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2. Stop feeling guilty for not writing.

That’s it. I give you permission to not feel guilty when you don’t get to write. Many people will tell you to write every day. Well, yes… That is ideal, but it’s not always achievable.

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Think about the goals you’ve set for yourself. Writing every day is beneficial. We all know that. However, if your past few months have been as busy as mine, then writing each day hasn’t happened.

It’s okay. Don’t feel guilty. Instead, feel excited when you do get the chance to write. Build up that momentum to hopefully continue to write the next day or even a few times that week.

If you keep attaching negative feelings to your writing (guilt), then writing will lose the thrill when you do get the chance to sit down again. Attach the positive feelings that made you fall in love with writing to begin with!

3. Write when you can.

My best writing time is in the evening when my kiddos are in bed for the night. As I determined above, my life is simply filled with all sorts of other tasks right now, so writing isn’t a top priority. (I can already see some of your faces…)

What do you mean writing isn’t a top priority?

It’s true. I don’t know about you, but I have a family. I have a day job. I have other tasks taking over my writing time. That doesn’t mean that I don’t write, though. Sometimes, in order to curb the feelings of guilt completely, you simply have to write when you can:

  • Wake up a little early.
  • Write during your break at work.
  • Write during your lunch break at work. (Don’t forget to eat, too.)
  • Write in the evening.
  • Write when the house is silent.
  • Write while you’re sitting in your car before you go into work (leave a little early).
  • Set a timer, and write for only that amount of time.
  • Set aside specific days, and write a few times a week.

The most important thing here is figuring out what works best for you. We all know that in order to become better writers, we have to write. Try a couple different things until something works for you. My big one lately has been the timer. Every ten minutes helps me get a little closer to the end of my novel.

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What is your point, exactly?

It’s okay to have some off days… Even when they all stick together and form off months. The trick is making sure that you are still writing when you can and feeling positive about the progress you do make.

Just be you.

Share with me in the comments: how do you handle writing when it takes a backseat to life? What do you do? How often do you still write?

Author Toolbox

This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, which is dedicated to helping writers become stronger and more confident in their craft. Click here for more information, to continue hopping through other posts, or to join in!

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2

Resources

Online Timer

Camp NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo

Book Review: Chasing Eveline

As you may have guessed from previous posts, I love Twitter. I have found wonderful writing communities, teaching communities, and people who share my interests, too. Every now and then, interesting tweets will pop up via one of the daily hashtags, and you will have no choice but to acknowledge them.

One such tweet entered my feed in early April from a new author (who also happens to teach and share a similar last name to mine): Leslie Hauser.

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Leslie went on to add: “I place a cupcake in every novel I write!” (Intrigued, yet?)

About a month later, Leslie was asking for readers: a free copy of her novel in exchange for an honest review. Her novel, Chasing Eveline, would debut a few months later (July 2017).

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Having already been interested in her writing, I agreed! Although I didn’t share how many times cupcakes were mentioned when I reviewed her lovely novel, I will share the review I wrote:

Book Review as it appeared on Goodreads

(I received a free copy of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review. I do not know her, nor have I ever met her personally.)

Book Review: Chasing Eveline by Leslie Hauser

Single parent. New best friend. Lost identity. Ivy Higgins has a lot to learn in Leslie Hauser’s new YA novel Chasing Eveline.

Ivy, a 16-year-old who still doesn’t know where she wants to go for college, is lost after her mother walks out of her life. She seeks answers in the lyrics of her mom’s favorite band, “Chasing Eveline,” a (fictional) 1980s Irish rock band.

After seeing her dad slowly become a new person these last two years, Ivy decides that she must reunite the band if she wants to find her mom, which she hopes will also reunite her family and help her father.

Ivy draws you in with her determination to put her family back together, a determination that drives her spontaneous decision-making. Some choices she makes are only half-heartedly supported by her new best friend Matt, who is still obsessing over his former girlfriend Charlotte.

One of Ivy’s wild ideas leads the duo on a dangerous path through the Internet, a place that isn’t as safe as she thought. Their adventure takes you on a spontaneous ride, complete with 1980s music and movies, tears you don’t see coming, and laughter, specifically at a hilarious – albeit slightly disturbing – zoo fundraiser.

Hauser hooks you from the first moment Ivy speaks of finding her mother, and she keeps you reading throughout Ivy’s journey of self-identity and discovery.

I recommend Chasing Eveline to readers who love to be surprised, who love music and movies, who are making new friends, and especially to readers who are trying to find a piece of themselves when a piece is missing.

Connect with the author:

I hope you get a chance to find all the cupcakes in Leslie’s new novel! Here are a few ways to follow her, too:

Website and Blog: “Writer of YA Novels”

Twitter: Leslie Hauser

Goodreads: Author Page

Facebook: Author Page

Have you read Chasing Eveline? Tell me about it in the comments!

Micropoetry When Life Is Busy…

School started here this week, so I’ve been quite busy learning new names and faces, teaching classroom procedures, setting up notebooks, and encouraging a variety of writing from the very beginning.

Since I’ve been busy with school, I haven’t been writing a whole lot… Okay, I haven’t been writing at all. I don’t have writer’s block; I’ve simply been busy. I have been thinking about writing, though. Does that count?

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These past couple days have gone rather well. Students are respectful and are quickly learning the classroom rules and procedures. They are eager to write, too. A few of them asked if they could take their writer’s notebook with them and write at home!

Of course you can!

Since we are focused on the beginning stages of writer’s notebooks this week and poetry next week, I’ve decided to share some of my poetry, micropoetry to be specific. I learned about this mini form of poetry via Twitter, where forming anything is done in 140 characters or less.

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Photo from here

 

I’ll share the poem and the corresponding  hashtag so you can see some of the different places to look for micropoetry prompts. I hope you enjoy reading these.

#MadVerse (and the photos that accompanied the prompt)

What do you see?
It feels like both halves
have been ripped away –
and exposed
to the world…

Lost in though
Train whistling
in the distance –
Star shining
in the sky –
Peace humming
in my mind –

Lashing out at
repressed memories,
unrestrained torture in
a bottle.

#BlackDahliaProse (and the photos that accompanied the prompt)

All of us making wishes
are simply blowing kisses
to the wind. Time to face
the winding wheel of Time,
and be free.

Heartache,
like a cold wind,
still shivers.
broken and alone –
waiting for the warmth
Time promises.

peeking out behind
the darkness –
is just the smallest sliver of
the sun –
suddenly gone again.

#DimpleVerse (and the photos that accompanied the prompt)

temper trapped in
a cycle of war –
eyes entranced by
the victims left behind –
time wasted as
another fuse is lit-

growls escaping
and time grows short –
anger is slowly
tempered by fear –

#TLPoetry (and the photos that accompanied the prompt)

You healing all my
broken thoughts and
shattered dreams
is worth more than
all the words
ever said to me

Jumped into
a book –
searching for
a new
Adventure.

#PoetryPortrait (and the photos that accompanied the prompt)

Somewhere
in the city lights –
Someone
sits alone and cries –

nothing matters but
the music of life –
time may pass and
people may die –
yet the words will
always live on –

#SenseWrds (and the photos that accompanied the prompt)

wrapping me
in a blanket of smiles –
never want to miss
those moments – all ours –

Missing home –
snow inching up
to my knees,
while I create three
orbs of laughter.

Thank you!

Thank you for taking the time to read a few of my micropoems. Were there any you especially enjoyed? Share with me in the comments! If you want to read more of my tiny poems, follow me on Twitter.

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Resources

Here is a list of all the creators of the prompts I use (when I use a prompt):

Writing Goals for the Classroom

We all know that goals are important in our lives; they give us a purpose. Students need that, too. They need a purpose in the classroom, one they choose.

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I’ve been incorporating writing goals in our class for the last couple years. They have changed significantly from when I started due to student feedback and my growth as an educator.

This year, these writing goals have changed again. This post is dedicated to sharing the beginning of this process, how it’s worked in the past, and how it will change this year.

“A long, long time ago…”

Okay, it wasn’t really a long time ago, but that song popped in my head when I moved on to this section.

What are writing goals? How does they look? Are these questions spinning in your mind right now?

When I first started using writing goals in the classroom, my purpose was to encourage a variety of writing. Students had six different sections on their goal sheet to work through.

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8th Grade student’s goal sheet from the first six weeks of school – 2015 school year

The top four sections (which can be modified for students who need modifications), were “free” in the sense that the teacher doesn’t choose the topics. The “Word Collector” part is based on Corbett Harrison’s Vocabulary Workshop.

The bottom two sections were assignments that students worked on in class, and they changed based on the unit we were in. Both of these sections encouraged the the writing process.

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Problem 1: As the school year progressed, I encountered the problem of students simply trying to fill up space without any cares toward the content or presentation of their writing. Paragraphs that should have had multiple sentences would be written in large print with only one sentence.

Problem 2: I also noticed that many students would wait until the last week of the grading period to complete their goals, which resulted in Problem 1 above.

Solution: In order to encourage students to take their time on pieces and use the entire grading period, I changed the goals again. Drastically.

“Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes/Turn and face the strange…”

I decided to keep with the musical headings. Music helps me through planning, so it fits, right?

At the end of that school year, I asked for student feedback about the writing goals. I already knew the things I wanted to change, but I wanted their insight, too.

  • “There were too many entries.”
  • “I never felt like I had enough time to finish what I started.”
  • “I didn’t like the limit in how many poems I could write.”
  • “We should get to choose how many entries we want.”

These insights helped show me how to change their goal sheets. Along with many other comments, students showed me the things that worked and didn’t work from their perspective.

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7th grade writing goals for the 4th six weeks — 2016 school year

As you can see, the format of the goal sheet completely changed. The calendar at the top served as not only a visual reminder of writing days, but it also served to help students keep track of their stamina over the grading period.

Each section of this new goal sheet was differentiated per each student’s needs and modifications.

  1. Stamina – dedicated to improving handwriting and writing daily (or semi-daily).
  2. Craft – dedicated to improving grammatical errors, which depends on skills each student needs to work on.
  3. Format – dedicated to improvement using the writing process. (The STAAR writing process I teach excludes the 2nd draft.)

Problem 1: Students wrote fewer stories, essays, and longer pieces.

Problem 2: Some students still waited until the last week to complete their goals.

Problem 3: I did not conduct regular student-teacher conferences to address progress in the craft section.

Solution: I again reached out to students, researched better ways to incorporate goals, and looked back at what did and didn’t work from my end. These wonderful goals have once again changed. I changed the goals a few times during the school year, which changed the goal sheet slightly throughout the year.

“I can see clearly now, the rain is gone/I can see all obstacles in my way…”

Okay, maybe I’m having a bit too much fun with the songs in my head… And I definitely can’t see every obstacle I could encounter, but I do know what I hope will happen.

Student feedback at the end of last school year helped me focus on what needed to be better.

  • “The stamina goal didn’t help me. I felt like I was just writing a sentence sometimes to get my day.”
  • “I didn’t like doing just one skill for the whole six weeks.”
  • “I liked the format goal, but some people chose easier ones than I did.”
  • “The revising and editing on the rubric should be part of the goals.”

I started researching different methods earlier in the year when students first started having issues with their writing goals. During this research, I came across Jeff Goins and his 3-Bucket Writing System.

Each bucket represented a different part of the writing process, and I wanted to see if I could incorporate this into writing goals since students wanted the revising and editing to be a part of their goals.

I added a bucket to his system and created a foldable that will help students identify which step of the writing process they’re on.

front and back

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Writing Ideas list to put under the foldable

As a writing teacher, I know students are constantly making lists or creating idea banks for when they don’t know what to write. The list above helps students take those ideas and write something with them.

I’ve used a version of this list every year, and students find it quite helpful. In Google Classroom, there is a student-created prompt list to help with generating ideas, too.

What can they do with these buckets, and how do they relate to this year’s writing goals?

I’m not sure why they look like different colors, but this document is front and back (I always use the back for the rubric to encourage responsibility). Click here for a Google Doc Copy of Goal Sheet.

On the front, you can see the incorporation of the bucket system. These sections are differentiated per student by allowing students to choose their own goal. Buckets 1 and 2 allow for us to focus on whichever skills we’re currently learning in class as well as the skills students already know.

There are still lines to fill in, which was a problem the first time around. The difference here is that every single line does not need to be filled.

For example: If a student chooses ‘7’ for their Bucket 1 goal, then they only need to complete seven different planning tasks. I would encourage them to leave the other lines there (instead of marking them out) in case they plan a lot more than expected.

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These goals also follow the S.M.A.R.T. Goals format. They are a bit ambiguous when it comes to the ‘what,’ but that is where student choice comes in.

  • Specific – Who: each student; What: differentiated per student, each section tells what is needed; Where: may work on in or out of class; Why: to improve writing skills; Which: minimum is the set goal, and maximum is more.
  • Measurable – Students can visually see when they’ve reached their goals, and there is a rubric with it.
  • Attainable – Each section must be reachable; there is no point setting a goal you’re not ready to reach.
  • Relevant – All skills are needed for class and writing in the real world.
  • Timely – Work on throughout the grading period, and due at the end. Students may need to set short-term weekly goals to complete their long-term six weeks goals.

“In the future when all’s well…”

School starts here next Monday (8/28), and we’ll set up our writer’s notebooks before we talk about goals.

The first few weeks —  During the first few weeks, we’ll work on different assignments in class that will help students complete items for each bucket. They will learn how to add it to their notebook and their goal sheet.

Student-Teacher Conferences —  One of my most successful years of teaching involved one-on-one conferencing. Students have what Corbett Harrison calls Sacred Writing Time. Students will meet with me during that time once or twice every two weeks in order to conference about their writing.

photo from Corbett Harrison’s website

Students should complete pre-conferencing before their day. During pre-conferencing, they will answer a few questions and find examples of each answer in their writer’s notebook.

  1. What are two things I’m doing well?
  2. Where have I worked on my “conference” skill, and how am I progressing with it?
  3. What is one thing that I don’t understand?
  4. Do I have any other questions?

Foreseeable Problems —  Not taking time to do the best work possible or waiting until the last week to complete goals.

Possible prevention for those problems — Since we are working on most of these as class assignments this six weeks, students will hopefully feel the need to do their best from the start. This will also keep them from waiting until the last minute. I’ll walk them through setting short-term goals to see how much they need to accomplish each week, which will also help encourage “timely” completion.

All in all, I’m looking forward to this new format, and I’m hoping that it goes well! I’ll definitely post an update sometime next grading period.

What are your tips and tricks for writing goals and writing in the classroom? Which resources do you use? Share with me in the comments.

Resources

I’ve already added the links above, but I’ll create a comprehensive list here in case you need it.

Corbett Harrison

Jeff Goins

Other Sites

5 Steps on the Journey to the First Draft — Author Tool Box

What can I share for this month’s Toolbox? What can I write about that could be even slightly helpful to other writers?

I’ve been trying to answer this question for a few weeks in preparation for this post, but I still didn’t have an answer until recently. Someone suggested I write a brainstorm about zombies… Well, zombies aren’t on the agenda this time; however, brainstorming was a great idea!

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This month’s toolbox will be dedicated to brainstorming, plotting, outlining, and all the little details that go into planning for a first draft — that is… if you’re not a pantser (someone who dives into the first draft without prior planning).

I’ll walk you through the planning process I took with my (yet to be published) first novel. Planning, like the writing process, is recursive — the appearance of linear steps doesn’t necessarily equal a fluid process, but a few steps do help…

1. Start with an idea.

No matter what your next step is, the first step is to have an idea. This idea can come from anywhere. You may have seen a cow while driving down the road or heard lyrics that spoke directly to your imagination. Maybe you were talking to your best friend during lunch and something at that moment stuck out to you.

Grab it! Take hold of that idea. See where it leads. My idea came from a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a poem asking a question.

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2. Take that idea and see what shape it takes…

That would make a great novel! I have an amazing story idea!

How many times have those words come out of your mouth? How many times have you remembered your idea over the next few days before it faded into the everyday world that is life, into the abyss?

Don’t waste any time! Write it down! Take that wonderful idea to your writer’s notebook, and see what you’ve got. Free-write as much as you can about all the possibilities swirling around in your mind at that moment. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous they sound — write them down.

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That is just what I did. On October 12, 2014, I wrote down the story idea that was zig-zagging its way around my brain.

Would I use everything I wrote on this page? No. I have no idea who “Darren” is anymore since he’s not part of the current round of revisions I’m on, but he was important at one time, which is all that matters. The idea is written.

3. Choose a direction… a path…

Now what?

Do you get stuck on this step? I did. I had never written a novel-length draft before, which meant that I had definitely not planned for one, either. How in the world was I supposed to do that? What was I supposed to do next?

Research.

There. I said it. This isn’t the kind of research you’d expect, though. It’s research into different planning processes for building up to your first draft. If you don’t know how to get there, the best thing to do is see how someone else did it. Right?

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So I did. There are so many different ways to plan a novel. Did you know that? Out of the numerous ways I found, I decided to choose Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method because it seemed the most straight-forward for a novice (and it was free…).

It took me quite a few tries with his first step, a one-sentence summary, because I couldn’t decide how old my MC (main character) was going to be.

More research.

Have I mentioned before how much I actually enjoy research? I really do! (Is that weird?)

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Around the time I was starting to plan, I’d read a new YA (young adult) dystopian novel, Rite of Rejection by Sarah Negovetich.  Because of this novel, I thought about my MC… Maybe she should be a young adult… Maybe she should live in a dystopian world… Maybe…

After my research, I decided Macy should be a teenager, but she wouldn’t live in a dystopian world. Instead, she would be the star of an epistolary novel, an idea that came to me during another free-write for ideas (see that recursive writing thing?).

I finally had “step one” of the Snowflake Method.

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4. Start outlining… possibly scene-by-scene…

The snowflake method will eventually lead you through meeting your characters, discovering their motives and end goals, and figuring out why each of them is important to your story.

I didn’t know most of this before I started plotting scenes, however.

Don’t tell, but that means that I didn’t follow this method to the letter. You should know, if you don’t already, that you are not obligated to follow anyone’s method verbatim. You are a writer, different from other writers, which makes your process unique to you. Keep that in mind as you continue.

I did keep a small chart of characters handy, though…

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Anyway, back on track… I did like the scene-by-scene outline. Randy suggested using a spreadsheet, which I love because it allows you to move things around in the future, but I didn’t. This particular time, I used my notebook.

And I started over several times when the story changed somewhere in the middle… See why the spreadsheet would’ve been helpful?

See how many times it changed in such a short amount of time? I even started color-coding after awhile for POV (point-of-view).

I have encountered writers who don’t like the scene-by-scene outline (or chapter-by-chapter as I’ve seen some others do) because they feel it inhibits creativity. I am of the opposite mindset. The scene detail only states what will happen. It doesn’t state the why or how of the situation.

The only downfall to this outline is when characters start changing your story (trust me, they will) — then you’ll find out just how important an editable outline truly is. But don’t worry about that now… This is only the planning stage.

5. Leave a little room for whatever comes along.

Even if you plan, the whole basis of the story could change if one ornery character decides he doesn’t like the backstory you gave him. Or, in my case, he doesn’t want to reveal his backstory to you until you are well into the first draft.

As stated above, characters will change your story for you. They will let you know when something is working or not as you’re drafting, so keep an open mind while you’re planning. Try not to get too specific.

Write down your thoughts as you come to them to see if they get answered during your first draft….

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A great help may even be to write down a list of all the questions you have about your idea: the characters, the main and sub-plots, the action, etc. Keep a running list of things that are important and things that could change.

Sometimes you can even take a break from planning and learn some new words that relate to your idea: MC’s job lingo, vocabulary related to setting, etc. Since my idea revolves around nightmares, I dove into a couple terms related to that, which may end up having nothing to do with my novel in the end, but they’re good to have anyway.

What if I get stuck?

Don’t worry! Is it writer’s block that has you worried? Or do you simply need some ideas to push you toward the next step? I don’t have all the answers, but I can offer you a few methods that could help:

  • make lots of lists: characters, plot bunnies, settings, conflicts, etc.
  • draw a plot diagram: where do you imagine the story going, where is one particular character’s story going, etc.
  • free-write: whatever comes to mind, a scene you’re eager to see on paper, a letter from your character to you, etc.

What about you? What do you do when you get stuck? How do you plan for a first draft? I’d love to see what your strategies are in the comments below!

Author Toolbox

This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, which is dedicated to helping writers become stronger and more confident in their craft. Click here for more information, to continue hopping through other posts, or to join in!

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2

Resources:

Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson

“The 8 Habits of Highly Successful YA Fiction Authors” by Noal Feeny

Parental archetypes in YA fiction

Camp NaNoWriMo