Empowering Students One Phase at a Time — Innovative Teaching Academy

When I was a student in middle school and high school, life was simple: go to class, write down the assignment, complete the warm up, listen to the teacher, take notes, read the assigned passages, answer the questions, turn in your work, and repeat tomorrow.

Was every class like this? Didn’t any class use other methods of teaching? Well, yes…

  • My 6th grade history teacher had us research someone from history and told us to dress up as that person to give our presentation from that perspective.
  • My 7th grade science teacher was slightly obsessed with Bill Nye the Science Guy, so we experimented with science often after watching his shows.
  • My 9th grade algebra teacher used Gumby the cartoon character in many of her lessons to help us visualize the different strategies.
  • My 10th grade physics teacher constantly had us working on projects either on our own or with a partner in order to learn how things worked.

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These teachers stand out. They made learning engaging, and in a few cases empowering for me. These teachers were innovative. These teachers made me want to teach, too (although I didn’t realize it at the time).

What is innovation and why does it matter to me?

Why were those teachers innovative? What made them different? Easy: they stood out, they made sure each student was learning, and they tried new things. I didn’t experience that a often when I was in school, so the times when I did are especially meaningful.

Earlier this school year, I was asked (by our curriculum director, Melissa Bosley) to take part in an Innovative Teaching Academy through our region’s education service center, Region 12 which covers Central Texas. This program is broken down into three phases, which will help today’s teachers better connect and empower the students of this generation. It will help today’s teachers make learning meaningful to their students.

Innovation in teaching is about reaching every student.

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I immediately jumped at the chance to improve as a teacher. I have since completed phase one, Learn, of the program, and I’m on to phase two!

I have to pause right here and thank the wonderful leaders of this Academy: Cory CampAndi McNair, and Josh Essary. They have made this experience exciting, enriching, and empowering — I truly enjoy this program and value everything I’ve learned in it.

Phase One

During the first phase of the training, teachers participate in “learning experiences. These are professional development training with hands-on outside learning opportunities (O.L.O.) to learn through doing.

To “graduate” from this step, we need to take part in at least 30 hours of training. The best part is that we get choices! There are numerous learning experiences available, but we only need to choose the ones we’re interested in, which will in turn help us choose our focus for the next two phases.

My focus: empowering students. 

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my phase one learning experiences

Every major project or undertaking should have a significant question (we even teach that to students before they start research), so I figured out mine…

How can I empower students to learn without me leading them?

Each of these classes helped me answer that question, but I’ll narrow it down to my two favorites (although that’s not quite fair since we’re in the middle of the book study).

Designing Meaningful Learning Experiences and Student Choice and Voice — State standards mandate what we have to teach, and many schools follow a YAG (year at a glance) to show when they have to teach it. If we’re lucky, we get a choice in how we teach these lessons. Therefore, why shouldn’t students receive choices, too (especially when they impact the students on a deeper level)?

In order to incorporate more meaningful experiences into our classroom, I wanted help from my students, and they wanted to help create their own choices. We keep writer’s notebooks, and every student has personal writing goals each grading period within these notebooks. One major problem they faced: what do I write about when I get stuck?

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These bingo ideas are from my students!

BINGO! That’s it! I asked the students to create bingo ideas that would help us create Writing Bingo. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but I was blown away by their creativity in this task. Not only that, but they’re actually getting Bingo and achieving their goals!

Even though quite a few students have completed a Bingo, they are reluctant to share their voice on our class blog. However, I managed to talk one student into sharing hers today, so she’ll work on that and have a post up next week!

(Update 2/19/18 — Hers is up today! Check it out here!)

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The badges I’ve earned in phase one!

Phase Two

The Innovative Teaching Academy seems a bit more complicated now that I’m in phase two. However, these classes have shown me ways to make phase two possible.

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I already participate regularly in Twitter chats for writing and education, so continuing to do so isn’t a problem. I can sometimes even be found out-of-state! (These are listed using Central time since that’s the timezone I’m in.)

  • Sunday
    • #sunchat ~8am
    • #TXeduchat ~ 8pm
    • #BCedchat ~ 9pm
  •  Monday
    • #teachwrite (on the first Monday of each month) ~ 6:30pm
    • #NYedchat ~ 7pm
    • KSedchat ~ 8pm
    • #ALedchat ~ 9pm
  • Tuesday
    • #5thchat ~ 7pm
    • #2ndaryELA ~ 7pm
    • #MTedchat ~ 9pm
  • Wednesday
    • #OHedchat ~ 8pm
    • #WeirdEd ~ 9pm
  • Thursday
    • #whatisschool ~ 5pm
    • #eduAR ~ 8:30pm
  • Friday
    • #engagechat ~ 7pm
  • Saturday
    • #EduGladiators ~ 10:30am

I’m working on connecting my class with outside experts. One expert will be a writer from our local writer’s group (after we meet again to discuss it). My students want an author to come speak to them in order to talk about the writing process and their struggles and successes with it.

One of my students in the Teen Leadership elective that I teach wanted to talk to a football player. We are working on a face-to-face talk with former NFL player Quan Cosby, but in the meantime my student was able to research Quan and conduct an email interview. (Talk about a meaningful experience!)

Phase Three

The great thing about phase three is you don’t have to wait until you’re done with phase two to start it! This blog post helps count toward phase three for me, and so does my post about Bingo in the classroom.

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I submitted a proposal yesterday to present at the TransformED Conference. While I wait to hear from them, I’m also working with Melissa (our curriculum director) to see what I can do as far as campus leadership goes.

Reflection

One of the many tools I’ve gained from the ITA is reflection. I’m a firm believer in self-reflection, but I wasn’t holding my students to this to the same degree. We were introduced to this reflection tool, and my students love it! They’ve even started making up their own reflection questions at the end of class.

As far as my reflection thus far on the ITA, I simply have to see how far I’ve come in answering my question from above: How can I empower students to learn without me leading them?

I’ve learned that my students love to do things on their own. They make suggestions for our class in our Anonymous Suggestion Box (one of the ITA ideas). They create amazing things in their writer’s notebook by using the writing process. They take research into their own hands.

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from our Anonymous Suggestion Box — who are these kids?

They are EMPOWERED! I simply have to make sure to keep moving in that direction as I continue through this process and beyond.

Proof of Empowerment

Last grading period one student wrote an acrostic poem about herself in her writer’s notebook. She is a quiet student in a large class. She is often overshadowed by others, and she doesn’t share her writing often.

However, I commented in the “Teacher Feedback” section of her writing goals when she turned it in that her poem was beautiful and that I would love to see her enhance it through the writing process. We all know that many students ignore teacher comments.

She didn’t.

Yesterday, she requested a writing conference. She was excited to show me that she had taken her acrostic poem through the writing process. She showed me where she added similes, imagery, and where she had changed capitalization for emphasis.

I hope you get as many goosebumps as I did after reading this incredibly powerful poem from a 7th grade girl.

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used with permission

Your Turn…

Have I mentioned anything you want to try? How do you empower your students? Please feel free to share with me in the comments.

B-I-N-G-O… in the classroom?

I don’t know about you, but one problem for writers is a blank page.

What do I write about?

This question pops up all too often, and it can keep students from achieving their personal writing goals. Students have loved writing bingo in the past, so I created a Google Form for them to submit their own ideas for bingo cards.

I was not disappointed. To be completely honest, I was awestruck by the amount of ideas they generated!

The ideas!

After gathering all their ideas, I created lists of them in Google Docs. The lists make it easier to input the ideas onto the bingo card at Print Bingo.

Each set I input creates 10 cards — all different. My amazing 7th grade students gave me enough ideas for five sets, which equal 50 different cards!

Here are a couple from each set for you to see what their creative minds came up with!

Expectations…

Bingo is by no means a requirement. Students can complete a bingo at any time in their writer’s notebook for a reward, or they can simply use he cards for inspiration. (I have a collection of pens and pencils for them to choose from for rewards.)

The question is, can I expect them to write if I don’t? Can I expect them to complete a bingo if I don’t even try?

My answer is — that depends on the example I, as a teacher, want to set.

I choose to set a positive and encouraging example to the young writers I encounter every school day.

Without further ado, here is my Bingo, and I hope it encourages my students to publish theirs on our class blog when they’re done, too!

BINGO!

My Bingo card is from set 3:

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“Write how you feel about winter” — I chose to use a list for this one.

Write a brainstorm in different colored pens” — I doubled up with this one by combining it with “create a character map about a frog.”

“Write about your favorite teacher” — I love poetry, so I chose that format to write about my most memorable teacher.

“Create a character map about a superhero you make up” — This was difficult for me, so I asked Twitter and Facebook for help!

“Write a poem about writing a poem” — Again, poetry is my favorite!

Reflection:

Reflecting on our process is an important part of our class. To emphasize that, I’ll reflect on this process.

I loved that students were excited to share all their writing ideas with me and each other. I can’t wait for them to start sharing their creativity with the world more by using their blog.

I loved creating a new superhero even though it was super difficult — thank you to those who gave me ideas! (Please note, the “stick man” idea is from Corbett Harrison who has a ton of amazing ideas for the classroom!)

In the future, I plan to incorporate a few of these ideas into stories. I also plan to try out some more bingo ideas (maybe even another bingo card)!

Comments

Please feel free to share with me your thoughts or questions in the section below. Also, if you use any of the ideas from the above Bingo cards, let us know!

“On Her Birthday: A Meeting with Death” — Flash Fiction, week 1

The man laughed. “Oh, Sonny, everyone worries about me, but it’s useless. I’m going to do my own thing no matter what anyone thinks or says about it.”

Not too long ago, I joined a writing group on Facebook (Voices of the Darkly), and they hold a regular flash fiction competition within the group. The theme of the first contest this year is “meeting with death.”

Flash fiction, for those who are new to the genre, is a fictional piece written in under 1,000 words. (Click here for more information about it.) This particular contest required a story between 500 and 800 words.

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Not only do I want to participate in the Facebook competition, but I also decided to attempt #52weeks52stories this year (hosted by Hollie Hausenfluck on Twitter), a year-long writing challenge.

Without further ado, here is my flash fiction piece that will fulfill both goals in one fell swoop!

On Her Birthday (PG – for those who need a rating)

“I already told y-” Eric held the phone back.

“What?” Gram’s voice echoed.

He smiled and sighed. “My car broke down, Gram. I don’t have time to-”

“Your car?” She yelled again.

“It’s…” he paused, checking his watch. “Gram, I’m almost at the bus stop.”

“Eric? Are you there? I can’t hear anything out of this da-”

“I love you, Gram. My bus’ll be here soon.”

“Oh! I hear you again! What bus?”

“See you soon.” He hung up and considered going back, but the next bus wouldn’t run for another two hours.

“Forget something?”

Eric turned. “Pardon?”

“I didn’t mean to listen in.” He moved his cane closer. “But I’ve been waiting here for over an hour. Can you believe that no one else has shown up?”

“What? Over an hour?” Eric sat down, shivering a little. “Someone should’ve told you what time to be here so you wouldn’t have to wait in the cold.” He could feel his blood boil as he placed Gram in this man’s position. Who told him to be here so early?

“I need the fresh air. I have a mighty difficult journey ahead of me, so I wanted to clear my head first.” He pulled a lifesaver from his exposed shirt pocket. “Want one?”

“Thanks.” Eric placed the proffered mint into his coat pocket. “Isn’t anyone worried about you being out here?”

The man laughed. “Oh, Sonny, everyone worries about me, but it’s useless. I’m going to do my own thing no matter what anyone thinks or says about it.”

Eric sat back. “You sound just like Gram.” He pointed down the empty road. “I’m on my way to see her for her birthday.” He checked his watch and tapped it. “Honestly, I don’t visit often, but they-” He took a deep breath. “They said she only has a couple months left.”

He followed Eric’s gaze. When he turned back, the smile from moments before was missing. “A couple months?”

“Yeah.”

“And it’s her birthday today?”

Eric smiled. “She loves birthdays. She-” He laughed. “She used to say, ‘Eric, the best thing about growing old is birthdays. You never know what weird stuff people will give you when they think you already have everything else.’” He laughed again. “So I try to get her something weird every year.”

“Weird? Hm. What’re you bringing her this year?”

“Well…” Eric tapped his watch again. “I had my eye on a couple oddities at the bazaar, but I ran out of time this morning.”

“Ran out of time?” He pointed toward the oncoming headlights. “Because of the bus?”

“Yeah. And my car. The gears wouldn’t shift yesterday. I thought they’d have it back this morning, but they said they’re working on unfreezing the something-or-other.”

“Ah, car trouble ruins the day. Too bad they don’t have a loaner.”

“Of course!” Eric jumped up. “Jerry knows Gram… Maybe he’ll lend me one for the day.” Eric turned to go, then turned back. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

He stood up. “You don’t need to worry about me, either.”

“Have a safe trip.” Eric held out his hand, but dropped it when the man turned and boarded the bus.

***

“Gram?” Eric knocked once and entered her room, the colorful glass gift in his hand. “Happy birthday, Gram.”

“Eric? Oh Eric!” She swooped in for a hug. “We’ve been so worried!”

“What are y-”

“The news…” The nurse, Nancy, pointed to the television. “We thought you were on that bus. We’ve tried calling and calling.” She prodded her finger into his shoulder. “You should know better than to do that to this dear woman.”

“But I… What? The bus?” He read the news ticker – no survivors – and fell back onto the couch. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I didn’t know.”

“We called you every two minutes,” Nancy accused.

Eric finally saw Gram’s red eyes. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone, which had died, and the mint. “The man-”

“Since you’re alive, we’ll watch something more upbeat.” Nancy changed the channel. “We need cake.” She turned to leave. “You,” she said, pointing at Eric, “don’t do that to us ever again.”

“Yes ma’am.” He placed the mint back in his pocket, making a silent promise to the man. “Gram, let’s open presents.”

He loved her laughter and her enjoyment of all the strange gifts she received. He could still feel her last bear hug as he walked out the front door.

“Forget something?”

Eric spun around. “Pardon?”

“Don’t worry, Sonny.” The man pulled another lifesaver out of his pocket. “I wasn’t here for her.” He walked to the car stopped at the stop sign and got in on the passenger side.

Eric watched it drive away. Then, he turned around and walked back inside.

***

Comments

Feel free to tell me what you think in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.

Why I teach…

Why are we teaching? What keeps us teaching? What makes us come back after the break (especially after Christmas break)?

November is almost at an end, which means most teachers are counting down the days until Christmas break. I’ve decided to do a different kind of counting this year: I’ll be counting all the reasons to return to my profession after the new year…

One thing we need to think about during this holiday season is why we’re here in the first place. Why are we teaching? What keeps us teaching? What makes us come back after the break (especially after Christmas break)?

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I’m in my sixth year of teaching, and I still enjoy teaching as much as I did when I first started. I even like *whispers* Mondays!

What? It’s true!

For those of you who still enjoy teaching as much as you did on day one, I hope you keep the spirit alive during your holiday break. For those of you who are contemplating a career change, take a moment to reflect on all the reasons you became a teacher in the first place.

I look forward to Mondays…

I know I said it earlier, but it’s true. It’s also probably one of the top reasons I still enjoy teaching.

Mondays offer a new beginning, a fresh start. Weekends are often filled with ideas about what I can do differently (often only in my head), and I’m eager to try these new things in the classroom.

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The most difficult thing is having a great idea on Friday afternoon and having to wait until Monday to try it, having to wait until Monday to see if it was truly a great idea or not.

Waiting isn’t easy, but it’s worth it (especially with those sparks of wonderful ideas).

I love to hear students say they love writing…

How many people can say they love to write? Now divide that in half (at least) and you’ll have the number of students who love to write.

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Written for me by student 23LM2-12.

We write a lot in my class. Students have personal writing goals that they work on for six weeks. They write anything they want as they work through the writing process in their notebooks.

Maybe they simply enjoy the freedom they have when they tell me that they finally love writing, but I’m hoping it’s more than that. I’m hoping they’re finding themselves a bit as they write, which is all any writer can ask for.

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Students’ writer’s notebooks — they get to decorate them any way they want in order to personalize them and encourage more writing.

I enjoy trying new things…

Similar to my love of Mondays, I love to try new things in the classroom. I’ve learned about several new things via Twitter chats, Facebook teaching groups, and Region 12 workshops.

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Our “Writing Process” board to help students (and me) visualize their progress on our class assignment — an idea given to me from a workshop.
  • Writer’s Workshop — I adapted this method that I found on Twitter to fit my classroom.
  • Anonymous Suggestion Box — This idea came from a workshop in Student Voice. Suggestions have included: more time to write in class, adding a daily warm-up, play more classical music, and more writing prompts.
  • Interactive Presentation — I started using Pear Deck after experiencing it in a workshop. My students love it!
  • Interactive Videos — I started using Edpuzzle after encountering it in a workshop. My students like that they can answer questions and hear explanations we’ve learned in class.
  • Blog — Although we’re still getting used to having one, my students love updating their blog: CMS Cubs Write, an idea I gained from many sources.

I don’t enjoy failing, but I do love to learn from my mistakes…

After several years of teaching, I’m still failing. I learned about my biggest failure this year: greeting students at the door. This seems like such a small thing, insignificant, but it’s definitely not.

Before this year, students had assigned seating in my class. I thought it would help with classroom management and peer tutoring (I was not disappointed).

However, I learned about flexible seating this summer and wanted to give it a try. I don’t have all the fancy seating, but I did manage to group desks to make it a bit flexible: groups of three, pairs of two, and single seating. Students come in every day and choose the seat where they are most comfortable learning.

I had one major problem (other than possible behavior issues) that I could foresee: learning student names.

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Everyone, including me, made name plates to put on our desk the first week or so of school. This was great for learning names during class, but it was terrible for taking role.

I had to come up with a way to take roll without wasting class time.

The idea of greeting students at the door isn’t a new idea. I’ve seen it on Twitter, Facebook, blog posts, and education articles for quite some time. Regardless, I gave it a try: students couldn’t enter the room until I said their name and checked them off my tangible role sheet.

By the end of the first week of school, I had every student’s name memorized, even the two sets of twins!

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Yay! I’m as smart as a pig! Wait…

This wasn’t my big lesson. Well, it was a little since I learned names faster, but it wasn’t a real lesson until today, the first day back to school after Thanksgiving break.

I was greeting students at the door as per usual (no role sheet needed for quite some time), and one student smiled at me. Our short conversation that followed will always stay with me:

“You remembered!” she exclaimed.

“Of course I remembered your name,” I answered. “It’s only been a week.”

“Yeah, but most teachers forget about me.”

“I will never forget about you ____.”

Another smile.

Lesson learned and accepted. Students care. It might seem like an easy way to take roll, but they don’t see it that way. They enjoy hearing their names as you look them in the eyes and greet them before they walk into the classroom. Isn’t that true of us all — don’t we all enjoy being seen?

All that to say…

I am thankful for teaching. I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned, the people I’ve met, the students I’ve taught, and the ideas I’ve tried (failed or not). I enjoy Mondays, and I look forward to my future as an educator.

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What about you?

Share with me in comments. If you’re a teacher, tell me what you enjoy about teaching. If you’re not a teacher, tell me one of you favorite memories of a teacher.  I’d love to hear from you.

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!

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Resources

Online Timer

Camp NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo