Thank you, Writing Group

My writing group is an instrumental component of my writing process. They inspire me through their own dedication to their writing, hold me accountable for consistent writing, and provide feedback that blends compliment and critique.

Our group met at a writing retreat hosted by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators-Michigan Chapter in 2013 and we have been meeting online ever since. Although we see each other from time to time at writing conferences, we know one another primarily through our weekly emails.

Each week, one person submits 10 pages for everyone to review. Some of us provide feedback using Google Docs, others use Word’s Track Changes, while others write comments in an email or in a different color font within the Word file.  The next week, another person shares her ten pages. Our only rule is you can only submit for feedback if you have provided feedback to the other four members’ pieces over the last four weeks. Sometimes, we play speedy catch-up before submitting our work when it is our turn in the rotation.

Even when life creates busy-ness that invades my choice to write, I have a commitment to write with these follow writers. All of us are experiencing successes with our writing, big and small. I believe our group’s success is due to the commitment we have to one another within our writing group.

If you call yourself a writer, I believe the number one way to participate fully in the writerly life, aside from writing more days than not, is to choose active membership in a writing group.

Writing Contest for Third-, Fourth-, and Fifth-Grade Students

Many authors have started their publishing careers in children’s literature after participating in or winning writing contests: Sharon Draper, Tim Wynne-Jones, Grace Lin, and Cynthia Leitich Smith, just to name a few.

Writing contests provide an authentic writing opportunity for our students. We can even use writing contests for standardized writing assessment preparation. In writing contests, students respond to a writing prompt and write for an unknown audience.

On behalf of the University of Michigan – Dearborn’s Young Authors’ Festival Committee, I invite all third- through fifth-grade students to participate in this year’s writing contest. This year’s theme is leadership or being in charge. Students are encouraged to write a poem, essay, or narrative about a time they experienced leadership. There is a 500-word limit. Entries must be typed, include a coversheet, and be submitted by October 12, 2018.

Pre-service teachers enrolled in a K-6 writing methodology course will evaluate the writing entries and determine the first, second, and third place winners for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. A grand prize winner is also chosen. Writers will be awarded Barnes and Noble gift cards: $100 for the grand prize, $75 for first, $50 for second, and $25 for third. Writers will also be invited to attend this year’s Young Authors’ Festival (YAF) on Saturday, November 10, 2018, from 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. at the Mardigian Library on the University of Michigan – Dearborn Campus.

Families are invited to this year’s free YAF to hear honorarium, Mark Crilley, share his experiences as a graphic novelist. Highlighting his book Akiko on the Planet Smoo, the first book in a ten-book series, families will learn details of Crilley’s writing and publication processes. The event includes interactive breakout sessions led by pre-service teachers enrolled in a children’s literature course. Parents will also have an opportunity to participate in breakout sessions led by pre-service teachers in the writing course.

Encourage your students to submit a writing contest entry. Invite your students and their families to attend the YAF. We look forward to reading your students’ writing in October. We hope to see you in November!

Reset

As I prayed this morning, going through my daily devotional, our family basset hound made a crazy amount of noise, pulling out something from behind a shelf. I scrambled to quiet him and to discover what in the world he had gotten himself into again at 4:30 a.m. and then I noticed the treasure he found: my dream notebook.

How is it that a dream notebook can collect dust in a darkened corner and be forgotten? Sometimes, that’s right where we put our dreams.

This past winter I created a dream notebook using COMPEL’s Follow Your Dreams Action Plan. COMPEL is a membership site for writers who want to write words that move people that I discovered through Proverbs 31 Ministries. Listening to a podcast posted through COMPEL, I met Michael Hyatt for the first time and then read a couple of his books: Your Best Year Ever: A 5-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals and Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World. Through these readings, I set the following goal on April 8, 2018: I will write two hours each day, Monday through Friday, beginning April 9, 2018, every morning, 6:00 a.m. – 7:00 a.m. in academic writing and 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. in children’s literature writing. I noted a reset on July 4, 2018, and I also know that’s the weekend my dream notebook tumbled into the dark corner.

So, today is a new day. On August 20, 2018 I reset again to choose to write not only in academic writing but also in children’s literature writing. My schedule does have space for me to carve out two hours a day to write, certainly not consecutively, but even fifteen minutes at a time, dreams can be kept out in the open, free from dust, and be developed to become a reality.

Making Connections Across Our Journeys

To live is to connect with others. Making connections across our journeys with one another provides us opportunities to teach and to learn, to inspire and to soar, to bless and to be blessed.

A couple weeks ago, I read Andy Andrews’ The Traveler’s Gift, recommended to me by Dana Lehman, children’s book author of the Walnut Grove Series. I met Dana through the Authors Specialists Knowledge (ASK) Program. She sent me a message in response to my blog post, Choosing to See Rejection as a Pass. Her choice to encourage another writer with her words and experiences helped me immensely.

The Traveler’s Gift is such a special book, and I highly recommend it for everyone, whether or not you identify as a writer. The genre of the book is a bit tricky; it’s a mixture of self-help, historical fiction, fantasy, and realistic fiction. This book connected to my heart in countless ways and it is one I will reread each year. I look forward to reading Andy Andrews’ other books.

There’s such power in connection. You never know how the connections you choose to make with others will change lives. Choose to connect with others. Choose to use your words to build others up. Choose to notice and to reach out. Such simple choices profoundly impact our world, casting positive ripples that span past our awareness.

Choosing to See Rejection as a Pass

I truly believed with all of my heart that I had found an agent to help me navigate the children’s book publishing market. I awaited a phone call believing thoroughly that my breakthrough was a breath away.

That breath came through an email and exhaled, “NO!”

I inhaled my tears.

I’ve stopped writing for the last few weeks. I can blame it on work, family obligations, and just life in general, but the blame is no one else’s weight to hold but my own. It has been my choice to not commit to my writing. To fill my writing time with committee work. To fill my writing time with sleep. To fill my writing time with busy-ness. It has been my choice to view rejection as a sting.

One of my writing group members shared with me Carrie Pearson’s thoughts on rejections. Pearson stated, “I call them passes versus rejections.”

I like this game of choosing to see a rejection as a pass. So far, agents have passed on Victory Stumbles, but I know the dream God placed in my heart since I was a little girl will come to fruition. I will be a published children’s book author. Maybe Victory Stumbles won’t be published. Maybe a different book I’ve already written or one I have yet to write will be my first step into the children’s book market.

To achieve my dream I know what I have to do. I have to revise. I have to write. I have to reject my excuses. I have to pass my manuscript onto the next individual who is a part of this journey toward publication even if he/she chooses to pass the manuscript right back to me.

I will keep writing my stories. I will not reject God’s promises. His timing is perfect. I pass these yet-to-be-fulfilled dreams onto Him.

Somersaulting Through the Writing Process

When I think of somersaulting, the first image that pops into my mind is my two-year-old son, Drew, who shocked his dad. You see, I witnessed how Drew learned to do a somersault all by himself through his Baby Ninja Gymnastics Class. Drew and I followed Coach Josh’s lead. Drew placed his hands on the mat, tucked his head, pushed off with this ten little toes, and rolled.

So, when Drew, right in front of us, somersaulted from a standing position onto the kitchen floor, I did not freak out as shockingly as his dad did. The somersault was a success.

Somersaulting can be scary, but with the right steps, it can be a lot easier.

Writing is a lot like somersaulting to me. I know there are steps I can take as I explore my way through the writing process. But, the recursive writing process of rehearsing, drafting, revising, and publishing somersaults me into different directions that often leave me a bit dizzy.

Currently, I am writing an academic book for teacher educators focused on using flipped learning to teach writing workshop with preservice teachers.

My first step? Basic enough. Sit my butt in the chair more days than not.

Second, I start my electronic stopwatch and close my email.

Then, I somersault into my messy process. I place my fingers on the keys. I catch a thought rolling through my head or reread what I wrote the previous day. I push the first letter and then the next until the words roll into sentences and the sentences roll into paragraphs and the paragraphs roll into chapters. My goal is for those chapters to roll into a completed book.

Are you a teacher-writer exploring your own messy process? If so, I encourage you to first sit at the mess and then jump in! As you write, the somersaults between the writing process stages will roll smoother, one into the other. The dizziness will subside with time. Clarity will be achieved.

We just have to follow the steps.

We have to trust our own unique writing processes.

What I’ve discovered, however, just as I’ve written this post, is that I was wrong about step one. Drew didn’t put his hands on the mat first.

First—Drew believed he could do that somersault.

Belief must be our first step as writers.

Believe we can write.

Believe we have something to say others will want to read.

Believe in our voice.

Honoring a Vietnam War Veteran

One book I read every year with my children’s literature course is Eve Bunting’s The Wall. But I have never experienced the book the way I did last week during an Authors Specialist Knowledge (ASK) Program with Gordy Bourland who fulfilled a specialist role to answer fifth-grade students’ questions about his experiences in the Vietnam War.

The students read Eve Bunting’s picture book illustrated by Ronald Himler that details a young boy, with his father’s help, looking for his grandfather’s name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial located in Washington D.C. The students created a list of interview questions they asked Mr. Bourland during the ASK Program.

Mr. Bourland answered each question with such honesty and openness. His memories impacted all of us listening as he shared details of being drafted, joining the Army, training to become a soldier and eventually a sergeant, and fighting in the war. All of our emotions, Gordy’s included, bubbled to the surface.

Even though Mr. Bourland has been doing ASK Programs for the last two decades, this past week he was asked a new question: How did the GI Bill help you with your education? He stated, “I’ve never been asked that. That was one of the advantages that we got at the time. When I came out I not only finished my college but got my Master’s Degree with my GI bill.” He used those degrees to teach secondary science for 30 years where he impacted countless students. His life has been an inspiration for so many students like those who participated in last week’s ASK Program.

I feel blessed to have had this experience, and even more blessed to post this on Memorial Day, a day when we must remember those who have fought for our country. Humbly and too simply, I say thank you to those who have fought, are fighting, and will fight within our military’s armed forces. Today we celebrate, but every day we must remember those soldiers who make such sacrifices, especially those who lose their lives fighting wars.

Authors Specialists Knowledge Program

Have you ever wanted to interview a published children’s book author? Would you like to connect your own students to such interview experiences? Are you looking for ways to help your students connect with the content they read at deeper levels to acquire layers of meaning?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then the ASK Program is for you. The Authors, Specialists, Knowledge (ASK) Program is conducted in schools nationwide. Using distance learning, children follow certain steps to interview an author or specialist after reading a fiction or nonfiction chapter or picture book. The ASK Program puts students in the driver’s seat, different from many author visits, as they lead the interaction with the author or specialist.

Dr. Ray Kettel created the ASK program at the University of Michigan – Dearborn in 1994 to empower children to not only enjoy reading a book but to also connect with the book’s author or an expert of the book’s content.

Two Way Interactive Connections in Education (nationally) and the Macomb Intermediate School District in Michigan (MISD) provide teachers myriad opportunities with ASK programs. TWICE requires members to pay a $40.00 fee or non-members to pay an $80.00 fee to help pay for the authors’ or specialists’ honoraria. MISD provides the programs for free to their teachers. Denise Jobe is a technician and coordinator of distance learning at the MISD; she also facilitates the connections with TWICE, nationally.

I have experienced many ASK Programs, including the programs I have had my preservice teachers complete in my children’s literature course. This past December, Parwin Anwar shared her experiences as an Afghan Refugee in response to Deborah Ellis’ The Breadwinner; this ASK Program is available through the MISD. I have also had former students share their experiences as children or parents involved in the foster care system after reading Patricia Reilly Giff’s Pictures of Hollis Woods. A couple years ago, Diane Bradley responded to students’ interview questions about her Wilder Series. Prior to that year, Matt Faulkner shared his experiences in writing Gaijin: American Prisoner of War.

The ASK Program creates so many connections between authors, specialists, students, and teachers.