Teachers Write! 6/29 – Friday Writing Happy Hour

Happy Friday, everybody!  First a reminder… I have a book signing on Tuesday, and the always-great Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid has made arrangements for far-away friends to order personalized, signed copies of my new mystery, CAPTURE THE FLAG, or any of my other books for kids. Just give the bookstore a call at 518-523-2950.  Shipping is free on orders of $50 or more and reasonable on smaller orders, too.  Be sure to let them know you’re part of the Teachers Write community so I can write a special inscription. 🙂  If a book is for your classroom or library, or for a gift, I’m happy to personalize those, too.

Now…pour yourself a lemonade or iced tea, and let’s get celebrating our writing for the week! We have a great giveaway today…Rosanne Parry is giving away an audiobook of her novel SECOND FIDDLE.

Just leave a comment by Saturday 11pm EST to be entered in the drawing, and winners will be announced on Monday.

Friday Writing Happy Hour is a chance to relax and share comments about our progress, goals, accomplishments, and whatever else is on your mind.  If you’d like feedback on a snippet of writing, head on over to Gae Polisner’s blog for Friday Feedback, where you can share a few paragraphs of your work and offer feedback to others, too.

 Enjoy your weekend, and remember to check in at Jen’s Teach Mentor Texts blog on Sunday.  I’ll see you back here Monday morning!


Teachers Write! 6/28 – Thursday Quick-Write

Happy Thursday! Ready for today’s Quick-Write options?  We’ve got two…one for folks who are in the middle of a work-in-progress and one that works for anyone. (Try one, or both, or bookmark to come back later!)

Quick-Write Option #1 is courtesy of guest author Barb Rosenstock. Barb loves true stories best and often pretends to live in the past though she’s thankful every day for indoor plumbing, instant cocoa and the Internet. Her picture books include: The Camping Trip that Changed America (illus. by Caldecott Medalist Mordicai Gerstein), The Littlest Mountain (illus. by Melanie Hall), and Fearless (illus. by Scott Dawson) Upcoming: Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library (illus. by John O’Brien), Vasya’s Noisy Paintbox (illus. by Mary GranPré) and The Streak. You can find her at www.barbrosenstock.com or on Twitter @barbrosenstock.

“What in the world am I writing about?”

I was in the middle of a picture book draft and had just pasted in and deleted essentially the same two sentence six times. I thought I’d created pretty interesting characters, a cool setting and the basic plot outline, but where was my THEME? (I can still hear my 4th grade teacher Mr. Fornek.)  Was this a story about friendship? Or courage? Or plain cleanliness? Here’s a way that might help you figure out what you’re writing about when you’re stuck…

Go to http://www.wordle.net. It’s free, you don’t have to fill in personal information or sign up. If you haven’t used WORDLE™ before, it’s a tool that generates a graphic word cloud from text you insert. The WORDLE™ is based on frequency of use in your text. Click “create” and paste in a good chunk of text from your work in progress (at least two pages.) Hit the “Go” button. SURPRISE! You’ll see a pretty WORDLE™ graphic generated from your very own writing. Now look at which words are bigger and which smaller or missing all together. Are you writing about what you think you’re writing about? You may find that the word “friend” shows up the largest, that nothing describing your setting shows up at all or that a minor character’s name comes out larger than a major one—all useful stuff for finding a theme and revising.

If you’re feeling super motivated today, write a letter to or from your main character using the seven largest words in your WORDLE.

My theme is invention, what’s yours?

Note from Kate: You can do this with any writing…your journal, your work-in-progress…even one or two of your quick-writes combined.

Quick-Write option #2 today is from me (though I am away this week with super-limited Internet, so I may not be able to reply to comments on this post) and it’s about exploring points of view.

For those working on a piece of fiction, or nonfiction that involves people…

Choose a scene in your story that’s important to the main character or primary figure. Write that scene from a completely different point of view — the antagonist, or the character’s childhood friend who shows up, or the clerk at the grocery store. How does the scene change?

For those still brainstorming ideas or working on something without a main character…

Choose a scene from one of your favorite books that you’ve read, and rewrite it from a totally different character’s point of view. You might try this from a few perspectives. For example, a character who is friends with the main character is one option, but what if you wrote from the antagonist’s point of view?  What if you wrote from the point of view of a child? Or someone much older? Or the family dog?

Sometimes, this writing prompt will lead you to discover something you never realized before. Other times, it may help you to see your character through someone else’s eyes.

If you discover anything interesting or fun or important, stop by later on and let us know with a comment!

Teachers Write! 6/27 – Q and A Wednesday

Wednesday is Q and A Day at Teachers Write! Virtual Summer Writing Camp. Got questions about writing? Ask away!

Today’s author volunteers are Rosanne Parry, Kristina Springer, Erin Dealey, Erica S. Perl, and David Lubar. They’ve promised to be around to respond to your questions today, so please visit their websites & check out their books!

Teachers & librarians – Feel free to ask your questions in the comments.  Published author guests have volunteered to drop in and respond when they can.

Guest authors – Thanks for joining us today!  To answer questions, just reply to the comments below.

And just a reminder…if anyone would like to order personalized, signed copies of any of my books for kids, check out this post with info – or just call The Bookstore Plus at 518-523-2950 before my signing there on July 2nd.

Teachers Write! 6/26 Tuesday Quick-Write

Welcome to Tuesday Quick-Write!  Got your keyboard or pencil ready?  Today, Julie True Kingsley joins us with a writing prompt on character development…

Finding The Character Within

Today we are going to work on finding the character within.   Let’s get started.  First, close your eyes.  Try to envision a well-rounded, complex, flushed out character.  Give yourself a few minutes.

How’d you do?  I bet your character is kind of flat, not really that well rounded yet.  Perfectly normal!  Okay, bail on this idea of trying to pull a character out of thin air.  I have a better idea.  Today, we will do a multi-mixed media guided writing.

Okay, let me take a step back.  I am a former fourth, fifth, and seventh grade (writing) teacher. For the last couple of years, I’ve been teaching communications at a college in Maine.   Here, I learned something amazing– simply incorporate mixed media into a writing lesson and you end up with the most creative stories, seemingly effortlessly.

Did I mention that I’m writer too?  The kind of writer that’s still in the trenches, flushing around trying to get my manuscript perfect, and currently on submission playing the waiting game.  How does this approach help my writing life?  Before I start a writing piece, I find the true characters within with a keen eye to mixed-media tools (Think of the Imperial March when Darth Vader appears in Star Wars, notice how they use music to heighten character.  It’s genius!).  Once you start doing this your own story will unfold like a movie simply because our brain is trained to link music to a specific emotion.  Isn’t that what reading is about, having an emotional connection to character? So, why not embrace this idea.  Let’s start right now.

Step One:

Pull out your magazines and look for faces that you find interesting (You could also do a Google Images search or use Pinterest).   What faces call you?  Pick one.

(Teaching Note: I make students pull a picture from a paper bag)

Take in the photo.  What do you notice about this person?   Give the person some traits.  Start with physical traits (So easy!), now look deeper.  What do you think this person is feeling?  What makes the person’s heart tick?  Secrets? Yes, they are there.  Find them.  Dig deeper.  Learn more.  Push yourself here.

Step Two:

Find songs that match your character’s inner and outer character.  Play around with this.  You Tube is your friend.  Go find that song that represents your character.

(Teacher note: Depending on the age group you teach you might need to frontload different styles of music and have them choose between a few specific choices.   You know your kids, do what they do they can deal with.)


Name: Trudy Beaverton
From:  Erie, Pennsylvania
Physical Characteristics:  Short brown hair, brown eyes, bushy eyebrows.
(External song:  Rock with You by Michael Jackson http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbxP9leMw88&feature=related)
 Internal Characteristics: 
(Internal Song:  Back & Black by ACDC http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwIvBNsSywQ)

 Yes, Trudy is a closet head banger who loves heavy metal! Deep down, she’s rocker.  If only everyone knew the real her!

 Imagine if I chose this song: Summer Girls by LFO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r1dfEf1qOt4  She’s a completely different now, isn’t she?  Maybe a tad less interesting.  Maybe a whole lot more mainstream.  Maybe she wants to move to California, bleach her hair blond, and learn to skateboard.  Does she love Justin Beiber? Yeah!

 (See how these song changes this character and really sets up who a story of where Trudy could go.)

 Step three:

Start this character’s story.  Go on, try a half a page.  Keep the music on.  Put the beat into your story. See what happens.  If you are motivated try numerous songs.  Notice, how does your sentence structure changes with the beat of the music? Does the beat find its way into your words?

Okay, I can’t stop listening.  This is an irresistible lesson (Must turn off LFO).

Remember this is prewriting, but dig in.  Notice how it affects writer’s voice.   I encourage you to break my rules.  Maybe your character has dual personalities.  Maybe different times of the day bring on a changing mood.  Play with this.   And remember, writing should be fun.  I can’t wait to see what you all come up with!  Enjoy!

Note from Kate: If you have a work-in-progress and a character you’ve already met, try this for your character-in-progress instead of clipping from a magazine. Music can tell you a lot about who your character really is!

Teachers Write! 6/25 – Mini-Lesson Monday

Good morning, campers! Can you believe we’re diving into Week Four? The winner of Friday’s book giveaway from Katy Duffield is Kimberley Moran!  Please email me (kmessner@katemessner dot com) with your address so Katy can send your books!

Before we kick off the new week, just a couple quick notes… I’m away this week with limited Internet access (curse and blessing that it is) so even though all our posts are scheduled to go, I’ll be around less than usual in the comments. I’ll still be cheering you on from afar, though!  

If Teachers Write has made you hungry for more online professional development, Stenhouse is kicking off its free Summer Blogstitute this week with some great guest posts from its authors. Check it out here.

And if you’re interested in ordering personalized, signed copies of any of my kids’ books…I have this book signing coming up in Lake Placid July 2nd. They’ll send books to far-away friends, too, so you can call The Bookstore Plus at 518-523-2950 if you’d like to order anything.

Today’s Monday Mini-lesson is courtesy of Ruth McNally Barshaw, author of the hilarious and illustrated Ellie McDoodle series.  She’s inviting us to explore the connections between art and writing!

Art Literacy is the concept, now borne out by studies (see some background and research links at http://www.picturingwriting.org/), that the act of creating art improves subsequent writing.  When you draw – even doodle – it changes your thinking so that richer writing results.

The best part is you don’t have to be a trained illustrator to do it. This works for everyone. Surprisingly, stick figures work just as well as the most beautiful, intricate painting.

When you sit down to write, first draw or create art – any kind of art. It can be abstract or figurative. It can be paper or fabric collage, sketches, painted, doodled.

You can make paper, marble it, collage it.

Or you can get a head start on your manuscript by drawing a character and using callouts and labels to list traits.

Here’s a spread from the first Ellie McDoodle book where Ellie uses this method for characterization:

Here’s a page from my sketchjournal, drawn when I was 16, where I do the same:

(And that’s where I got the idea for Ellie to do it)

 This also works for scene building and novel plotting.

I used it while working on a novel last year. I hit writer’s block, didn’t know what should happen next, and found that revisiting previous scenes helped unlock the door to the next scene. Drawing was the key:

While this trick works for quick sketching, it also works for more detailed art. Here’s a drawing I created while exploring characters for last year’s novel.  The act of drawing told me information I hadn’t previously thought of, for each of the characters:

 If you want to get to know your character better, draw him or her. Add description as callouts.

If you want to figure out what should happen next in your story, draw what just happened. Then start a sketch of what could happen next.

And if you want to write better, draw first.

I’m on deadline right now for the fifth Ellie book, Ellie McDoodle: The Show Must Go On; these techniques are helping me get the writing done on time.

To use this idea with students:

-Have them draw storyboards of their work. Or their fellow students’ work. Or stories they have read.

Storyboarding is used in advertising for developing commercials, and in filmmaking. Limiting them to 6 or 8 small boxes for the entire story prevents minutia or perfectionism from creeping in. It solidifies pacing and focuses cause and effect. (Illustrators storyboard their picturebooks, one box per page. I do this, but I also storyboard my novels.)

-Tell them to close their eyes. Visualize the character they want to write about. Then draw what they see in their mind’s eye, their imagination.

-To add depth to the drawn character, add callouts to describe various personality and physical traits. Brainstorm negative as well as positive traits, for a more rounded character. Next they write a story using what they have drawn.

Thanks, Ruth! Such a fun workshop today… now is everybody ready to get working? Ready… Set…write! Draw!


Teachers Write! 6/22 – Friday Writing Happy Hour

Shall we celebrate another week of writing with a book giveaway? I think that’s what we’ll do…


One lucky winner will receive BOTH books  – to enter the drawing, just leave any comment on today’s blog post before 11pm EST Saturday night, and I’ll draw a winner’s name to be announced on Monday.

Also…one of my critique partners, Loree Griffin Burns, is giving away an ARC of CAPTURE THE FLAG on her blog. (You should know Loree anyway – she writes amazing nonfiction, so go visit her even if you don’t want to enter her drawing, which ends at midnight EST on Friday, June 22.)

And finally, before we get chatting in the comments, some of you have asked about ordering signed books for yourselves or your classrooms or maybe summer birthday gifts. I have a book signing for my new mystery, CAPTURE THE FLAG, on July 2nd, and The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid has offered to take phone orders for personalized, signed copies of any of my books for kids.  Give them a call at 518-523-2950 if you’d like to order any of my books for kids. (Let them know you’re part of Teachers Write; I have a special inscription for you guys!)  You can read about all of my available picture books, chapter books, and novels here.  I’ll sign books on July 2nd, and the bookstore will mail them out that week. Shipping’s free on orders over $50 and reasonable on smaller orders, too. If you’re enjoying Teachers Write and would like to support my books, this would be a great way to do that AND support a great indie bookseller that was instrumental in helping one of its local libraries recover from devastating flooding in Tropical Storm Irene.

My editor at Scholastic has some extra uncorrected advance reader copies of CAPTURE THE FLAG, too, and she’s offered to send those to the first 40 people who call the bookstore to order CAPTURE THE FLAG.  So if you call and order that book, and you’d also like an ARC, please email me  (kmessner@katemessner.com) with your address right after you place your order. (Please don’t ask the bookstore what number you are when you call, though…it confuses them. I promise to put an update on the Facebook page when those 40 ARCs are spoken for.)

Now…how’s it going this week?  Are there topics you’re wondering about that we haven’t talked about yet?

Friday Writing Happy Hour is a chance to relax and share comments about our progress, goals, accomplishments, and whatever else is on your mind.  And if you’d like feedback on a snippet of writing, head on over to Gae Polisner’s blog for Friday Feedback, where you can share a few paragraphs of your work and offer feedback to others, too.

 Enjoy your weekend, and remember to check in at Jen’s Teach Mentor Texts blog on Sunday.  I’ll see you back here Monday morning!

Teachers Write! 6/21 – Thursday Quick Write

Welcome to Tuesday Quick-Write!  Got your keyboard or pencil ready? Today, guest author Miriam Forster talks about the magic of the unexpected – and flipping your story!

Miriam Forster learned to read at the age of five, wrote her first story at the age of seven and has been playing with words ever since. Her debut novel, CITY OF A THOUSAND DOLLS is being published by HarperCollins. In her daily life, Miriam is a wife, a terrible housekeeper and a dealer of caffeine at a coffee shop. In her internal life, she imagines fight scenes, obsesses about anthropology, nature shows and British television, and reads far too many books. Learn more at her website: http://msforster.blogspot.com/

One of the things that sparks a good story is the conjunction of unlikely elements. And one of the best ways to create that spark is to take an essential aspect of your story and flip it.  That’s what today’s prompt is about.

Step One: Pick your favorite fairy tale.

Step Two: Flip all the genders.

(If you’re using these prompts to help a work in progress, try flipping the gender of one of your primary characters instead.)

Step Three: Write a paragraph or two from a flipped character’s perspective. 

This also works with plot, (What if the princess from Sleeping Beauty was cursed to stay awake for a hundred years?) and setting. (What would a Snow White tale look like set in Alaska? What if Rapunzel took place in Australia?) 

Flipping is a great writing exercise because it instantly opens up the story possibilities and gets your brain thinking outside the box.  More importantly, flipping is just plain fun.

Ready…Set…Flip! Be sure to stop back and let us know in the comments what you discover today.

Teachers Write! 6/20 – Q and A Wednesday

Wednesday is Q and A Day at Teachers Write! Virtual Summer Writing Camp, so if you have questions about writing, it’s time to fire away.

Authors are always welcome to drop by and answer questions (you never quite know who you’ll run into here!) But today’s official author volunteers are Jennifer Brown, Barb Rosenstock, Jean Reidy, Erin Dealey, and Julia Devillers. They’ve promised to be around to respond to your questions today, so please visit their websites & check out their books!

Teachers & librarians – Feel free to ask your questions in the comments.  Published author guests have volunteered to drop in and respond when they can.

Guest authors – Even if today isn’t a day you specifically signed up to help out, feel free to answer any questions you’d like to talk about.  Just reply directly to the comment.


Virtual Book Signing!

I’ve done hundred of virtual author visits, and I’m running a virtual writing camp for teachers this summer, so why not a virtual book signing for my new mystery for kids, CAPTURE THE FLAG?

Monday, July 2nd is one day after CAPTURE THE FLAG’s birthday, one day before my birthday and two days before America’s (cue the fireworks!) so it seemed like the perfect day to celebrate with a book launch event at one of my favorite independent bookstores, The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid, NY.  Of course, if you live nearby, I’d love to see you there in person (it’s from 4-6pm), but the fantastic folks at The Bookstore Plus have arranged for far-away friends to order personalized, signed books, too. Here’s how…

If you’d like to order personalized, signed copies of any of my books for kids, call The Bookstore Plus at 518-523-2950.

Let them know which books you’d like to order, how many copies you want, and how you’d like them signed.  They have a form to write everything down. If you’re part of the Teachers Write community, please let them know that, too (I have a special inscription for you!) They’ll take your order, I’ll sign your books on July 2nd, and they’ll ship them out that week.  Shipping is free on orders over $50 and reasonable on smaller orders, too.

Here are the books they’ll have available. You can click on titles for more information.

CAPTURE THE FLAG – Mystery/Adventure – best for ages 8-12  (Hardcover – $16.99 – Scholastic)

EYE OF THE STORM – Science Thriller – best for ages 10-14 (Hardcover – $6.99 – Walker/Bloomsbury)

SUGAR AND ICE – Figure skating novel – best for ages 8-12 (Paperback – $7.99/Hardcover – $16.99 – Walker/Bloomsbury)

THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. – School novel – best for ages 8-12 (Paperback – $6.99/Hardcover – $16.99 – Walker/Bloomsbury)

MARTY MCGUIRE  and MARTY MCGUIRE DIGS WORMS – Funny chapter books – best for ages 6-10 (Paperback – $5.99/Hardcover – $15.99 – Scholastic)

OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW – Nature picture book – best for all ages to share aloud – (Hardcover – $16.99 – Chronicle Books)

SEA MONSTER’S FIRST DAY – 1st day of school picture book – best for ages 3-7 – (Hardcover – $16.99- Chronicle Books)

So…if you’d like to order signed books for yourself, or your classroom or library, or for a summer birthday present or hostess gift, or back-to-school surprise — or just because summer is for reading — call The Bookstore Plus at 518-523-2950. And if you do live nearby or you’re up for a drive in the mountains, I’d love to see you in Lake Placid on July 2nd!

Teachers Write 6/19 – Tuesday Quick Write!

Welcome to Tuesday Quick-Write!  Got your keyboard or pencil ready?  We have two guest authors and a huge range of prompts today – so if time is tight, choose on and bookmark the rest for a rainy day.

First, guest author Sara Lewis Holmes is here to talk about poetry and inspiration (even for those of you who might not think you’re poets!)  Sara is the author of two middle-grade novels, Letters From Rapunzel and Operation Yes. She studied physics at UNC-Chapel Hill, government at the College of William and Mary, and writing at home. You can read more about Sara at her website: http://www.saralewisholmes.com/

Clear Thinking about Mixed Feelings”

 What Poetry Can Do for You…Even If You’re Not a Poet

One morning, I woke up with the phrase “Potato chips don’t go with coffee” in my head.

What a ridiculous, trivial idea.

So, of course, I reached for my pen and notebook and wrote it down. Then I wrote another line. And a few more. Until I “accidentally” wrote this poem:


Potato chips don’t go with coffee
My alarm alarmed me with those words.


I told you this, exactly—
and you said:


Led Zeppelin doesn’t go with mashed potatoes
and I said:


that’s not the same thing!
And you said:


you’re alarming me, my sweet, raw potato.


That may not be the most amazing poem I’ve ever written, but I like it. Why?

Because it speaks to how and why we might approach poetry.

We write poetry in response to the things that set off alarms inside us. The moments when we are vibrating with wonder, or fear, or heartbreak.  Poetry is most definitely FEELING.

But we also write poetry to examine things more closely; to cry out: that’s not the same thing!  To logically parse a silly thought until it reveals something we didn’t understand when first we were alarmed. Poetry is most definitely THOUGHT.

Perhaps that’s why I love Auden’s definition of poetry as “clear thinking about mixed feelings.”

So, can writing poetry help you think more clearly about your mixed feelings—whether or not you consider yourself a poet? Can it help you write fiction? Non-fiction? Memoir? I think so.

Let me give you an example.

I grew up Catholic, so I know what a credo is. Literally, it means “I believe” and it’s a statement of those things you believe in. Many writers earnestly think that this is where they should begin: with what they believe, with what they know for certain, with just the facts, please. I know I did. I wrote many a persuasive essay in school, and I was damn good at it. I could argue the leg off a table, as they say.

But one day, I heard several people toss off the phrase “I don’t believe in…” and they weren’t talking about theology. They were discussing topics like wearing synthetic socks, or eating a big breakfast, or buying things online, or giving a child a binky.

When I did a Google search on the phrase, some things that turned up after “I don’t believe in…” were:  polls, the death penalty, failure, God, love, atheists, first grade, hell and walled gardens. (Hmmm. That last one intrigues me.)

Then, for my own amusement, I began to riff on the phrase, “I don’t believe in…”

I wound up writing a poem (you can see it here) not so much about particular beliefs or non-beliefs, but about how complicated our personal creeds are. How and why did we draw those lines we won’t cross? What are our exceptions? If we had to explain ourselves, could we do it?

Those last three questions—which I never would’ve stumbled across without writing this poem—could, if well tended, grow into a variety of writing projects: a memoir about my Catholic upbringing; a young adult novel about a particular moral line the main character has crossed (Sara Zarr’s stunning Story of a Girl, for example); or even a biography of a person whose logical discoveries are at odds with his beloved’s faith. (I’m thinking of Deborah Heiligman’s non-fiction book, Charles and Emma, about the Darwins.)

In Madeleine L’Engle’s book, Walking On Water, she talks about belief this way:

“The artist, like the child, is a good believer. The depth and strength of the belief is reflected in the the work; if the artist does not believe, then no one else will; no amount of technique will make the responder see truth in something the artist knows to be phony.”

Ferreting out the phony is exactly what poetry is designed to do.

Poetry allows you to explore anything you’ve left unexamined up until now, to go to the core of yourself—and to honor both your irrational thoughts and your mixed feelings about what you find.

This is true whether you write poetry for publication—or just because you can. Or even if you’d rather read poetry than write it. That’s okay. (May I suggest two great books? Jeannine Atkins’ novel in verse, Borrowed Names, in which there is some amazingly beautiful and clear thinking about mothers and daughters, history, and choices. And Joyce Sidman’s poetry book for younger ages, This is Just to Say, which explores mixed feelings with humor and grace.)

Finally, I’d like to draw your attention to someone who’s not a poet, or even a writer, but a visual artist: Claudia Tennyson, who carries on the traditional Japanese practice of repairing cracked ceramic vessels—not with invisible glue or carefully matched paint—but with gold filigree, which makes the cracks “visible instead of hiding them.” She believes the mending process “increases rather than depreciates the value of the vessel.”

Could there be a more perfect metaphor for writing? We are not covering up the cracks that we find; not even truly fixing them, because, often, that’s beyond our power. But we can say: Look. Look right here. I believe this is important.

Today’s fun stuff:

1) Tell me about a time you didn’t reject the first silly thought or phrase that came to you—and what happened afterwards. Write a poem about it if you wish.

2) When you have a free evening, find the recent documentary, Louder Than a Bomb, which follows four teams of students as they prepare for and compete in a Chicago poetry slam. Need a quick jolt immediately? Here’s seventeen-year-old Adam Gottlieb performing “Poet, Breathe Now.

3) Begin a “commonplace book.” This is simply a notebook into which you copy poems you want to keep nearby. You can do this by hand, inking in the lines, or do what I often do: print or make a copy with your computer, and paste it in. Or do both—no rules! Try reading from this commonplace book before you approach your regular writing time, and see if it puts you in the right frame of mind to be both open and clear.

4) To explore your mixed feelings, write a credo. But do it slant, as Emily Dickinson would advise. Start with “I don’t believe in…” and see where your intrepid words take you.


Our second guest author today, Joy Preble joins us with a prompt to get us thinking about characters…

A former English teacher, Joy is the author of the DREAMING ANASTASIA series (Sourcebooks), which blends paranormal romance with historical fiction. The second in that series, HAUNTED, is out now, and the final book of the trilogy, title TBA, but currently ANASTASIA FOREVER, is due in Fall 2012. Another paranormal – about a sixteen-year-old stoner turned guardian angel – THE SWEET DEAD LIFE – is set in Houston and slated for May 2013, from Soho Press. Joy grew up in Chicago but now lives with her family in Houston where she writes full time and frequently get into wild rumpuses and other mischief. She is not a fan of the Houston summer but does love cowboy boots, going to the rodeo, and the coffee drinks at Empire Café.

Getting to know your characters is crucial. This means more than just the surface things like hair color or height. It means knowing what they like and what they don’t. What’s in their closet. How they talk and how they perceive the universe. Once you understand these things about your characters, their voices will shine in your writing.

So today, think of the main character in whatever you’re working on. Writing in that character’s voice, answer these two questions: How do you see yourself? How do others see you?

Note from Kate: If you don’t have a work-in-progress, feel free to write this piece in the voice of one of your students or friends, a celebrity or politician, a fictional character from your favorite book, a character you make up today, or…as yourself.  Feel free to share ideas on either or both of today’s mini-lessons below. Our guest authors will be visiting later on to respond to any questions.