Teachers Write 7/31 Tuesday Quick-Write

Good morning! Today’s Quick-Write is courtesy of guest author Lisa Schroeder. She’s the author of five young adult novels including THE DAY BEFORE and the upcoming FALLING FOR YOU, all with Simon Pulse. She’s also the author of the middle grade novels IT’S RAINING CUPCAKES, SPRINKLES AND SECRETS and the upcoming FROSTING AND FRIENDSHIP (Aladdin). You can find her on the web at www.lisaschroederbooks.com and on twitter at www.twitter.com/lisa_schroeder.

My grandparents lived on a farm and I spent a lot of time there as a child and a teen. I have lots of wonderful memories, as you can imagine. It wasn’t a working farm, but a farm where they had goats for milk and to keep the grass down and mules for their annual hunting trips in Eastern Oregon.

There is a special place in my heart for the farm and for my dear grandparents who are no longer with us, and so, it’s always thrilling when I’m somewhere, not thinking about it at all, and I get a whiff of something that takes me back to that place. Have you ever noticed how smells have the ability to elicit strong memories? It’s pretty amazing, and I love it when it happens and brings up a happy memory from the farm. It might happen when our family visits the apple farm every fall or when or when I’m walking and the air has a certain grassy scent and I’m suddenly back there, hanging on to the tire swing that hung from the big, old willow tree.

Today I’d like you to think about smells and sounds. Adding in sensory details is often something you do as you revise, but here’s an exercise you can do anytime, that will help when you’re ready to read through your manuscript with an eye on the details.

 List three places your character visits in the story. For example: school, grandma’s house, and the zoo.

Now, with those three places, start brainstorming things your character might smell while there. Get creative! Imagine the people who are nearby as well as what that specific place may smell like. Don’t limit yourself to only good smells or only bad smells. Try and find both. At first, you may have trouble describing the scent in detail, and that’s okay. Don’t edit yourself, just write your thoughts down. When you have a bunch of possibilities, then you can start working on how you describe the various smells. It’s not always easy, I know. You probably won’t use the entire list, but if you can come up with one or two good descriptions, you’ll find it adds a lot to your scenes.

Also brainstorm sounds your character might hear. In some cases, you will struggle to get a couple. But in other places, you will be able to get a lot. It’s those places where you want to make sure you add in some of those details to make the experience as rich for your reader as it is for your character.

 This is a great exercise you can do just about anywhere – take a notebook along when you’re taking your kids to an appointment, and work on your lists while you wait.

 Have fun awakening your senses and happy writing!

65 Off-Draft Writing Prompts to Kick-Start Revision

Revising a book — or any piece of writing — can be messy work.

The word REVISION breaks down into re-vision…or seeing again. And in order to see something again, in a new way, we have to look away from it for a little while first.  Sometimes, the very best ideas for revising a piece of writing happen not when we’re staring at that piece of writing but when we’ve set it aside to write on a different sheet of paper or type in a new document.  Here are 65 off-draft writing prompts that can help writers of all ages get thinking in new directions.

65 Off-Draft Writing Prompts to Kick-Start Revision

1.  Describe your main character’s bedroom. Don’t forget to look in drawers and closets, and under the bed.
2.  Write a letter to your main character from another character who loves him or her.
3.  Write a letter to your main character from someone who doesn’t like him or her.
4.  Write a poem in your main character’s voice, using a metaphor to describe a secondary character who matters to him or her.
5.  Write a journal entry from your main character that starts with “I’m my own worst enemy because…”
6.  Write a journal entry from your main character that starts with “I’ll never share this with anyone, but the truth is…”
7.  Write a journal entry from your main character that starts with “Deep down inside, I’m afraid…”
8.  Complete this sentence in your main character’s voice. Everybody thinks my dream is _____________________, but really, it’s _____________________.
9.  Write a journal entry from your antagonist that starts with, “The best thing about me is…”

10. Write your main character’s obituary.

11. Take a blank piece of paper & doodle on it, as your main character

12. Write about your antagonist’s greatest regret in life.

13. If your main character could get a do-over on one day of his or her life, which day would he or she choose, and why?

14. Write a letter from your main character to you (the author!) Start like this: The thing you’re not understanding about me is…

15. If your antagonist were on trial, what would be his/her defense?

16. Describe a place where your main character feels safe.

17. Write a letter from your main character at the end of the book to your main character at the beginning of the book.  What advice, warnings, and words of wisdom would he or she give?

18. Writing as your main character, describe the setting of each scene, spending a few minutes on each sense exclusively – sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch.

19. Do the same thing – but as your antagonist. How might he or she perceive things differently?

20. Writing as your main character, look out your bedroom window and describe in detail what you see.

21. How does your main character feel when the phone rings?

22. What are some distinct body language cues, verbal habits, and quirks that your main character displays when he or she is angry?  Excited? Embarrassed? Nervous? Scared? Happy? Disappointed?

23. Create a music playlist for your main character.

24. Now create one for your antagonist.

25. If the two had one common song on those playlists, what would it be and why?

26. If your main character eavesdropped on his/her parents having a conversation, what would he or she hear?

27. What’s in your main character’s refrigerator?

28. What’s in the antagonist’s refrigerator?

29. Move your main character from where he or she lives to another state or country…a different landscape.  How would life be different?

30. What would the most minor character in your book have to say about the conflict?

31. What’s your main character’s favorite weather?  Least favorite? (and have you included both in the book?)

32. In your main character’s voice, write a poem about a place he or she loves.

33. What’s your main character’s favorite smell, and why?

34. Write about the rules of the society your main character lives in – the spoken, written-down rules and the unspoken ones, too.  What are the consequences when these rules are broken?

35. Describe a sunrise/sunset in your main character’s setting.

36. What would it look like, sound like, and feel like in your main character’s house/school/other favorite place in the middle of a huge storm?

37. Imagine the most uncomfortable situation your main character could possibly be in.  Put him or her there, and write everything going through his or her head.  What does the character say? What does he or she think but not speak aloud?

38. What happens when your antagonist sees a spider?

39. Make an imaginary Facebook wall for a character you need to understand better.

40. Make a list of everything in your main character’s closet. What should have been thrown out but wasn’t?  What’s right in front?

41. What’s in the newspaper in your main character’s home town. Front page news?  Classified ads?  Sports section? Weather forecast?

42. If your book’s characters could all vote in the upcoming presidential election, for whom would they vote, and why?

43. If all the characters in your book were in a running race, what would happen? Who would come in first?  Last?  How would they act at the end?

44. What’s on your antagonist’s bookshelf?

45. What plants/animals live in your main character’s part of the world? Choose three & describe them in detail.

46. Rewrite a scene from your antagonist’s point of view.

47. Rewrite a scene from a minor character’s point of view

48. What historical events happened in the community where your main character lived, and how have those events shaped the character of the community?

49. What was the worst day in your main character’s life? The best?

50. What was the worst day of your antagonist’s life? The best?

51. What kinds of pictures are in a character’s family album?  Family shots? Landscapes? Who took most of the photos, and who is featured?

52. What would your character’s Pinterest boards be about?

53. What’s your character’s favorite font and why?

54. Write a journal entry from a character, describing your earliest life memory.

55. If you chose a famous quote to represent your book, what would it be?

56. If you could choose one song to go along with your book, what would it be, and why?

57. If this book were made into a movie, who might play the main parts?  What body language, characteristics, and quirks do they have that might help round out your characters?

58. If your manuscript could talk to you, what would it say?

59. What’s the most boring part of your manuscript?

60. What’s the best thing about your manuscript?  How could you add more of the best stuff?

61. Why is your title your title?

62. You’re a book reviewer who LOVES this book but isn’t allowed to turn in a review without three critical comments.  What criticism will you offer?

63. What part of this book would a reluctant reader be tempted to skip or skim?

64. Fill in the blanks in this sentence. My book is kind of like ________ (title of another book) because __________ but it’s different in that ________________________.

65. Stephen King said that “Fiction is the truth inside the lie.”  What is the truth your book is telling, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction?

Teachers Write 7/30 Mini-Lesson Monday

Good morning & happy Monday! First, let’s announce the winner of OLIVIA BEAN, TRIVIA QUEEN from last week…and that’s Carol Osler! Please email me (kmessner at kate messner dot   com) and I’ll forward your name and address to Donna Gephart so she can send out your book. On to Mini-Lesson Monday now…

Next week, we’re going to spend some time talking about revision…how to do it, why you need to do it, and how it can be not only less painful but kind of awesome. On Sunday, I’ll be sharing a post offering some of my favorite revision strategies and inviting authors of all different genres to stop by and share a favorite revision strategy. (Bookmark that post to use in your classroom later on!)  Those of you who have read REAL REVISION can ask any questions you had while reading, and really, it’ll be kind of a revision free-for-all.

Today, we have a special guest author who is…okay…not only a guest author but a friend and one of my favorite people in the world. Linda Urban is the author of acclaimed middle grade novels A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT and HOUND DOG TRUE as well as MOUSE WAS MAD, a picture book about finding the “right” way to be angry. Her website is http://lindaurbanbooks.com.

Today, Linda’s joining us to talk about one of her favorite revision strategies that involves returning to the brainstorming phase of the writing process to foster deeper thinking and connection building.


I like certain objects to have a different meaning for different characters in a book. Sometimes I start a web with that object in the center – Popsicles, for example – and then web from there the places that Popsicles occur in the story, the people who eat them or talk about or buy them, and then all the different associations that those people and places have in relation to the Popsicles.  Sometimes what I find surprises me.  Sometimes it gives me details that I can use in my revision.  For one character, I might find that sharing a Popsicle turns out to be a supreme symbol of friendship.  For another, it’s just a sticky mess on her fingers.


Note: This activity & photo originally appeared in Real Revision, courtesy of Linda.

Assignment: Think of an object from your work-in-progress. (If you don’t have a work-in-progress, try this with a book that you love as a reader.) Choose an object that might mean different things to different characters in the story, and put it in the middle of an idea web. Then brainstorm all the places that object appears in the story (or all the places it might be added!) and what it could mean in different settings, to different characters. Feel free to post a comment about what you discovered through this activity when you’re done.


Teachers Write! 7/27 – Friday Writing Happy Hour

So how’s it going this week? 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.

We have a giveaway today, too! Donna  Gephart has offered up three copies of OLIVIA BEAN, TRIVIA QUEEN for our Friday drawing.

Just leave a comment by 11:30pm EST Saturday to be entered, and winners will be announced on Monday.

 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 7/25 Thursday Quick-Write

Today’s Thursday Quick-Write is courtesy of guest author Lynne Kelly, whose debut novel CHAINED was published this spring from Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Margaret Ferguson Books. Learn more at her website: http://lynnekellybooks.com/wordpress/

Before my manuscript of CHAINED was submitted to editors, my agent Joanna Volpe asked me to do some revisions. After a while, many of the comments started sounding familiar: “And how does he feel about that?” “How does that make him feel?” “And he feels…?”

I’d received similar feedback before. Sometimes the comments on chapters I’d brought to critique meetings showed that readers wanted to see more about how the character was feeling or what they were thinking. A couple of agents who were nice enough to send feedback with the rejection letters indicated the same thing– I wasn’t showing enough about what was going on in the character’s head. Maybe I was worried about the dreaded “telling” too much instead of “showing.” Sure, if I filled the story with internal thoughts like, “I was sad,” and “I was so angry,” that would be really boring, but there are ways of showing those feelings that help readers connect with characters more, and thereby root for them and keep reading the story to see how things turn out.

So it took some work, since for whatever reason the feelings thing doesn’t come naturally for me. Here are a few before-and-after lines, showing how I revised those parts of the manuscript using Joanna’s notes.

Before: I try my best to look brave.
Jo: But inside he feels…?
Me: Um…not brave?
Revision: I try my best to look brave, but I worry I’ll never feel safe again.

This is from a scene where Hastin surprises his mom with a visit after not seeing her for a couple of weeks, and he notices her smile seems forced:

Before: I run toward her, then stop. Doesn’t she want to see me?
Jo: How does that make him feel? Tie it to his elation, then being deflated in some way.
Revision: I run toward her, then stop. Doesn’t she want to see me? All this time, I thought she must be missing me as much as I’ve missed her, but not it feels like I’ve done something wrong.

I went through the manuscript and highlighted all the places where I could show Hastin’s reaction to what was happening. And there were a lot. Then I tackled each highlighted scene by doing a little freewriting about how he felt at that time, and how I’d feel if I were in his place–not just the emotion, but what it would feel like physically too. Is there a sinking feeling in his stomach? Does he hit something out of anger? Does he feel like things are so bad, he’ll never be happy again? I picked out my favorite words and phrases from the freewriting to add a concise description of the character’s feelings to the scene.  HYPERLINK “http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.com/”The Bookshelf Muse has an Emotional Thesaurus that helped tremendously. (It’s also great for setting descriptions, so bookmark it!)

In your own writing, look for places you can show more about how your character is feeling. Think about when you’ve felt the same way, and freewrite about that. Don’t worry about overwriting it– get everything on the page first, and the editing can come later if you need to scale it back. On the surface it might seem that you don’t have much in common with your character, but everyone has at times felt afraid, lonely, sad, desperate, or whatever else that character is feeling at the time.

After writing all you can about that feeling or experience, look over what you’ve written and see what you can you can apply to a scene you’re working on. Or, you may even want to start a new scene for a new character. Often it takes only one strong sentence or two to make an impact on your readers so they feel what your characters feel.

Teachers Write! 7/25 – Q and A Wednesday

Wednesday is Q and A Day at Teachers Write! Virtual Summer Writing Camp, so if you have questions about writing, ask 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 Diane Zahler, Jaclyn Dolamore, D. Dina Friedman, and Danette Haworth.  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.

Teachers Write 7/24 Tuesday Quick-Write

We’ve spent a lot of time this summer talking about getting your work-in-progress moving — developing characters and painting settings and plotting tightly crafted plots.  And I’ve answered a handful of questions about genre: “If I’m working on a story about xyz, do you think it would be best as a picture book or a middle grade novel, or what?”

I’m happy to answer those questions,  but I also want to let you in on a secret. Not everything you write has to grow up to be something else. One of email asked me if I ever write things that “just don’t go anywhere.”  Do I write things that don’t get published?  Gosh, yes. I write things that I hope might be published but that aren’t good enough (or good enough yet), and I write things that I don’t have any plans to publish. I write lots of those things, because publishing isn’t the only reason to write, or even the most important reason, in my opinion. I write to figure out what I think about things, to share those thoughts, to amuse my family and friends, to preserve family stories, and to keep memories just the way I experienced them, including sounds and feelings and wind on my face — stuff that a photograph won’t capture.

So today, let’s write for that reason. Here’s your prompt:

I’d like you to tell us all a good campfire story. It shouldn’t have anything at all to do with your work-in-progress if you have one. This is just for fun. It can be a true narrative — something funny or life-changing or embarrassing or goofy that happened when you were little (my kids LOVE these stories) — or a story you make up to make us laugh or shiver in the dark.

I’ve started a campfire for us with that good smoky smell and some virtual s’mores.

Get writing, and share a few paragraphs in the comments later on if you’d like.

Teachers Write 7/23 Mini-Lesson Monday

First, congratulations to Kristen Kilpatrick! You’ve won a copy of A WHOLE LOT OF LUCKY from Danette Haworth. Please email me your mailing address at kmessner at kate messner dot com so that Danette can get your book in the mail.

It’s a double-dose Mini-Lesson Monday on Teachers Write today, with guest authors Karen Day and Danette Haworth. Feel free to do either or both assignments & comment to let us know how it’s going!

Karen Day  is the author of middle grade novels, TALL TALES and NO CREAM PUFFS, and A MILLION MILES FROM BOSTON, all published by Wendy Lamb/Random House. Karen’s love of reading and writing has taken her through careers in journalism and teaching. She can be found at www.klday.com.  And Karen’s chatting with us today about how to keep moving forward with writing…when you’re stuck.

You finally started that novel you always wanted to write. You brainstormed, made an outline, found a main character and plot. You set aside time to work. You made progress – several chapters are written (and it was easier than you anticipated)! You feel good about it. Inspired! You’re so happy you found Kate Messner and the other writers/teachers this summer. You can’t wait to wake up and work. 

Then one day, perhaps quite suddenly, something changes. Your main character seems flat. The tension has fizzled. The plot has disappeared. You don’t know where to go, what to do. You forget what your novel is about. You get discouraged. You weed the garden and clean your closet. You decide not to write for a couple of days. You think you have to start over. You wonder if you’re a writer, after all.

Does any part of this sound familiar?

If so, do NOT despair. You’re experiencing something that every writer, both published and unpublished, experiences. Expect to be lost at multiple times in your first or second or even third draft. It’s part of the job. Don’t let it scare you.

To help, I thought I’d give you a couple of suggestions to keep you going when times get tough. I often resort to one or two (or all of them) when I’m working on early drafts. Hang in there. Take a deep breath. And don’t give up!

1.)  When writing a first draft, you must write every day. This will keep your story fresh in your conscious and unconscious mind. Don’t worry if all you have is 15 minutes. Sometimes you can get a lot done in short amounts of time. The important thing is consistency and forward momentum.

2.)  Don’t circle back and rewrite early chapters until you have a draft finished. When writing, I always keep paper next to my computer where I list the changes I’ll make in the next draft. If you continually make changes, you’ll never finish a draft. Besides, how can you rewrite the opening chapter when you don’t exactly know how your book will end?

3.)  Which leads me to this point. A first draft is an ugly mess that I wouldn’t even show my dog. It’s filled with holes, melodrama and threads that appear and disappear with no resolution. It’s terrible. Which is terrific!! Because revision is where the real writing is done. But you can’t revise until you have something to work with.

4.)  I lose track of my main theme/themes when I write, and so I always write the main ones (two or three) on a piece of paper that I tape to my computer. For example, while writing A MILLION MILES FROM BOSTON, I had this on my computer: Lucy believes, (mostly unconsciously), that accepting change in her life means rejecting her dead mother. So, when I got stuck, or wondered why I was writing a particularly scene, I’d look at that paper and say, how does this scene fit with my theme/themes? Or does it?

5.)  Sometimes I’ll be 60 pages into a manuscript and lose my way. Then, writing an entire chapter seems daunting. So I tell myself that I’ll just write a scene. A conversation with the antagonist. A resolution. Something my main character discovers. I might write 10 pages or more of these short “scenes”. Out of this, I usually can get myself going again. Don’t worry if this part of your manuscript doesn’t look like the other parts. Remember, it’s a draft!

6.)  At different places in a draft I’ll stop and assess. Has my plot shifted? Do my characters want different things than they I thought they did? Is the antagonist no longer the antagonist? This is okay, of course, but you might try and write up a new synopsis. It will help you stay focused.

Maybe you’ve tried these suggestions, and others, and nothing works. You’re still stuck. How do you know when to abandon something? Several times I’ve been 50-60 pages into a book, then put it aside. But I never totally abandon anything. I might pull out characters or plots and use them elsewhere.

Sometimes when you’re stuck, it’s because your story isn’t “quite right.” The setting is off. Or maybe the wrong character is telling the story. So, here is today’s writing assignment: if you feel stuck, and none of these other suggestions work, try writing a couple of chapters from your antagonist’s point of view. Or a minor character’s point of view. Is this awkward? Easier? Should the entire story be told from this point of view? Or does the exercise help you see your original narrator more clearly?

Good luck, write well, and I’m happy to respond personally if you want to send me an email: klday1@verizon.net.

And now on to Guest Author #2

Danette Haworth is the author of great middle grade novels like VIOLET RAINES ALMOST GOT STRUCK BY LIGHTNING, THE SUMMER OF MOONLIGHT SECRETS, ME AND JACK, and coming in September,  A WHOLE LOT OF LUCKY. Learn more at her website. Danette’s here now with a special Flash Fiction Challenge!

Shortest Story I Ever Told—Flash Fiction 101 with Danette Haworth

 Shot cheating husband. Jail not bad.

Flash fiction is a compressed story form. Sometimes called microfiction, postcard fiction, sudden fiction, short short fiction, flash fiction is a complete story told in five hundred words or less. Some define flash fiction as containing up to one thousand words, but, for me, one thousand words allows too much wiggle room; five hundred words poses a bigger challenge.

I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time. Blaine Pascal

In writing flash fiction, as in writing poetry, the writer must make use of potent imagery and say things in the shortest way possible. Wait, let me rephrase that: As in writing poetry, the flash fiction author must use potent imagery and write concisely. These two sentences say the same thing, but the second sentence has nine fewer words.

With flash fiction, don’t expend your words explaining the nitty-gritty of the who, what, when, where, and why; instead, use only those details that will evoke for your reader more words and images than you’ve actually written.

Let’s go back to the six word story above. If we were writing a short story with a conventional word count, we’d be able to give the shooter’s name, and the husband’s, too. We’d know if they lived in a penthouse or a trailer, if the wife had just come home from her job on the second shift, or if she’d discovered her husband’s car at that nice little B&B just outside of town.

Shot cheating husband. I imagine that the wife has long suspected the husband of cheating and has finally caught him in the act. Maybe she was following him; maybe she stumbled upon this discovery. In any case, BLAM! She shoots him. It feels like a moment of passion, not something planned out.

Cheating husband—well, that can imply a lot. He’s negligent, aloof, gone all the time—a player. By using the word cheating, we’ve told the reader all they need to know about the husband, and we’ve given the wife the motivation for her actions. We’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of that one word.

Jail not bad. 911 call, arrest details, courtroom drama—we don’t waste precious words outlining these events. We imply the details and trust the reader to understand what’s transpired between words. By the second sentence, the wife has already been tried, convicted and sentenced. Rather than writing all of that out, we trust the reader to infer that the wife has been through the judicial process and is now incarcerated. We move on to the denouement, catching her in reverie, reflecting on her sentence. Her rage is so deep-seated that, for her, jail time is not a bad price to pay for alleviating herself of a cheating husband.

One mistake some writers make when trying to write flash fiction is they write what is really an evocative sentence or paragraph—a piece that doesn’t have a beginning, middle, and end, but would serve as a great lead to a longer piece.

Here are two six word stories that don’t work for different reasons:

Armstrong: “One small step—”    Director: “Cut!”

I thought this one was funny when I wrote it, but it doesn’t work as a story because its impact is dependent upon the reader’s familiarity with the theory that the moon landing was an elaborate hoax staged by our government. Though we want readers to infer the unwritten information, it must be unwritten information we’ve intimated. We can’t rely on information they might not be familiar with.

Suicide noose broke. Must lose weight.

I had this picture in my mind of a person who thought he was depressed enough to kill himself, but deep down, he doesn’t want to die; he just wants things to get better, but he’s lackadaisical. Notice he doesn’t think of a more efficient way to kill himself; he determines instead that if the rope is to work, he will need to shed a few pounds, which will take time. Maybe he’ll try again; maybe he won’t. Even though I wrote these words, I can tell they don’t have the ability to convey all the details I’ve imagined. We don’t see much conviction here, and that lack of a definitive arc is why this six word piece doesn’t work as a story.

Tips on writing flash fiction:

  • Use strong verbs. In flash fiction, no one walks—they stride, straggle, lumber, etc.
  • Choose names with the purpose of evoking income level and environment. Where do you think a young woman named Elizabeth might live? What about a character named Wanda?
  • Write dialogue that also builds the stage the characters are acting on. Someone who calls out, “Hey, Ma!” is probably in a different environment from someone who murmurs, “Excuse me, Mother.”
  • Omit adverbs and adjectives. Search for the word that will carry the most meaning on its back.
  • Use contractions and fragments as long as they make sense.

Places to read good flash fiction:

  • Sudden Fiction, edited by Robert Shapard, James Thomas. This title has several editions. I discovered the 1983 edition in the library. Warning: this is a gateway book; you may become addicted.
  • Micro Fiction: An Anthology of Fifty Really Short Stories, edited by Jerome Stern. This book is the tip of the iceberg known as World’s Best Short Short Story Contest held annually by the Southeast Review, literary journal of the Florida State University.
  • Annual edition the Southeast Review containing the year’s winners for the World’s Best Short Short Story Contest.
  • WOW! Women on Writing! website. Read the archives of past winning stories, then check out the quarterly flash fiction contest! This is a great place to try your hand at flash fiction because the contest is usually judged by an agent, and you can opt for a critique, which you’ll receive whether or not your piece places.

There are many more places and websites for you to read and submit flash fiction. I’ve listed the above entries because I either own them, have read them multiple times, or have submitted to them.

Writing flash fiction is precision work. It really does take a lot of time to write a shorter letter! I urge you to try your hand at it. Even if you don’t get hooked as I have, this writing experience will carry over to your novel writing. You will write tighter and your story will not stray from its path.

Now that I’ve done all this talking, I submit for your perusal my favorite flash fiction piece, “Manifest Destiny,” which won an Honorable Mention at the now dark website Whim’s Place (495 words). I originally wrote this piece for a contest in which the prompt stated that your five hundred word piece must include a credit card and making a car payment. Stick around afterward for your assignment.

Manifest Destiny by Danette Haworth

 Ever since the cat started speaking, Lisa felt differently towards him. It wasn’t the same I-feed-you, you-love-me relationship. Now they had to talk; they had to read the newspaper, and recently, the cat wanted to watch the news when Lisa wanted to watch  reality television.

Lisa looked up from the bills at the orange and white cat curled up on the rug. He was watching the MacNeil Lehrer Report. That was the worst part, Lisa realized. The cat was smarter than she was.

Lisa couldn’t stand his constant suggestions, his nagging. He made her spread out the financial pages and then he would cry out, “I told you to buy that stock!” He was right, of course, but Lisa couldn’t bring herself to listen to a cat.

In fact, she couldn’t take the cat any more. As she ripped out the last car payment and slid it into the envelope, an idea formed in her head. Lisa waited for the commercials before addressing the cat.

“Hey,” she said. “I just paid off the car. This calls for a celebration, don’t you think?”

The cat lifted his head. “Like what?”

“We ought to take a vacation.” It was spring break next week and even the clerks in Admin had the week off.

The cat glanced at the TV, then said, “Let’s go to Washington—that would be incredible.”

The cat would think so; he also enjoyed CNN and The History Channel.

“Great!” Lisa said. She grabbed her credit card, threw a few things into her suitcase, and carried the cat to the car.

Lisa drove straight for six hours. She could have stopped anywhere, really, but she felt she owed it to the cat to hit the Capitol. They arrived in the wee hours, parking in view of the Lincoln Memorial. When Lisa lifted the cat out of the car, she noticed his eyes had welled with tears.

The cat laughed self-deprecatingly, shaking his head. “Wow. Never thought I’d see this.”

Lisa’s eyes filled with tears, too. “I forgot something.”

The cat nodded and Lisa hurried to the driver’s side. She hopped in the car, slammed the door, and squealed out. In her rearview mirror, she saw the cat’s shocked eyes staring at her, his mouth forming a perfect O, the last part of “meow.”

Lisa didn’t think she’d miss the cat, but she did. The cat had kept her feet warm at night and kept her abreast of current events. Lisa began to watch CNN. The president had ended the war and initiated peace in the Middle East; tonight he announced a cure for AIDS. When the news conference was over, the president reached into the podium, pulled out an orange and white cat, and held him close.

Lisa gasped in her living room.

The president raised the cat to his ear. It looked like cuddling, but Lisa stared hard at the TV screen. She could see the cat’s lips moving.

The president was listening.

* * *

 Your assignment: Write a five hundred word piece (title not included) that somehow includes getting a cup of coffee. Think outside the box! A car payment and a credit card don’t scream Talking Cat! Go wild, but don’t go over five hundred words. Good luck!


Teachers Write! 7/20 – Friday Writing Happy Hour

Happy Friday, all! Today’s book giveaway is Danette Haworth’s A WHOLE LOT OF LUCKY, which I really, really loved.

It’s about a girl whose family wins the lottery, one of those pitch-perfect books for middle school kids. If you leave a comment on today’s post before 11:30 EST Saturday night, you’ll be entered to win a copy from Danette.

So…I’m not sure if you can hear it from where you live, but every Friday when I read your update posts, I cheer. With great gusto. Just in case I’m not loud enough, though, we have a special guest author visiting to cheer you on today. Sarah Darer Littman, who writes fantastic books for teens, will be popping in to join our conversation today, too.

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 – About Copyright & Sharing Content

Hi, everybody! I’ve gotten some emails & requests lately from people who are excited about Teachers Write (which is great!) and want to share the content with the whole entire world (which can be great or not-so-great, depending on how you do it.)

Here’s the thing… Material posted on blogs is protected under copyright.  Copying and pasting an entire blog post and posting it on another blog or website or wiki, or turning it into a pdf and offering it for download is kind of like scanning a published book into your computer and uploading it to an illegal download site for book pirating.

When people do that with books & music, they are stealing from authors and artists. I’m not making any money from this blog, but the fact that you are here, on my website, reading my content is important to me. If the content that I share here (or that Gae shares on her blog or Jen on TMT)  is suddenly published in a zillion other places, that makes it less special.  It also makes it harder for me to defend the many hours I’m spending on this writing camp to my publishers when they ask when my next book will be done.

More importantly than that, though, I feel a responsibility to the guest authors who have been sharing their time and ideas here. I asked them for — and received — permission to post their mini-lessons and essays and prompts here, on this blog as part of the official Teachers Write camp.  That’s all. They haven’t given permission for their stuff to be shared elsewhere, and while finding it in other places might be okay with some of them, it will most certainly ruffle the feathers of others, and rightfully so. Because the words belong to them, and it’s not what they gave permission for.

I totally understand that you are all awesome people who respect authors and artists and ideas, and I know that your only goal here is to share what you think is useful content. But please, please do that in a way that respects the creators of that content as well as copyright laws. Here are some guidelines:


OKAY: Writing a blog post with the writing that you created in response to a writing prompt or assignment, with a link to the assignment at its original URL.

NOT OKAY: Copying and pasting the entire assignment or prompt on  your own blog or website.


OKAY: Copying and pasting the content of an assignment or prompt into a Word document to save in a file or print for a paper binder for your own personal use.

NOT OKAY: Copying and pasting assignments/prompts into a Word document and offering it as a download online. (Essentially, this is the file-sharing model used by Napster and other pirating sites.)


OKAY: Creating a “Best of Teachers Write” list with post titles and the original URL links to your favorite assignments and prompts, and sharing this list that you created on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, or anywhere else you like.

NOT OKAY: Copying and pasting a guest author’s prompt that you loved into your blog, facebook update, or someplace else online.


When in doubt, don’t copy and paste. Link to the original content on the site where it was originally published.

Please don’t fret if you broke one of these guidelines before you read this.  Just fix it if you can. I know that you are all awesome people, and you don’t need to email me to ask if I still love you. I do. 🙂

But really….these are good guidelines for any website or book or other artistic content that you like. Send people to the original source — the original website, the published book, the link to purchase the song on iTunes — rather than copying or sharing in a way that takes away from the creator of that work.

Many of you have written to me or talked in blog comments about wanting to have this Teachers Write content in one place where it’s easier to access. I hear you loud and clear, and one of the publishers I work with has already approached me about the possibility of putting together a Teachers Write book.  I love that idea. I hope it works out and gives us that place to have all the lessons and prompts easy to access, and I hope we can include some excerpts of the great writing you’ve done this summer, too. But doing that the right way — writing to every author who contributed a guest post to see if they’d like to have it included or not — will take time.  I’m working on it — I promise — and I do think we’ll end up with what you’ve asked for, which is all of the material in one place as both a paper book and an e-book.  (I also have this fantasy that if it comes together & people buy it, I’ll be able to offer a one-time scholarship for teachers who want to attend a writing conference or retreat…but that is a post for another day.)

Anyway…I know you want all the Teachers Write stuff in one place.

I’m working on it, but I really want to do it the right way, legally, and in a way that respects all the authors who have contributed. In the mean time, all the Teachers Write posts will be here, on my blog, and you can bookmark any post and visit any time.

If you’d help me out with that by following the sharing guidelines above, I’d really appreciate it.