Teachers Write 8/7/13 It’s Q and A Wednesday!

Good morning, team! I’m traveling again this week & won’t be around to comment until late, but we have some great guest authors for Q and A Wednesday today, including Joanne Levy, Danette Haworth, and Erin Dealey!

Got a question you’d like to ask one of these friendly writers?

Teachers & librarians – Feel free to ask your questions in the comments.  It’s fine to ask a general question or to direct one directly to a specific guest author. Our 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.

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27 Comments

  1. Posted August 7, 2013 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    Good morning Teachers Write friends! I’m here with my coffee and ready to answer questions and solve simple maths. Ask away!

  2. Jessica Loupos
    Posted August 7, 2013 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Good morning authors! My question is about character description. What little tricks do you use to include it, without it becoming a listy, info dump? This will help my students as well! 🙂 Thank you!

    • Posted August 7, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      Jessica – my answer didn’t embed under yours – see it below. Sorry about that.
      Joanne

    • Posted August 7, 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink

      Hi, Jessica,
      Joanne has a great answer! The info dump was one of my problems when I first began writing — er — it still is in many ways, but, I’m so conscious of *not* info-dumping descriptions that I fear I am too sparse! What does she look like? my CP wants to know! Aloha!

    • Posted August 7, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      Hi Jessica,
      As a rule, I try to only include what the reader needs to know at that moment, and think of it as sprinkling the rest in as I go. One trick I use with students is to have them write a character description–separate from their stories–with key phrases the character says often, bio, unique character “ticks” and so on, and then arrange them (and number them) in the order of importance in the story. Next step is to have them write the story without mentioning any of this info–and then go back and sprinkle in what is necessary to the reader. They will find they don’t need all of it. Some of it is there as backstory, as help for them to get to know the character, but not needed in the actual text. (An added plus: My math-centric kids love this because it involves numbers–haha. Sneaky, right?)
      I hope this helps!
      Erin

  3. Ericka
    Posted August 7, 2013 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Good morning, everyone! Thank you to today’s guest authors for being here today.

    How do you make your young characters’ perspectives/language/
    reactions, etc., authentic, given the fact that you are adults?

    • Posted August 7, 2013 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      Hi Erika!
      I think if you heard me speak out loud, you might not call me an adult, although I do have a mortgage, so I guess I qualify.
      Joking aside, I channel my inner tween and write in what I call my ‘know it all tween voice”. I actually kind of hear it in my head when I’m writing and it’s that girl who is naive enough to think she knows how the world works, but is at her core, still very vulnerable and impressionable and have this sense of URGENCY. Everything is urgent and of HUGE importance to a 12 year old.
      I have more vivid memories of being a tween than I do of what happened yesterday, so that helps, too.
      I don’t have kids, but I have a niece and listening to her talk is a great refresher on how kids communicate. I tend not to include too many pop culture references, as they can quickly date the book.
      Thanks for your question!

      • Posted August 7, 2013 at 10:10 am | Permalink

        And I just realized I spelled your name wrong -so sorry, Ericka! Need more coffee.

    • Posted August 7, 2013 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      Hi Ericka,
      Sorry, my reply didn’t embed below your question — please scroll down! Aloha!

    • Posted August 7, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      Hi Ericka,
      (I’m the West coast kid so just catching up here.) Did I say Kid? Yes, Joanne’s answer applies to me too. I suspect many of us who write for children never really grew up…Me most definitely! However, as a theater teacher, I have found that I work on my characters in much the same way I do in acting–from the inside out. It helps me to find an article of clothing or a “prop” (some key possession my character might hold dear) and use it to “eavesdrop” into their world. My mini-lesson next week on Voice will go into this further. (Stay tuned!) I’ve used it with decades of student writers and the results are amazing!
      I hope this helps.
      Erin

  4. Posted August 7, 2013 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Hi Jessica! I\’m very sparse with my character descriptions as I really like to leave it up to the reader to make a picture in her head, but I do put some stuff in and try to weave it in near the beginning, so there are no surprises later. For me, less is more.
    \”It was hot. Mom had said to wear a hat, but it would have ruined my hair, which had taken me an hour to style. Although now, after being in the heat for an hour, the long, brown stands were sweaty and sticking to my face, anyway.\” Okay, so that kind of sucks, but you get the idea.
    There are some devices that don\’t work, like having the character stand in a mirror and describe herself under the guise of getting ready for her day. That tends to be an info dump which takes the reader out of the story and reads, uh, like an info dump.
    Hope that helps!

  5. andrea p
    Posted August 7, 2013 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Good Morning Authors-
    I have two very different questions…

    I wondered who was your “mentor” when you were beginning to write? And, what was the biggest hurdle to overcome?

    The next question has to do with the business of writing. I know authors need an online presence. (website, blog, twitter, etc.) How did you design your websites, and HOW do you keep up-to-date with everything….especially those authors who are still teaching?!

    Thank you for your responses…

    • Posted August 7, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      Good morning, Andrea! I had no “mentor” when I was beginning to write, and things would have gone much better if I’d had one. Soon, I was asking my fellow teachers to read my work as well as our school librarian. The biggest hurdle to overcome was embarrassment! 🙂 For my online presence, I have a web designer who does my website, and I do my Twitter myself — I’m @ipapaverison. When I began publishing in 1995, the internet was still a baby! It’s hard to juggle teaching and writing, but getting up early does help — as well as being very organized! Thanks!

    • Posted August 7, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      Oops. It seems when I get the maths wrong the first time, it doesn’t reply inline. My answer is below.

    • Posted August 7, 2013 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      Hi Andrea,
      As a teacher, I truly wished a mentor would come along when I started writing–someone like Sharon Creech who could take me by the hand and teach me the ins and out of publishing– : ) . Since I’d never met Ms. Creech, or any other authors, somewhere along the way, I realized I needed to mentor myself. I’m certain you do this with your students, even if you don’t know all the answers, because you know where to search and you believe in your kids. This is the approach I decided to take with my own writing. I found most of my answers at scbwi.org , aka Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. (You do not need to be published to join.) They have regions all over the US and internationally as well, and each region has conferences and workshops, plus list-serves where you can ask away.
      As for your second question, I had a former student design my web site. I’m not a very consistent blogger so I have guest bloggers from time to time. (Anyone want to sign up?). I tweet regularly @ErinDealey and have become friends with Sharon Creech and Anne Mazer along with other authors (like @JonneLevy and @KateMessner) and fabulous teachers & librarians like @MrSchuReads @ColbySharp and The Nerdy Book Club on Twitter. Their insights and friendship keep me going now.
      Erin

      • Posted August 7, 2013 at 10:34 am | Permalink

        Here’s the link: http://www.scbwi.org/

        • Posted August 7, 2013 at 10:51 am | Permalink

          In response to your “biggest obstacle” question, mine was actaully sitting down and making time for my writing, since I wasn’t getting paid for it, and there were stacks of papers needing my attention. To make writing a bigger priority in my life, I reminded myself that it was important to model what I was telling my students: Follow your dreams. Words are power. There is no such thing as instant success with writing; the way to begin is to sit down and start. Writer/Teachers are teaching by example. Go for it!

          • Posted August 7, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink

            *actually (Sheesh! Trying to multi-task in this tiny box here. Sorry!)

          • Kristin Russo
            Posted August 7, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

            I wish there was a “like” button. This is exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you!

      • Posted August 7, 2013 at 10:47 am | Permalink

        Erin is smart. Ditto everything she says above.

  6. Posted August 7, 2013 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Hi, Ericka,
    I\’m popping in here to answer a few author questions as well (I\’m doing the Quick-Write tomorrow!), and I like Joanne\’s answer very much. Channeling is key, and listening to teens (or middle graders) talk is key. That \’know it all\’ voice is layered with more sophistication in the teen years, IMHO, so it can be tricky in the upper teens. Thanks!

  7. Posted August 7, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Hi Andrea! I can\’t say I\’ve had a dedicated, hands on mentor, but I\’ve had lots of help along the way, starting with a very plugged in high school teacher who encouraged writing (and was himself a published author). I\’ve also taken college courses on writing and that really helped build my confidence. Which leads me to my biggest hurdle when beginning to write–confidence. Realizing that nothing starts out perfect, but with work and dedication, I could write well. I think putting in the time and practicing and seeing growth in your work is a huge step toward getting that confidence (though be warned that I don\’t know of any writer who has completely perfected the confidence thing–we all have doubts). The college courses were workshop-based, which meant I had to read my work aloud and that was SO terrifying, but was a big help and definitely a step towards that confidence.
    As for your second question, it took me almost a decade to get published and all that happened when I had a full-time job, so I get where you\’re coming from. It IS tough to build a presence and following–something I still struggle with–but there\’s no reason to go whole hog before you get a publishing contract. Unless you\’re writing non-fiction, you really don\’t need a \’platform\’, so just do as much as you\’re comfortable with at this point and then once you sell a book, you can talk with your editor/publisher about your marketing strategy. Trust me, you don\’t have to do it all now. Enjoy the writing and the support you get online and worry about the author presence later!
    Good luck and thanks for your great questions!

    • andrea p
      Posted August 7, 2013 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      A BIG heartfelt thank you to everyone! I appreciate all your answers…I’ll check out SCBWI online resources – I’ve attended several conferences, even the NYC one before- very motivating! I’ll definitely follow your leads above… Have a great day!

  8. Posted August 7, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Hi folks!

    After a rough night, I’ve spent the day driving and waiting in doctors’s offices for help with the current severe episode of my daughter’s TMJ. None of the offices had wifi.

    I plan to sign on in a little while and add my answers to these discussions.

    Thank you for understanding!

    • Posted August 8, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      Oh my–I hope she’s doing better now. Sending good thoughts.
      Erin

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