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.

152 Replies on “Teachers Write 6/19 – Tuesday Quick Write!

  1. (This is from a story I just started this weekend. Manny is the main character.)

    Manny glanced into the mirror on his way out of the room. It wasn’t often that he stopped to look at himself, but even he could see he had grown a few inches in the last few months. His body had straightened out a bit. If he were an athlete, he might be mistaken for a forward on the basketball court. But the laptop cradled in his arms gave him away. Manny wondered what it would be like to look inside someone’s mind, and see all of the parts working like gears inside. What would they see in him? He knew his mind was organized like tables and spreadsheets. He could visualize data, and find connections between ideas, in ways that no one else really understood. Mostly, he kept this to himself, for fear of being labeled in way that he didn’t want to be labeled. It occurred to him that maybe everyone’s mind worked like that, but we were all so scared to admit it that we kept parts of us hidden from the world, inhabiting our spaces in solitary time. Hmmm. Now, that was interesting, Manny thought, and then kept right on walking.


    1. I like how you said his mind is organized like tables and spreadsheets. Also like the part where he wonders if everyone’s mind works like that–those secret though processes we don’t show others.

    2. How telling that his mind is “organized like tables and spreadsheets.” Great job! Remember that you can actually show some of this as well, through actions. Keep going!

    3. Kevin,

      I like this line: “It occurred to him that maybe everyone’s mind worked like that, but we were all so scared to admit it that we kept parts of us hidden from the world, inhabiting our spaces in solitary time.”

      That’s real life. That’s something common in all of us that rarely is noticed until brought up by someone that is observing and writing in a way that connects us to others. As much as many of us are different, we have similarities that we overlook. Excellent job making that connection.


  2. (My character’s Sam, short for Samantha. I just started working with her last week.)

    We don’t eat out much. Dad says that the last thing he wants to do when he is home is eat at a restaurant. I’m not sure if he realized that Mom’s vegetable soup that he is always raving about isn’t so tasty when you have 2 or 3 times a week. I love going out to eat, and my favorite place is a truck stop. Each summer I spend one week on the road with dad, and I love visiting truck stops. The life of a truck driver is all about go go go. My dad gets paid by the mile, so he is always in a constant rush. The only time he slows down is in the evenings, when he takes a few minutes to eat, wash up, and call home. (I want my story to take place in the 80s. I’m not sure how to write this, but I’m working on it. The life of a truck driver has changed tremendously with the internet, cell phones, and XM radio. I want to capture the life of a family with a truck driver before that “stuff”.)

    I love to people watch at the truck stop. I look forward to it all year. Tonight, I notice a man at a booth next to us crying on the booth telephone. It sounds like he is talking to his girlfriend or wife. They have been talking the entire time Dad and I have been at the restaurant. His tears are missing his family tears, not made or upset tears. I miss when dad and mom would talk for what seemed like forever. Now when dad calls home at night, they talk for less than 2 minutes before mom passes the phone off to me. She doesn’t even stick around to listen in to my end of the conversation.

    Across the truck stop I notice a clean shaven man leaving the shower area. He has a giant smile on his face and he heads out to his rig. I bet he’s headed home.

    Dad pays the bill, and asks me to go get cleaned up. The one thing that I do not look forward to at truck stops: the showers.

    1. I really enjoyed this, Colby. I like the lines about the mom’s soup, and how the parents aren’t talking to each other as long as before. Is the child around 9-11 or so? Very strong voice…

        1. I agree, her voice is very strong. She feels like a fourthish grader to the reader, too. Well done. ” She doesn’t even stick around to listen in to my end of the conversation.” This speaks worlds.

    2. I like the little details you’ve slipped into this – how she looks forward all year to the truck stop, the change in the phone calls, etc.

    3. I already love Sam. I agree, her voice is great and very strong. She’s noticing things and is so aware of her parents and their relationship. I love it!

  3. Trying to capture the complexities of Achilles…difficult…and am not doing it well.

    I storm away from the scene where I can still hear erupting voices of outrage. Agammemnon roars my name across the beach. “Achilles!” His voice breaks like salty waves against the shore’s rocks. I ignore him. Damn him.

    He called me a dog. Selfish. The warrior he detests most. Detests. After sacricing ten years of my youth to run the battlefields of Troy for him, how dare he tell me that it is I who picks quarrels and begins fights? Is that not what I have been brought here for? He fails to acknolwedge my efforts. Oh yes, take all the glory of the grand Achilles–take his bounty, take his reputation, take the fear that paralyzes the enemy when they see my Myrmidon armor ride over the horizon. And then call me a loathsome mule. Damn him to eternity.

    Let Agamemnon and his army rot here in this swampy hell of Troy lowlands while I sit by, watching. And when the Trojans have breached our walls and are screaming for blood, I will unfurl my sails and head home to sweet Phthia. There can be–will be–no more victories without me.

    1. I love the character of Achilles. He’s like an eternal teenager – sulky and spoiled. Yet he really is the spark that keeps the troops motivated. You definitely capture that. Maybe bring in Patrocles?

  4. I discovered a few things about my character (Meghan, though she doesn’t name herself in this piece). The eyes, the running… those will help the story 🙂

    My hair color really says it all about me; mousey. I don’t ever really stand out in a crowd. It’s my own fault. It’s hard to stand out when you choose to sit in the corner with your nose in a book. I’m pretty average in height, but I have excellent posture. That is partly the result of my father’s insistence that I “stand up straight, young lady.” I’m athletic in build, thanks to my mother. One of the few things I share with her is our love for long distance runs. She gets all her best poetry ideas while running. I just enjoy the quiet.

    My best friend, Cassandra, tends to get the attention wherever we go. Cassie gets annoyed with me when I describe myself as a wallflower, though. She declares me, “beautiful, Megs, in your own way.” I know she doesn’t mean that to sound condescending. She takes one look in the mirror when she stands next to me and all she can see is our eyes. We have the exact same eyes. They are startlingly green with little flecks of gold. Of course, Cassie’s vibrant eyes match the rest of her perfectly. She is… vibrant. That’s one of the things I love about her. Her zest for life, her energy, makes me remember to put the books down once in a while.

    1. After reading your story the other day, it was fun to get more a visual of these two characters. Again this picture of Cassie is such a contrast to the one toward the end part of your story that I read that it is really helpful to read (to get even more contrast). Meghan as mousy, dull, bookish, etc. too (except for those eyes) also makes sense to me yet I don’t know why. I don’t know what that sparkle is behind those eyes that is going to reveal itself in your story yet and I want to know. 🙂

  5. Thanks for these great prompts! I’m writing not from the main character’s point of view, but from another important character in the MG I’m writing.

    I know I come across as a nerd, and really, I am a nerd if the definition of a nerd is “socially-impaired, obsessive, or overly intellectual”, which it is. I could be a non-nerd, but there’s reasons why that’s probably impossible. Namely, I’m the mayor’s son, and my mom and dad don’t want me to admit to that. They took me out of private school so I could get a “regular” education, get to know the “masses”. But I can’t tell anyone where I live, who my parents are, nada. So, how that helps to make me regular, I just don’t know. I must sound pretty stuck up and strange to other kids when they’re talking about what they did over the weekend, where they went with mom and dad, and I can’t say a word, because the wrong thing might slip out. So I just stand there like, well, a nerd.

    And, as I said, I really am a nerd. I have my obsessions, mainly, butterflies. Ask me anything about them, I know everything there is to know. Even if I could have someone over to play, they’d see how insane I am about butterflies, and probably take the fastest route out of there. My mom says I should develop other interests, so as to fit in, but I can’t seem to stop myself. And sometimes I just like to read the dictionary for fun, so I guess that classifies me as overly intellectual. To put the clincher on the nerd definition, I actually can’t stand talking to other kids, unless I could talk about butterflies or strange words. So there you have it—socially impaired.

    1. Love the obssessive interests that this character clutches, and the way the voice is similarly insistent. Rings true.

    2. My son is on the autism spectrum, and so many of the qualities of this character evoke my experience with kids on the spectrum… It had me wondering if that will be an element in this story, but probably I am projecting!

  6. I am a work in progress
    off to work and back

    wish I had a WIP
    blog and post
    write and share
    read and sigh

    early mornings
    sprinkle unusual thoughts
    mostly in the shower
    I grab them but they skitter away
    before my coffee cup drains
    to-do lists block my vision

    if time would grant me
    silence and stillness
    and gravity would let up
    I could catch those thoughts
    and wrangle them on paper

    ok, I just did
    my journey begins

    1. If time would grant me…
      if gravity would let up…

      Oh, I love those lines! It seems time never grants, and gravity is a relentless force…and yet, writing happens. Thank goodness.

    2. I love the surprise at the end! (and apparently you can find waterproof pens and paper if you really want those shower ideas! I tend to think what lasts is what I’ll need).

      1. somebody once gave me bath crayons that will write on the ceramic tiles. I ought to keep them handy!

  7. I don’t like my glasses. Too big, too shiny gold frames. They make me look like a clueless nerd. Don’t get me wrong: I’m smart, and I like being smart. I’d just rather not be such a stereotype. Maybe that would get my parents off my back too. They’re always asking my teachers, “What else should he be reading?” or “What extra classes should he take to do better?” or “What should he work on this summer?” Summer, really? I just nod along and keep quiet. I’m not sure I’ll ever be good enough for them. I know I frustrate them. I’m a mess. I don’t mean I look like a mess. I wear a clean baseball cap and soccer jacket, both a little too big, but I’ll grow into them. I mean everything around me is a mess: my backpack crammed with binders, those binders choked with papers, those papers scarred with every-which-way scratches from any number of classes. My room at home has the same problem. There’s just too much to keep track of. Clothes from the week wrestle with each other on the floor. Papers that may or may not be important clutter my desk. Books I’ve started, abandoned, and started again scatter on other random surfaces — some fine (bedside table, shelf), others not (the dusty window sill or the dark under my bed). My closet? Ground Zero. Soccer bag? A science experiment. The reason I don’t use my school locker is that’s one less place for me to mess up.

    1. I know this will be kind of odd, but as a dad it started me thinking about what are kids “know”… “I just nod along and keep quiet. I’m not sure I’ll ever be good enough for them. I know I frustrate them. I’m a mess.” Nice internal dialog that connects to reader.

    2. I enjoyed this, Brian. Especially the description of his mess, and the rhythmic use of the words where it starts: “My closet? Ground zero. Soccer bag?…” And the part where he doesn’t use his locker for fear of one more mess in his life.

    3. OMG I know this kid! He was one of my students a couple of years ago. He was on my caseload when he was in 7th and 8th grade.

      I have three things to say:
      1. If I can read it and feel like I know the character, I think you have a great description here.
      2. I am dying to read more to get into this kiddos head. It was really hard to understand this kiddo and how I could help him be more organized.
      3. Write more!

    1. Hi, Joy! Just a quick wave to say that’s it’s fun to be “on the same page” with you today. I’m loving reading your feedback, and I’m going to do your exercise, too. I may not be quick enough to post it, but I’m going to do it for my WIP. Thanks!

  8. My character is a young woman in the early 1900s, and she has been surprised with a birthday nosegay by her new housemates. I started to tell more about her, and realized I should shut up and show by sharing the excerpt.

    Kate laughed heartily, delighted at the warm feeling of care she got from these two women. This was not a familiar experience for her; she was not a person to make connections easily, and each day she spent in the company of these friends surprised her with the closeness they were already developing.
    As she stepped to the table, she felt a warm rush of gratitude. At her place was a neatly lettered card, accompanied by a delicate nosegay of violets. A cry of delight escaped her lips as she raised the violets to her nose. Their peppery scent filled her nostrils and she was transported for a moment. Violets had always been a favorite flower of hers, ever since she had been surprised at stumbling across a large patch of them on a ramble in the woods with her brother Don. She considered large, blowsy flowers to be somehow unnatural and unattractive, but violets were so brave, she felt, to put on so courageous a show, poking their tiny faces up through surrounding vegetation and striving toward the sky.
    “How did you know?” she asked.
    “Know what?” asked Edna, puzzled.
    “That they’re my favorite flower. You couldn’t possibly have chosen better!”
    Clara smiled as she set a plate of griddle cakes in front of Kate, surprising her yet again, “I somehow felt that you’d be a violet kind of a person,” she said happily.
    “Well, thanks so much, this is just grand!” Kate said expansively. She was stunned by their simple, open generosity of spirit. She got this kind of treatment from the kids, Muriel and Don, and of course Mother showed such a deep sense of caring always, but by and large, one didn’t get much of this kind of treatment at home.

    1. It’s the last line about not getting this kind of treatment at home that tells me something significant about your character. If you develop this, I’d think about that. It’s what’s not on the page that actually seems to motivate her. And just a quick writerly hint: try to avoid too many adverbs, those pesky ‘ly’ words. You don’t need as many as you think. Keep writing!

      1. Thanks, Joy! I am trying to clean up lots of that adverbly stuff. I’m learning that my first experience with writing toward a word count (NaNoWriMo) made me overly wordy. I wouldn’t trade it for anything because I know I’ve got a real story here, but I definitely have work to do to make all of it less heavy with language.

    2. I think we could probably have a whole writing prompt about characters’ favorite flowers and what that says about them and why. Also, I love your personification of the violets here. (I like them, too.)

  9. Here’s Ryan, from Ryan’s point of view:

    Why am I always in trouble? I don’t get why the principal has to call my mom so much. I mean, really, what’s the big deal? I’m just a kid. My dad doesn’t care if I use a bad word or get kinda wild at home. My mom lets me do whatever I want and buys me cool stuff, like my new iPhone. (Siri calls me “Dude,” by the way.). Mrs. C. Is always raggin’ on me: “Ryan, be quiet. Ryan, watch your mouth. Ryan, why are you sitting by Carter on the rug? Ryan, I just want to help you be successful.” (Yeah, right!) She and the principal need to back off – if Mom and Dad don’t care, why should they? I’m not their kid, anyway.

    Ryan, from Mrs. C.’s point of view

    At first, I just thought he was a kid with an attitude. Of course, I’ve known enough kids with attitudes to know they’re never just kids with attitudes. What was going on in this boy’s life, anyway? Soon, I learned more about Ryan’s upbringing, his home life, and the previous run-ins with Protective Services. This little boy was broken, and I began to ache for him, hoping somehow to give him a little stability, some limits, and most of all, love. He acted out when he needed attention and, being a leader, easily drew others into his mischief. But, other times, he appeared so vulnerable, so young, looking at me with eyes that spoke louder than his verbal outbursts ever could. I heard you, Ryan, I did. Did you hear me?

    1. What I really love about this is how not just the two perspectives but the two VOICES are so wildly different and wonderful – from Ryan’s off-the-cuff ramble (I love-love-love that his phone calls him “Dude.”) to his teacher’s measured evaluation.

  10. Kate, there is just SO MUCH in this workshop that my students would learn from and love. How long will these prompts and posts be up? Can we find them in your archives after the summer ends? I want to share it all with my students!

    1. I’m not going to take them down, so when you find one that you’d like to use with your students, by all means bookmark it. It’ll be here. After all, that’s kind of the point of all of this, yes? 🙂

  11. My one story has a writing class in it so I gave one of my characters Joy’s prompt.


    Sadie frowned. Writing about herself was not high on her list of writing things to do. It wasn’t on the bottom with writing the praises of her certified scientific genius classmate Isaac or reports of disastrous chemistry labs. It was close though, somewhere near summer vacation essays. This was what made college applications so unbearable. In the end, it didn’t matter where writing about herself was on the list because that’s what Mrs. Carlson said they were doing to stretch their characterization abilities. This was creative writing. They were working on novels (or in her case a fictional guide book to supervillainy, not that anyone was supposed to know that). Why did she have to write about herself? Worse yet, she was supposed to picture how people saw her and describe that (without physical description).

    She knew the answer to that all too easily. Quiet. Quiet. Quiet. That would be the first thing on anybody’s mind. She looked around the class. Well, first on anybody’s mind other than Meredith, but best friends didn’t count. She caught Isaac looking at her. She ducked her head and scowled down at her paper. Scared rabbit would be the second thing they all thought of. She was a book-toting, homework-finishing, quiet scared rabbit who could be found either in the band room or off in fantasyland.

    The rest of my quick write can be found on my” blog.

    1. What I always want to know when a character who thinks she’s shy and quiet (which she very well may be) is what is going to happen that will either bring her out of her shell or cause the quiet to be the very characteristic that is needed.

    2. Oooh, I’m relating to Sadie! It sounds as though her teacher hasn’t given this prompt to her as a “choice”. I hate writing to a forced prompt. That’s what I love about this summer writing camp…; all of our “teachers” get it! They know that a prompt can be enormously helpful–but that every person will address it in their own way. They also know that there are days…and prompts!… that just don’t work out. I hope I always remember to give my students some space to wiggle and wriggle when a prompt really doesn’t fit them!

  12. First, I love the movie Louder Than a Bomb. A must see.

    OK, quick write “I Don’t Believe…”

    I don’t believe in hate
    but it cuts me everyday
    with glances in hallways
    with car bumpers touching my license plate
    with sarcastic, “thank you for shopping…”

    I don’t believe the world is ugly
    but it scares me everyday
    with beer cans on the sidewalk
    with graffiti scratched into slides
    with public bathrooms

    I don’t believe we were meant for this
    I don’t
    I don’t

    1. Your opening is so powerful: I don’t believe in hate but it cuts me every day. That’s true of those kids in Louder Than a Bomb, too…and don’t you love how they’ve decided to respond by raising their voices in a good way?

      1. What I love the most is the passion of life, even the negative in their poems and delivery of the works. Thanks for reading.

      1. I agree, the poem doesn’t flow well. ( I’ve been posting first draft during this workshop, going with the prompt. What I like is this is giving me, and others I think, material we can work on.)

        1. Yes, exactly. Material to work on. “I don’t believe” is only as useful as where it leads you. I think that’s what I was driving toward—that whether you finish a polished poem out of the exercise about belief, or if it leads you to think about another thing entirely, the whole idea is to let poetry help you put first thoughts and feelings on the page. Then you tweak; then you explore; then you strive for clarity and strength. Poetry, for me, is very much a safe place in which I can hear what I really am trying to say—why the alarms are going off—and that often takes place in the revision as much as the draft.

  13. I tried two of these – the slanted credo and the character questions. I tried to keep it short (yeah,yeah, I know.)

    I don’t believe…

    That skinnier is happier.
    That dogs are man’s best friend.
    That any politician exists anywhere but inside a bubble of collective ego.
    That outside is better than inside…I LIKE air conditioning.
    That there is any issue in the world that doesn’t have gray area.
    That you should ever make a judgment about someone without trying to imagine their side as well.
    That the Chicago Cubs deserve a World Series win because it’s been so long, but it sure would be nice.
    That I am comfortable defining what I believe by what I don’t believe.

    Marlon Grunt, how do you see yourself?

    I’m…I don’t know. It’s hard to separate what other people think about me from what I think about me. I’m a son to my mom, but I don’t know if I’m a good son. We piss each other off a lot. I’m a great older brother to Phoebe. I’m a half-orphan, since my dad is dead. I’m a kick-ass friend to Chick and Blue. I’m a so-so student. I’m half-black, half-white. I suck at sports, but I’m a good musician. I guess I could start with what I am. I’m a drummer. I’m a superfan of Green Day, and I’d give my left nut to meet Tre Cool. I have all these dreams that I want for myself and the people around me, but I can’t seem to catch a break. I’m the kid that the world seems to kick around, but I just keep getting back up for another punch. I’m tired of getting back up.

    How do you think others see you?

    If they see me at all, I think they see me as maybe a nice nobody kind of guy. Kind of geeky. Weird. Poor. Trailer Trash. Some of them think I’m a door mat. A couple of them think I’m completely emo. They don’t know very well at all, really.

    1. I don’t believe…”that I am comfortable defining what I believe by what I don’t believe”

      Ah. Interesting. You have mixed feelings about this prompt. And by allowing yourself to get there in your poem, you got to the core of what bothered you. You can’t really get to belief by listing all the things you’re against—so how do you get there?

      How will Marlon get there? How will he stop being a “nice nobody” that everyone “kicks around?” What does he believe in?

    2. Marlon Grunt fascinates me. A lot! This leaves me wanting more of him, which is a good thing. What kind of story will you build around him that will let him find out who he really is?

      1. Thanks, Joy!

        I’m pretty fascinated by him as well. Unfortunately, I have this other WIP to get out of the way before I get to tell his story. He keeps wanting to talk to me, though, so I’m doing my best to keep up. These exercises are helping me get to know him.

        His story unfolds in three parts. The first part is a series of chapters that cover some important events from the day of his dad’s funeral, up until the night of Homecoming when he’s seventeen.

        The second part takes place when he’s seventeen and attempts to kill himself with his mother’s prescription drugs, but instead wakes up on a strange family’s couch and is suddenly able to see his guardian angel (in the guise of Green Day drummer, Tre Cool)…who takes him around and shows him what would happen to all the people he loves if he had never been born…sound familiar? It should 🙂

        The third part takes place after he wakes up on the couch again and has to deal with the consequences of his actions.

        That’s the plan, anyway.

    3. I like how your “don’t believes” show you responding to popular wisdom with your own contrary perspective. It feels empowering to stand up in this way, to not believe that skinnier is happier. I like it.

  14. I’m going to continue working with Sam. I’m not sure yet why she is troubled or even in trouble, so I’m anxious to let her reveal that to me. (My journaling is in italics.)

    She must be careful here, something is not right here. She quietly allowed one tear to break free and glide down her filthy face. That one tear felt like a rushing waterfall poured over her. It was a struggle to constrain the other tears that threatened to loose their grasp from her eyelashes. She felt worthy of the punishment which was sure to come. Sam cast a sideways glance through her knees to the chair. That formidable chair held so much power in this barren room. Sam rubbed her face on her pants, finally deciding to pull her head up out of her lap. “I won’t show them my tears,” she thought, “this place is not right.”

    ​Sam thought back through the last year. She had a fight with her brother and ran away from home. She was too scared to go back and face the swift punishment from her father that was sure to come. So she kept running. She ran so far she knew she’d never be able to go home. “But why am I ​here​?” she asked herself. She struggled to pinpoint her last memory – what she was doing before she found herself in this place. She could not remember. Her head rested against the stone wall and she let her eyes roll downward and she saw how tattered her clothes were. Sam’s jeans were ripped at the hem and the knees, her tank top was ripped at her midriff. “Oh God,” she thought as she battled the approaching thoughts.

    ​She refused to believe she would be allowed to leave this place without harm. Preventing the optimistic thoughts from encroaching took all of what feeble effort she had left. She must not succumb to the whisper of hope. She must stay strong. Something is not right here.

    ​She remembered the look on her brother’s face when she threatened to turn him in. His stupor conceded to rage as he shoved her against the wall. “Get up!” he screamed. As she rolled onto her hands and knees he kicked her in the stomach. Sam never felt such excruciating pain, not even when she fell out of the tree house and broke her arm and ankle. She tried to remember what it felt like when her brother attacked her that last time. She couldn’t remember. When her brother kicked her, she collapsed and curled up in pain. Then he picked her up and threw her down the stairs. She remembered the crack as her head dented the wall. After that, Sam remembers nothing.

    ​”Surely this place can’t be worse,” uttered an encouraging thought. She balled up her fists and forced the thought out. She knew better. This would definitely be worse.

    Okay, so I didn’t exactly write within the guidelines, I started to, but then I felt the need to just continue where the previous post left off. On the flip side, I did learn a little about her inner torment. I’m sure I won’t learn what caused Sam to be in this place, or even what “this place” is for a while. That’s okay. We’re taking this journey together, Sam and I. I’m eager to tell her story as she reveals more to me.

    1. Meagan,

      Thanks for sharing.

      This seems like an introduction to the quiet horror of a girl that ran away and is taken in by a older family or a widow. I see her being in a makeshift room, with horrible wooden floors, in some sort of midwestern attic.

      Sam’s pain is real and left to the imagination. I like the fact that you fill in some of the blanks and then leave us to determine what happened at her home. Obviously her brother has physically abused her, but what else did he do? Where is her mother? I mean, dad will punish her, but where is the mother? Seriously, it takes me back to Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt.

      I’m not sure where you’re going with this, but I like it. Again, thanks for sharing.


      1. Thanks, Marquin. I started writing about Sam for yesterday’s prompt. Though we were supposed to give a first-hand account of how she sees herself, I just let her tell me what she wanted to tell me. I started but apparently Sam had other ideas. The above excerpt is a continuation of yesterday’s journaling (which can be read on my blog). I’m going to write the slant creed poem later tonight. 🙂

        1. Okay, I did not realize she had viewers looking directly at her.

          Foster care?

          I am sure Sam will let us know. I do like the picture you provided.


  15. http://theamyrudder.blogspot.com/2012/06/look-who-visited-my-notebook.html
    Link to the post!
    The Poem
    an “I don’t believe” poem:

    I don’t believe in leaving children un-attended!
    But sometimes nature calls
    Yes, nature does call,
    the writer to the pen
    does the age matter
    does it send
    a message
    to view
    a message?
    Not yet in a code
    A code we understand
    Knowing a code implies a message
    A coded message for the intended audience
    Does the audience get the message every time?
    or do they believe and listen with unattended ears to the message?

    1. Amy, I had to go read your post, and I love the picture you shared! Sometimes, I think we write best when we allow ourselves to write “unattended.” We know it’s wrong not to supervise our charges in real life, but in writing, well…it’s okay to let ourselves wander away. I think you cracked the code right there. 🙂

      1. http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-5VsvyC3PLpo/T-Coq2fnlII/AAAAAAAAAbk/_9Wv4L5HBIg/s1600/visiting+my+writer's+notebook.jpg

        I really just let the words flow, I wasn’t going for anything specific. Just the “I don’t believe” part and then it just sorta happened. I think I was trying to communicate the idea that just because you don’t know the code doesn’t mean there is no message. Nattie’s scribbles meant something to her, we just dont know yet what it is…I don’t know…I was just playing around-experimenting of sorts.
        Thanks for the feedback. I want to clean it up…it’s very rough!

        1. That’s how poetry works for me. I’m never sure of where I’m going until I get there. And then I have fun “cleaning it up” so that it more fully expresses what I’ve discovered. I try to be careful, though, not to lose in the revision that feeling of being in pursuit of the mysterious. I think it gives poems energy, and draws the reader along with the poet.

          Also? This is great material: “I think I was trying to communicate the idea that just because you don’t know the code doesn’t mean there is no message”

          1. Thanks for your great words of advice Sara! It means so much! I will consider your point about the revision-valuable lesson to learn!

  16. Greetings!

    I’m so excited to finally be able to participate. I’ve been waiting for this for quite some time.

    Here is a sample of Alexander the Grate. I am trying to reconnect with him so that I can finish book 2 of this series by the end of the summer. Once I find his voice, writing about him is a breeze. I just need to get it in my head again.


    The Torture

    After about thirty minutes I managed to stop crying long enough to think about the trouble I’m going to get in tonight when my mother gets home. That rotten Mrs. Tort had called my house again. Again! Doesn’t she know that she’s not welcome here? It is bad enough she sends homework home, but now she calls to make sure it gets here.

    Obviously, I’m not a big fan of Mrs. Tort. I’d be willing to bet Mrs. Tort doesn’t like me either, or she just doesn’t understand. All she does is complain about what I do, how I do it, where I do it, when I do it, but never seems to care about why I do it. Plus, she keeps telling my mother about my reading and how it could be better.

    What mom and Mrs. Tort fail to understand is that I’ll read comic books and some sports magazines, but those long, boring books aren’t for me. Those things are for the girls. They like flowers and bunnies and babysitting and most of all, they like Mrs. Tort. They always say, “Mrs. Tort, you’re cool. Mrs. Tort, you’re funny.” I always hear them saying it as if it means, “Mrs. Torture Cool. Mrs. Torture Funny.” And that’s a problem because I’m funny and cool and Mrs. Tort is torturing me!

    In class, it seems like it is always ME getting in all the trouble. It’s always something.
    For example: I shouldn’t drink milk because it gives me gas, but Mrs. Tort won’t let me skip my milk without a doctor’s note. I don’t want to She keeps saying I have to drink it to get big and strong. She thinks drinking milk will have looking like all those popular people with milk mustaches living on top of their upper lip. We have a bunch of posters of them on the wall in the classroom. That’s cool for them, but milk only makes my gas BIG and STRONG.

    So, every day our bathroom time is right after lunch, and by 1:00pm, I can’t keep the gas in anymore. I mean, I try, but I just can’t. I also try to be the nice guy and go to the bathroom when the gas is at the risky level. I really do want to save the rest of the class, but NOOO! Somehow we have this crazy rule where I would lose recess if I went before science. RECESS! And since RECESS > Holding in your gas, I have no choice but to let it fly.

    About 1pm, my stomach sounds like two starving whales arguing over a fat shrimp. It can be so bad I get in trouble for making noises during silent reading. At about 1:05 I silently start science and let out the gas. Of course, the smelled-it-dealt-it rules are in full effect with the boys in the room, so we have to figure out a way to ignore the smell, not breathe, and most importantly, keep from laughing. One giggle and we all lose it. The girls hide their noses inside their shirts and Mrs. Torture brings out the powder smelling spray that gives me the sneezes. If you know anything about holding in gas and sneezing, you know those two don’t mix. In fact, it only makes things worse. Much worse. EMBARASSING! See what I mean by Mrs. Torture not understanding?

    The sneezing and everything else ends silent reading, which I hate anyway. Whoever came up with not making noise for a long time in order to read a boring book, had to really hate kids, and wanted to torture them. I’m willing to bet it was Mrs. Torture because she likes to do stuff like that to us.

    I don’t know about other people, but silent reading is the worst part of the school day for me. It could be a little better if we were able to get some cool books and at least take more time to find them. NOPE! For some reason we’re in a hurry to pick books so we can slow down after lunch and read.

    As soon as we get back from the bathroom, Mrs. Torture always says, “Class, it’s time for D.E.A.R.,” which means Drop Everything And Read. In my mind it means Death Evolves Around Reading. I hate it, so I find ways to act like I’m reading and not get caught. Every minute I turn another page I haven’t read. I shake my head like I’m watching slow motion ping pong and Mrs. Torture never knows.

    I’m glad I figured out how to ping pong read during D.E.A.R. because the last time I got caught faking, Mrs. Torture made me do a book report on the Tattle Tale Triplets. The girls loved the report and the boys laughed at me. I thought I was able to get even with the boys by saying that it was a book that I thought they would love. Mrs. Torture agreed, bought 12 more copies, and made all the boys read and talk about it in a big group. When it was all over, the boys in the room loved the book. They were crying about what happened at the end of the book and mad at me because I still didn’t want to read more Tattle Tale Triplets books. In the end, I didn’t have anyone to play with for three whole weeks.

    Now that you know the way Mrs. Torture can treat me and the boys, you can see why I don’t want her calling to talk to my mom. I’ll end up doing tons of extra reading or my mother will sit me down and talk to me for an hour about passing gas. I had to figure out how I could avoid the phone call. I could take the phone off the hook, but that might get me in more trouble. My other idea was to go to bed really early with a stomach ache. Stomach aches let you skip dinner so I decided to go eat some extra snacks to get full and then I went to bed early.

    1. There’s so many funny parts to your writing, Marquin. It really rolls along enjoyably. I like the funny bits about how he fakes the reading, tries to hold his gas, and the book report paragraph.

      1. Diane,

        Thanks you for the feedback. I know there was a lot to read, but I’m glad you found the funny.

        I truely enjoy writing for Alex. It’s time to reintroduce myself to him and see what we can come up with for book two.


    2. “About 1pm, my stomach sounds like two starving whales arguing over a fat shrimp.”

      If I’d been drinking milk right now, that line would have made me snort it out my nose, I suspect. Love the humor here – and I’m wondering what his story is… a teacher who doesn’t understand, obviously, but I’m guessing there’s more than that… a central conflict. I’m intrigued!

      1. Kate,

        Thanks for the kind words.

        The central idea is wrapped around how Alexander is misunderstood and misunderstands. While constantly getting in trouble in his classroom, he must use his talents to “fix” other students in the class that are thought by the principal to be broken. His mission is to go from grate (like what you do to cheese or carrots) to GREAT.

        Thanks for reading, Kate.


  17. I don’t believe in giving up
    I don’t believe every kid is the same
    I don’t believe in saying, “I can’t”
    I don’t believe chivalry is dead
    I don’t believe in leaving one child behind while the rest move ahead
    I don’t believe learning should be restricted to a classroom
    I don’t believe in rewarding a child that does not deserve it
    I don’t believe children should be unkind to each other
    I don’t believe in playing favorites
    I don’t believe that discouraging a child that is trying is helpful or productive
    I do believe, therefore I teach.

    Thank you, Sara, for a little poetry release from a very long, hot, and humid day in the classroom. Three more days to go until summer vacation! Also, thank you for the informative post.:)

    1. Teaching is believing in the child today—and in the future. Amen to that! And thank you for trying the poetry release, and for sharing it. Everyone is finding something different in this prompt, and I like that.

    2. Andy, I love this – so much truth here.

      Also…I don’t know if you get the NYSRA newsletter, but this was in the one that just came via email…

      Still looking for a middle school who would like a free author visit the Monday of the conference in the Syracuse area and…

      A school or school district in the Liverpool/Syracuse or surrounding area who might like to sponsor a school visit for participants at the elementary, middle school, or high school level…or all three??? Contact Kay Gormley or Debbie Dermady at: Fall2012Conf@nysreading.org

      (Don’t know who the authors are, but it may be worth checking out!)

      1. Kate,

        Thanks for the information. I am going to look into this opportunity.

        I experienced the power of an author visit on Monday. We had our last Skype of the school year with Kathryn Erskine. She was awesome and had their full attention! The kids were completely focused and they enjoyed the visit (and you know what it is like on the last week of school – movies and junk food in every class, so I was impressed).

        Thanks again for the info!

  18. Ok, I admit it. I didn’t exactly follow the prompts today. I started to! I’ve had the first two lines of a poem in my head for a week or so now and I wasn’t really sure where it was going yet. I decided that I would just sit on them for a while and see where it took me. After reading the prompts, I was intending to go back to a story I had started to see if I could do more with it but as I thought, I kept going back to those lines. I started thinking about my youngest daughter, 10 months old, and wondering what she thinks. She isn’t old enough to tell us yet but she watches everything so closely and has definite opinions about things. She has so much character already that I often wonder what is going through her little brain! This poem is what came from that thinking.


  19. I used random noun generator (again) to jump start an I don’t believe credo/ poem. Today’s noun is lizard which reminds me of this…

    I don’t believe in making children sit playtime
    even though there are only five more weeks of school left
    and they talked
    and talked
    and talked all morning.
    It’s hard to come back to school after Spring break
    but it’s even harder to sit on a sidewalk
    waiting to go play
    especially when a lizard scoots by.
    Yikes! Go play!

    1. Oh, Susanne– you hit on one of my soapbox topics regarding teaching. I whole-heartedly agree about “sitting out of recess”, and the “LIZARD” that you were gifted with by the noun generator really worked to bring your piece to a conclusion that was both light-hearted but heart-felt!

    1. Thanks, Tanita. You guys know Tanita’s novels, right? Mare’s War? Happy Families? A La Carte? And her fabulous blog “fiction, not lies”? If not, scoot over and be inspired.

    1. Rosanne,

      Dylan’s control of the sun would he great. I think of cold Michigan winters…

      I enjoyed the detail you used to describe the habitat for the lizard. While I am not into lizards, the quick tutorial helped me to lean toward accepting the lizard and understing how important it would be to Dylan. He has clearly done his research.

      Lastly, hitting the brakes by including mom at the end is something plenty of us can identify with.

      Thanks for sharing!


    1. Lovely, Margaret. And you’re right: the pictures support the poem so well. I love Mary Oliver too—I can always see exactly what it is she has drawn my attention to. Her poem, The Journey, is one of my favorites.

  20. I tried Sara’s “I don’t believe” prompt, and it didn’t go in quite the direction I was expecting. Here’s what happened:

    I don’t believe I remember when time used to stop. I think it happened in the just-before-dark hours when Mom hadn’t yet yelled out that dinner was ready and the neighbor kids hadn’t yet vanished to their own houses for the night. When the fireflies were just starting to come out and we almost couldn’t see the jungle gym bars anymore.

    I don’t believe I remember when time used to stop. It probably stopped as I fell feet first into Betsy and Tacy’s kinder world or found my soul partner in Patty Bergen’s brave character.

    I don’t believe I remember when time used to stop. I’m almost positive it slowed when I untangled necklaces for my sister, carefully removing knots she never had the patience to unwind. It must have also stopped in fits and jerks when I built that first garden gate, not knowing how to use the tools.

    I don’t believe I remember when time used to stop. It must have happened for brief moments while I wrote analytical essays, forcing out the things that were hiding in books and prodding them for the deeper connections they held.

    Time used to stop on its own, but now I freeze time when I can, holding some moments utterly still. I don’t believe I remember exactly how time used to stop all by itself.

    After I wrote the above, I started to write something sillier. But I only got a couple of lines down when my daughter woke from her nap:

    I don’t believe in taking all the globe thistle out of the garden. It may trample the peonies and prick me, but it’s purple and strong and fights like heck.

    I don’t believe that Normal means double-spaced, whatever Microsoft Vista may say.

    1. Wow. Melanie. So much fantastic material here. I’m excited that the prompt took you somewhere unexpected because I DO believe that’s where poetry thrives. I hope you’ll consider seeing where this leads you—whether into a structured poem or maybe into the beginning of a novel. For whatever reason, this part especially stood out to me:

      “I’m almost positive it slowed when I untangled necklaces for my sister, carefully removing knots she never had the patience to unwind. It must have also stopped in fits and jerks when I built that first garden gate, not knowing how to use the tools.”

      I want to know the rest of that story.

      And your “silly” stuff? Don’t be fooled. Silly is where the profound often lays her head. 🙂

  21. I don’t believe….

    That each person has a soul mate.
    Not just one.
    I do think we meet people
    And many of them have pieces of our puzzles
    That complete us.
    Others just tear the puzzle apart.
    They also bring something into it.
    Maybe a different way to build the puzzle altogether.
    Maybe the knowledge of what the puzzle won’t ever be.
    Maybe to teach us what we don’t want.
    All we can hope is…
    The next person holds a lot of our puzzle pieces
    And helps us build.
    And maybe…
    Just maybe…
    That next person completes the border of our puzzle
    And wants to help us figure out what goes next inside.

    1. This sounds like hard-won wisdom, Barbara. I sometimes feel like one of those jigsaw puzzles that comes without a picture to guide you!

    2. This poem made me sigh… a very good thing, I think. It has a kind of emotional honesty that makes it true in the best sense of that word. I’m glad you shared it here.

  22. I watched Adam Gottlieb performing “Poet, Breathe Now” as Sara suggested in her “mini-lesson.”

    Wow. Kids/people amaze me each and every day.

    1. Here are my three minutes spent quick writing “I don’t believe in.”
      I have no idea where any of it is/was going or if I discovered any clearer thoughts about mixed feelings. I may be more confused about my mixed and messy feelings. 😉

      I don’t believe in washing your hair every day
      unless of course you’ve been to hot yoga
      in which case you have sweat in unmentionable places and must

      I don’t believe in giving up meat on Fridays
      as a vegetarian that isn’t really a sacrifice that makes a lot of sense
      unless of course you eat a lot of meat and that means something to ya

      I don’t believe in love at first sight
      unless of course
      you found your significant other that way
      and you are truly happy

      I don’t believe in forgiving and forgetting
      sometimes it seems it is enough to just move on
      forgetting may mean not remembering and learning
      and forgiving may be a job for someone/something bigger than you
      unless of course you need to forgive and forget in order to move on

      I don’t believe in telling the truth all of the time
      not all people need to know all things
      sometimes people ask questions that don’t need to be answered

      I don’t believe in happily ever after
      life is messy
      flop around in the dirt
      you learn a lot there

      I don’t believe in one way to do any one thing or one right answer to any one thing
      a lot of people
      have a lot of ways
      to do many things
      in extraordinary ways
      or ordinary ways
      that mean something to them

      1. I’m kinda loving “flop around in the dirt.” So there’s a name for what I do? 🙂

        I don’t think arriving at clearer thinking about our messy feelings makes them any less messy. It just prevents us from being hoodwinked into staying on the glassy surface. We can both love and hate the same person. We can want to both forgive (which involves remembering) and forget. So much of poetry is holding two opposites in the same breath. Maybe that’s what makes us flop around while we try to do it!

        1. “We can both love and hate the same person. We can want to both forgive (which involves remembering) and forget.” “Ain’t” that the truth?!

          “So much of poetry is holding two opposites in the same breath.” Fascinating thinking you are making my brain do today. I like it.

          Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  23. Writing Camp reading is so rich that I seldom find time to write after learning more about the guest authors and reading the comments. Today was going to be the same until I was eating dinner alone and the phrase ‘skip the tattoo’ came to mind. Perhaps this will be the future picture book I would like to write. For today it’s a combination of scenes I saw years ago when visiting Venice Beach, along with some advice I gave my two boys (which they failed to follow).

    Skip the Tattoo
    by Wendi Morton

    Go to the beach and drum on your drum.
    Sit in a buggy and suck your thumb.
    Yell at the seagulls stealing your food.
    But whatever you do,
    skip the tattoo.

    Gawk at the girl wearing barely a bikini.
    Tighten your laces and don’t make a sceney.
    Weep for the guitar man’s tune that’s so blue.
    But whatever you do,
    skip the tattoo.

    Strategize as you watch the chess players.
    Skate a wide berth around the soothsayers.
    Shake off the sand from your socks and your shoes.
    But whatever you do
    skip the tattoo.

    Look at the booth full of clothes that are fancy.
    Don roller blades and try some line dancing.
    Make joyful noises with your yellow kazoo.
    But whatever you do
    skip the tattoo.

    Drop a nickel in the old man’s tin cup.
    There might be great clouds so, remember, look up.
    Watch the young lovers who don’t have a clue.
    But whatever you do
    skip the tattoo.

    Someday you’ll grow older than you are today.
    You’ll be walking in Venice with your tattoo in decay.
    When a young mother will pause in your view to say,
    “Son, whatever you do,
    skip the tattoo.”

    1. Oh how I heard my mother saying a similar phrase to my brother many a time (and he like your boys didn’t listen to her advice). You made me smile from ear to ear as I visualized these scenes.

      1. Thanks for the feedback, Dana. I was afraid I had gotten around to posting so late that I’d never hear from anyone.

        I keep reading, and rereading your piece. I can’t believe how much of life you got into a three-minute writing, and I look forward to what I might see from you next.

    2. Oh, this made me laugh – Love the fun advice! This feels like one of those picture books that’s not-quite-meant-for kids. (Have you seen “Go the F@#$ to Sleep?) It would make a great graduation gift or something like that – so much fun!

      1. Thanks. I had tried to make this more kid-friendly, but was finding those images hard to cut. I have not heard of the book you mentioned, but can’t wait to find it.

  24. I Don’t Believe in Prolonging Agony

    You didn’t say died.
    You dove in
    Hard parts head first
    Just the way I needed.
    I answered, you spoke,
    He killed himself yesterday.
    I could hear you now,
    And there was nothing more to say.
    I thanked you for the call.

    1. This is so powerful, Gayle – and such an example of the way simple words can punch – both yours in the poem and the caller’s on the line.

    2. Wow. I had to read this three times for it to sink in… which is probably what it would be like if I got this call. Powerfully written, Gayle.

  25. I tried some “I don’t believe…” poetry in my writer’s notebook. I’m finding that I really love this idea, as it gets at the core of what I DO believe, but in a roundabout way. Since they were quick writes, they are not polished, but I can definitely see myself coming back to work on them some more. Thanks, Sara, for the idea!

    If you want to see a sample of two of my short poem drafts, you can take a look here: http://wisdomandwords.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/i-dont-believe-in-quick-writes-for-june-19th/

    1. I’m impressed that you did five of these, and that you shared two! Let them all marinate a bit and see which one seems juiciest. (That’s kind of a weird metaphor—poetry as steak!– but you get the idea. )

  26. I was thinking about a picture book memoir – sort of like Saturdays and Teacakes by Lester Laminack – of me as a girl and liked the idea of the I don’t believe in… poem to start ideas.

    I don’t believe in
    putting shoes on
    to feed the chickens
    in the summer.
    It takes too long
    and my feet get hot.

    I don’t believe in
    flushing my dead goldfish
    down the toilet.
    I want you to help me bury it
    in the backyard
    along with my dog, Lady,
    who I loved.

    I don’t believe in
    eating liver and onions.
    It smells gross
    when it sizzles in the pan.
    But I still have to eat
    three bites.

    I don’t believe in
    putting a saddle on Colt
    when I want to ride.
    Just a bridle will do
    and sometimes I even leave that

    I don’t believe in
    trapping fireflies in a jar.
    Even with holes poked
    in the lid.

    I don’t believe in
    getting up early
    on Saturdays,
    except that
    the animals need fed
    and they don’t sleep in.

    I don’t believe in
    just one scoop
    of ice cream
    because one scoop
    is never enough.

    I don’t believe in
    unless it’s getting dark
    and I’m playing
    Nancy Drew
    in the woods.

    I don’t believe in
    staying inside
    while it’s snowing
    unless it’s put syrup
    in a bowl of snow
    like Laura Ingalls Wilder.

    I DO believe
    in curly hair,
    skinny, knobby-kneed legs,
    a black and white cat who
    plays hide-and-seek in the haybales,
    swimming in the pond
    and squishing mud between my toes,
    putting my own worm on the hook,
    and a goat named Nibbles
    who will eat anything.

    I wish I could think of something poignant to end it with – any ideas??

    1. So many good images here, Holly. I love “I don’t believe in putting shoes on to feed the chickens.” I can hear that as the opening to a story and I want to hear what that character would say next.

  27. I really LOVE the “I don’t believe…” prompt. I might have to get down off my soapbox before posting this, but this is what came out…

    I don’t believe…
    …in greed.
    How many zeros must
    round out your check
    before enough is enough?

    I don’t believe…
    …in 1% of the country
    living in the lap of luxury
    while so many others
    live in their cars.

    I don’t believe…
    …in those who play games
    for a living making millions
    while others who
    save us from fires,
    pick up our trash,
    and educate our youth
    teeter on poverty.

    I don’t believe…
    …in sickness, death and discomfort
    because we can’t afford
    the alternative.
    When was life
    barcoded with a price?

    I don’t believe…
    …in free handouts,
    but hard work
    should be rewarded
    life, liberty and
    the pursuit of happiness.

    I don’t believe…
    ….this is what they
    had in mind.

    1. The pursuit of happiness is never a straight path, is it? Even when we work hard. I know that’s true of my written work, let alone my life.

  28. Poem inspired by a man standing on a corner where I waited for a traffic light to change, while on vacation in Chicago.

    White Warrior

    White spandex body suit,
    Golden mask,
    Gilded helmet with wings above each ear,
    Large feathered wings poking from your shoulder blades.
    Hands on your hips, head raised,
    Ready to fly away…
    Save the day…
    Be a champion…
    In your mind.

    Anxiuosly waiting for the walk sign,
    Behind the mask’
    Eyes pivoting back and forth,
    Feet prancing from right, to left, and right again.
    Restless, on edge, jittery, nervous.

    Trafic zooming by in four directions,
    Pasengers staring …pointing.

    Turning in a slow circle like a waltzer dancing alone,
    Staring at the ground,
    Wishing the light to change,
    Dreaming of a cool breeze,
    Yearning to lift your wings and free yourself from this earth,
    Fly Away,
    Save the Day,
    Be a champion.

    1. So I’m immediately thinking: What was he doing there? Why? What did it mean? Restless questions, stirred by image, poetry as an odd bird we can’t forget. I like that idea.

    1. First, how great to know and work with students who draw life from poetry! I hope you can watch the whole movie one day—-it’s fantastic.

      Also, I was impressed with the repetition—and precise placement of that repetition—in your poem. It made me pay attention to the shifts in the meaning of words, which in turn made me think about how our beliefs shift into action. Nicely done.

      1. Thank you for reading and for the input. I hope to get to watch the whole film soon.

  29. Monica James from The Cover-Up Artists

    Monica James is a confident young lady who loves excelling in my academics. I take pride in making all A’ honor roll. I start to panic if my grades drop below a 95. Then to add to the pot of gold, I an amazing athlete who enjoys watching the game too. I heard that makes me a keeper. Guys like girls who love sports. Fighting is something I do not do so I am quick to a teacher like Ms. Dyer who will talk some sense into them without reporting them to the principal’s office. Some students can’t stand that I am considered a star pupil. Being called nerd, goodie two shoes, or teacher’s pet doesn’t stop from achieving my goals. What do I want to be when I grow up, if I am not training for the Olympics or running for Nike .. I don’t know. My dad is an engineer and my mom is a teacher. I also thought about being a lawyer because I love to debate. Did mention that I am on the debate team? There is a group of us that hang together while participating in sports, getting honor roll, etc. We call ourselves the Geek-Chic and we wear that name proudly. Of course, you have those girls who are jealous. It used to bother me because I thought I SHOULD be liked by EVERYONE. I am a very good person. My mom taught me “there are people who want what you have, but either don’t believe they can have it or not willing to do what you do to have it. As a result, they will try to sidetrack you by saying hateful things.” I wish they will get the hint that I am unfazed ….

  30. Thank you so much Sara and Joy for these wonderful ideas! I’ve always been a collector of words, but all my quotes end up all over the place. I now have a beautiful new commonplace book to help me keep all my favorite words in one place. 🙂

    Tonight I finally had time to try out Joy’s character exercise. I’ve really been struggling with my new WIP, but after tonight I have renewed hope! I wrote from my MC’s point of view, and then from the point of view of several other important characters as well, all talking about my MC. Not only do I feel I know her better now, but also the other characters!

    Once again, I am simply in awe of all the great ideas and writing happening here! 🙂

    1. Oh, yay! I’m glad you started a commonplace book. They really are easy and fun and maybe you’ll end up with two or three or four of them. 🙂

  31. After reading through everyone’s amazing poems, I was inspired to try my own. Thank you to all that bravely shared their words — you helped me find some of my own:

    I don’t believe that kids should grow up,
    unless I’m being honest,
    and then I know they must, and they should,
    and my heart beats a little faster and my
    breath sort of stops in my throat
    when I see these little grown ups
    walk out the door and into their future.

    I don’t believe in negative thoughts,
    in fact, I don’t believe in them so much
    that I watch them wink out of existence,
    one. by. one.
    But sometimes, in the darkest dark of night,
    I worry those vanishing thoughts
    are still alive somewhere,
    and just might come back to haunt me.

    I don’t believe in just one right way,
    one black or white answer, a perfect solution
    to save the day.
    There are too many colors to paint, too many
    notes to be sung, too many wondrous words
    to settle on just one.

    And I don’t believe in sitting still;
    I’m a river, not a pond.
    And life, well –
    life is too twisty-turny,
    filled with grown-up little kids, and
    secret thoughts that wake your heart from sleeping,
    and then,
    there are all those words waiting to be written.
    Sitting still just won’t do.

    1. “I’m a river, not a pond.” Ha! I love that. I’m going to use that phrase when I can’t sit still another second at my desk and have to go for a run. 🙂

  32. I did a combo of the two quickwrites – a poem written from another’s point of view. The poem is based on a student’s, “extra-curricular,” activity during recess. This is the first project I’ve completed since starting this workshop. Here is just a snippet:

    The Bell summons
    And the spell is broken.
    I return with wicked excitement!
    My mud-caked socks
    Slap satisfyingly down the hall,
    As evidence of my adventure trails me.
    I am one of the swamp creatures
    Reborn into a boy’s body.

    Head to toe,
    The mud starts to harden
    On the somber walk to the office.
    Yet a giggle escapes me –
    Bubbling anticipation of
    The Hidden Treasure
    Tucked between the classroom books
    And waiting to be found!