Teachers Write! 6/22 – Friday Writing Happy Hour

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

76 Replies on “Teachers Write! 6/22 – Friday Writing Happy Hour

  1. I was all gung-ho with a story last weekend and this week, with the end of school and my sons now home with me all day — daddy duty — my story seems to have fallen off the radar screen .. temporarily. But I used that frustration to write a poem about the frustration, and reflected on how the story actually is always on my mind, even as I am off doing other things. — Kevin

    Static Interference

    the story’s started …
    the plot’s been launched …
    the character set in motion
    but somehow, in all of this commotion of daily living,
    I have left him there, all alone with his narrative,
    while I was off doing these other things.

    I wonder what he does when I am not around,
    and what he thinks about — this character I created —
    and whether some wrinkle in my planning goes awry
    every time I turn my back on him
    to live life outside of the story for a little bit …

    He doesn’t have that option —
    trapped inside the words that I created from an idea not yet fully formed
    and what I don’t want is for my story to become a jail cell —
    I want my words to become the key
    that breaks him out of all that static interference of uncertainty…

    So, forgive me, my friend,
    for leaving you there so long without a word to keep you company.
    You were never really far from my thoughts.
    No, you’ve been here,
    sitting on the edge of my ear all week,
    whispering secret plans that no one else can hear,
    colluding together on the next chapter of story.

    — listen to the podcast version of the poem: http://cinch.fm/dogtrax/poetry-podcasts/504174

    1. This is so true. I posted a chunk of Meghan’s tale on Tuesday and then kind of abandoned her (I’ve been reading like crazy this week). I know she’s still in there, and I need to stop for a moment to listen to her and decide which piece of the story comes next…

        1. Unfortunately, this getting stuck, life getting in the way is all part of the process. The most important thing is that you don’t let it force you away from your writing time. Try to find some small chunk of time, even if you need to schedule it into your day (as if it were a doctor’s appointment). Take that special “me” time and dedicate it to writing. Some times, you may even dread the thought of sitting down because you’re not sure where you want to go with your character or story. But, I can almost guarantee that if you sit down and begin to write, the words will come. Especially if you don’t expect them to all be perfect words. Write with the mindset that you can always go back and “fix.” 🙂

      1. I find it interesting how the characters we invent sort of live with us, in us, even when they are off to the side. I see that as hope that the abandonment is temporary.

        1. My version of Kevin’s poem: I decided to write a bit about my character to see if that might get me going again. Not sure if this means anything to anyone else but myself, but here it is:

          So, you’ve left me hanging out here in the middle. I’m not really bored, but I think you’ve forgotten what interests me, or maybe you’ve never known. I love solving things, I’m a mystery freak. I’m driven by puzzles. And even if I wasn’t like that, who wouldn’t want to find out about those talking cats? I guess some people might go directly to the police or some authority, but I like to chase things down myself. That’s half the fun. I’m kind of secretive about mysteries, I don’t want to tell others about stuff until I figure it out myself. As much as I don’t like Melvin, I’m glad he’s in on this with me, not just for the use of his boat, but because that creepy van guy is scary, and I don’t want to be chasing this one down all by myself. Melvin is wimpy, but he’s smart.

        2. So true. I enjoyed the poem and I wear those feeling about my characters. It is great to have an avenue like thos to encourage and support is as writers. Also, I have accepted the thinking as a form of prewriting.


        3. Amen to that, Kevin. Problem is, I’m collecting too many characters with unfinished business! What happens when they decide enough is enough and rise up against me?? 😉

    2. Kevin, I find your stamina for writing incredible (at least compared to me)! You say your stories have fallen off the radar and yet your poem begs to differ. Your stories are still very alive for you and perculating beneath the surface. Just wait till they spill out!

      My writing is a struggle and I can’t seem to finish anything. BUT I’m still trying. How do I instill this perserverance into my students?

      1. I just keep plugging …
        As for your question about students as writers, one thing I do do is write with them, right next to them, in their midst, and then talk through what didn’t work for me and what seems to be working, and all of those important elements of writing. My students all to often think: I could never do that! But then, they see the many paths a story can go, and that can give them motivation to keep going. Like us, they usually have strong starts and then get stuck in the middle of a story because they don’t know how to end it. (me, too)

        1. Kevin,
          I am right beside you in this poem. Today on my morning walk my characters were speaking to me. I was finding story in the squirrel that ran across the street and almost got hit. I found story in the duck pond in the park where a group of biking teens were hanging out. This is the life of a writer, always writing, always walking with her characters beside her. We must do this. When they “whisper their secrets,” unless we are listening, the stories will be lost. Thanks.

        2. Kevin says: “one thing I do do is write with them, right next to them, in their midst, and then talk through what didn’t work for me and what seems to be working, and all of those important elements of writing.”
          I think teachers sharing their own writing and the process is critical. When I first began teaching, I used to teach writing lessons and couldn’t understand why they couldn’t do it. When I started “trying out” my lessons with my own writing, I quickly learned how to teach those lessons so kids could be successful!

          1. Writing with them and sharing is great. In my experience, their writing improves. Also, your writing gets better. My first book was written in the class with my students. It all helps everyone.


      2. I think you have to do what I do when I teach reading and when I knit. Let them put something down for a minute knowing that it is waiting to be picked back up. Talk about the play that comes in between the work. Like when we write, check Twitter or Facebook, then write again. Share how it really feels when you practice writing.

      3. Just so you know, a lot of authors struggle with finishing – it’s very easy to be distracted by shiny new ideas (they don’t have all those messy holes and plot problems at that point, after all). But if it’s a goal of yours to finish a piece, reading through what you have and then outlining the rest might be a good strategy right about now.

        1. Thanks, Kate. I think it’s hard when you get to that point where there’s just one more “big idea” that’s floating out of reach. When you have three or four ways it could end, but you aren’t sure which one is “right”.

          Hopefully that gets easier with practice, too.

    3. Have you ever read Ray Bradbury? He’s got a book called ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING. You should check it out. It will probably help with the frustration. Love the poem.

    4. Kevin, what an awesome poem to write…when you have no time to write! Keep up the great work…and enjoy your children while you have them. Too soon they will be like mine… 18, 21, and 22 and gone! Well, not really gone, since they are all in my house this summer, but they sure seem to take up as much, if not more time than when they were younger! Maybe it is the late bedtime that makes a difference! Ha ha. 🙂

    5. Characters wait for us – sure, they get a little mopey sometimes, but there they are waiting when we come back with pen or keyboard. Loved this, Kevin!

  2. Yesterday, I went and started setting up my classroom for next year. Yes, it is all cleaned and waxed thanks to my awesome custodians! I finally was able to create both a reading area and a writing area with various tools, resources, and publishing materials. Thank you again to Kate, guest authors, and all the others who have shared on the blog. You have inspired me to write over the summer! 🙂

    1. Wow! You’re on top of things – and how exciting to spend your summer writing knowing that you’ve paved the way for your students to do the same in the fall.

  3. Thanks Kevin for sharing your poem. I affirm you in focusing on your “daddy/son” time and letting the story writing wait. The character can wait but your child’s relationship is priority.

    Your podcast audio link of the poem added such a personal feature.


  4. Kevin,
    Thanks for sharing your poem about the story that waits within as you build memories with your sons. The audio clip added such a personal touch. 😉

  5. My writing has totally gone by the wayside. It seems as thought that time carved out at the very beginning has been filled in with weeding, chores, and a general sense of “oh, extra time, let’s do x,y, or z with it!” I accept responsibility for that simply because there are never enough hours in the day, but I also feel as though I’m allowing this to happen as well. Sharing any kind of writing is something I’ve always been nervous about doing due bad experiences doing it. I know, I know, many of you have “safe environment” or “don’t be afraid to fail” or “it won’t be THAT bad” on your lips, and I’ve thought it as well. We’ll see what next week brings. I will say, the volume, quality, and intensity of some of the writing is wonderful to see! 🙂

    1. I hope you do share, Darin. I know it’s hard, but everyone seems to be very kind here. Not as much of a critique group as cheering section.

      Sometimes I get a thrill out of putting things out there, even if I look like an idiot and no one comments at all. I mean, I’d rather people said nice things, but if they don’t, I’m proud of my nerve to put something out there. Not sure if that does anything for you!

      1. Hi Diane,

        If you’re putting yourself out there, you’re taking a major step forward. It IS scary, but allowing others to see and comment on your work often leads to new ways of thinking that can really improve your writing. Good for you!

      2. Diane, just want to remind you what I know (KNOW!) — that often if no one is commenting, it’s because they missed it. On my Friday Feedback blog, sometimes comments slip in in weird places, and I only see them when someone else comments on it or I don’t see them for days or weeks or months. Never take it as commentary/critique if you don’t have comments. Seriously. 🙂

    2. I’m glad you’re here – and I understand the tug of other things, too. (Boy, is my kitchen ever a mess right now!) Write when you can, and share when you are ready. We’ll be here, looking forward to reading. 🙂

    3. Just by posting, you did share, Darin; maybe not in That Way, but you were logical and articulate. And you also hit on something I struggle with all the time: the allure of the mundane. I’ve come to learn it’s just my way to avoid writing when it’s not flowing. And that’s when I strike a bargain with myself. If I just work at it for fifteen minutes, I get to put in another load of laundry. Oh, joy, right? But it works for me, and I typically end up writing longer.

    4. You have the right attitude when you say “we’ll see what next week brings.” I definitely have times when it’s much easier or convenient not to write or to share. You just have to give yourself another chance to try again!

  6. Trying to create characters is quite difficult I’m finding out. This goes back with the mapping out from last week, can you go in more detail about character development!

      1. Thanks for the worksheet. I’ve printed it for my writing file. I only wrote once this week-changing fairy tale. I am reading posts and still learning alot and getting ideas for next school year. Also read a couple of books this week. This class has made me even look at the books I read differently.

  7. Kevin, your poem is quite insightful. I have abandoned one of my characters for two years. Poor child.
    Kate, my question has to do with attempting to get published. It is my understanding that I should submit to magazines, and do my own query letters and submissions to get one or more books published on my own before searching for an agent. Is this a misconception, or is this the process for most (not all) writers?

    1. I’m sure you’ll get several answers for this, Wendi, because people use different approaches. In my case, I’m a baby step-by-baby step person. I started by writing for children’s magazines about fifteen years ago. It helped me learn to write “tightly,” how to revise, and how to research and submit. It also helped me learn to work with editors. Additionally, it provided some sense of accomplishment because it’s typically easier to get your work published in magazines than it is in the book world (and you generally get to the see published result much quicker). Then, when I thought I was ready, I tried my hand at picture book writing. After a while, I found success with FARMER MCPEEPERS. Then the pb market slowed for me, so I branched out into writing for the school and library market with nonfiction for older readers. I stayed that course for a while, but I had always known that my heart was with pb writing. About a year and a half ago, I decided to dedicate myself to developing about 4-5 really strong pb manuscripts (agents who rep pbs usually want to see more than one mss if they are interested in the original submission). I began submitting to agents and eventually signed with one in early September 2011. And now, I’m pleased to say that my work has paid off; yesterday, the official Publisher’s Weekly announcement came out that Candlewick Press will publish my next pb, ALIENS GET THE SNIFFLES TOO! It’s been a fifteen year process, but I’m pleased with where my step-by-step, slowly, but surely method has taken me. 🙂

    2. It really depends. And I know that’s a crummy answer, but there are just so many different paths you can take, and it feels like everyone has a different one. To be perfectly honest, I have 20 books out or under contract right now, but everything I’ve ever submitted to a magazine has been rejected (including Highlights, which asked me to teach there next summer!) So to say “Yes, that’s the right path!” would be misleading, I think. Many people do go that route, but probably just as many work on their craft for a long, long time and then look for an agent when they’re ready to submit. Admittedly, it’s easier to find an agent with a great novel than it is with a picture book, but it’s not out of the question. The most important thing is to write and write and hold off on the submitting until you’ve really revised whatever it is to within an inch of its life. Most people send things out too soon.

      1. Congrats on your overnight success, Katy! 😉 You must be thrilled. (from someone who took about 10 years to get her first deal ;)).

        I’m one of the ones that had nothing published prior to getting agented (or after), so like Kate said, each path is so very different.

  8. I am finally caught up with all the lessons. I got out of school a week ago, but his week was full of meetings at the University and I am finally feeling like I have a bit of time for me now! I haven’t posted much of my writing on the blog yet, it’s all in my notebook. I’m a bit intimidated by the amazing writing I am reading here and many seem to have works in progress and I just have a bunch of writing about this and that going on! I do keep coming back to one recurring theme and may develop that into a MG piece, but I’m not sure yet. I feel like I am having a hard time creating anything worthy of posting and wonder if that’s because I don’t have a project?
    Even though I’ve mostly only commented on others’ work, I am so grateful for this opportunity to learn from so many great writers and love opening up my laptop every morning after my bike ride to see what’s on the Teachers Write blog.

    1. There have been some great pieces shared here, so I understand feeling impressed. But there are also lots of people just dipping toes in the water like you are – and I think many of them are surprised by what they’re writing and how cool it’s turning out. Whatever you create, have fun with it – and that will show – and I hope you’ll share something when you’re feeling ready. It’s good to do something scary once in a while. 🙂

      1. Kim, what Kate said! Also, I suggested to someone the other day that if you’re wanting a “cohesiveness” or anchor to all your writing (I know I would — it would give me a sense of purpose to it all), why not try to do something little and simple like tie in a common object to each piece/exercise (a missing library book, an antique vase, a keychain, a piece of jewelry, a red dress, a pair of broken glasses … whatever strikes you, you get the gist) and see if you end up with some related short stories or pieces. I hope that helps!

        1. Gae you gave me that suggestion and it helped. THANKS! I’ve been writing snip-its about the same setting (my childhood home in the country) in my notebook. It has been helpful to have some kind of anchor to try out some of the prompts. Thank you for the tip!

  9. I am like many of the posters here, I have tried to continue my writing, but teaching summer school for our struggling readers and finishing my duties in the library have consumed most of my time. After one more week of summer school, I hope to sit in a quiet part of the house and catch up on these lessons. With books and characters floating about wildly in my head, Kevin’s poem sure gave me much to think about! Kudos to all those who have taken the leap and made progress with their writing! Have a fabulous weekend everyone!

    1. Just the fact that you’re looking forward to that writing time already means something, Barb – and don’t forget that all the ruminating is part of writing, too!

    1. I’ve bookmarked this to read later because I already know I’ll love it – I think many of us write for our inner teens (or inner ten-year-old, in my case!)

  10. This week has been crazy. After finishing up report cards and packing up my classroom, it was time to make the transition to summer writing. I enjoyed reading here, giving feedback, and sharing. After participating in the Eastern Michigan Writing Project, I have been craving something like this.

    Later in the week I reread what I plan to finish this summer and worked on finding the voice of my main character. Then I drove to Cleveland to get advance copies of my book to sign, deliver, and mail out. During my delivery time, I got word that Amazon and Barnes and Noble finally processsd things and the book was released. Yes, my world had a huge earthquake.

    Five years of hard work and dedication came to life yesterday. I am happy, but this 6th book has to be finished this summer. So, I am looking forward to using the rest of this summer to getting back to writing reading, sharing, and encouraging.


    1. Congratulations, Marquin! It’s great that you’re working on your next book, but be sure you take some time to enjoy that milestone, too. It’s pretty cool – let it sink in.

  11. One of my goals this summer was to work on my own writing and to improve my teaching of writing. Finding the Virtual Summer Writing Camp is fantastic. The camp is helping me stay focused!

    Thanks so much

  12. What a day! Another school year is in the books! All of you have inspired me to start a writing critique group at school. I nervously approached a few teachers today, and we agreed that a small group needs to be formed. We are an excited group of three writers (for now – we may add another person or two), and we are meeting in a few weeks.:)

    Thanks for another great week!

    1. Andy, so glad to hear this! I know you were craving an in-person group. Take the time to agree to what you want the critiques to be/feel like and that you are all on the same page with what you want the group to be for. I always like the first line of “attack” to be praise and encouragement (NOT attack) and to point out the positives. Sure, we can all find the crap… give me The Pull of Gravity, and I’ll point out all its weak spots… but what works? What makes it special? What draws you in? When the first drafts are finished, or significant progress has been made, then we can step in and help to fill plot holes and/or give line edits. Sometimes I prefer a “Support group” to a “Critique group.” 🙂 Capiche?

      1. Gae, I was really nervous about asking these teachers because I was unsure where they are at in the their writing. Both of the teachers talked about forming the critique group like you were describing, more like a support group. I was instantly excited about this opportunity because I love to discuss writing, but I also love the support of knowing there are other people facing the same writing obstacles and having the same writing successes as I am having with my own writing. I am hopeful that it will be a good group, and I am sure that it will be a learning experience (good or bad, hopefully good).

        1. Sounds PERFECT! Am so happy for you. I’m always “here” or “there” if you guys need any help. Maybe you’ll all pop on Friday Feedback, too. 🙂

  13. I found Teachers Write! at the beginning of this week, so I’ve been playing catch up. I enjoyed the first couple of weeks of writing prompts, but I’ve lost my momentum. There are so many other things I’m also trying to catch up on. I don’t do a lot of writing so this has been a great opportunity for me to get some practice and put myself in my students shoes. Thank you for organizing this!

    1. Welcome, Cindy! You know…there aren’t a whole lot of rules around here, so you shouldn’t feel like you need to catch up. Everything is pretty much structured so you can join us whenever works for you and drift in and out as your schedule allows. It’s fine to ignore the older stuff and just pop in to see what’s up every day.

  14. I am excited to be attending a conference starting tomorrow – ISTE 2012 (International Society for Technology in Education) because there are always so many bloggers, writers, writing teachers… it inspires me!

  15. This week has been a mixture of work, cleaning, workshop and just resting from an exhausting year. I have tried to make sure I write every day–even a little bit. Last night I was working on a part two for my take on “curriculum murders”. An idea that I got after seeing the title at a library bookstore. After I finish my part two, I think I better read the book that actually gave me the idea:-)

    I really appreciate these daily reminders about writing. They keep me going! Thanks!

    1. Glad you’ve been writing even in the midst of the working-cleaning-resting! (Curriculum Murders sounds like something that would have happened during our department meetings – our discussions could get pretty fierce!)

  16. All the exercises have really helped me to flesh out a project I’ve wanted to write but struggled with conceptually for a long, long time. Much of the story comes from a major event in my own childhood, and Ive always found it extremely difficult to give my MC her own life outside of just retelling my own story. I feel like I’m finally on a good path toward creating that clear division, and getting to know my MC has been equal parts heartbreaking and exciting. I’m looking forward to writing her story! Thank you to Kate and all the amazing authors for making this virtual workshop happen!!

    1. Hi, Kelly! This was interesting for me to read because often, I think, when stories are inspired by something in our own lives, we have a tendency to want to stick to the real people, the real events, the no-it-happened-this-way details,and I do think that novels work better when they’re inspired by those real events but then crafted as fiction. I’m glad you’ve been able to explore how to do that.