What Do You Need as a Writer? Three Things Highlights Gave Me

Highlights desk

I am over at the GROG with a post about my recent Highlights trip. Hop on over there to find out what I loved the most.

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Picture Books that Inspire Kids to Take Action and Change Their World

Nerdy Book Club Post

I love the Nerdy Book Club. If you are a book lover and aren’t regularly following them, go sign up now to get their daily posts. Today, I’m guest posting “Ten Books that Inspire Kids to Take Action and Change the World!” Come visit me over there.

 

 

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Back Matter in Picture Books

Collage of books

Carrie Charley Brown is hosting ReFoReMo (Read for Research Month), a time when writers challenge themselves to read picture books as mentor texts to improve their writing. I’m the guest author/educator there today talking about back matter in picture books. Hop over to her blog and give it a read.

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Plot Holes? Resources for Repair

I’m struggling with plotting in my middle grade novel. While I’m getting better at plotting, it’s still something that doesn’t come naturally to me. I wrote a post recently about the resources that I use when plotting. If you are struggling with plotting, these resources might help you too!

Plot Holes? Resources for Repair is on the GROG blog here. 

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NF10for10 2016: Nonfiction Books as Mentor Texts for Writing

NF10for10poster

This is the first time I’m doing a 10 for 10 post as a librarian instead of a classroom teacher. There are a few differences in this: 1) I’m in a position now where people are asking for book recommendations on a daily basis, and 2) I am in a position where I’m reading the same book multiple times. If I choose to read a book to third grade, it has to be a book I love enough to read aloud and hook them and absorb ME for seven readings.

NF10for102016

The books that I chose for this year’s list are books are all nonfiction that completely absorbed me. They are delightful as read alouds and they are stellar examples of nonfiction writing.

For each book, I’ve highlighted writing craft that I particularly like.

Most of these books are strong in specific word choice, which I refer to as “specificity.” For me, this means that the author uses domain-specific language. One of the treasures of these books is that none of these books use the words like vocabulary words, but they use words that true to the world they are writing about.

I'm trying to love spiders

I’m Trying to Love Spiders

Written and Illustrated by Bethany Barton

Viking, 2015

* Voice

* Specificity in word choice

* Tone

the spider

The Spider

Written and illustrated by Elise Gravel

Tundra Books, 2015

* Voice

* Specificity

* Tone

I also recommend reading both of these spider books and having a discussion about how two authors chose to write about the same topic.

finding winnie

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear

By Lindsay Mattock

Illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Little, Brown, 2015

* Word choice

* Dual Narrative

* Lyrical language

I also read this book alongside Winnie by Sally M. Walker. Students discussed how two authors took the same topic and wrote about it. They especially noted how they started the stories in different places.

how to swallow a pig

How to Swallow a Pig: Step by Step Advice from the Animal Kingdom

By Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Houghton Mifflin, 2015

* Point of view

* Organization (How-To Text)

* Alliteration

* World Play

* Specificity in word choice

tiny creatures

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes

By Nicola Davies

Illustrated by Emily Sutton

Candlewick, 2014

* Specificity in word choice

* Imagery

* Sentence variety

leaflets three let it be

Leaflets Three, Let it Be! The Story of Poison Ivy

By Anita Sanchez

Illustrated by Robin Brickman

Boyds Mills Press, 2014

* Vivid Verbs

* Specificity in word choice

* Adjectives

swan

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova

By Laurel Snyder

Illustrated by Julie Morstad

Chronicle, 2015

* Lyrical language

* Alliteration

* Vivid Verbs

* Rhythm

water is water

Water is Water: A Book about the Water Cycle

By Miranda Paul

Illustrated by Jason Chin

Neil Porter: Roaring Brook, 2015

* Vivid verbs

* Word Play

* Specificity in word choice

* Rhythm

mesmerized

Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France

By Mara Rockliff

Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno

Candlewick, 2015

* Specificity in word choice

* Vivid Verbs

* Voice

* Tone

trombone shorty

Trombone Shorty

By Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews

Illustrated by Bryan Collier

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2015

* Voice

* Specificity in word choice

* Refrain (repetition)

* Personal narrative

The 10for10 posts are happening all over the web today. Click here to join the Google+ Community where post links are being shared. 

Previous 10for10 Posts

Poetic Nonfiction Picture Books

Fiction Picture Books for Word Choice

Nonfiction Picture Books about Virginia History

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Celebrating 2015

For the past several years (2012, 2013, 2014), I have kept track of the accomplishments for the year. Last year I kept a monthly celebration page, which I called my “Book of Stars” (I originally posted about that here). This year was particularly challenging for me, which I wrote about yesterday, so I’m particularly excited to look back on all I did accomplish. I didn’t meet every goal, but I know I’m a better writer on December 31, 2015 than I was on January 1, 2015, so that is something that I can be excited about.

Personally

Bookish Things

  • 1st book published—Ancient China (ABDO, 2015)

ABDO Cover

  • As a result of that, I got to sign my first books, see my book in a public library, and speak at a literacy conference.

2015-04-23 15.29.24

  • Mentor Text E-book published and up for sale on my website

Mentor Texts for Writers Book 1 Cover

Challenges

  • Writing Marathon–February
  • ReFoReMo—March
  • Poem a Day—April, I completed 30 poems alongside Linda. Many thanks to Renee for teaming us up!
  • PiBoIdMo—I was not a winner, but I did work on getting ideas down in November.
  • Write Daily 30—December, I worked on revising a middle grade in 45 minute sessions each day. Thanks to Linda Urban for organizing this!
  • 12×12—All year. I wrote 6 new PBs and did 25+ revisions.

Guest Posts

Reading

  • Read 423 picture books (this does NOT include the books I read for my job at my job, just the ones I read at home for personal writing growth)
  • Read 47 longer works—novels and adult NF

Writing Workshops

  • Luray retreat with Candace Ransom
  • SCBWI MD/DE/WV Conference
  • WOW Conference
  • SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Conference

Book Events I Attended

2015-03-19 20.48.00

  • Kate DiCamillo at Virginia Festival for the Book
  • Cece Bell (at Hollins)
  • Maggie Steifvater (at Hollins)
  • Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Politics and Prose Picture Book Panel
  • National Book Festival—so many authors
  • Margarita Engle
  • Duncan Tunatiuh
  • Natalie Lorenzi

Middle Grade Novel Writing

  • Revision in progress since November

Other Writing

  • Got back into the submission game again after a hiatus
  • Received several helpful critiques from agents and editors at various events

Keeping track of the things I DID accomplish definitely does make me pumped to do more writing. So here’s to 2016!

What are you most proud of from 2015?

 

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How to Survive a Move with Your Creativity Intact

It’s no secret that we moved this year. I’ve moved a lot in my life, having grown up in Thailand and Malaysia, and moving multiple times in my adult life. But this one was different. This time I said good bye to a place I’d lived in longer than any place else in my life. And this time I had kids.

Before the move, I had a great writing routine.

Then we put our house on the market, and I started job hunting. We sold our house, and moved into my parents’ condo. Then we had to find a new house and I had to make decisions about my new job. I had a summer full of temporariness. We moved into our new house, but I still had commitments for the summer to keep, so we were back and forth across the state all summer.

I’m now a few months on the other side of the move, several months into my new job, my kids are settled, and I am back in a good writing routine.

Looking back on the transition makes me absolutely exhausted.

One of my biggest fears was not being able to hang onto my creative life in the midst of it all. I definitely don’t think I excelled at it, but there were some things that keep me afloat during a stressful time.

Postpone Goals

I had big plans to revise a novel in March-May of 2015. That was right in the thick of my house selling, me getting job offers and having to make decisions, and us buying a house.

For me, I have to be in a book, really in it, almost every single day when I’m drafting and revising a novel-length project. I just know that’s how I work best. Otherwise, I spend a lot of time trying to remember where I last left off.

When all of the major decisions hit at once, I abandoned that novel-revising goal, and I told my writing friends I abandoned it. You know what happened? They wholeheartedly supported my decision and they helped validate that decision. They helped me give myself permission to take a break from it.

I picked it back up in November and December of 2015. And that time away was actually so helpful. I ended up cutting characters, cutting chapters, rewriting big chunks of it. I’m still working on it, but I am sure that it’s a better revision that I could’ve done in the spring.

Morning Pages

I realized during all of those times I was trying to separate one decision from the other one, I needed to write. I process things both verbally and through writing them down. So, as my husband and I talked over our choices, I also wrote down pros and cons and my feelings, those intangible things that still played into my decisions.

Once we moved, I had a thousand things on my mind. I had my to-do lists and I also had my emotions, and my children’s emotions, and the emotions of reuniting our family after living apart for nine months.

Moving takes up a lot of headspace. I wasn’t coming up with the most stellar writing at this time and I was having trouble focusing on the writing at hand because I had all of this junk in my mind. I also had new job stress and the kids’ new situation stress.

I brought the morning pages back out. There were some mornings that all I could do was morning pages. But it was okay because it helped me free up some of that creative energy.

Eventually, I was able to do more than just morning pages.

Stay Organized

My life was upside down for many months—basically from February-August. I used a bullet journal to help keep all of my to-do lists organized. It helped me keep all of my writing goals and my life transition mess organized. For more information on how I do bullet journaling, read this.

Small Victories Matter

Last year I wrote about my Book of Stars. This year, I incorporated it into my bullet journal.

Bullet Journal: Book of Stars page

Bullet Journal: Book of Stars page

When August rolled around, and I was feeling pretty depressed about all of the goals that had derailed, I flipped through my “book of stars” pages for each month. When I saw the books that I had read and book that was published and the speech that I delivered and so much more, I began to get out of my funk.

No, I didn’t accomplish all of my goals in 2015, but dang it, I did a lot!

Revise Your Goals

For me, I had to pare things down to what was really, really important. My day job hours changed, my commute increased, and I wanted to make sure that our family time was intact. That meant, I had to be strict about my writing hours and really keep them to the morning only.

That meant, some things had to give. I blogged less. I tried not to be scattered in a million different directions. I tried to be focused on what I really, really wanted to do.

Embrace Setbacks

As you’ll see in my post tomorrow, I’m excited about all that DID accomplish. I did way more than I gave myself credit for. However, one of my big, disappointing setbacks was not being able to draft a new novel.

However, I am embracing it. I realize that this got put on the back burner NOT because of procrastination, but because I made a conscious decision to hold onto my sanity and put that goal off for a few more months.

It’s on my list for 2016. Am I disappointed? Yes. Do I regret it? No.

I’m a type A, driven person. Sometimes it’s harder for me to say NO to myself than to push myself.

So, I think this setback was, in fact, a victory. I learned to recognize when I’d taken on too much and that I needed to re-evaluate.

tables

Trust me, the move wasn’t perfect. The transition to my new schedule required some adjusting. But I’m happy to say I found my way back to my writing.

What life transitions have derailed your writing? How did YOU find your way back?

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Bullet Journaling: A Peek Into My Process

I’ve been bullet journaling for about a year now. I wrote a post over at the GROG about the method to my madness. If you are gearing up for the new year, this might be something you want to try. Click here to go to the post.

Bullet Journal: Book of Stars page

Bullet Journal: Book of Stars page

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Organize Your Writing Space

After a very long hiatus, I am back to blogging. I blog occasionally with a group of writers called the GROG. When Sherri Jones Rivers, a fellow grogger, asked me to give her some ideas for organizing her writing space, I gave her a tour of my space. Click here to find out how I organize my office.

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Mentor Texts for Writers: Anything Can Be a Mentor Text by Jen Vincent

I have been following Jen’s blog for years. We both are teachers and writers and we both love mentor texts. I love that Jen gives us a glimpse into the various ways she uses mentor texts. Please be sure you visit Jen’s website where she is one of the Teachers Write hosts every summer. 


 

I believe a mentor text is anything we can look to as an example of good writing. It can be a book, a poem, a quote, words on a Starbucks cup. I especially love how Ralph Fletcher defines mentor texts as, “…any texts that you can learn from, and every writer, no matter how skilled you are or how beginning you are, encounters and reads something that can lift and inform and infuse their own writing.”

charlie brown quotestarbucks cup

The beauty is any text becomes a mentor text in the hands of a writer. In that sense, a mentor text is as unique as its reader. If it inspires your writing, it’s a mentor text. I find myself taking pictures of things that inspire me. My phone ends up being a virtual writer’s notebook, full of ideas, snapshots of things that inspire me…including quotes on walls and words on Starbucks cups.

Thinking of a mentor text this way, we might not even realize what we have read that has influenced us! There is a big shift; going from a reader and a consumer to a writer who finds inspiration all around takes practice. The more I write, the more I pay attention to words and ideas all around me.

Depending on what I’m writing, I immerse myself as a reader in different formats or genres. When I’m doing research, I flood myself with every book I can find about a certain topic. I want to see what others have done so I can see how might story might fit in but also be different. I have a teeny seedling of an idea for a story about donuts so I checked out as many donut-related books as I could find from the library (I was surprised there weren’t that many!). In these mentor texts, I was looking for big picture ideas and themes.

book pile

Last year, I wrote a fiction picture book inspired by my sons. I compare it to a blend of Ninja! by Arree Chung and Must. Push. Buttons! by Jason Good so naturally I had to reread those books and others with a similar feeling. I paid attention to the pacing, how the author introduced the main character, and how the words worked with the illustrations.

jen pic with ninja book

When I worked on a non-fiction picture book biography earlier this year, I reread lots of my favorites in the same genre like The Right Word by Jen Bryant and Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet. At the same time, I also read some fiction picture books I love to see if any ideas there might transfer over into my non-fiction picture book. I love the word choice in Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly so it was one I looked at as a mentor text.

jen with The Write Word

 

Jen and Velma Gratch

 

I’m a fan of descriptive writing and I love studying beautiful writing and admiring how authors use words to bring ideas to life for readers. With students, I love to share a piece of text and ask them read it a few times and think about what stands out to them. What I love about an excerpt might be very different from what someone else likes. Taking time to relish in great writing helps me realize what the author has done that I might like to try in my own writing.

For my YA novels, I adore Jenny Han’s writing as a mentor text but I also read lots of contemporary young adult and pay attention to how the authors bring characters to life, characters’ story arcs, and how the protagonists interact with the antagonists. What I notice about Jenny Han’s writing in To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is that her writing is so concise. She packs a lot of information and background knowledge into the first few pages. It’s amazing and very well done.

Jen and Han

Like I said, anything can be a mentor text. If it stands out to me, I usually take a picture of it so I can refer to it later. Oftentimes, what stands out to me is something I’m grappling with. This is from the back cover of Lost In The Sun by Lisa Graff. I love the alliteration and the way words are matched together so I snapped a picture.

back of book

In his book Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon talks about how nothing is original. Everyone is just taking bits and pieces of what others have done and creating something new. It’s nice to think that authors who have come before me are my mentors. When I think I might be stuck or I’m not sure how to start a story, I know I can always look at what others have done and see if they have an idea I might try in my own writing. All that matters is the words influence me and I’ve got a mentor text.


head shot

Jen Vincent is a Technology Integration Specialist for Mundelein School District 75 in Mundelein, Illinois. As a writer, blogger, and educator, she strives to model and inspire others to live a growth mindset in everything she does. Her passion is connecting people and ideas and believes in the power of being a connected educator to impact teaching and learning. Jen hosts Sunday Check-Ins for Teachers Write, co-hosts the kidlit It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? meme, and blogs at teachmentortexts.com. She can be found on twitter at @mentortexts and her website is jenvincentwrites.com.

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