Thursday, April 27, 2017

Filling the Creative Well

by Sue Heavenrich

Earlier this month Christy shared a passel of great ideas for what to do to “blast through writer’s block”. Reading her post reminded me of the “artist dates” that Julia Cameron advocates in her book, The Artist’s Way. 

Cameron encourages writers (and other artists) to take time for themselves in doing activities that “fill the well” of creativity. She calls these once-a-week encounters “artist dates”. The thing is, Cameron explains, that they are things you do to explore something that interests you, fires up your imagination, sparks whimsy, encourages play. They are activities that “feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration,” she says.

There are no rules about how to do artist dates other than to ask yourself: what sound fun? And then allow yourself to try it – even if it is something you have never done before. In that spirit, I share a year’s worth of artist dates I have done or intend to try, plus those gleaned from fellow writers and illustrators. Try one; try them all – and add your own ideas to the list. 

Around the home and yard:

  • Listen to classical music (or the Hamilton sound track)
  • Read a book – even cartoon paperbacks
  • Put on some dance music and move
  • Find streets/ buildings/ places in your town you have never been to before
  • Bake or cook something
  • Watch a movie
  • Grow a mini-garden in your kitchen
  • Make a blanket fort, snuggle in with books and hot cocoa
  • Find some postcards; then write notes on them and mail them to friends

Take a field trip:
  • Visit an art museum or gallery
  • Meander through a used book store or library book sale
  • Turn a map upside down and see where it takes you
  • Attend a local festival
  • Hang out in an ethnic shop
  • Visit a zoo or botanical garden
  • Visit a museum
  • Visit a historical building
  • Look at doors or stairs on houses you walk by
  • Visit a farmer’s market
  • Explore an antique store
  • Ride on a bus

Outside/ nature:
  • Walk in the woods or a park
  • Meditate on a beach or river bank
  • Go on a walk to look at flowers growing in yards
  • Lay on your back and watch clouds
  • Watch leaves spin and fall
  • Follow a butterfly or bumble bee

 Make Something:
  • Make a collage from old magazines
  • Make a sculpture from junk
  • Paint on something that is not paper
  • Make a greeting card for someone
  • Make or cut out paper dolls
  • Make a journal or notebook
  • Take your camera for a walk
  • Write haiku or other poetry
  • Make something that could hang from a window or Christmas tree
  • Let a cookie fortune inspire you
  • Create sidewalk art with colored chalk
  • Make a map of a story that’s tickling your mind
  • Paint with berry juice
  • Capture a sunset with watercolors

  • Build with legos or blocks
  • Start a collection of stones, marbles
  • Play in the snow
  • Make some play-dough and play with it
  • Finger paint
  • Play with a kid’s toy you enjoyed
  • Learn some words in a new language
  • Do a jigsaw puzzle
  • Try origami
  • Go fly a kite
  • Invent new words with scrabble tiles

Monday, April 24, 2017

15 Steps to Building My Children's Author Website ~ by Patricia Toht

In January, 2016, I made a list of writing resolutions. #1 was to build my author website.
Image by medithIT
Here's how I went about it:

STEP 1 - Secure the Domain 
Possibilities abound for securing a domain name, but I decided to go with the granddaddy, GoDaddy. My last name is unusual, so it was readily available. If you have a more common name, you may need to get creative - add your middle initial or name, or add "books" or "author" to your name.

STEP 2 - Do Some Research
I spent time studying other authors' websites. Many were built by website designers who, for a fee, can transform your vision into a technical reality. But in the end I decided that, a) the price was prohibitive for me, and b) I wanted the ability to change things on my website without incurring additional charges. That led me to...

STEP 3 - Buy a Book 
I decided to look into Wordpress. Like GoDaddy, Wordpress is a platform with longevity and one that offers a lot of options for customization. It came recommended in many articles that I read about author websites. 

STEP 4 - Procrastinate


In January, 2017, I made another list of writing resolutions. The first resolution was to finish the resolutions I vowed to do in 2016. So, back to the website!

STEP 5 - Do Even More Research 
Despite reading the entire, most of, half of the book, I knew little about building and hosting a Wordpress site. It was research time again. I filled out spreadsheets about hosting sites, costs, themes, etc., but still felt stuck. I resorted to an online quiz, which pointed me to a particular host + Wordpress, and a suggestion to use their overlay which would make design "simple." Well, "simple" wasn't what I encountered. I worked on it for days and made NO progress!

STEP 6 - Throw a Tantrum

This may have involved tears, lots of self-deprecation about my small brain, a call to cancel the web hosting order, soothing (but unappreciated) words of comfort from my husband, and a large glass of wine. 

STEP 7 - Phone a Friend
I called my son, who knows a few things about tech stuff.

STEP 8 - Pick a Winner! 
I decided on weebly.

STEP 9 - Select a Theme
A theme forms the basic skeleton for how your website will look. My friend and fellow grogger, Christy Mihaly, has a weebly-built website that I really like, so I begged her to share the theme's name with me, and she generously did.

STEP 10 - Choose Color and Overall Mood
I wanted my website to reflect childhood innocence. My husband photographed an old typewriter and some Hummel-like bookends that reflected that innocence and I chose colors from those photos.

STEP 11 - Pick the Pages 
Which pages did I want on my website? I chose the basics: a Home page, About Me, Books and Magazines, News, Extras, and Contact Me. (On some of the pages, I found that the amount of info was too much, so I made subpages.) Christy's website had used a plug-in to add colorful boxes, and I added that app to my toolbox.

STEP 12 - Create Images and Words
This part took quite a bit of thought and editing. I already had lots of images to use, so it was a matter of choosing the right ones. As for information, of course I wanted to include my books, but what else? Each bit of text was rewritten several times. In fact, I'm still tweaking.

STEP 13 - Get a Critique
I know what I don't know, and that includes what makes for an effective website. Christy Mihaly had enlisted the help of Lisa Amstutz to build her website, so I asked Lisa for a critique. She was reasonably priced and incredibly thorough - I am still working through her suggested changes!

STEP 14 - What about SEO?
Another thing that I hadn't a clue about was search engine optimization - how to get your website to pop up when a web search is done on your name. I asked Lisa for help with this as well.

STEP 15 - Now, PUBLISH! 
Weebly guided me through connecting my website and my domain name, and I sent my website out into the world! Yes, I still have one section that is not completed (the "Extras"). I still have changes to make, and I know some errors have yet to be found, but I expect this will be ongoing. If you'd like to take a peek, you can find my website at: 

If building a website is a goal of yours, then go for it! 
Don't hesitate to ask for help. Don't be afraid to start over if needed. Experiment. Tweak. And I recommend a glass of wine, too.

Do you already have a website? Leave your address in the comments below. I'd love to take a look!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

STUDENTS REACT TO DU IZ TAK? By: Sherri Jones Rivers

There's been a lot of buzz... 

about Carson Ellis' Du Iz Tak? However, most of it
has been from the adults' point of view. "This is a title that calls for multiple readings," said one reviewer.  Another wrote, "I was completely captivated by Ellis's wonderful creatures." I wanted to know for myself how kids reacted to it. The book was passed around in Mrs. Marshall's second grade classroom, along with some questions to get them thinking. A week later, I scheduled a visit and spent some time with the class discussing the book. A big thank you to Mrs. Marshall and her wonderful students--Emma, Wills, Barrett, Eli, Emily, Molly, Caroline, Allie, Keyden,Carter, Ben, Ethan, Layla, Charlotte, and Helen. My group had seven students, and Mrs. Marshall's group had eight. I sat down on the reading carpet with my students and opened the book. The first question:

Does the book make sense to you?

Every student but one said it did, and they really liked the book. 

What do you think the title means?

The consensus was "What is that?", but one student said he thought it meant "Does it talk?", referring to the growing shoot.

What do you think the book is about?

One student said it's about life. It's about the bugs, said another.

What do you think about the bug language?

On the ninth page, when the bugs say, "Icky; ru badda unk ribble," the students thought they were asking Icky to "go get the ladder."

They couldn't stop talking about the "furt." They were sure it meant "fort," but it sounded very similar to another word that brought forth giggles. Several thought the word "su" meant "sure" or "yes."

On the page on which the spider climbs to the top of the flower to make a web, one thought "VOOBECK" meant "get back."  And to another student, "BOOBY" meant "bad boy," referring to the spider and the harm he might inflict.

On the double spread where the characters are all saying "Unk gladdenboot" several students thought it meant "very good" or "great."

What were some of your favorite pages or illustrations?

The students were close observers of the art and especially liked the fact that the snail moved through the pages, initially appearing in the first third of the book as just a pair of eyes. (You can see the yellowish eyes in the bottom left hand corner)

One student loved the page when the flower was fully grown. Another student liked the page where they call for Icky to come out of his log house. They loved looking at the inside of Icky's house and the tiny items there. They noticed the difference in the pages where the creatures were filled with joy, and the pages where they were bent over in despair.

Two differing opinions existed on the page with the bird and the spider. One thought it was awesome with the spider legs hanging out, and one said it was sad the bird/eagle got the spider.

One lone student thought the art was cheesy. 

All in all, I thought it was a spirited discussion on what a class of second graders got from the book. Several teachers thought this book would be good for teaching inferring, as well as phonic skills. The teacher was not familiar with the book beforehand, so I was delighted to be able to introduce her and the class to Du Iz Tak? 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Writing a Guided Reading Book 101 by Tina Cho

Have you ever thought about writing a guided reading book? Educational publishers need writers to write these little 8-10 paged books for beginning readers.
Teachers use these in reading groups in schools. Some are based on phonics. Some are based on sight words. And all are based on some kind of leveled reading system. Take a look at Caring for Your Dog by clicking here and then return to this post. This book was based on a Lexile reading level and controlled vocabulary. There are fiction and nonfiction guided readers. 
Each publisher has their own way of writing them. They will tell you how many words per book, words per page, even words per sentence! They might give you a controlled vocabulary list, and you can only write using the words on that list. They might have a template for you to use. You have to be creative!

As with writing picture books, you have to read them in order to write them. If you want to write guided reading books, you need to read them, especially since they are written on so many levels. How?

  • listen to your children/grandchildren read them for homework
  • volunteer at an elementary school for reading time and listen to kids read them
  • ask a teacher if you could look at her collection, tell her you're interested in writing them
  • peruse educational publishing websites and look at their guided reading books, there may be samples you can click on

When you're ready, try writing a manuscript for a guided reader. I even self-published one in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. I wrote the text, and my daughter illustrated it. This is a sight word reader. Can you guess the sight words?
My Hamster
My hamster lives in a cage.
My hamster can eat a seed.
My hamster can drink water.
My hamster can run.
My hamster can slide.
My hamster can dress up.
I love my hamster.

Guided reading books are fun to write. But just like picture books, every word counts, since they are sparse.
If you want to know more, check out these posts I wrote:
Writing Beginning Readers or Guided Reading Books (at my OLD blog)

How to Write for the Educational Market Part 1

How to Write for the Educational Market Part 2 (explains Lexile levels)

Guided Reading Levels and the Writer (explains Fountas and Pinnell leveling system)

If you have any questions, ask in the comments, email/message me, or find me at my blog!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Blasting Through Writer's Block ~ by Christy Mihaly

When faced with the dreaded Writer’s Block . . . what should a working writer do?


(a) sit and stew
(b) scream and shout
(c) swear: "I'll never write again!"

(d): Read this post, and get yourself out of that funk. 

GROG readers, take heart! Yes, sometimes it seems as if the Muse has flown, never to be seen again. We've all been there. But if you're looking for a way out of the mire, select option (d), and consider these tried-and-true secrets for blasting through that block.

1. Move! Get up from your dreary desk, and try one (or more) of these potentially productive options for movement:

Christian Gonzalez, flickr:
a. Take a walk. Some writers call this “walking the story.” It’s smart to carry a notebook and pencil, or some other way to record your thoughts, because inspiration often shows up on long walks.

b. Move to a different writing space. Maybe it’s just to a comfy chair in the den. Maybe you can sit with your laptop under the spreading oak. You’ll benefit from  looking at the world from a new perspective.

c.  Run some errands. If it’s stuff you have to do anyway, don’t think of it as wasting time . . . just be sure to keep your mind open to creative thinking while driving or walking or riding. And if you have to pull over and write something down – do it.

d. Take a shower. Sometimes, ahem, we at-home writers might “forget.” Look down. Are you still wearing your pajamas at 2:00 p.m.? Perhaps a nice shower and a change of clothes would get the blood flowing to the brain.

2.     Find Fresh Inspiration. There are many ways to recharge your writing batteries and collect new writing ideas.

a.  Read.  Read mentor texts. Read poetry. Read anything. Notice what works and doesn’t work, yes. But read, read, read, for the pleasure of it.

b.  Watch kids. Don't be creepy, but if you’re a writer for children, you must understand how kids operate to write authentically about and for them. Sit by a playground or park, if you can, or spend time observing your own children or grandchildren.

c.  Fill the well. If your creativity is running dry, consider visiting an art show or a museum, or drawing or painting or playing some music or singing or doing whatever it is that feeds your artist’s spirit.
Leonid Pasternak, “The Passion of Creation”  [wikimedia]

d.  Call a writing buddy. Commiserate with someone who understands. Ask your friend to hold you accountable for your writing. Talk over some ideas that might work.

e.  Work on your craft. Are you thinking about signing up for a course or a workshop? Perhaps it’s a good time to buy a book about the craft of writing, and start working through it.

f.   Stretch your writing muscles. Switch it up with some writing exercises. If your picture book isn’t working, try making a picture book dummy. Compose a poem in your main character’s voice. Or change your story from the past tense to the present. Find the fun!    

Productive procrastination. You must, of course, avoid regular procrastination -- the time-wasting kind. But in a pinch, a bit of writing-related procrastination may prove profitable. So if creative energy eludes you, try some tasks that use other parts of your writing brain.

a. Pursue the business of writing. Update (or write) your lists, your spreadsheet of manuscripts, your chart of submissions. Send a reminder to someone who has been holding your manuscript or query for six months; submit a piece if it’s ready.

b. Organize your files. Be on the lookout for a prior draft or an old manuscript that calls to you. Is it time for a fresh revision? Is this just what an editor wants now? Can you breathe new life into this piece?
 Sharon Drummond,    

c.  Check your deadlines. Maybe you have another project that’s due soon, or the contest you've meaning to enter is about to close. Deadlines can be highly motivating.

d.  Research. Maybe you need to do library or field research or photo research, for fiction or nonfiction work. Maybe you can work investigate possible publishers, agents, markets, or theme lists, doing research can inspire new writing ideas. Completing a bibliography can feel very productive, too, and remind you just how much you know about your topic.

e.   Plan a presentation. Have you been meaning to schedule a school visit or bookstore presentation? Think about working on this.

f.  Consider your writing plan. Identify your writing priorities. Do you want to sign up for a writing course? Read a book on craft? Do you want to try a different genre? Join a writing group? Volunteer for SCBWI? All these actions can move your writing forward . . . and get you out of the block.

And, finally, one of my personal favorites. . . write a blog post! 

If you have your own writer's block remedies to share, let us know in the comments.  And happy writing!