journey in publishing, Writing

WIP. Work in Progress.

In my last blog post, I promised (threatened?) to share the story as I attempt to publish the manuscript I’ve been working on.

Back in early May, I sent what I thought was the completed manuscript to a freelance editor, who has intimidating credentials.  Right off the bat, she told me that she didn’t love third person for my audience. Gulp. How can she know this after only three chapters? I thought.

A few weeks later, she wrote to tell me that everything was going really well. Just that one line. Ugh. What does “really well” even mean?

Then, on Monday of last week, I received her editorial letter: a global edit of my novel; 18 single-spaced pages of questions, critiques, and areas needing improvement. I put that thing away for a full 24 hours. I needed to mature really quickly before taking it all in.

The next day, I still wasn’t ready. Kept away from it for another 24 hours.

Finally, I called her, and we talked through it for a while; the whole time, in the back of my mind, I struggled with the real question: is it good enough to keep going? I never asked her that question, though. I hedged around the edges: is the voice strong enough? what are your thoughts if I tried first person? what did you think of this character? And so on, and on, and on.

I hung up the phone and can’t say that I felt any better or worse for the conversation — and I found a quote — I like quotes — to summarize my thoughts on the matter (see pic).

File_000 (5).jpeg

I spoke with a dear friend (and fantastic beta reader). I thought about it a lot, and a new question started bouncing around in my head: Can I rewrite 400 pages?

Not should — can? And the answer is obviously yes.

So a week ago today, after I drove through the afternoon showers that are so typical of Florida summers, I arrived in Orlando for my first ever SCBWI conference, unpacked my stuff, and started rewriting my novel in first person present tense. My editor was right. I started to love the manuscript a little more.

The next day, I attended a day-long novel comprehensive and received some excellent feedback on that very first page that I had hammered out a few hours earlier. If there was a health meter (I’m imagining myself in some weird nerd writing fantasy video game), I would have earned another heart.

The day after that, I attended a day-long young adult session and rediscovered a forgotten thread of my novel: the talisman that had been such a critical symbol in my very first draft had faded away after too many revisions (thank you Lexa Hillyer for that reminder). Another heart in the meter.

My health meter is fully charged now. I’ve written four more chapters, I’ve raised the stakes at every step of the way, my characters have more depth, I know my novel’s logline (thank you Bruce Hale for that exercise!), and I think I finally get it.

It?

That it doesn’t matter if I should write or rewrite or cut or add or … or … or. All that matters is whether I want to. That’s why I’m writing, because I want to. And that’s  why readers read, because they want to.

File_000 (7)

Another valuable lesson from the last few weeks? Writing doesn’t have to be a solitary sport. I always imagined myself as having these unique experiences — the heart wrenching debate over what tense and point-of-view, over how much physical description it too much; in fact, it’s a heart-wrenching debate over every conceivable detail, every word is a decision. That’s exhausting, but going to the SCBWI Conference and being in a room of people who can commiserate on these “problems” so unique to writers (#writerproblems?) was affirming. Writing is not a solitary sport.

So, the journey continues …  and the manuscript status is updated to WIP. Work in Progress.

 

 

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journey in publishing, Writing

The Journey Begins

That title is a lie.

The journey began a long, long time ago when I was a weird little girl who stayed up late to write stories while hiding under the covers of my bed. I wrote stories in my head even when I wasn’t able to write stories on the paper. I wrote by the light of a brass flashlight (circa WW2) that my grandfather had used to signal Morse code to other ships, which meant that I had to hold the button to keep the light on. My thumb would throb from pressing that tiny button as one long dash, but those stories kept me from sleep.

Then, I took a long, long break from writing when I was trying not to be a weird young woman. I’ve never been content without creating, though.

I’ve returned to myself. Now, I’m old enough to realize that it doesn’t matter if I’m weird and wise enough to realize that Dr. Seuss was right all along: those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter. The time will pass anyway, I thought. So, some years ago, I participated inNaNoWriMo, and I “won.” (If you aren’t familiar with NaNoWriMo, check it out.)

IMG_4649.JPGSeveral years have passed since I decided to put on my big girl pants. I’ve written over half a million words, and I’m sure half of those are going to be scrapped and half of what remain are going to be rearranged until my fingerprints have been worn off from tapping the keyboard. Somewhere, buried in those half a million words, are three novels and some interesting, authenticcharacters that I would have loved to meet in my high school English classroom.

Now, I have a manuscript that I am going to try to publish. That’s the journey that begins here. Not the writing — no, that’s been happening for my whole life. Isn’t that the truth for all writers? Everything we see, hear, feel, taste, touch — everything we LIVE — becomes the letters of our stories.

Am I brave enough to share the saga of trying to get this, or any, manuscript published? Perhaps. We’ll see. If you come back, you’ll see.

ed tech in practice, Lifelong Learning

Thoughts on Implementing Digital Storytelling in the Classroom: Lessons Learned

Storytelling has “stickiness” to it that will help students learn, but implementing a digital storytelling project can be a daunting task. For more about my experiences creating a digital story, please read here. In creating my own digital story several years ago and then including similar (albeit less involved) projects with my students, I have learned the following lessons:

  • It is easy to underestimate the length of the final video. I estimated that my video would be three and a half minutes long, but, without adding anything to the original pre-production plan, the video is seven minutes.
  • The nitty-gritty details in producing a digital story can consume a lot of time. I will strictly limit the number of elements (transitions, titles, stills, music, sound effects, etc.) that students are permitted to include.
  • Production could easily overshadow story. Although I am confident that production highlighted the quality of my story, I can see how my students might get lost in producing and forget that the story is the central objective in digital storytelling.  Therefore, through limiting elements and focusing on the story core, I will endeavor to keep the story as the central focus.
  • Advance access to an excellent rubric is vital. As long as the rubric reflects the learning objectives, students should be able to focus on the most important aspects and not get lost in the details.

To view my video, visit either link below:

ed tech in practice, reading responses & reviews

Response to ‘Conversations at a Crucial Moment’

I chose an article from one of the National Council for Teachers of English journals, College English, titled “Conversations at a Crucial Moment: Hybrid Courses and the Future of Writing Programs.” For the first few pages the author, Catherine Gouge, builds support for her argument that college writing instructors need to begin considering how to blend their composition courses.

Throughout the article, Gouge refers to hybrid courses rather than blended courses, but her definition of hybrid courses is congruous with blended learning (Gouge, 2009, p. 340-341). She quotes Todd Taylor’s list of ten principles for incorporating instructional technology that I believe are worth sharing here:

  1. Keep people first.
  2. Identify and build from program principles.
  3. Start simple.
  4. Invest heavily in hands-on instructor training.
  5. Revise strategies for instructing students.
  6. Consult with others.
  7. Expect the crash.
  8. Consider access.
  9. Be critical of technology.
  10. Use technology as a lever for positive change.

(as cited in Gouge, 2009, p. 343-344)

Gouge goes on to outline the advantages and disadvantages of hybridity. She notes the usual: flexibility, increased student interactivity, increased student accountability, financial benefits, development of marketable real-world skills, etc.  Notably, two of her listed advantages were new to me: first, she points out that the asynchronous communications among students and faculty “transforms learning from a one-time event to an ongoing process;” second, she uses anecdotal evidence to indicate that the challenge of a text-intensive hybrid course serves as a mini-composition course itself.

In her section on the disadvantages, Gouge points out that “the voices that are most noticeably absent in the existing literature on hybrid pedagogy are those that are critical” (p. 347). She lists the usual culprits of resistance to technology and lack of training and access.

Gouge moves on to discuss specific programs and focuses on ICON (Texas Tech University’s Interactive Composition Online Program). The ICON system is simply fascinating. This hybrid system involves multiple document assessors to grade papers anonymously. Through a complicated course management system, the program is able to allow an essay to be scored with comments anonymously and independently two times (or three, if necessary based on score differences).  She lists many criticisms of the ICON program.

In her concluding remarks, Gouge returns to a more general discussion of hybrid courses. She asserts that “the most important principle to keep in mind in approaching any programmatic design process, especially a hybrid one is that no teaching medium is a guarantee of student learning” (p. 357).  School-wide success with such programs requires support and training for the entire institution – students, teachers, and administration.

The most powerful “take-away” I had from this article came in the conclusion: “students need to understand as clearly as possible what to expect from the course and why the course is structured the way that it is” (p. 358). In other words, students need to know why some portions of class are saved for face-to-face while other portions of class are online. As obvious as this statement may be, I believe this is a significant question to keep in the forefront of one’s mind when making instruction choices regarding a blended classroom.

Much like this discussion post I have written, Gouge’s article took a lot of words to say, well, not very much. So, what was the main idea? Blended learning, like any other instructional strategy, has advantages, disadvantages, requires teacher training, and must be incorporated in an effective and meaningful way in order to maximize student learning. I was hoping that the article would be a bit more “how to” rather than analytical and anecdotal.

Work Cited

Gouge, C. (2009). Conversations at a crucial moment: Hybrid courses and the future of writing programs. College English, (71)4. Retreived from http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/CE/0714-march09/CE0714Conversation.pdf

Lifelong Learning, teaching writing & storytelling

Why is telling a story important?

Originally written in June of 2012

A response to Have, Pahl, and Roswell and the importance of digital storytelling for our students …

I found every word of Haven’s chapter to be important and applicable to my work as an English teacher. Many of the references to research and the ideas expressed simply reaffirmed my own experiences and learning over the last eleven and a half years of teaching. I felt validated in reading much of this article; however, my teaching context is going to be changing dramatically next school year. From January 2001 through this school year, I taught high school English in a very large, traditional public high school. Next year, I will be teaching seventh and eighth grade language arts electives, creative writing (7th) and dramatic writing (8th), in a private, college preparatory school.  Not only is the general atmosphere completely different, but the study body will be markedly different as well. Of all the ideas, Haven’s comments about the broad educational value of writing stories stand out the most. “[L]earning to effectively write stories is a valuable precursor to learning to write other expository forms since stories developed tens-of-thousands of years before expository forms” (p. 117).

First, this statement reinforces the value and importance of my role as a creative writing teacher. This course, although an elective, clearly has the potential to play an essential role in assisting students’ progress as learners across the content areas. By starting with explicit instruction in story structure, Haven suggests that I help students improve their ability to comprehend all forms of text. Furthermore, this explicit instruction may have “a large impact on their [students’] enthusiasm for and willingness to spend school and home time writing” (p. 116). Clearly, as a writing teacher, any activity that can improve student enthusiasm and motivation is a valuable activity to include in my teaching.

Second, in my opinion, the scope of the eighth grade course, dramatic writing, is vague and not clearly tied to any specific educational objective. Prior to reading this chapter, my plan was to propose changing this course to “creating digital presentations” (or something to that effect). Now that I have read this chapter, I plan on proposing the course change to “digital storytelling” with the following educational objective (still a work in progress): Students will learn to apply story telling techniques using new digital media to express a variety of cross-curricular content. I believe I can use much of the research provided in Haven’s text to support this change as a relevant change in focus that will assist students in all of their classes towards meaning making and effective communication of ideas.

Pahl & Rowsell

In my experience as an educator, I have found that “reading” is not an activity performed in isolation. For years, experts in reading have suggested that one of the best ways to increase student comprehension is helping students to access prior knowledge, a concept confirmed in Haven’s chapter. Pahl and Rowsell comment that “Street therefore challenged us not to see literacy as a neutral skill, but as a socially situated practice” (p. 14). Street’s challenge to see literacy as a socially situated practice seems to me an extension of the idea of accessing prior knowledge in reading. As individuals, we call upon different literacy skills depending on the context. If I am reading a text for graduate school, I use the literacy skills I have developed as a student and an educator to engage with the text. From accessing my prior knowledge of educational theories to personal experiences as a student and educator, my situation is unique and, therefore, informs my comprehension of the text and the literacy skills that I use to comprehend it. If I am engaging in a group text message conversation with my friends, I utilize an entirely different set of literacy skills based upon this context. My friends and I have our own set of shared understandings and I can draw upon the prior knowledge that I have of those understandings to make references to our favorite media or memories. Likewise, our students have many different skill sets that can be enhanced depending on the situation; therefore, it seems essential to recognize the various social situations in which students engage in literacy practices and help students identify strategies they use in different domains and guide students toward “tweaking” existing literacy skills towards usability in new domains. In other words, if a student already understands how to explain the importance of a character in a movie based on the socially situated practice of discussing and analyzing a favorite movie, it becomes the teacher’s responsibility to point out how that literacy skill can be applied in the new domain of discussing and analyzing the importance of a literary character in a print text.

 

 

Haven, K. F. (2007). Story proof: The science behind the startling power of story. Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited.

Pahl, K. & Rowsell, J. (2005). Literacy and education: Understanding the new literacy studies in the classroom. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.