Nudge to revise

“Can you add more about your mother? Did she ever work?” stated my one writing partner after I read aloud my draft. (which I posted last Tuesday and you can see HERE).

I awoke early last Tuesday morning and drafted and posted that slice at one Starbucks. Then drove to meet up with F & B at another Starbucks at 10am for our first of the summer writing club meetings. This has been a happy habit of ours for the past several summers. As I drove, I was already thinking of a few revisions. I felt I had rushed the ending so I chose to work on my slice some more during this time. B wanted to write about her garden and F arrived with no set idea but our celebration of her recent retirement and her sudden broken iPad gave her two. We set the timer for 30 minutes and wrote at the same outdoor table in silence. When my phone alarm sounded, I offered to share first. As I read my writing aloud, F & B listened with full attention. Then both offered compliments and suggestions.

As a write, it is so helpful to have trusted “strangers” listening. They make me aware of rushed, confusing or missing parts. Today, I took their advise and added more about my own mother’s story to my last week’s slice and pressed Update, all because I am lucky enough to have F & B as my writing partners who nudge me to revise. I am doublly lucky to then be a part of this virtual writing community which gives me a place to share little moments and which ultimately keeps me writing.

Do you have any trusted, in-person friends who listen and offer writing suggestions?
Do you ever return to a slice and revise it?

Jerry’s Interview

My interview of Jerry Craft, which I SLICED about the planning of HERE, for VSLA went great (if I do say so myself!) Sadly, it wasn’t recorded or I’d share the link with you and my students. Here’s one of his responses, as I recall:

ME: My students loved meeting Jordan and Liam and Drew in New Kid and Class Act. In fact on Monday, my one student came to class and announced, “I finished it!” and handed me back my classroom copy of New Kid. When I asked him to name one thing he really liked about the book, he said the way the mom talks. “She sounds just like my mom. My mom says, ‘Are you going to hook up? Have a playdate” For him, the dialogue sounded so real. Can you talk about your process for both drawing and creating the words/inner thinking found in these two amazing graphic novels?

Jerry: I have one mouth but two eyes and two ears. So I spend twice as much time really listening and really noticing. Then I use all I hear and see as I create my stories. One more thing that allows me to authenically write a story is having my two sons. They read my drafts and are honest. “Dad, that is NOT the way a kid would say that!” They helped me so much with the writing of The Offenders: Saving the World while Serving Detention that he made Jaylen and Aren co-authors.

As I think about Jerry’s writing process, I wonder about my own use of ears and eyes as writing tools. Perhaps today, I will try to be super aware of what I hear and see in various moments. Perhaps today, I will try to be Jerry-like. Perhaps today, as I read comments, I’ll look for Jerry-like dialogue and descriptions written by Slicers. I know I’ll find some!

I work 7-days a week from 10am-3am (yep, not a typo – that until 3AM) from my home office in CT. I’m currently working on the 3rd book to follow New Kid and Class Act. Instead of spotlighting just one characters, this third book will be more like the TV Show, The Office, with lots of characters highlighted. My office walls are covered by bookcases and filled with my books. I sit in front of 3-computer screens and use an electronic tablet and stylist to draw all my comics. As a Black Creator, I feel a responsibility to continue to write and create the books that were not available when I was a child. I write the books my 10-year old self would have loved to read!

ABC Book of Starbucks – 1st draft!

We took our state test last week but still have 2 weeks of school….so final project time!

My middle schoolers brainstormed their passions by jotting down where they spend time, at home, in the neighborhood, on vacation, doing a hobbie, and with a pet.

My middle schoolers chose to either share their passion in one of these forms:
* an Ignite speech for a 6th grade audience
* an ABC book for a Pre-school / Kindergarten audience
* a graphic comic book for a 1st grade audience

My passion brainstorm list looks like this: reading, cooking, swimming, writing at Starbucks, snorkeling, France, quilting.

I realized as I brainstormed that I spend a lot of time at the Starbucks in my town. I go there mostly to write before school or on a Saturday morning. I decided to try to write my ABCs of Starbucks. Here’s my draft!

A I scan my smartphone starbuck’s app.
B I ask the barista for banana bread.
C Starbucks is my favorite coffeehouse.
D Chocolate milk is a drink I order.
E Starbucks is a good place to eat
F Starbucks is a good place to sit and talk to friends by the fireplace.
G I order a grande size.
H I order grande hot chocolate, no whip.
I I order grande ice tea, no sweetener.
J JUST the treat to sip in my reuseable Keep Cup.
K I take out my computer out of my keepsack.
L I type away as lively music plays softly.
M Some days I eat a muffin.
N nibble – nibble – reflect and type.
O Some days I eat oatmeal.
P or a cake pop.
Q Some day I sit quietly and think,
R by the roaring fire.
S Some days I order a strawberry frappuccino.
T Some days I order a turkey bacon egg white sandwich.
U Upstairs seating is my favorite.
V Some days I order venti size.
W Each visit I write.
X Then I eXit.
Y Sometime taking a yummy treat home with me.
Z At the end of the day, I dream of writng and eating and sipping at Starbucks….zzz….sleep tight!

Ok…this may seem like a silly ABC book but it is still a draft…I have until next Friday to revise, edit and published. An end of year project to highlight our passions as we end 6th grade.

I did it!

Since this was year 6 for me, I knew I could write for 31 days, post and read at least 3 others and leave a comment, daily for each day in March. But as I reflect back on this month, I am celebrating all I did:

  • I added a Featured Image to each post: I learned this from a great online class I took this summer by Cult of Pedegogy  finding my image using Pixabay , as suggested in the course.
  • I added hyperlinks to direct the readers to another place to go related to my topic (see examples in last bullet point!)
  • I added Tags, something I started last year. Now on the right-side of my blog, a word cloud appears. A glance at it now shows the topics I write lots about include my daughters, Anne and Bridgit, along with books, my home, reading, writing, TCRWP, travel, and my OLW (one little word).
  • On the 28th of this month, a fellow slicer and colleague taught me how to make a slideshow in wordpress. First I pick the +Add dropdown menu, then choose Media, then pick 3 or more photos, then press Continue. A new screen appear. Pick Layout Dropdown menu. Scroll down and pick SLIDESHOW and insert. Magically, wordpress inserts those images as a slideshow! (Must choose 3 or more images to have slideshow option in layout). For example, I just snagged an image of the blog headers of all my friends in the DC/Arlington, VA area that I know sliced and who I have been reading with month. Now here are those images in a slideshow:

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  • As I look through the 30 posts I made this month, I notice:
    • 8 poems
    • 9 true small moments
    • 9 school stories
    • 6 related to porfessional development
    • 2 family stories
    • 1 basketball story
    • 1 about an Orange Slicer Party
    • 1 about the PLACE I like to write
    • 2 about time
  • As I reflect, I know I spent more time trying to craft my stories and when I got this comment yesterday, it became my favorite because I had really worked to set up a contrast:Screen Shot 2019-03-31 at 9.05.24 AM
  • As I reflect, I am amazed at how much went on in my personal and school life this month and yet, I still took time to write. It was hard. But it is a routine I am glad I embraced six years ago. It is also one I am fine to now just post  weekly on Tuesdays! (And to be honest, maybe I’ll start my Tuesday posts after Spring Break! )
  • As I reflect, I give a special thank you to TwoWritingTeachers who include Stacy, Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Kelsey, Lanny, and Melanie. The community of writers you create is one I feel honored to be a part of. March is my now favorite month!
  • APRIL 11 – If you are in the DC area, come to my SLICER celebration! Orange Party at my house at 4:30pm. (Leave your contact info in a comment and I’ll send you the address) Wear ORANGE and/or bring an orange inspired snack to share! I plan to make an Aperol Spritz Pitcher.IMG_4413


Mary Oliver

As I read Betsy’s invitation to write today (1/21/19), I realize she is the second person to relfect on the passing of a poet that I humbly admit, I did not know. The first person is a friend (and fllow Slicer) who posted to facebook on the day of her passing:


Then while driving Sunday morning I was listening to NPR and the show On Being was replaying their interview with this poet. Once I got to the coffee shop, I found the podcast online and sat and listened and even made a Reading Notebook page to help me hold onto what I was hearing and thinking (something I am trying to do more so I can show my work to my students).

If you are like me and don’t know this poet, I encourage you to find time and listen:

On Being Interview with Mary Oliver

I’m glad I did if only to know of her poem, The Summer Day, which I found online:

screen shot 2019-01-22 at 7.29.27 am

After she recited it on the podcast, I wrote in my notebook, “WOW – what a poem!!!!
Stretching out ALL she saw as she watched a grasshopper.
MENTOR TEXT – bit by bit

I’m am grateful for friends who write and who take time to mention how much they love the words of other writers, like they did about Mary Oliver, my new favorite poet!


Author Visit

Friday, a mom of a student I taught last year visited my middle school classroom. Kristyn Kusek Lewis. She is also a writer for adults and a freelance magazine writer. I’ve read both her books and recommend them if you are looking for a fun beach read!

Screen Shot 2018-06-12 at 6.44.34 AM

I enjoyed hearing about her work on her third novel which comes out in January. Just like Judy Bloom, she starts a new notebook for each new novel and jots ideas into it. If ever stuck, these ideas help. And she held up a flower covered notebook to show us hers.

She shared the cover that just got approved for her new book. A red door, ajar. A flower pot was added to the lower, right cover to make it appear more of a door of a house in the country, as this novel is set in central Virginia.

“This is my homework today” and she held up about 30 pages, each with the words formatted on the page like in a novel. “I need to reread to ensure it makes sense and no typos.” She explained how she recently fixed a scene where the couple was driving home. In an earlier draft, the husband was driving. Then she changed it be the wife driving. Yet, at the end of the scene, it still said “He pulled the key out of the ignition”. Oops. She caught the mistake and fixed the pronoun to make sense.

Along with doing the final edits for this 3rd novel, she just sent in a pitch to Washingtonian magazine. She explained that a pitch is a one page summary of a magazine idea. She hopes to get an affirmative reply and then will have a deadline to write so many words for the article. Fingers crossed!

She explained how she got the idea for this recent magazine pitch. She saw a photo on Instagram by the National Zoo. The zookeepers were making toys for the animals. She interviewed the zookeepers and has an interesting story now to share, hopefully in Washingtonian Magazine! She liked meeting the zookeeper so much that now she plans to have a character in her fourth novel be a zookeeper. All because she saw a photo on Instagram, proving writing ideas are everywhere!

She ended by giving the class these writing prompts and a writing assignment:

Writing Prompts – Pick one – then write, and be sure to describe using your 5 senses

  1. ONE INCH FRAME – think of something you could describe that fits into a 1-inch frame…write about it!
  2. Write a THANK YOU note to someone
  3. Write 3 questions you want to ask your Principal.
  4. Write about the things on your bedroom floor
  5. Write as many ch- words as you can think of. Pick one and write about it.

I set the timer for 10 minutes and we all WROTE!  I used my time to write a THANK YOU (#2) to Kristyn.

When the timer went off, I asked, “Who chose prompt #1? #2? #3? #4? #5?” I was amazed that in a class of 16, ALL 5 prompts got chosen. I always hated in school when the teacher assigned a prompt. But maybe because only 1 was offered. Having 5 to choose from got ALL in my classroom to write for 10 minutes!

Thanks for teaching my students and me, Kristyn!


My Percentages

Today is my last day of participating in the 2018 March Writing Challenge. I’m heading off to visit my daughter in France for Spring Break. I promise to write daily in my journal but I personally want to be disconnected from the internet as we travel. So today, I want to take time to offer my thanks as if it were March 31st:

Thank you to the TwoWritingTeacher who are really Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey. This is my fifth year and I so appreciate the space you have created and maintain so I can write and receive comments. I so appreciate the community you have harnessed. I trust this community and humbly I share my writing because of the trustworthy space you have created.

Thank you to all the writers participating in the 2018 March Challenge. I love all the reading I did  this March.  I am always amazed by how the reading of other’s writing shapes me as a writer.

Reflecting on my writing today, I took time to notice what I wrote about across the 20 days. In the spirit of percentages that Fran wrote about days ago, I have written a percentage poem. Click HERE to see my inspiration from Fran.

My posts this March
ended up being
15% about my house
20% about school
and 15% about the conference I attended
from March 8-10th.
15% were opinion pieces
only 1 or 5%, a poem.
10% reflections on my life
15% reflections about using technology
and 5% or 1 entry, as Top Ten piece
(maybe something Dave Letterman could enjoy!)
Now,  I’m off to France to play with the slicer,
also know as Present Perfect
but who I call “my Anne!”
I look forward to sharing my Parisian adventures
through slices on Tuesdays
in April and beyond.


My Top Writing Links

Here are links that help me as a writer:

TwoWritingTeachers – I started writing in their March Writing Challenge in 2014 and now it is my March routine! I also daily read their blog to be inspired about the teaching of writing. To help me with writer’s block, I made this padlet of writing ideas.

Jen Serravallo’s Writing Strategies Book  – Jen is such a clear writer! This handbook is my go to for ideas on how to craft my own writing and teach writing.

TCRWP Units of Study for Teaching Writing, available by grade K-8 – I rely on these resources as a writing teacher. I learned to write by attending their Summer Institutes and I use their units to teach students how to write well.

Some Writers I follow that have helped mw specifically as a writer:

Sharon Creech taught me how to enjoy reading and writing poetry through her book Love That Dog

Ralph Fletcher’s book Walking Trees acts as a mentor text for me when I write about my teaching.

Kwame Alexander teaches me writing tips through his online social media presence and acts as a mentor as to ways to share online. Look for him on facebook and twitter!

Jacqueline Woodson inspires me. Her books are a gift! She is currently the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature




My Investment as a Writer

Recently, I was thinking about the word investment. Then I got to thinking Do I invest in myself as a writer? I think I do. These three things come to mind.

1. Financially, I pay $800 to attend a one week Summer Writing Institute at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. I attended my first Writing Institute in 2009. Then I returned in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, and in 2017. With Lucy Calkins and her staff developers at the Reading and Writing Project, I immerse myself in the writing process for a week. I work on my writing craft. I am inspired by writers who come to give keynote speeches. Having the chance to learn from great literacy minds pushes me as a better writer.  Though these nine years cost me a total of $7,200 (yikes, over time, it adds up but I’m worth it!), I’m hoping to return again this coming August. I’m currently waitlisted but my fingers are crossed that I’ll eventually be accepted and I have another $800 ready to pay for the privilege! (and then it will be an even $8,000 investment!)

2. I invest my time, one afternoon a month, writing with my writing club. First it started during the summer. Three teachers who had a writing club invited me to join and we met once a week through the summer at a Starbucks. We sat and wrote for about 45 minutes. Then each read their writing aloud and the listeners gave a compliment and offered feedback. After about two hours, I’d head home. As summer ended, we decided to try to met once a month through the school year, rotating at people’s houses. It is an investment in time to carve out two hours, especially on a school day. However, for me the time is worth it to be amongst others who write. We all are very different writers but can all offer the listening ears of the stranger to the piece and provide feedback. This investment in time is priceless in my opinion!

3. I invest in my writing by buying and reading books, lots of books. I bet I spend just as much time reading as I do writing. So often, when I attend an author book signing, they will say during their speech to the audience that the one thing that makes them a good writer is that they are a good reader. I’ve heard it so often that it starts to sound like a cliche. However, I find, for myself, it is true. Now, as I read, I notice the craft moves of the author. Using a writer’s lens, I read certain descriptions and think about how I might try out what they just did in my writing. I notice writing structures that I want to try. Buying books and spending time reading is another way I invest in myself as a writer!

How do YOU invest in yourself as a writer?

Why Write?

I was asked, “Why write?” As I ponder my answer, a two things come to mind. I write to help my students and I write to help myself.

I started writing and learning how to write better so I could teach my students. I firmly  believe I have to do what I ask my students to do. So I write. I struggle through staring at a blank page or screen thinking What to write? It helps me to name what helps me personally to get words on the page. Then I can honestly share tips with my student writers. My go-to tips include: think of an emotion and a moment related to that emotion or think of a person, place, or object and then a related special or ordinary moment. Then just write the moment. Or just write “I do not know what to write and then pushing the pencil or keys and realize after 15 minutes that the page/screen is filled. When my students have a research project, I struggle through a research project, too. I jot notes and then feel mad when I forget to jot down my source so when I thought I was done, I still have to spend another hour retracing my steps and completing my bibliography. Now I have my true research writing story to tell instead of only announcing to my students, “Be sure to include a bibliography”.

I started writing as a way to teach my students. Now I find myself writing for me. I find it relaxing to sit in a coffee shop and write. I like reflecting back on the day or week and seeing where my writing will take me. Often it is good therapy for me. I’ll jot down what feels like venting and somehow, the words help my thoughts to process and my venting turns into a solution. I may have started writing in a certain mood but I usually end, close my notebook or computer screen, feeling peaceful. So of course, I write! #whyIwrite