New school year starting! Author visit time!

I am thrilled to see the start of another school year because that means I get to do what I love best, visit schools and share my love of literature with kids and young adults! This year will be especially happy for me because I am visiting my old stomping ground. Although most of the school author visits I conduct are close to the Dayton, Ohio area (where I currently live), this year I will be going back to my hometown of Muncie, Indiana!

Why does this excite me so much? Well, some of it is plain, old-fashioned pride. I loved growing up in Muncie and am excited to return there to share my two published books. I am also thrilled to get the chance to be the featured author and speaker at Muncie’s Young Author’s Conference. This is pretty much a dream come true for me since I went to the Young Author’s Conferences myself as a child and dreamed of someday being an author just like those I met there…and now, I have achieved that!

I also plan to visit my old elementary school and my old high school (among other school visits). I just can’t imagine how it will feel to be back within those walls of the schools I once loved so much. I really hope to be able to inspire the kids there and show them that we all have the potential to make our dreams come true!

A warning for those who want to be published writers

Currently I am reading a book entitled Bird by Bird – Some Instructions on Writing and Life, written by Anne Lamott. This book is considered a classic as far as books about writing go, and now I can see why. It is full of truth, wisdom and encouragement for novice or even experienced writers. There is one passage in the introduction that really struck me, one that I think any beginning writer should be told –

“…I tell my students that the odds of their getting published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great. Ruin, hysteria, bad skin, unsightly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe; but probably not peace of mind. I tell them that I think they ought to write anyway. But I try to make sure they understand that writing, and even getting good at it, and having books and stories and articles published, will not open the doors that most of them hope for. It will not make them well. It will not give them the feeling that the world has finally validated their parking tickets, that they have in fact finally arrived. My writer friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment. Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorant sprays have been tested.”

Honestly, I’m not sure truer words have ever been spoken about the writing life. Don’t get me wrong, I love to write, I would never quit…but sometimes the actual business of writing and publishing can make you as miserable as it makes you happy. Bad reviews, marketing failures, endless editing, lonely book signings (where you feel ignored), low sales…all of these things can bring a writer down quicker than you might imagine. Plus, for 99% of us (or more), it seems to be a struggle to pay any of our bills with what we make writing, let alone live a comfy lifestyle.

So why continue to do it? Why not throw in the towel and quit or just write for yourself? I can’t answer for every writer, but for me it is because…

A) I love to read & write

and

B) I really want to share that passion and my own creativity with others.

Next to those reasons, all the small stuff doesn’t seem quite as important. At least not to me.

Tips for teaching poetry writing to kids and teens

Along with all the author visits and book signings I do, I also spend some of my time teaching poetry and other writing forms to kids and teens. I often have teachers express to me how hard they find it to teach poetry (or any kind of writing) to the kids in their classroom, so I figured I would offer a few tips that I have found work for me when it comes to getting kids excited about writing in general and poetry in particular.

*First off, allow kids freedom with poetry writing, especially when they are first starting out. Free verse tends to be the most accessible and least intimidating form to begin with. If you try to force your students to rhyme or follow a form, you will quickly have a room of frustrated kids.

*Show your kids how much variety there really is in the poetry world. For many children their experience with poetry is limited to nursery rhymes and Dr. Suess. Make your classroom a poetry-friendly zone. Hang up posters with different kinds of poems on them, stock your bookshelves with an assortment of kid-friendly poetry books and make sure you include great examples of poetry in your curriculum throughout the year.

*Read your students poems that were written by kids their age. Before a child will feel confident that they can write poetry, they need to know that other kids their age have been successful with poetry writing and have even gotten published. A few great resources to find poems by kids and teens include the magazines Highlights for Children, Teen Ink and Stone Soup.

*Make it fun. Allow kids to play poetry games. One fun medium that has always seemed to be popular with kids and teens is magnetic poetry. If you have never played with magnetic poetry yourself, feel free to check out www.magneticpoetry.com to see what it is all about.

*Use prompts the kids will actually care about. The fastest way to lose your students’ interest is to give them boring, stuffy prompts. Don’t ask them to write an ode to spring or something predictable like that. Instead, ask them to write about bullies, pets, friends, dreams, things they love, things they hate, what makes them angry, etc. Just because kids are young doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings and emotions every bit as strong as adults do.

*Make your class a safe, constructive review zone. Encourage kids to share their poems with the class so that they can receive feedback, but make sure all the kids know that only kind, helpful comments are allowed. No teasing, jeering or laughing at a fellow student’s work (unless the poem is meant to be funny of course).

I hope you have found these tips to be useful. Feel free to let me know what works for you and what doesn’t. You can contact me at Shojobeatgirl@live.com if you have any comments or questions, or you can simply leave a comment below. Also, feel free to contact me if you are interested in having me visit your library, class or school!