Kids into Readers: Free Strategies

I had the pleasure of attending an all-day Youth Services workshop in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho yesterday. One of the guest speakers was Gary Johnston, a retired 4th grade teacher from Colorado who offered many great tips on getting kids, particularly boys of the ages 5-11, to read.

Did you realize that the average eight-year-old spends only FOUR minutes reading each day? And that he spends FOUR hours watching TV each day?

Of all eight-year-olds, only 1/3 (usually girls) are fluent readers. Two-thirds (usually boys) do not like to read, and do not read. Of the 2/3 of eight-year-olds who do not read, 2/3 of them have TVs in their bedrooms! Suggestion: get rid of the bedroom TVs.

Gary went on to say that the number of minutes kids spend each day on reading is the best predictor of how well they can read. School teaches them to read, but the kids do not spend enough time reading in school to become proficient readers.

As parents, we need to make reading at home something kids do each day, and to make it fun. It's not homework, it's fun, Gary stressed. He doesn't even care if it's the kid who is reading. If the parent (for boys: hero, mentor DADDY) is reading to him, and the child is following along, that's all that's needed.

Gary had plenty of tips that I cannot wait to pass on to my own son, for his first grade boy who doesn't like to read. If you know someone who is a struggling reader, I highly recommend Gary Johnston's tips.


Fun Tools to Dress up Your Blog

The week before last, I spent most of the week in Boise, Idaho, at the annual state library convention. It appears that the future is NOW. When I first became a librarian a dozen years ago, E-books and E-reader technology was being talked about at conferences, but neither were available in the mainstream. Now they are, in libraries and in the hands of private individuals. 

But E-readers and E-books aren't the only differences in technology. The internet, which used to be a distant frontier, is now a huge part of our lives, with such Web 2.0 Social Media applications  as blogs, twitter, facebook, Flickr, wikis, mashups and folksonomies. 

The recent library conference was all about the NOW, as well as the future, with a wonderful pre-conference presentation by Joan Frye Williams, futurist and Information Technology Consultant. 

Also fantastic was one of the luncheon Keynoters, Anthony Doerr, Idaho author of The Memory Wall. He gave an outstanding talk on the importance of libraries.

There were plenty of programs for Youth Services librarians, from speakers who book-talked current YA bestsellers and YA Award nominated books, to speakers who taught storytelling--with or without puppets.

One of the more intriguing talks was on how to use technology tools to promote your library. Many of these, I realized, could also be used to dress up one's blog. So here they are, and I hope you have fun playing with them. They're all free. 

Blabberize. With Blabberize, you can create a short movie clip.

Animoto. With Animoto, you can create a really nice Book Trailer for your book.

Voki. With Voki, you can create customized avatars, add your voice to them, and post them to your blog or website.

With Go!Animate, you can create a cute skit.  

With Wordle, you can create tag clouds. It's interesting to put a huge chunk of your manuscript into it, and see which words come out biggest (most often used).

Tagxedo is a tag cloud app, like Wordle, but you can create the cloud in different shapes. 

You can also Spell with Flickr. 

If you know of other fun apps, let's share!


My Story can beat up Your Story: Craft of Writing Book Review

This book on the writing craft by Jeffrey Alan Schechter has countless reasons to recommend it. It's written for writers of screenplays, but I believe novelists can get a lot out of it as well. In ten lessons, he tells why screenplays, and I would add, probably novels, often fail to sell.

The book is entirely about structure. His beliefs about structure aren't so different from many of the books I've read on the subject, however his explanations are more succinct and understandable than most.

Take theme, for example. I've been reading about theme for years and have never fully understood it. Now, I think I just might. Here's a paraphrased sample, without his screenplay-specific examples, of what Jeffrey has to say about it:

Heroes ask questions. 
Villains make arguments. 
Ultimately, the hero and audience discover that, as compelling as the villain’s arguments may be, he’s not only wrong, but it’s his wrong thinking that leads to his downfall in act 3.

In Act 1: We see how broken the villain is because of his belief. This section is a full statement of the thematic argument, which is the exact opposite of the hero’s belief about a compelling issue in his life.

Act 2: Part 1: The thematic question in action. The hero will be propelled on a journey by trying to disprove the thematic argument. It’s a testing of the hero’s power of his convictions.

Act 2: Part 2: The thematic question versus thematic argument. The two worldviews to clash like never before. The hero is leading toward certainty about how far he is willing to go in order to gain the story goal. (Not the plot goal, which is the external goal, but the story goal, which is always about relationships.) 

Act 3: The thematic synthesis. It’s the equivalent of asking, “Why can’t we just all get along?” The hero learns we can, but only if he’s willing to synthesize the thematic question with the thematic argument and synthesize a new belief about the significant issue in his life. He’s become a better person because of it.  

In one sentence: A clean question (hero’s) with the counter argument (villain or antagonist’s) results in a synthesis of both, and a new belief about the world.   

Does theme stump you, as it has me, for many years? Or did you finally figure it out? If you did, what most helped you to understand? If you didn't, go buy, order, or download this book. For the value of this lesson and the rest, it's worth its weight in gold. 


Jumping in With Both Feet

My boss wanted me to send her an evaluation of one of our new employees with regard to how well the employee is taking on the responsibilities of the youth services aspect of her job. It was a pleasure to write; I finished the evaluation by saying I thought the young woman was truly “jumping in with both feet.”

After reading the phrase (granted, a cliché), it struck me that in so many things in life, we are not fully committed. We want a writing career, and yet our doubts cause us to stand with one foot in, one foot out. We straddle the fence.

If fully committed, what latent greatness might bloom in us? What might we accomplish?

Since meeting with the new writing group last Monday evening, there’s been a flurry of emails between old group members and new. One of our long-time members has decided to commit to NaNo.

If you haven’t heard of NaNo, it’s the hugely popular NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month, which runs through the month of November. Hundreds of thousands of people attempt to write a novel in November. The web is full of tips for NaNo.

There are also books on it. Back when it was first gaining traction, around 2004, I read: No Plot? No Problem, by Chris Baty. Baty’s book provides tips for writing a 50,000 word novel in a month. He covers challenges that range from how to find time to write; how to silence the internal editor; how to figure out a plot, and other issues. He even gives tips for writing on the job, however unless you work swing shift, in a cubicle, and alone, I cannot imagine writing a novel at work.

If you are interested, check Amazon for other books on NaNo.  

But my point for this post is to comment on the impact that one of our critique group member’s commitment to NaNo has had on the rest of us. It has resulted in us becoming more excited, and more committed, to our own writing than we were before.

I don’t think people appreciate how powerful they are in influencing others.

Jumping in with both feet … How cool is that?


Five Reasons to Belong to a Critique Group

Last night, I met for the first time with a new writer’s critique group. For the past four years, I’d been meeting with what turned out to be a core group of five, which originally started as seven. After attending a SCBWI conference in Spokane a few weekends ago, I met several others in my area who are interested in writing for children, and so we met last night to organize.

With any change comes new possibilities, but also fear. Our new group currently has 10 interested persons, which is actually quite large for a critique group. Some people voiced concerns that we could end up spending perhaps too much of our own limited writing time critiquing other people’s manuscripts. After meeting for a few months, perhaps we might decide to split into interest groups. Or perhaps time and people’s schedules will dissolve the potential problem. People get busy. Interest wanes. They drop out.   

But about our new possibilities, I have these things to say:

Change is good! Embrace it. In that it presents new challenges, you must adapt. Adaptation gets the brain synapses moving, the adrenaline flowing. You get exited about your new prospects, but only IF you don’t allow your fears to stop you cold. Instead of worrying about what might happen, focus on the positives:

  1. Be happy that you have met new people who are interested in reading your work and giving feedback on it.
  2. Be happy for the new pool of creative ideas, knowledge, skills and techniques from which to learn from.
  3. Be happy that you are in the process of creating a new community—a new mix of people—who have never before been together. Because everyone comes from a different perspective, they will, by virtue of who they are, give you new insights about the world at large. Our new group includes a retired 5th grade teacher; a landscape architect and mother of a special needs child; a registered nurse and mother of six children; a retired college professor, and a recent graduate with an English degree. My current manuscript includes a segment where someone almost dies of a massive coronary. I now have someone who can read that section with expertise that wasn’t possible in the group before. 
  4. Be happy for the new journey you’re about to take, and be open to the ways it will cause you to become a stronger, more capable person. So maybe you’ll need to learn better time management skills, in order to have time to read and critique other people’s manuscripts. Contracted writers need to be masters at time management, and meeting deadlines, no matter what’s going on in their lives, or they quickly become has-beens. When you are contracted, you are employed by a publisher. Employers, even book publishers, don’t put up with prima donnas. We certainly look at what we’re doing as art, but publishers look at what we give them as a product.
  5. Be happy for new friends in your life who love writing and are excited to talk about writing. As writers, the thing dearest to our hearts is something not easily shared with non-writers, who really do not understand our passion.   


Freedom Software for Temporary Internet and Social Media Disconnection

A writer friend was recently bemoaning her lack of discipline when it comes to writing. She leads an active life, like just about everyone on the planet.

But there are definite times each day when she ought to be able to get some serious work done on her manuscript. Those prime hours are when her kids are in school, all day on Monday through Friday. I almost get sick when I think about all the hours that could be used for writing, should I ever have that many hours available on a regular basis. (Do you hear my green-eyed monster of envy?)

So it's not a lack of time per se that's her problem. She correctly identified it as an inability to stop flitting about on the internet, visiting blogs and other social media sites. Of course there's nothing wrong with that. Except when it becomes procrastination, and little or no progress is made on the WIP.

But there is good news for people whose favored procrastination activities fall under this type of addiction.

With software called Freedom, available for PC and Mac users, you can tell the software to block your addiction for up to eight hours. Pretty cool, huh? I wish I had something that could keep me from reading books when I should be writing ...

Anyhew, Freedom sounds like great news, and a great way to control, if not to kick, your bad habit.

And gosh, now all of you people who have all day to write will be found at the head of the line, as far as output is concerned, leaving the rest of us in the dust.

Ah, well ... I do know that the underlying reasons for procrastination run a LOT deeper than the simple urge to get on the Internet during the time you've set for yourself to write. So, if you have this particular addiction, and you download Freedom and love, for a time, the Freedom that Freedom gives you, please be mindful of new ways that procrastination will begin to show up in your life, because, I guarantee it. It will.      
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