Monday, July 29, 2013

Writing Habits

A morning walk had this scene as a reward
I had the privilege of attending a Choice Literacy writing retreat this past week in Hocking Hills.  The theme of the retreat was "habits."  One of the books that guided our thinking together was The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.   I loved that we dug deeper into this topic because I know that good habits are the foundation of success whether I'm thinking about writing, exercising, drinking water, filing papers, doing errands... the list goes on and on.

One of my writing spots (pic courtesy of Karen Szymusiak)
One of the habits I will begin in my writer's notebook and also here in my blog thinking place is to begin to develop my "writing territories."  I heard this term mentioned by Carl Anderson and Penny Kittle at the All Write conference this summer, and it really stuck with me.  Then recently, while perusing Ruth Ayres' blog, I noticed that she had defined some of her writing territories and why they are important to her.  I will need to muse on this a bit, but I know right away that two of my writing territories would be my family and my teaching.  I think if I can define these writing territories and identify a few more, I won't always be fumbling around looking for the next topic.

Another habit that I've already begun to work on is when a topic comes to me, writing it down as close to that moment as possible, and capturing as many details as I can before they elude me, and then find myself asking, "What did I want to say here?"  After I got home from the retreat, I realized I had a Nerdy Book Club post due in one week.  I had decided on the topic, but I hadn't really fleshed it out a lot.  But then Saturday night, right before bed, I was inundated with all of these ideas that might work in the post, so I quickly filled up two notebook pages with that thinking.  When I sat down to actually write the post on Sunday, things flowed fairly smoothly because I had captured that thinking in the moment of inspiration.

We also talked about the importance of brain breaks while writing.  Writers need to go with the ideas and the flow while they can, but when we reach a point that requires a break, we need to take a true break.  NOT one that requires more screen time; it was pointed out that's not a true brain break.  We need to literally walk away from the computer and do something else.  That could be having lunch or a snack, taking a walk, engaging in any form of exercise, or visiting with a friend, to name a few.

So, during the retreat and the past few days since I've been home, I've tried to gauge when I need those brain breaks and plan accordingly.  Yesterday, I had two projects that needed my attention - my Nerdy Book Club post and editing a presentation.  I got up at 6:30 AM to begin, and had the stamina to work until  8:30.  After two hours was a perfect time to stop, have breakfast, and read a book that was getting really good.  I was away from my writing tasks for about a half hour, and when I came back, I was rejuvenated, and the words started flowing again.  I worked for another two hours, and then I stopped for the day, and gave myself the reward of a walk in our nearby Metro Park.  For those of you at the Central Ohio retreat, I also thank Stella for this concept of work and reward!

One of my 3 affirmations to guide me as a writer.
One final habit I want to instill is the habit of meeting regularly with fellow writers for collaboration and feedback.  We set goals at the end of the retreat, and mine was to begin a writing response group that lives with us back at home; not just in the lovely setting of Hocking Hills.  I am so grateful to all who were there for supporting me in this.  We had 100% of the group sign up to continue writing/responding together.  We actually have set dates for the next calendar year, and we have our first location for meeting (thanks Julie!).  I am really looking forward to establishing this habit of writing response group.

As I write this post, there is another group of Choice Literacy writers gathered in Indiana, sifting through the powerful mini-lessons our incredibly smart leader, Brenda Power, provides for us, and then applying those ideas to their own writing.  I bet they are also beginning to think about habits of a writer as well.  I'm really looking forward to hearing about the take-aways from their writing retreat, sifting through their thinking  for both commonalities as well as differences.

    Tuesday, July 9, 2013

    #postwriting - Slice of Life

    I just read Katherine's post about her #prewriting avoidance skills and boy can I relate to what she was saying.  I have 2 presentations this summer -- one in Chicago and the other in Alabama.  The Chicago one is next week, and I just couldn't get motivated to sit down (BIC as Ruth would say), and begin that presentation.  I had to chuckle when I read Katherine's slice today.  I had many #prewriting moments before I finally put my Butt In Chair (BIC).

    But once I began laying out my ideas, I got great flow.  Better yet, I had the perfect environment for creativity -- quiet house, no one home.

    Over the last 4 mornings, I have sat down by 8:30 AM each day and have worked nonstop until after noon.  The topic, word study, is something I've been wrestling with, and these long blocks of time gave me a lot of time to reflect, revise, and refine my thinking about it.  The presentation was finished yesterday, and I was a proud mama.

    Today, the revising began -- I went in and cut out parts, added others, and moved entire sections.  I am happy with the final product.  And now is when the crazy lady comes out to play -- I literally have to walk myself through the entire presentation multiple times which means I'm the lady alone in her house, talking to an imaginary audience.  Thank heavens the humidity is so high all the windows are closed tight and nobody can hear me!!

    As I shared in a comment on Katherine's post, now I'm on to #postwriting.  I'm headed to the frig to see what celebratory food might be lurking in there!! After that snack of goodies, I'm going to do last minute errands since it's my husband's birthday today, and I still have a few things to do.  And then I'm headed to #NeRdcampBC tomorrow to gather with some of my favorite #nerdybookclub friends and meet even more new ones - yippee!!

    Other slices today can be found at Two Writing Teachers, Ruth and Stacey's blog, the blog that inspires us all to be here.  Thanks so much to both of these wonderful women for providing us yet one more format in which to write!  I hope they enjoy their July vacation!!

    Thursday, July 4, 2013

    Work Avoidance

    I slotted this morning as a "work" morning -- everyone is out of the house, and I knew the weather wouldn't be great, so I have the perfect setting for my thinking and planning for a PD presentation.

    What have I done instead --
    • engaged in a long string of text messages with a group of friends doing some planning, but also doing some silly stuff
    • caught up on some of my Slice of Life commenting
    • read and commented on some of the #cyberPD thinking about Who Owns the Learning by Alan November
    • called a friend
    • read 3 chapters in a new adult suspense book
    • and since I first wrote this a half hour ago, I am now adding missed blogs to my Feedly feed
    While I'm as happy as a clam, I do realize I've blown a wonderful opportunity to get some important (and much needed) work done.

    Oh what the heck?!!  It's July 4th, Independence Day - I declare my independence to utilize my alone time to spend in the activities I choose.  Isn't that what the signers of the Declaration of Independence meant? :)

    Monday, July 1, 2013

    Working on PD presentations

    I love the reflecting that goes into the planning for either a PD presentation or a professional article.  Off and on, for the past 3 days, I have begun the gathering process -- quotes, pictures, ideas, etc. for a presentation on word study I'm doing in a few weeks.  This morning, I took all the information and artifacts I've collected and started my idea board.  I totally borrowed the concept of the idea board -- I read Presentation Zen two summers ago, and I love the fact that even though the author is very techie and visual with his presentations, he always starts with a poster board and post-it notes when laying out the ideas and the flow.

    So, it may not look like much, but after several days of gathering and several hours this morning of organizing, I have a first draft of my presentation.

    As I was going through this process, I realized it is one I want to share with my students.  With the emphasis on research in the common core standards, this would be a great tool to share so that they might put it in their writing toolbox if it works for them.

    Come to think of it, I see some professional writing coming out of this...

    Thursday, June 27, 2013

    Not shiny and new

    I feel like I need to reflect and settle into some habits before tackling a longer, more focused piece or composition so more thoughts and tidbits today.

    Yesterday, as I was browsing through a small segment of the Teachers Write posts, I found one that really spoke to me.  Kristin reflected on what notebooks she should use for her writing.  The office store advertisements were really calling her name, but she decided to just continue to use the notebooks she already had.  In Kristin's words when talking about one of her notebooks, "It is not shiny.  It is not new.  But neither am I.  And that's OK."  And I loved how she shared that each of her notebooks contained parts of her.

    This post guided me to think about all the notebooks that are stacked in my living room.  I just spent a luxurious three hours reading through two of those notebooks, looking for language or stories or ideas that would help me generate more writing. 

    Right after I read through the 2 notebooks, I happened upon Cindy's blog post written in the middle of last night when she couldn't sleep.  One of her lines resonated so clearly with me, so I need to hold on to it:
    "What I do know is that writing breeds the need for more writing and imagination, once sparked, continues to fuel itself."
    I would call that serendipity -- two blog posts I read within the last 12 hour period that are compelling me to look back so I can move forward.

    One of the wonderful items I discovered was 28 pages of dawn-to-dusk journal entries about my trip to visit our oldest daughter when she studied abroad in Spain.  Within that entry, I unearthed topics that appeared time and time again in my telling of events:
    • how much Kate had grown into being an independent young woman, 
    • my love of scarves began on this trip when all the Spanish women were wearing them, 
    • how different life is in Europe - they know so much more about the world and traveling than the average American, 
    • a guardian angel that took Kate and me under her wing as we traveled from Spain to Italy,
    • a lead to play with at some point: "It can be quite humbling to be an American traveling in a foreign country",
    • a phrase I wrote that I'd like to use/modify: "Seeing Tuscany is more than visual; it's a sensory ambience thing -- clothes flapping in the breeze on the line, birds chirping, the smell of food cooking wafting through the air along with a fresh country smell."  I really want to play with this phrase,
    • stairs were prominent in almost every entry, both in Spain and Italy
    Then I noticed some great language (other people):
    • "If I've read a lot of good things about a book, I expect it to sparkle, glow, dance around the floor, and make me dinner." -- Liz Burns
    • "Anyone can now learn anything from anyone at any time." -- Bud Hunt from #NCTE09 (Philadelphia)
    • "You always need to focus on the 'why' first." - Ann Marie Corgill (multiple times from her writing and a Dublin Literacy presentation / love this idea!)
    I loved a format I used several times in one of my writer's notebooks -- I only wrote/took notes on the right page of the notebook.  On the left, I left it blank, and though I don't remember doing this, I actually wrote on the left side, expanding and reflecting on the original thinking.  I think that format will be a great way to continue when I use my writer's notebooks.
     My plan for this summer was to write, but specifically I was thinking about blog posts and professional writing.  After perusing these 2 writer's notebooks (and I still have many more to go), maybe I might spend a few days looking at entries and listing some more of the ideas and then expanding on them.  Whatever I do, I just need to continue being a writer, looking and noticing and reflecting about all that is around me. 

    Wednesday, June 26, 2013

    Habits for a Writer

    As I begin this new journey, I find myself reflecting on what habits I can develop as a writer.

    The most important one, and one I've always known about myself, is I need to create a quiet space for myself to write.  I am not someone who writes well when other people are around or there is a great deal of activity for multiple reasons:
    • I revise constantly as I write.  I envy those people who can start a blog post and have it done in 15 - 20 minutes.  I find that I am rereading sections and entire paragraphs to fine-tune them all the time.  To do that effectively, I need quiet space -- space where I can reread sentences out loud to capture their flow, space where I hopefully can choose the best word for the phrase, space where I can spread out notes and work that support me as I work/write.
    • I am horrible at multi-tasking.  My brain can just not assimilate conversations people might want to have with me at the same time I am working on the flow of a piece.  Every time I'm interrupted by a family member or the painters that are currently painting the exterior of our house or a phone ringing, I basically have to restart my writing.  A general equation for me would be: the more interruptions I've had while writing = the choppier my writing sounds.
    • Writing is a "me" activity.  It is way of expressing myself professionally or personally.  So selfishly, I want/need my writing time to allow me to settle in wherever I want without distraction.  If I'm right in the middle of an important thought, I begin to resent the distractor (human or not).  At that moment in time, the distraction was an impediment to my train of thought.
    The easiest solution to this dilemma is to get up earlier than everyone else.  This morning, I woke early, threw a load of clothes in the washer, and settled onto our incredibly comfortable couch (too humid today to be on our lovely screened porch) with my laptop.  The washing machine provides a comforting sound in the background, the phones are not ringing this early, the painters have not arrived yet, my family is either still in bed or headed to work.  The space and quiet I have is all me.  Selfishly, that is just the way I need it.

    Tuesday, June 25, 2013

    A link to my thinking about #AllWrite13

    June 25

    Today, I wanted my writing to live a little more publicly since I reflected on last week's #AllWrite13 conference, a truly amazing experience.  I decided to publish today's writing on the Literate Lives blog.

    I love the writing exercise I practiced before writing this post.  The act of revising research notes by rereading and rethinking what I learned was quite powerful.

    Monday, June 24, 2013

    First entry - a little scary and a lot disjointed

    Monday, June 24

    I have a serious stream of consciousness going on right now...

    It's a little scary and exciting at the same time to have a blog that belongs just to me.  The exciting -- my ideas, my thoughts, my ramblings.  The scary - there's no backup.  I have relied on Bill more times than I can count to have my back when I wasn't writing at our Literate Lives blog.  But this time, it's all me and my wanderings.

    I was in a twitter conversation this morning about online notebooks.  I still don't know where I stand on this.  I love the ease of having my tool for writing with me at all times, but I also love the feeling of pencil (not just any pencil, but a Ticonderoga #2) on paper.  And I love the ease of Evernote.  I'm thinking I should just use all 3 -- choose the tool that best suits my mood and needs at the time.

    Some days house ownership stinks and this was one of them.  We are having our house painted and stained this summer, so the man who power washes the house came out, and we discovered a very rotten soffit board because he blew a hole right through it with the washer.  Huge gash in the wood with the insulation hanging down.  Can you say wet?!

    I calmed myself by making corn and black bean salsa.  I had already planned on making it before this incident since I have two consecutive book clubs meeting here the next two nights, but I found the cutting and dicing of all the vegetables that go in the salsa to be incredibly soothing.  My mind wandered to all the times I have made this delicious dip.  At our house, it is considered a "comfort food."  One of those foods that is requested when someone wants to feel better.  The events connected to this salsa could be one of those entries developed further at another time because it evokes so many memories.

    So, currently I have no specific plan for this space.  It is mine to fill with stories or anecdotes or musings or the wanderings of my mind.  Some days it will all tie together, and other days will be like this, a need I had to just jot down the moments that were in my mind.

    If you're a visitor here, welcome.  You have purposely chosen to be here since I am not advertising this outside of Teachers Write and my close friends.  I appreciate your company.