Saturday, March 31, 2018

The One With Lessons from Snoop Dogg


This month, I'm participating in the Slice of Life challenge with Two Writing Teachers. If you want to participate, you can link up at their Slice of Life Story Post or you can head on over there to check out other people's stories and follow along with the fun. For more information on what a Slice of Life is about, you can go here

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Today is the last day of the Slice of Life Challenge! I missed about five days and I considered going another few days so I end up with 31 posts altogether but instead, I'm going to stop here. 

I'll do one more reflection post tomorrow so I can recap all I've learned about being a writer this month but for today, I want to focus on what I've learned about spoken word. Maybe you've heard of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, also known as frequency illusion or recency illusion. This is what happens when you learn something, notice something, or experience something and then all of a sudden it keeps coming up all the time and everywhere. 

This happened to me this month. Once I zoned in on spoken word poetry and wanted to learn more...I came across so many conversations and examples of spoken word. I'm not sure if it's because I was seeking it our or just that I was more in tune to making connections to spoken word but it was really fun. 

I explored spoken word poets, watched their performances for their words and their messages but also how they delivered them, I listened to hip hop and dug into the history of hip hop, I tried writing and even delivered my own spoken word performance. 

What I noticed most is that spoken word is so powerful because it's potent. Writing is powerful no matter the medium but spoken word poetry is especially powerful because it's writing distilled down to the strongest nouns and verbs, imagery and description. It's amazing and beautiful, usually heartbreaking but sometimes funny. 

Spoken word is mesmerizing to me because it brings words to life. It exudes emotion and makes the writing so personal. I've been thinking a lot lately about how reading and writing is humanity. Part of what we do is take in stories and share stories and if one cannot do this, one's humanity is not in tact. Spoken word take reading and writing and brings it to life, it reminds me just how much heart goes into writing. The performance aspect is my favorite part. It's also the scariest part! I don't mind writing down my ideas but having to perform them was definitely something I had to think about. I paid attention to my inflection and when I wanted to speed up or slow down, how I wanted to move. I had to focus my attention on more than getting the words right, I had to think about how they would slip off of my tongue and whether they would pack the punch I wanted to. 

I have so much more respect for spoken word now that I've spent time delving into learning more about it. I think it's like anything else, from the outside, one can look in and think there isn't much to it or to be fooled by the people who make it look so easy. But spoken word is truly an art form. 

While I've learned about spoken word poetry and the mechanics of it, I've also learned about the history of spoken word and hip hop...and I've only barely begun to scratch the surface but I have so much more respect in general for the genre because of my exploration this month. 

Last night, my husband put on Coach Snoop on Netflix. The description of the show is this: "Fueled by his own rough upbringing, Snoop Dogg creates a youth football league to keep at-risk kids off the streets and focused on their goals." I was working on some writing so I was only half paying attention at first but I found myself drawn in as I watched how they described each of the players on his team and told their stories. What stood out to me the most was how Snoop talked to the kids, he is so kind with them and often, at the end of a conversation, he would say, "I love you." It's so simple and yet it stood out to me because it was powerful. You can watch the trailer here and it's probably the last show I would have picked to watch but I really found it interesting. 


In fact, I wish more educators would watch this show because it gives some insight into kids' lives that we might not know about or might not truly understand. Not that every student is going through what the kids he coaches are going through but it's still so powerful to see how he learns about the kids and their families and their stories. When it comes to addressing school shootings, I believe we need to focus our energy on seeing the students in our schools. Teachers and students need relationships that resemble those Snoop has with his players. We need to better see and connect with our students. In focusing on this, we impact students' connection to school, engagement with school, and in turn their overall mental health in and out of school. We don't need more secure school entrances or bullet proof glass or metal detectors. We need students who are seen, respected, and loved.

It seems random, throwing in a connection to Snoop Dogg but it's not. Like I mentioned before, stories are humanity. Reading and writing are humanity. Spoken word is part of this. And spoken word has roots in the griots, oral storytellers from West Africa, to the South Bronx after the Civil Rights Movement and knowing this gave me a stronger respect for the genre as a way of speaking out about life, a celebration but also a call for action. I don't know much about Snoop Dogg but from watching Coach Snoop, I have a lot of respect for the connections he makes with the kids and families he works with as a coach. Watching the show reminded me how spoken word poetry is part hip hop and rap but also part love. Love for life and yet also a desire to want to make the world better.


Friday, March 30, 2018

The One With Motherly Life Advice


This month, I'm participating in the Slice of Life challenge with Two Writing Teachers. If you want to participate, you can link up at their Slice of Life Story Post or you can head on over there to check out other people's stories and follow along with the fun. For more information on what a Slice of Life is about, you can go here

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Tomorrow is the last day of the March Slice of Life Challenge! I missed a few days so I might keep going until I get to 31 posts but today I was thinking about my post about Sarah Kay when she talked about writing what you know to be true and what you don't understand. 

The other day when I was talking to Peanut and Little Bean, I talked about how important it is to show up, try your best, and have fun. 

We went to a local library to be part of their cardboard challenge. It was so fun to talk into a room full of all sorts of different boxes and tubes and differently shaped pieces of cardboard. Little Bean took off gathering supplies and building right away like it was a race. He was so excited! It was fun to see his energy. But as we kept creating, things didn't always go his way and he had to rework his designs or add more tape. We had to talk through what it feels like when something doesn't go as we plan and we have to try again. 

And then at lunch, I took out a notebook and talked to them about the Sketch50 Challenge that my heck awesome friend Carrie is part of. Little Bean joined in and was sketching with us but when I brought it up later, he said he didn't want to do it any more and eventually said he just wasn't good at drawing. 

I said, "You know, sketching isn't about being good or bad. 
It's about showing up, 
trying your best, and having fun." 

And then when Peanut and I were doing our interview for Story Corps, I mentioned this same advice again, how truly in life, if you can show up, try your best, and have fun, you're doing it right. 

I strongly believe that life is what you make of it. You can never know exactly how anything is going to go but showing up and trying your best at least means you have a shot. And again, no matter whether things go well or not, as you planned or not, ideally or not, you can still smile and enjoy the experience. You are the one who brings joy and laughter to a moment, you can make anything fun if you want. 

I'm not sure but I think this might be a start to a spoken word poem...I'll have to think on it but it definitely gets at what I know. 

This is also a reminder to me that writing begets writing. Doing the March Slice of Life Challenge this year and focusing on spoken word encouraged me to think about ideas for spoken word poetry. Writing these posts has given me more things to write about. 

Whenever you think you might be at a loss for ideas, just write. And write some more. 



Thursday, March 29, 2018

The One With The Story Corps Booth


This month, I'm participating in the Slice of Life challenge with Two Writing Teachers. If you want to participate, you can link up at their Slice of Life Story Post or you can head on over there to check out other people's stories and follow along with the fun. For more information on what a Slice of Life is about, you can go here

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Yesterday I talked about making space for young people and their voices. Today, Peanut and I went downtown to record my interview with him in the Story Corps booth in Chicago. Neither of us knew what to expect but it was a really cool experience. 

The Story Corps booth is in the Chicago Cultural Center. It's a small room but you can walk in and listen to interviews. The booth is really a booth! I've never been in a recording booth before and it felt really official which is part of why I wanted to go. We looked at the app but I really wanted to experience this with him so he would know how much his voice matters. I loved how his eyes went wide when the woman who facilitated our interview told him it would be archived at the Library of Congress. It feels like we're part of history. 

 The booth!
We were pretty happy to be done! It was kind of intense to talk for 40 minutes! We talked about how he has a great sense of humor, how he loves sports and band, and how he's a good friend. We walked over to the wall of pictures of others who have been interviewed and he spotted a guy pointing his fingers at the camera in his portrait so we did it too. I love this kid so much and I love being his mom. Both of my guys are pretty special.  
If you want to join in, there are Story Corps booths in different parts of the country and there is a mobile booth that goes on tour too.  You can also record interviews using the Story Corps app

It's empowering to take time to focus on each other, to tell stories, to laugh and to cry. We must never forget how important stories are to our humanity. 



Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The One With Making Space With Open Mic


This month, I'm participating in the Slice of Life challenge with Two Writing Teachers. If you want to participate, you can link up at their Slice of Life Story Post or you can head on over there to check out other people's stories and follow along with the fun. For more information on what a Slice of Life is about, you can go here

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Maybe you've read Mike Jung's post, No More All-Male Panels: a pledge in solidarity with #kidlitwomen, and Laurel Snyder's post,  No More All-White Panels: A PLEDGE. Mike calls for males in kidlit to pledge to not participate in all-male panels and Laurel calls for everyone in kidlit to pledge to not participate in all-white panels. Both of these are examples of how kidlit creators are working to make space for voices that haven't had an equitable opportunity in the past. I'm glad they are bringing attention to this and asking others to pay attention to this. 

This sends the message:

I believe in women and people of color. 

I believe in their stories, their ideas, their voices.

I believe in making space for women and people of color to use their voices. 

I hope and believe it also means, 

I believe in people from other underrepresented groups such as but not limited to people who are LGBTQIA, who have disabilities, and who are Native American. 

Making space is important. 

It's not about finding our voices, it's about having the opportunity to share our voices and for our voices to be heard. 

For me, bringing open mic to our middle school is a way I can help make space for student voices. Young people need to know their voices matter. 

Last May, I took my older son to hear Representative John Lewis and Andrew Aydin speak about their graphic novel book series, March. They shared how it came to be that John Lewis helped created a graphic novel and in telling this story, they talked about The Montgomery Story and how John Lewis remembers being inspired by this comic. He also shared how important young people were in the Civil Rights Movement and how important young people still are as activists today. In fact, when it came time to answer questions, John Lewis would only take questions from young people in the audience.

Young people matter and their words matter. That's why bringing open mic and spoken word to students is so exciting to me. Open mic gives students countless ways to express ourselves. It can be whatever it needs to be but in its simplest form, open mic is the opportunity to weave words together to share a message. 

I'm not a good singer so writing lyrics and singing a song is not my thing but the simplicity in spoken word allows for me to get up and share my voice however they want. (In saying this I really don't mean it's easy to write words, share your truth, perform in front of others, but I mean simplicity in the sense that it doesn't require having to carry a tune or to play an instrument.) This is part of the beauty of open mic. Anyone can join, everyone is invited.

I hope having an open mic sends the message: 

I believe in young people. 

I believe in their stories, their ideas, their voices.

I believe in making space for young people to use their voices. 

I believe.



Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The One With Not Fitting In and Taking a Leap


This month, I'm participating in the Slice of Life challenge with Two Writing Teachers. If you want to participate, you can link up at their Slice of Life Story Post or you can head on over there to check out other people's stories and follow along with the fun. For more information on what a Slice of Life is about, you can go here

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I've been trying to win tickets for Hamilton in Chicago through the Hamilton lottery app since this time last year. I haven't won yet but I know a few people who have so I keep trying. 

Today, after I entered the lottery and played the trivia, I scrolled through some of the Hamilton news and found this clip of Oprah interviewing Lin-Manuel Miranda.




In talking about how he grew up in New York but spent summers in Puerto Rico, he said: "Feeling a little out of place there, a little out of place at home, a little out of place at home...that's a great way to make a writer."

He cries talking about Puerto Rico and it brought tears to me eyes as it reminded me of growing up in the United States but feeling so connected to Guatemala even though I never got to visit until I was 36. 

Then I watched this next clip where he talks about writing Hamilton and how he used other musicals as mentor texts and even his favorite rappers as mentor texts as he worked on the songs and wanting to do justice to Alexander Hamilton. 



I love this musical and how it brings Alexander Hamilton to life but that it also connects us now to him then through music. He talks about wanting to do Alexander Hamilton justice but also how he spent so much time thinking about his lyrics and getting as many rhymes into the song as possible so the music was dense like Jay-Z. 

It reminds me of my post about self doubt but in a different way. Mixed in with self-doubt is this idea of wanting to do my best and wanting my best to be as good as some of the spoken word poets I've watched. I'm inspired by them, so in awe of them, sure that if they can do it, I can do it to. 

Right before diving in and writing, there's this little inkling of not being sure if I can paired with a bigger desire to want to so badly be able to. This happens to me every time right before I start. It's part anticipation and part expectation and part fear, fear that I'll fail and fear that I'll succeed.  

I'm glad I discovered this interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda because it reminded me that other people feel what I feel. Sometimes reminders to keep going like this are helpful...I think I'll go write now. 



Sunday, March 25, 2018

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 03/26/2018

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! 
It's Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It's also a great chance to see what others are reading right now...you just might discover your next “must-read” book!
Kellee Moye, of Unleashing Readers, and I decided to give It's Monday! What Are You Reading? a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children's literature - picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit - join us! We love this meme and think you will, too. We encourage everyone who participates to visit at least three of the other kidlit book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them. 

Last Week's Book Adventures:
I had grand plans. Grand plans. But I always forget how the week before a break is busy and exhausting and full. I read some of Aru Shah and the End of Time but I'm not done yet. I did start listening to We Are Okay by Nina LaCour and I'm about a quarter of the way in. 

Reviewed Last Week:
 
Click on any picture above to go read my review/post.

Upcoming Book Adventures: 
I'm excited to be listening to audiobooks again. I'm going to work on We Are Okay and find time for Aru Shah and the End of Time. I also have homework reading to do and it would be a really great idea to do to some of that this week while I'm on spring break...

This Week's Reviews:
Check back throughout the week to read these reviews/posts. 

So, what are you reading this week? 
Link up below and don't forget to check out other blogs to see what they are reading!
To help build our community and support other bloggers, 
we ask that you comment on at least three other blogs before you. 
Also, if you tweet about your Monday post, don't forget to use #IMWAYR!

The One With A Pig on an Elevator


This month, I'm participating in the Slice of Life challenge with Two Writing Teachers. If you want to participate, you can link up at their Slice of Life Story Post or you can head on over there to check out other people's stories and follow along with the fun. For more information on what a Slice of Life is about, you can go here

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Yesterday when I was downtown, I walked out of the Art Institute and was on my way to the parking garage when on the sidewalk in front of me I spotted a man in dark jeans with a leather jacket and a huge, black pig on a leash. 

I already had my phone out so I snuck a picture of him and his pig. 

He was tugging at the leash, trying to convince the pig to follow him down the street.

I wondered...

Why was this pig in downtown Chicago on Michigan Avenue in front of the Art Institute?

Where did this pig come from?

Where was this man taking this pig?

And again, why? Why was there a pig on a leash in the middle of the city?!

I kept walking, smiled politely as I passed the man still trying to coerce the pig to cooperate with him. 

My car was parked in the parking garage and I needed to take the elevator near the man and the pig down to get to it. I pushed the button and waited for the elevator to come, furiously texting my friend to tell her I had just passed a pig on the street. The elevator car rose from below and I watched the people through the glass door of the elevator as they spotted the pig and their eyes went wide. 

I wasn't the only one who was shocked to see a pig on a leash in downtown Chicago. 

They got off the elevator and I stepped in. 

The man called to me. "Can you hold the elevator? We'll be right there."

We meaning him and his pig.

What do you think I said? 

I mean, what was I supposed to say? 

I said, "Sure." And I held the door open button. 

The people who had just gotten off the elevator turned around to watch the man still struggling to gently shove the pig onto the elevator. It was a spectacle. They were amused. I, well, I gave them a look. The look said is this really happening? what is going on here? am i on candid camera? 

The pig grunted and squealed and hemmed and hawed as the man wrangled him onto the elevator.
The pig did not want to be in the elevator. 
I didn't particularly want to be in the elevator either.
Finally, when the man and his pig were in the elevator with me (!), I hit the door close button. 

The pig lurched forward, his snout stopping the door in its tracks but the man grabbed him and pulled him back into the elevator. 
The pig did not want to be in the elevator. 
I really didn't want to be in the elevator either.

But there we were.

I pushed the button for my floor and asked the man which level he was going to. 
We were going to the same stop. I wasn't sure if this was good or bad. I wasn't sure if being on an elevator with a cranky pig who did not want to be there was good or bad. But good or bad, it was happening.

I stared at the door, glad we were only going one floor down and cursing myself for not taking the stairs but remembering that my car was right in front of the elevator. All I had to do was survive this elevator ride with the man and the pig and I'd be back in my car and safely on my way home. 

The car settled, the doors opened, I held the door for the man and the pig. 
He said, "Come on. Let's go home."
Off they went to their car. And off I went to mine with a story to tell. 

I have no idea if this story will ever be more than a funny tale to tell but as I think about spoken word this month, I've been focusing on using it as a medium for activism, especially after listening to Gil Scott-Heron's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised and learning how hip hop started in the South Bronx after the Civil Rights movement and was a continuation of speaking up, sharing one's experience and using one's voice. But this man and his pig reminded me that there are funny stories to tell too. And sometimes we need funny stories. Sometimes, when life is overwhelming and everything seems hard and there is so much to do and think about and pay attention to and try to change...a funny story is just what I need. 

This was a good reminder that sometimes truth is stranger - and more funny! - than fiction. I never ever in my wildest dreams would have come up with this story but now I can say: 

One time, I rode an elevator with a pig in downtown Chicago(!).



Saturday, March 24, 2018

The One With Sky Above Clouds


This month, I'm participating in the Slice of Life challenge with Two Writing Teachers. If you want to participate, you can link up at their Slice of Life Story Post or you can head on over there to check out other people's stories and follow along with the fun. For more information on what a Slice of Life is about, you can go here

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Today I met friends downtown for brunch and the Art Institute. I've actually been to the Art Institute a lot in the last few years. As an educator, it's nice to be able to get in free, it's in an easy-to-get-to location, it's a museum that people of all ages can enjoy. 

We explored the modern wing this morning and saw lots of pieces I had never seen before. For some reason, it's just an area I haven't gone through but I really enjoyed it. We found the fish room which was really fun. 

I didn't have much time so after the modern wing, I took my friends up to see Georgia O'Keeffe's Sky Above Clouds IV before I had to leave. It's my favorite piece for a few reasons. To start, the museum has it in a unique location, it's on the wall at the top of a set of beautiful stairs. When you come out of a room and head towards the stairs, there it is. It takes my breath away every time because it's so big and pure and joyful. The picture here doesn't do it justice at all but you can get an idea of what it looks like. 
I love how simple it is. It's so basic but amazing at the same time. I love seeing the horizon and get a sense of hope and possibility. And what I love the most is how it reminds me that the sun is always shining down on us even when there are clouds in the way. 

Earlier this month, I went to Boston during one of the worst nor'easter storms. It was cloudy, rainy, windy, dreary but once the plane took off and cut through the clouds, I saw that the sun was there. Shining away brilliantly...just hidden from the clouds. This is important to remember. Even when it's a cloudy, rainy day, the sun is still shining down on us. 

Here are pictures I took from the plane to show you what I mean and to show what Georgia was trying to capture....and I think she did a great job!


When I sat down to write this blog post, I went to the Art Institute website to see learn more about this piece. They share this quote from Georgia O'Keeffe about this painting:

"I painted a painting eight feet high and twenty-four feet wide—it kept me working every minute from six a.m. till eight or nine at night as I had to be finished before it was cold—I worked in the garage and it had no heat—Such a size is of course ridiculous but I had it in my head as something I wanted to do for a couple of years so I finally got at it and had a fine time—and there it is—Not my best and not my worst."

I love that she got this idea in her head and then just had to get it out. I also love that she worked on it all day. I especially love that even she realizes it was a ridiculously huge canvas but that she did it anyway. Sometimes creativity just takes over. 

But did you notice this line: "Not my best and not my worst." Maybe it's not her favorite but it's definitely mine. And maybe it's not her best in her opinion but it's hanging on the wall in an important space at the Art Institute in Chicago. I like this reminder as a writer. Not all the words I write are going to be my best or my worst, they'll probably mostly be somewhere in between. But even if they are in between, they might be published for people to read someday just like Georgia O'Keeffe's painting hangs at the Art Institute for so many to see.

The other day I wrote about self doubt as I explore spoken word and try performing some of my own poetry but Georgia O'Keeffe's words help me see that I can't worry so much. I just have to write. I have to get it out and have a fine time doing it and remember that it might not be my best but it probably won't be my worst and that's good enough. 



Thursday, March 22, 2018

The One With You Don't Own Me


This month, I'm participating in the Slice of Life challenge with Two Writing Teachers. If you want to participate, you can link up at their Slice of Life Story Post or you can head on over there to check out other people's stories and follow along with the fun. For more information on what a Slice of Life is about, you can go here

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Dear Person Who Thinks He/She/They Has/Have Me Pegged,

     Thank you for your attempt to figure me out. I appreciate your efforts, especially the way you listened to me and my ideas, the wheels turning in your head, before deciding how you wanted to label me. But you're mistaken in thinking you get to define me. In fact, your assertions don't impact how I see myself. I understand that you so boldly took it upon yourself to put me into a box. And not just any box, but a neatly wrapped box with a giant, sparkly bow you picked out yourself. As you can imagine, I encounter several people everyday who try to do the same and so I cannot respond personally to every one. 

     This letter is to inform you that your judgment of me has not been chosen as one that I value in any way shape or form but I invite you to try and understand that I am a multi-faceted, intelligent, passionate, strong woman who sets high expectations for herself and those she works with, who believes in being honest, diligent, and reliable in getting things done while still having fun, and who, most importantly, always leads with her heart. I know this might be difficult. I appreciate that you want to decide for yourself who you think I am and that you think you have control over me by telling me what you have decided about me but I regret to inform you that I refuse to give you power over me. You might have more luck looking closely at yourself and reflecting upon your own values, beliefs, and how they align with your actions. I wish you the best in all your future endeavors. 

All my best, 

Jen


(Thanks to Brenda Miller's post, We Regret to Inform You in The Sun 
for being a most excellent mentor text.)

Studying spoken word has reminded me how important it is to be true to myself. I am the only me and no one else can tell me what to say or how to be nor should they try and exert their power over me. This isn't to say that people don't try to do this all the time...but they shouldn't and I shouldn't let them. 

My message to you is this: Be you. Be 100% you. Know yourself. Love yourself. Trust yourself. Use your voice. Stand up for what you believe in and stand up for and beside others who need/ask for/accept your help. Make yourself heard. But always remember, you are accountable to yourself first and no one can tell you who you are or how to be. 

As I worked on this post, Lesley Gore's You Don't Own Me which I know from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack ran through my head. It's an oldie but a goodie for sure.


I don't tell you what to say
I don't tell you what to do
So just let me be myself
That's all I ask of you

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The One With Scribbly Notes


This month, I'm participating in the Slice of Life challenge with Two Writing Teachers. If you want to participate, you can link up at their Slice of Life Story Post or you can head on over there to check out other people's stories and follow along with the fun. For more information on what a Slice of Life is about, you can go here

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I spend a lot of time writing on my laptop. I took keyboarding freshman year in high school so I can type and type fast enough to keep up with my thoughts but I still find putting pen to paper a great way to explore my thoughts. I especially love free writing or processing my thoughts with pen and paper. 

I worked on my poem this weekend and wanted to share my scribbly notes. Maybe you've seen this image from Demetri Martin that shows what "success" really looks like.
I'm not quite sure I consider my poem to be a success yet but it's definitely been a messy process...so I'm going to take that as progress.



Poetry especially seems to start off as pen to paper for me as I try and get tons of thoughts down and then I can start to look at how to my ideas connect and come together. That's when I move to my computer. 

I love stopping to think about my process and what does and doesn't work. It's never quite the same and I try to roll with whatever feels right. In thinking about working with student writers, asking them to stop and think about their process and what worked for them or what didn't work from piece to piece is important because it allows them to know themselves as writers. Because every piece is different, it's important to try different things and to think about what works and what doesn't work and to know that just because one piece came easily, it doesn't mean that the next one will....and it doesn't mean that one strategy that worked will or won't work another time. 

And most importantly, we have to remember that we can always be collecting ideas and strategies for writing. I love learning about other writers and what works for them. Sometimes I try it myself and sometimes I tuck it away in my brain (or my notebook) in case I might need it later!


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 12/09/2019

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA!   It's Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme ho...