Archive for the ‘Advice from the pros’ Category

Just Say No

Write at the top of your page: NO! in caps, with the exclamation point.

Set the timer for two minutes and write everything that comes to mind related to NO!

Grab a clean sheet of paper. This time write at the top of the page a teeny, tiny no without an exclamation point.

Set the timer for two minutes and write all the things that come to mind when no is tiny.

Now flip the pages over. Start with the big NO!. Write YES! at the top and do the same for the big yes. Then write yes at the top of the back side of no. Write for two minutes for the little yes.

At the end, read and enjoy the different writing these words and sizes conjured up. There may not be any ryhme or reason to them, but then again, there may be. You might even be able to harvest some sentences from these four freewrites to make an interesting poem.

Use the cut and paste method. Print up the lines, cut them into strips and start arranging them (no editing of the actual lines). Just see where they lead and play with all kinds of arrangements. When you’re happy, stop!

Post results here.

It was like getting a phone call from Bono

Almost. 🙂

Many of you are familiar, by now, with my writing mentor: Peter Elbow (author of Writing with Power). I have been hunting for his email address for five years. My aim? To thank him for his profound influence on my work as a writer, editor and instructor. Mostly, I wanted to touch the hem of his garment.

Fast forward to last week. I attended a book signing. The author happens to work with Jon at Xavier. She and I have become friends, as well. She mentioned in her acknowledgements that Peter Elbow looked at an early manuscript. I jumped on this information.

“Do you have his email address?”


“Do you think he’d mind if I emailed him?”

She assured me that he wouldn’t mind in the least.

So I got up early the next morning and sent him a long overdue thank you note.

Three hours later: Ping! A new email message. From Peter! A rush ran through me. I had a personal email from the master.

Besides being friendly and warm, he sent me two articles to read that speak to issues I’m working through for the high school book. I also shared with him about how he helped me break through writer’s block when I had to write my first graduate level research paper. After ten years of professional writing and editing, you’d think I wouldn’t have struggled. Not! I hit a brick wall reinforced by steel. Dr. Elbow understood and shared a tidbit I want to pass on to you.

So here’s that bit of insight from Dr. Elbow, himself:

When you speak of your recent struggles in grad school, it just reinforces what I see all the time: how school–and ESPECIALLY grad school–has a myriad of factors that make writing hard.

In an academic climate–and when I’m talking to (grad) students who are struggling, I find it useful not just to talk about going fast and not sweating it; it seems to be useful to say WRITE WRONG! The concepts of “write” and “excellent” are so tyrannical: it’s useful just to spit in their face and invite wrongness.

Doors open.

So I charge you: write it wrong! And start spitting. 🙂

On Writing

Writing is thinking on paper.
William Zinsser

You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.
Mark Twain

How do I know what I think until I see what I say?
E. M. Forster

The reason one writes isn’t the fact he wants to say something. He writes because he has something to say.
F. Scott Fitzgerald

The author must keep his mouth shut when his work starts to speak.
Friederich Nietzsche

The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with.
William Faulkner

A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it to be God.
Sidney Sheldon

We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little.
Anne Lamott

We need our mothers

My true job as a mother


According to Patricia Schneider, author of Writing Alone and with Others, we can nurture writers by offering “intimate support.”

Genius often emerges where there is intimate support for it. Shakespeare worked in the intimate, supportive community of a strong theater that wanted his next play. Dickinson worked within the intimate community of a family that loved her and protected her time and privacy. Neither of them was seen by their contemporaries as being greatly gifted. It seems truly important that there be a community of support around the artist that protects the making of art.

If we see that genius needs intimate support to thrive, how much more do our children’s ordinary attempts at writing need it, especially those that aren’t necessarily destined for greatness? Our families can be the places where our kids test their voices and find intimate support to nourish their tentative attempts at written self-expression.


Charlotte Mason: Ideas are Mind Food

Education, like faith, is the evidence of things not seen. We must begin with the notion that the business of the body is to grow; and it grows upon food, which food is composed of living cells, each a perfect life in itseslf. In like manner, though all analogies are misleading and inadequate, the only fit sustenance for the mind is ideas, and an idea too, like the single cell of cellular tissue, appears to go through stages and functions of a life. We receive it with appetite and some stir of interest. It appears to feed in a curious way. We hear of a new patent cure for the mind or the body, of the new thought of some poet, the new notion of a school of painters; we take it in, accept the idea and for days after every book we read, every new person we talk with brings food to the newly entertained notion.

‘Not proven,’ will be the verdict of the casual reader; but if he watch the behaviour of his own mind towards any of the ideas ‘in the air,’ he will find that some such process as I have described takes place; and this process must be considered carefully in the education of children. We may not take things casually as we have done. Our business is to give children the great ideas of life, of religion, history, science; but it is the ideas we must give, clothed upon with facts as they occur, and must leave the child to deal with these as he chooses.

As we’ve discussed teen writing, I reminded you to engage in multiple viewpoints, to look at a thing from a variety of angles. Our young children will be just as eager to think about a great idea as our older children. We need only expose them to such ideas.

Currently I am studying “black theology” in my graduate program. Black theology is a school of theological reflection that developed in response to the Black Power movement of the 1960s, drawing on both the black American experience and the Christian tradition. As I’ve studied for my courses, I talk about what I’m learning, I watch PBS specials about the Civil Rights movement, I notice the February black history month emphasis at our local library.

My kids have taken an interest in that part of our American history, as a result. Using last week’s freewriting prompt from a line of poetry that focused on “freedom,” my 13 year old wrote about all the ways that America is a place of freedom, but then added at the end that it hasn’t always been so for the black community and may even still not be a place of geunine freedom for them even today.

I had not known that he was absorbing the thinking and reading I’ve done. Yet his mind is feeding on a new idea, an area of complexity and depth that he returns to in his own mind, at his own pace. That’s what Charlotte is talking about.

Share some of the “new ideas” you are thinking about and that your kids are absorbing. I’d love to hear about them.


P.S. The British use semi-colons differently than we do. In good English fashion, Charlotte puts them before conjunctions. We Americans don’t. 🙂