Thursday, October 12, 2017

Your Grandma Ain't My Grandma

I've realized that I need an additional hour per day to write. Yes, I now have a completed novel project, but the revisions (we're on draft 15 or 17 or 25, but who's counting) are taking a long time.

This is a problematic, but I hope not insurmountable fact.

Everyone knows I already write from 5 to 6am. Turns out there is a whole community of people who do this, and we all tweet at each other in the wee hours. We choose funny GIFs, including pictures of donuts on Fridays. I'm pretty sure #5amwritersclub is like the cool kids' lunch table, only not so much.

Anyway.

I'm thinking about when I could add an additional 60 minutes. I could maybe scrape out 20 minutes over lunch at my desk? Maybe 30 minutes after school on the days I don't have meetings or Mac's guitar lessons or the kids' sports practices? Maybe while I'm sitting at said sports practices?

Now that I'm closely examining the situation, I actually don't think I can find another whole hour per day, but maybe if I try really hard, I can up my weekly writing time from 6 hours or so to 8? That would speed along the process by a certain percentage. Like, it'll be 33% more time in which to revise.

My goal is to be #DoneByDecember, like all done. I think I can do that, but I'm talking about December 31st. All the days of December are mine to excavate for those few extra minutes.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Big Bucks

In the sixth-grade writers workshop, we're deep into narrative writing. Kids have accumulated lots of small moment story seeds. They've chosen a favorite one, flash-drafted it, and now we're making sure we know not just what happens, but what the stories are REALLY about.

Did you know that writers plant the seeds of those deeper meanings throughout the piece, using tools like dialogue, symbols, precise actions, and internal thinking?

Anyway, it's true.

One young man has struggled a bit with his deeper meaning in recent days. In the story he likes best, he makes an amazing play on the football field.

"So, what about football is important to you?" I prompted in a whispered conference.

"It's fun," Brian said.

"Okay, but you've written in so much detail about setting up for the game, being with your teammates, the moment you really need to leave it all on the field - why does this all mean so much to you?"

It took a little back and forth, but eventually, we teased out some deeper meanings. It turns out, it's the feeling of camaraderie that gets to Brian. It's the constancy of football in his life, the tradition of it and the values of the game.

That was yesterday, and I was feeling good about Brian's progress. Today, I encouraged him to imagine a few different story arcs and get back to it, revealing that deeper meaning every step of the way.

But Brian wasn't into it. "My story doesn't have a deeper meaning," he said, loudly, so everyone could hear.

"You have a deeper meaning," I told him, quieter, modeling the appropriate volume. "We worked it out yesterday."

"All it is is that I had a huge sack." Loud and clear.

Giggles from Brian. Giggles from the audience he'd created.

"I had a huge sack," he repeated. "I mean, I had just a major sack."

We get it with the sacks, Brian! We all know you're not talking about felling the quarterback on the snap! We know you're not engaged in a rigorous exploration of themes!

"Look, Brian," I said pointing toward the spot I was hoping he'd settle into with his Chromebook and cutting to the chase. "We talked yesterday about the love of the game. I don't want to hear anymore about your scrotum and testicles."

There. But, that was a lot for the sixth graders in my room. One kid buried his whole head behind his screen, just losing it. I ignored all of them and played it straight.

"I want you to get back to your writing," I continued, turning away from Brian and hoping for the best. "You've got this."

Monday, September 25, 2017

How It's Done

My sister Mary was in town this weekend, and she agreed to drive with us to one of Shef's cross country meets. It was far - like an hour and a half - and because it's billed as "The World's Biggest Cross Country Meet," you have to park literally miles from the start of the race.

All of this is to say, coming to the meet was a major time suck for her, and she did it anyway. Thanks, Mary!

On the way home, she got to witness a strategy I use to keep the peace in the miniature van. The kids get to alternate song choices on Spotify. As the selections began, I gave a pronouncement, a necessity now that Shef's in eighth grade and listens to the vilest music I've ever heard.

"Okay," I said, "let's keep it clean. No n-words and not too many f-words."

I didn't think anything of this decree, but Mary started laughing so hard she choked on her water.

"What?" I said.

"High standards!" she coughed.

"Yes," I laughed, "A+ parenting over here. Take notes on how it's done! If you need parenting advice, you know who to call!"

We howled.

It was funny, but the message was clear; and I stand by it: Some f-words are okay, but NOT TOO MANY.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Raging Ever Forward

We're in the groove now, this school year. Stacking up the five-day weeks, quizzes and homework, important - yet, controlled - discussions about pressing global issues. I'm just cruising along, doing my thing.

Tonight's a rarity on our calendar. We don't have evening obligations. We'll make some dinner, force the children to talk to us, maybe watch something on television before Dan and I each retreat into our work until we go to bed.

I'll try to read a few pages of the novel I've been picking away at forever, but my eyelids will get far too heavy, and I'll fall asleep before I've finished another chapter.

This weekend, I'll write my professional goals for the year. Each year, I articulate two or three, try really hard to get the sentences just right and sounding smart, and then I accomplish the goals. Or, at the very least, I make significant progress toward them. That's my way. Charging ahead.

Also, this weekend, I'll run a 10-mile race. After that, I'll do some weeks where I'll try to attend fitness classes. Then later, I'll start running again. I'm going to run a marathon during my year of 40. I'm also going to finish my book. It's going to be a big and important year.

Just like all the other years.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Three Good Pieces of Book News

Thing One: I'm reading another book of poetry. It's my third of the year. This one is by Layli Long Soldier, and its called Whereas. There was a rave in the NYT Book Review, and now I'm reading it. I'm not worrying about not getting every meaning and metaphor, but rather enjoying the words and their sounds in my head.

Thing Two: I got an email notification from Heinemann that my very own copy of Back and Forth is on its way right this very second. By the time I get home tonight, it should be here. You know the deal with this, right? It's Lee Heffernan's book? My friend and mentor and erstwhile Twin Tuesday collaborator? I can't wait to read this. I'll probably live-tweet the reading.

Thing Three: We're starting our first all-class read today in the 6th grade. It's called It Ain't So Awful, Falafel. I love it because it's funny, and it's about empathy and global competence. Perfect. Thank you, Firoozeh Dumas! And thank you, sixth graders, for reading it and practicing making inferences.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Calendar Master


I was actually feeling like back-to-school was pretty in hand for year 19. I wasn't even really working past 7pm. I hadn't messed up anything major. The kids (my own) were getting to their activities. I felt confident and competent - a true pro. Super Mom, if you will.

You see where this is going, right?

On Thursday, I was walking out of lunch with KK, and she said, "Oh, I got a dinner reservation for 6:00 at Spoon River on Saturday."

"What?" I said. "We have plans on Saturday?"

Turns out, we'd agreed a month ago to accompany our bosom friends to a fundraiser this very night. Oh yeah! Right! Of course! And I'd already made plans for that night with another friend on whom I'd recently canceled. And Mac has a hockey game and no alternative transportation.

I'll fix it, I told myself. And I totally did fix it! Success! Until a kid piped up at the end of A period on Friday, "Hey, weren't we supposed to go take pictures?" Yep! Yes, we were! 30 minutes before she reminded me!

And, this weekend there are several lessons to rehash, one of which is going to take some serious time. Don't worry! I'll get it done between Shef's CC meet, the fundraiser, a family reunion of sorts, and the dinner with that friend that I've now canceled on twice. Whee! I've totally got this.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Oops! It's Been too Long

We're cruising into the routine with the last of the special introductory schedules on tap for today. That's good because my students are getting sick of these precious anomalies.

Let's just do the regular, predictable thing without random assemblies and advisory meetings, ok?!

I myself have had to make a couple of schedule changes that I'm on the fence about. Maybe you know I usually work on my upmarket contemporary fiction book from 5-6am? At least on school days?

Well, by the time I got out of bed at 5:03, put socks on, whipped up some breakfast, and tweeted to #5amWritersClub, it was like 5:17. Then, I had to take a break at 5:40 to make tea, and before you know it was 6 and I had written for only 35 minutes.

If I'm going to be #DoneByDecember with the whole book, that kind of schedule just isn't going to work. So anyway, the solution was clear. The alarm had to be set for 4:43. Now, I'm all ensconced by 5 and get a full 50 minutes or so for this round of revisions.

Yes, it's a little early in the AM, but the characters are getting signature objects. The locations are getting arcs. A minor character is becoming appropriately fleshed out. It's happening.

In the worry column, I'm starting to get a little stressed about copy editing. I'm not good at copy editing my own work, but hiring a professional is pretty expensive for a hobby book that doesn't yet have an audience. Especially when I've already had two go-rounds with a structural professional. But,  let's just think about this later.