Category Archives: writing

Sharing the passion for the written word.

Feeding Your Flame (Student Writing Activity)

Last week’s Will Smith video response activity was a success. I decided to try it again with another of his Instagram videos. This one has a few harsh phrases or words that might not be appropriate for your classroom (please watch it before you share it with your students)

Please write a 2-3 paragraph response to this video.

You Are The Company You Keep

Have you heard the phrase, “You are the company you keep?” What do you think it means? Are your friends just like you? Do you like the same things and think the same way as your one of your friends? Use examples from your own life and explain why this person is a good influence on you?

Who Fans Your Flames?

Who supports you when you are trying something new? Who is someone is your life who is always there to help you? How have them inspired you to become better at something? Use specific details and examples from your own life in your response.

Inspirational Video

Is there a video you have seen online that inspires you? Copy the embed code to your blog and write a response to it. Make sure to use specific details and examples from your own life to explain why this video is inspirational. What does it make you think of and why should other people watch it?

More Tips

Teaching Tip Tuesdays – a regular feature on this blog to share inspiration and ideas from my classroom to yours

We’ve got momentum now, thanks to Will Smith. Hopefully we will be back with another Tip next week. Stay tuned! I hope to make this series a weekly feature for the rest of the school year. Please forgive me if I miss a week here and there, life is extremely busy right now. Thank you!

Fault vs Responsibility (Student Response Activity)

I am posting this edition of Teaching Tip Tuesdays as an activity you can do with your students. I will be doing this today with my class. If you try it out, let me know how it works in the comments below.

Will Smith is an actor, rapper, and songwriter. This is one of his most popular songs.

He posted the following video to his Instagram last week.

He says, “The road to power is in taking responsibility. Your heart, your life, your happiness, is your responsibility and your responsibility alone.”

He closes off saying, “Taking responsibility is a recognition of the power that you seize when you stop blaming people.”

Please pick one of the topics below and write a 2-3 paragraph response.

Accepting Responsibility

What do you think of what he has to say in this video? Use examples from your own life or experience about a time when you accepted responsibility or a time that you didn’t. Would you do anything differently now?

Age and Responsibility

Write about the relationship between your age and level of responsibility. How do responsibilities differ for people your age verses those of adults or younger children? How has your sense of responsibility changed as you have gotten older? At what age should we become totally responsible and accountable for our actions?

Parents Don’t Understand

How did Will Smith’s character in the music video show responsibility? Do you think he should have acted differently in some of those scenarios? How does Will Smith use humour to tell this story and get you thinking? Have you had any similar experiences?

Acting Responsibly

Write at least five things you could say to yourself when you are tempted to act irresponsibly. Explain the meaning and significance of each.

Learning from Mistakes

Describe something you’ve done that was really irresponsible. How did you feel afterward? What did you learn from it?

More Tips

Teaching Tip Tuesdays – a regular feature on this blog to share inspiration and ideas from my classroom to yours

I haven’t been writing this series on a weekly basis for the past little while. I apologize about that. I have been extremely busy, but plan to get back into the routine now. At the every least, I will add a new post to this series monthly. So stay tuned. Thank you!

Find the Spark and Write

Story Sparks: Finding Your Best Story Ideas & Turning Them into Compelling Fiction by Denise Jaden

Denise Jaden explores the concept of inspiration in her latest book, Story Sparks. She gives practical advice on finding story ideas in everyday life, how to nurture the creative power you already have, and suggests small exercises that can help spark a great story idea.

This book is for every writer who has ever struggled with the question of what to write next. Here are some of the tips she offers in the book.

Combining Two Ideas

“A fresh idea is simply thinking of something in a new way or combining two concepts in a unique way.”

I completely agree. I have found that I can’t start writing a story unless I have had a second idea mash up with the first one. It’s the combination of two ideas where the story starts to come to life. As Jaden writes, “It often not a single idea, but the connection between two or more ideas that gives us our ‘aha’ moment.”

It Can Take Time

“All you need is the question, focused energy, and time to let the question percolate.”

A lot of writing can stem from a single question. But we need to allow ourselves the time to really contemplate the question. In this book, Jaden breaks down her philosophy into the S.P.A.R.K. acronym. This part of the equation really reminds me on my personal writing philosophy of T.L.C.W.

Get Inspired By Social Media

“Skim your Twitter or Facebook feeds. Could any posts make for interesting character traits, motivations, or plot obstacles?”

What a great idea. There is already a lot of drama going on in social media. It could be a rich treasure trove of ideas, if used properly. Just make sure you don’t write about the people specifically. Take ideas and transform them into original stories with different characters and you could have a winner.

Finally Say It

“Think of all the things you wouldn’t say in real like but would like to say. These are all plot ideas you can experiment with.”

Writing can give you the power to say something you wouldn’t normally say. Take advantage of that.

There is no such thing as Writer’s Block

“Writer’s block is taking the easy way out. It treats a lack of productivity as an ailment . . . Writer’s block is not usually the inability to write, but rather just a fear of not writing well.”

I like this analogy. We should always be able to write. Fear might be an obstacle, but it is one that we can overcome. It’s like pain to a runner. You can push through it. You can write through it.

Helpful Lists

At the end of the book, Jaden provides several lists that can help you come up with character names, places to set your scenes in, motives for character behaviour, obstacles for characters to overcome, and story themes you can weave.

It’s a great book with practical exercises, advice, and tips for writers who need to find some inspiration. Also, if you liked this book, you can also look for her other book on writing, Fast Fiction, that is perfect for anyone attempting National Novel Writing Month challenge right now.

My List of 2017 Reads – with links to detailed posts on every title I read this year

How to Write About Culture for a Living and Not ‘Sell Out’

The term ‘sell out’ is used a little too liberally these days. People expect artists (and, yes, writers are artists) to do everything for the sheer love of creation and the moment they make a bit of money, people start to call them ‘sell outs’; but it’s not true and it’s not fair! Everyone has to eat. Here’s how you can write about culture for a living and avoid the dreadful ‘sell out’ label.

Collaborating with Local Artists

You yourself, as a small-time writer, are a local artist and local artists have to stick together! If you can get in touch with other artists, you could perhaps help one another out. Have you got quite a following on your blog? Speak to a local musician and ask if you could review their next performance for a fee. Let them know that it would be good exposure. Meanwhile, you could genuinely pay for a ticket and encourage other friends to come with you.

Once you’ve built up that relationship, you could offer to do a bit of “marketing” for their next job. You could offer to report on an upcoming performance and use your social media presence in order to tell lots of people in the area that it’s a gig worth going to. You’ll be writing about something which is genuinely cultural and helping out an independent artist.

You could make some kind of agreement where you get 10% of the revenue from these events because of your contribution to the event’s marketing. Make arrangements like this with a few musicians and you’ve got a nice little income as well as a supply of relevant content for your readers. You can use the site Musicians Database in order to get in touch with local musicians in your area. (And you can use this strategy to collaborate with painters, sculptors, poets….)

Maintaining Integrity

If you are promoting an event — be careful about what you can/can’t say. It’s important you still give an honest opinion, even if you’re being paid. If it’s an event which is totally at odds with your worldview and not at all relevant to your blog, you’d probably have some moral qualms about promoting it anyway. In a worst case scenario, you could promote something you personally are not interested in, but which your readers might like. In these instances, just keep your writing completely neutral. Quote other reviewers and just generally tip toe around directly saying anything you do not agree with.

Another idea is to make sure that for every promotional blog post that you write, you also write two posts from the heart. Blog posts like this one, really reflect the human side of bloggers and people love a bit of emotion and sentimentality — it’s important to keep things personal and connect with readers with real stories of your life, rather than just covering the pros and cons of your interest area. As long as you continue to provide this kind of content alongside your promotional work, your integrity will never be lost.

Selling Arts and Crafts

Use your writing to help launch your very own product line, or use your writing as springboard for other artists and creatives.

Do you do anything besides writing? Like, maybe, knitting? Or sculpting? Maybe you even make your own CDs? If there’s anything else that you do, then you might like to start up an online shop to run alongside your blog. You’d keep running the blog and it would work as content marketing for the ecommerce side of the site, which would be where the money is.

These days, getting an ecommerce website off the group is easier than ever. There are so many websites out there which have been designed to help you start up an online store. WordPress’s Woocommerce is one of the most popular, but by all means look around until you find whichever one you think is just right for you — you’ve got newcomers like Shopify to test out, and don’t rule out the possibility of selling through your social profiles, or through social media groups.

If you don’t make anything of your own, perhaps you could still start an ecommerce site in conjunction with your blog, but with the intention of selling the products of any artsy friends that you have. Again, collaboration is always going to be very important for independent creatives. It’s a great way to galvanize a whole community around your business.

Comfort Before Commenters

At the end of the day, it is more important for artists like you to be living comfortably than it is for you to appease the odd troll who’ll get mad at bloggers for “selling out.” Even if you go down the more corporate route and do some affiliate work, it doesn’t mean that you’ve completely changed your attitude — affiliate marketing is just about making natural and relevant product recommendations, not spamming people.

Amazon have a large affiliate scheme and the fact that they’ve got so much to offer on their site means that you’ll be able to always find a relevant product recommendation! All you need to do is include special links to Amazon products and then they’ll give you a commission for every sale made by people who come from those links. Buy you can also be an affiliate for any of the services you use to manage your business (like hosting companies, email platforms etc) — this is a very natural place to start as your audience will naturally be curious about ‘how you do it’.

So do what you want to do, and if some people call you a “sell out” don’t worry about it. They’ll be a tiny minority. For every person who criticizes an artist and calls them a “sell out” for daring to try and support themselves, there’ll be another person who’s more than happy to try and support you. What plans do you have to monetize your writing?

Patrick Foster (Guest Contributor) 

Ten years of ecommerce know-how as a consultant and marketer. Time to share my knowledge with the world and help other businesses and entrepreneurs grow and thrive.

The Ultimate Guide to Book Publishers by Jeff Herman


Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents: Who they are, What they want, and How to win them over

Jeff Herman knows the publishing world and is dedicated to share that knowledge with fellow writers. He tells the story of how he got into the business and provides advice for writers on how they can crack into a world that can seem impenetrable.

Herman has been producing this book for over twenty-five years. He writes, “Much has changed and much has remained the same since my journey in publishing began in the 1980s.” That is why he continually updates and improves this reference book every year.

There are 600 pages of up-to-date information, contacts, interviews, and advice that are invaluable for any writer wishing to get their work published. Besides providing the names, addresses, phone numbers, and emails for publishers, editors, and agents, Herman provides insider tips so we can make the most of our inquiries, query letters, and pitches.

This is one of my favourite guidebooks for writers. It is well written, excellently organized, and offers advice that any aspiring writer can follow. I recommend picking it up and following through to make your publishing dreams come true.

I need to do just that. It’s well past time that I take some of the advice offered in this book and work on getting my fiction published. That is something I have been procrastinating on for way too long.

My List of 2016 Reads – my annual reading log with links to each title

The Kick-Ass Writer

Kick-Ass Writer

The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience by Chuck Wendig

This is a book for writers who don’t have time to read a book for writers.

You can dive in and out of the book with ease. If you want to learn something about the fundamentals, the craft of writing, or about presenting your final work, just go to that section and find some tips and advice.

Wendig admits thagt his book is “just a bucket of ideas that are at least half-nonsense. A bucket of ideas that serve as tools. And not every tool is meant for every job. And not every craftsman finds the value in every tool.”

Basically, take what you can from this and apply it how you see fit. Ignore the parts that don’t fit with your methodology. And get writing.

Here are the notes I took when reading it . . .

From 25 Ways to Plot, Plan, and Prep Your Story

Write three paragraphs, each detailing the rough three acts found in every story: the inciting incident and outcome of the beginning (Act I), the escalation and conflict in the middle (Act II), the climatic culmination of events and the ease-down denouement (Act III)

I don’t normally plan or outline my stories, but I like to go back and make sure these things are apparent.

From 25 Things You Should Know About Dialogue

You can use dialogue to set the pace of your story or scene.

If you want your story to read faster, you use dialogue to move it along. . . dialogue reads easy . . . a reader gets to it, they zip forth fast, fancy and free. Want to slow things down? Pull away from dialogue. Speed things up? More dialogue.

From 25 Things You Should Know About Editing, Revising, and Rewriting

Wendig advises that you don’t start your rewrite or edit without a plan.

How do you know what to fix if you haven’t identified what’s broken?

He also suggests only fixing one thing at a time. Go through your work in progress and do a dialogue pass. Then go back and look at your use of description. Then take a pass for plot, sentence variety, and anything else you need to look at.

Tracking revisions is also important.

Keep a record of them all. . .  Any time you make a revision change, mark the revision and save a new file. I don’t care if you have 152 files by the end of it. You’ll be happy if you need to go back. 

And last but not least in this list, you should read your work aloud

When you read your work aloud, you’ll be amazed at the things you catch, the things that sound off, that don’t make sense, that are awkward or wishy-washy or inconsistent.

From 25 Things You Should Know About Getting Published

Even if you want to go the traditional route, Wendig suggests self-publishing one thing that might not be the best fit for conventional publishers.

Walk both paths to gain the advantages of each. 

Know your story very well so you can explain it in a variety of ways.

Learn how to sum up your work in a single sentence, a single paragraph, and three paragraphs. 

The publishing industry cares about genre, so figure out what you story is so it doesn’t get mislabeled or misrepresented.

From 25 Things You Should Know About Self-Publishing

Find ways to experiment with format such as “transmedia initiatives, app-novels, stories told across social media,” etc.

Do not me constrained by the formats that exist. Story does not begin and end with a physical book. It doesn’t stop at e-books either.

That was me

I bet if you read this book, you will take away different things from it. So, if you do read it, please write about your experience with it, and link to it in the comment section.

Happy Writing!

My Detailed Reading Log for 2016

Great Advice on Becoming a How-To Writer

How to Write and Sell

How to Write & Sell Simple Information for Fun and Profit by Robert W. Bly

Here are a few of the notes I took while reading this book . . .

A how-to writer is a teacher in print. However, instead of teaching in a classroom, the how-to wroter does most of his teaching in written format.

I’m a teacher, this could be right up my alley.

4 Ways of Learning

The four basic learning modalities are:reading (books, e-books); listening (audio CDs, downloadable MP3 files, podcasts): watching (DVDs, TV programs, online video); and doing, also called “experiential learning” (workshops, seminars, courses).

By publishing in different media addressing all four of the major learning modalities, you can reach the broadest audience possible.

How Many Topics Should You Cover?

Three niches seems to be the most you want to tackle, at least according to the author of this book. In my blog, I cover teaching, hip-hop, reading, writing, skateboarding, comics, deejaying, and running. Clearly I have more than one area of expertise that I could write about. Not all of them would work in the how-to realm. Maybe I can trim it down to three.

Niche Size?

Your niche must ideally have 100,00 people in it to be profitable. . . it is a realistic goal to sell to 5 percent of your total market.

Doing the math, to sell 5,000 books at that rate, you would need an audience of 100,000 people.

The 2X Rule

The 2X rules says you should gather approximately twice as much research material as you think you will need to write the peace. You can [then] be selective and use only the research that best supports and illustrates your points.

Organizing Your Research

Bly suggests organizing your digital files in a logical way. That could be folders within folders, but basically keeping everything in place.

If you plan to print out your material, he suggests “typing the file name in the upper-left corner of page one. That way, when you have a hard copy in your hand, you always know the file name and can quickly retrieve it from your hard drive with the file search feature.

Cite Your Research as You Go

Also, always indicate on the file the date the content was created and, if taken from an outside source, details on the source. Without theses attribution details readily available, you may not be able to use the material.

Back-Up Every 24 Hours

Back up your entire hard drive to a mirror device (a hard drive of duplicate configuration) every 24 hours.

You can set your computer to do this automatically.

Give Clear Instructions

Experienced how-to writers strive to write clear instructions with sufficient details to enable the reader ti perform the function or complete the task. 

8 Steps To Getting Your Book Published

Bly suggests following this route instead of writing the book out beforehand. Publishers of non-fiction often want to see a proposal rather than a finished book. It saves both of you time, after all.

So here is his proven method. You might want to read this book to get all the details for each of these steps.

  1. Come up with a good idea
  2. Evaluate your idea critically
  3. Create the outline
  4. Write your book proposal
  5. Get an agent
  6. Send your proposal to publishers
  7. Negotiate your contract
  8. Write and deliver the manuscript

Some of the advice in this book seems dated, which is strange considering it is less than ten years old. His pricing guides, for example, seems a bit off considering that e-books have fallen in price since 2010. However, there is a companion website available to you if you purchase the book. And I am sure it will offer a more up-to-date picture of the how-to-market today.

My List of 2016 Reads – Every book I read over the course of the year is here!

The Fiction Writer’s Guide to Dialogue

Fiction Writers Guide to Dialogue

The Fiction Writer’s Guide to Dialogue by John Hough, Jr.

As a teacher, I keep coming across posters that declare, “Said is Dead!”

Said is Dead

To me, these alternatives are just lazy. A good writer doesn’t need them. Said says it all. John Hough explains . . .

“Said” isn’t  intrusive, at all. It’s invisible. The reader reads it again and again and again, and never notices it. The dialogue, then, stands on its own, This forces you, the writer, to write dialogue that needs no help, and dialogue that needs no help is good dialogue.

He also suggest that exclamation points should rarely be used. There’s an oft-repeated rule in writing that “you are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” Once again, this is all about letting the writing speak for itself. Wise words indeed!

Keep it Brief

It’s best not to let your characters drone on. Hough suggest speeches be “one to three sentences, preferably no more that two, per speech–whenever possible.”

Avoid the Quirks, Tics, and Habits of Real Life

In real life we ask questions a lot that are really insignificant. We should never do that in our writing.

Dialogue should be abrupt. Every question, however benign, should be direct. It should demand an answer. With every question your characters are putting each other on the spot, which is why their answers are revealing.

The Paradox of Dialogue

In everyday speech, we start and stop abruptly. We repeat ourselves, we grope along for the right words, and we don’t always say what we had meant to say. Fiction dialogue needs to be a lot cleaner but still sound realistic. Here is the paradox . . .

The better the dialogue, the less realistic it should be, and the more realistic it will sound. Think of dialogue in fiction as  what is left after the extraneous verbiage is stripped away. It is what we mean to say, what we do say, in essence, Think of your written dialogue as a form of shorthand that preserves the most vivid and succinct lines of an exchange or conversation.

Invent a Spoken Language

Here is some great advice for all us writers out there . . .

Invent a spoken language–dialogue–that is a synthesis of what you read and what you hear, and that is appropriate to your characters and their time and place. 

The author suggests that we can be on the lookout for great tidbits of dialogue. We can borrow a line from here and there and focus it better in our own writing.

My 2 Cents

These are just a few of the notes I made while reading this book. I hope my dialogue will improve because of the tips that Hough points out.

I know that I need to work on this part of my writing. I plan to do a rewrite of some of my work focusing only on dialogue. Then I will be ready to query it and release my works to the world. I know, it’s long over due.

My 2015 Reading Log (25 books and counting)

Come on Writers, Use Your Wild Voice!

Wild Women, Wild Voices by Judy Reeves

Wild Women, Wild Voices: Writing from Your Authentic Wildness by Judy Reeves

I love the subtitle of this book, “Writing from Your Authentic Wildness” and I really want to see exactly what that entails. Part of me had to put away the actual title when it read it though because I am not a woman. I am, however, a feminist and a writer, and I do have my wild side, so I guess it fits.

Write By Hand

Reeves recommends writing by hand and she’s a big proponent of timed writing assignments. She believes that is the best way to get to our wild voices out and on to the page. I write by hand only when I am journaling, but I can see how doing creative exercises could also benefit from this tactile way of writing.

She explains, “Sometimes when I’m doing timed, focused writing and the time is up but the writing is too hot to quit, I’ll set my timer for another seventeen minutes and continue writing. And still again if the urgency to continue persists. This way I sustain the tension and intensity of the times writing, which for me keeps the pen moving and me pretty much out of the way.”

Her last thought there highlights the fact that we often make excuses, throw up blocks, or stifle our own creativity. We all have an inner-critic that we need to push out of the way to be effective writers.

Cultivate Your Wild Voice

Reeves says, “Wild voice is natural to us all, but even the most experienced writer will tell you it doesn’t always come naturally. Like a garden, sometimes it requires our attention, and sometimes we have to get out of its way and let it do its own wild and natural thing.”

  • Here are a few tips on how to develop and nurture your wild voice . . .
  • Write often; practice daily
  • Freewrite
  • Take risks. Don’t stop when your hand gets shaky
  • Remember to breathe

Make Lists

“Lists – to-do, shopping, notes-to-self – are kind of practical shorthand that most of us use every day . . . Explorations, gets the ‘thinker’ out of the way and allows the deeper, more intuitive thoughts to arise. It’s here we’re given access to material that we mightn’t have come up with if we’d tried to think our way into what matters to us. The more we work intuitively, free of conscious purpose, the more meaningful images and impressions come to us. Also, on the practical side, making a list helps us to compile prompts for additional writing sessions. If it shows up on your lists, there’s likely a story that longs to be told.”

A list can be an effective brainstorming technique. It can give you ideas that you wouldn’t have normally come up with otherwise. And by writing with a pad and pen quickly, you can get your inner critic / censor out of the way.

Pick One Item and Expand on It

“After you rest your fingers from that flurry of writing, choose one [item] from your list and do an extended writing.”

Listen to Your Inner-Voice

“Too often it seems that our rational, orderly mind tells us to accomplish something, check something off our to-do lost, to be productive. On the other hand, our wild nature may be telling us to go and play, or to be lazy, to sit under a leafy tree and daydream. Follow the direction of your inner guide; it knows what you need.”

I like that thought. We can’t always be productive. Sometimes we need down time. We should listen to what our body is telling us and be lazy without guilt (occasionally, of course)

Trust Intuition

“For eons men, and sometimes women, too, have made light of ‘women’s intuition.’ Yet a more powerful, knowing force does not exist. All humans are gifted with this sixth sense . . . but intuition is strongest in the feminine.”

Writing Exercises aka Explorations 

Reeves offers up several writing exercises that you can try. She calls them “Explorations.” I tried one a few days ago, Voice of the Body and it was quite fun and illuminating. I will most definitely be trying more in the coming weeks.

Win a Copy!

If you’d like my copy of this book (complete with pencil underlines and notes,) please contact me and I will send it your way (Canada and USA residents only) If I get multiple requests, I will choose a winner at random. Good luck!

My List of 2015 Reads – my annual reading log with links to every title I read