Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Friday, December 27, 2013

Practice What I Preach


Don't tell the 8,457 kids I spoke to this year, but I don't practice what I preach.

Here's what I preach:

Don't be afraid to write something that isn't very good.

I then go on to tell them:

You can always make it better.
But you can't fix what you haven't written.

I actually stole that first line from singer/songwriter Paul Simon. I watched a documentary once that showed him teaching a class on songwriting. He told the students: "Don't be afraid to write something that isn't very good."

That has stayed with me ever since.

But the truth of the matter is that I HATE writing something that isn't very good.

It really, really, really bothers me.

In fact, it often paralyzes me. 

Stops me right in my tracks. 

Prevents me from moving forward. 

I have struggled with this miserable phenomenon for a long time.

25 years and 16 books, to be exact.

I like for my writing to be neat and tidy and as nearly perfect as it can be while I'm working on the first draft. I go over and over and over the same sentences, paragraphs, pages without moving forward. But then I get stuck and stay there, spinning my wheels. This can be a bad, bad thing.

Critique partners often tell me to "just move forward" and "you can fix it later." I know that. I really do. But it's still hard to do.

I just don't like those s***ty first drafts that Anne Lamott talks about in her brilliant book on writing, Bird by Bird

But then recently Avi wrote a short blog post that for some reason hammered the concept into my pea brain and made an impact. 

I'm going to read that post a few hundred more times and head on back into my office to work on that s***ty first draft.

Practicing what I preach.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Two Things on Tuesday

Thing One

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this, my hero and idol and inspiration.

Sometimes I'll just find any way at all in the world to avoid writing a book. I think it's because I think every single word is so important; I find it daunting to write. And so I couldn't do it every day. …  Cynthia Rylant (click HERE to read about my obsession)

Thing Two

Dear Barbara O'Connor:

I really really really like your craft move of repeating words three times. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Things I Love Thursday

I love these little round place mats from Ireland.

Now, if my husband reads this, he'll say, "Whaaa? You never use those!"

And he would be right (for once).

I don't.

But I like having them because they bring back memories of a long ago trip to Ireland.

We stayed in a different place each night for about seven nights.

One night we stayed in a castle.


We were the only three people in the castle.


We had our own private butler named Jackson.

The manager of the castle on the left; Jackson the butler on the right

I mean, how many times in my life am I ever going to stay in a castle with a butler named Jackson? (Um, that would be ONE.)

They used these little round place mats in the dining room.
We were the only three people who ate in the dining room.

A weird and wonderful memory. 

The kitchen garden of the castle

The next night we stayed in a B&B that served us Irish whiskey in Waterford and had this amazing Irish wolfhound.

We hit up a few pubs and threw down a few pints.


My son was into photography. Lots to photograph there!

I love these last two pics because they're so IRISH!

 And so....that's why I love those little round place mats from Ireland.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Fourth Grade Writing

Check out this piece of writing from a fourth grade writing workshop I recently taught.

The students were writing paragraphs that show setting (instead of telling the setting).

This one was the back of a crowded school bus on a rainy day.

She ran through puddles and splashed onto the first step of the bus. When she made it to the back, she flopped onto a seat and pulled off her soggy hat.

"I didn't expect it to rain today," she muttered. 

Her friend tromped onto the bus and plopped down next to her. The bus was starting to fill up. The air smelled like wet rubber from the kids' rain boots.

"I can't wait until I can get off!" she said to her friend.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Two Things on Tuesday

Thing One

Dear Barbara O'Connor:

How are you? I’m doing good. Your book The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis was so good. Sometimes it was sad and sometimes happy. 

I really enjoyed your book. 

Thank you for writing it to me. 


Thing Two

Popeye, Starletta and Elvis

Friday, December 6, 2013

Fourth Grade Writing

Check out this writing from a FOURTH GRADE writing workshop

The assignment was to write a paragraph showing a setting. 
This one is summer at the beach.

Carly shut her eyes and let a light breeze whistle past her ears, caressing her lightly. She picked up a beautiful conch shell, then listened to the unique song it sang when she pressed it to her ear. She felt the yellow-white sand grind beneach her feet as she stepped lightly across the beach.

She looked at the beautiful white-capped waves. The smell of the salty, clear-blue water wafted into her nose as she rushed into the ocean. Oh, how the cold water lapped against her ankles! Beautiful refractions threaded across the bottom of the sea like a constantly shifting spider web.

Fourth grade!!!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Things I Love Thursday

I love this little needlepoint sign made by my husband's grandmother.

It's to hang on the fireplace so you know if the flue is open or shut.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Two Things on Tuesday

Thing One

Received from a teacher:

My 3rd grade students made cards for you after we finished reading aloud your fabulous book, The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis...  

I admire your writing very much and thank you so much for hooking my reluctant boy readers. That Spit and Swear Club was their favorite!   

Love that!!!

Thing Two

Word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page....it's growing

Sunday, December 1, 2013

For Dolores

[recycled from August 2008]

Dolores and I watched a Shirley Temple movie together yesterday

(Curly Top).

So, here's the plot:

Shirley is an orphan.

She lives in a beautiful orphanage owned by a handsome rich man.

She has an older sister who is beautiful and who works in the kitchen of the orphanage.

Their parents were actors who died in a car crash.

Shirley has a pony and a duck that her parents used to use in their vaudeville show.

She is so dang cute that the handsome rich man adopts her and buys her a pony cart for her pony and gives her hula lessons.

Shirley wants to raise money for the poor orphans who are not as cute as she is and didn't get adopted, so she puts on a musical and sings Animal Crackers in My Soup and her beautiful sister plays the ukelele.

The handsome rich man falls in love with the beautiful sister and marries her.

Now that is a plot!