How do Grades Hurt Us?

A vending machine for art. It looks like it was re-purposed from a cigarette vending machine.
This re-purposed vending machine is all about external motivation–which piece of art would you like to buy? ©Laurel Decher, 2020.

Reading an article about how it hurts kids to focus on “grades” instead of “learning”: “Grades vs Learning: Shifting Attention to What’s Important

“Drafts, re-dos, and ‘evolving assignments'” may help students to focus on getting better at something instead of getting a good grade.

Hmm. That sure sounds like writing a book! Everybody write a book! *just kidding*

Creativity is supposed to increase when the motivation comes from inside the art instead of from outside. Poet and counselor Mark McGuiness’s MOTIVATION FOR CREATIVE PEOPLE is a wonderful exploration of this.

It’s hard to do your best work when you’re thinking about losing points.

The truth is: we all get grades. Adults have workplace evaluations, product sales, reviews, raises, etc. We all have to learn to use both kinds of motivation. 

At the Festival of Faith and Writing in 2004, beloved children’s author Katherine Patterson told a story about being stuck on a novel. She told a writing friend, “I haven’t learned anything!”

The friend said, “You’ve learned that novels can be finished.”

Listen to Katherine Patterson’s wonderful keynote speech here.

To me this means,

“Panic doesn’t mean anything. It’s a normal part of the process. It’s noise. It’s trying to keep you from playing with your work until you get something you like.”

How can we remind ourselves of this more often? How can we teach kids to work with both kinds of motivation? (Or how can they teach us?)


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Want more emotion in your fiction and less drama pinning down the draft?

If you are a fiction writer and haven’t ever used Angela Ackerman’s and Becca Puglisi’s writing thesauri, you might be really missing out.

You know that feeling of holding two things in your head at the same time? These books are serious headache prevention. (Trust me, I’m an epidemiologist. 🙂

I’ve written about the thesauri before:

The Reverse Backstory Tool Brings Your Characters to Life

Write Believable Heroes, Villains, and Emotions with The Positive/Negative Trait Thesauri and The Emotion Thesaurus

A Mini-M.F.A. in the Psychology of Character

Are you feeling it? Emotional Connection in Fiction Part 1

Tools: Emotional Connection in Fiction Part 2

And now there’s a new edition of the book that started them all!

(YES! Just in time for drafting my next book! Hoorah!!!!)

It might seem strange to not tell one’s readers what book you’re planning to release…unless you happen to write books on Show, Don’t Tell like Angela and Becca do! They couldn’t resist the opportunity to show, not tell, by waiting for the cover reveal. They even created a *REDACTED* cover for it, which you might have seen floating around.

We’re revealing the cover at long last!

*drum roll*

book cover for the second edition of The Emotion Thesaurus
The new and improved edition of The Emotion Thesaurus is coming in February 2019!

The next book in the descriptive thesaurus series is The Emotion Thesaurus Second Edition!

It’s been 7 years since the original Emotion Thesaurus hit the shelves. Many writers have credited this unusual book  with transforming their writing. This guide is packed with helpful lists of body language, thoughts, and visceral sensations for 75 different emotions, which makes it easier for writers to convey what characters feel.

Since 2012, many have asked the authors if they would add more emotions, so that’s what Angela & Becca have done. This new edition has added 55 more emotions, bringing the total to 130.

There are other new additions to the book and in fact, it’s almost doubled in size! I recommend checking out the full list of emotions (and some sample entries) HERE.

And more good news: this book is available for preorder! You can find it on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, and IndieBound.

One last thing: go grab some free education!

Angela & Becca are giving away a free webinar recording of one of their popular workshops on Emotion, so head over if this is an area of struggle for you. It might really help!

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share a new book recommendation for readers ages 9 to 12, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

Need some ideas about how to handle The Waiting Game?

tiny white flowers light up the forest floor like a white carpet
Just when you think it will never come, spring arrives. Image: ©Laurel Decher, 2018.

Today, I’m over at The Winged Pen for a post about what to do while you’re waiting. . .

. . .for query responses,

. . .for editors,

. . .or for anything else in the writing life that requires another person to react.

How do you handle The Waiting Game? What did I forget?

Feel free to weigh in–I’d love to know how you handle the inevitable patience practice of the writing life.

Check out the post here:

The Waiting Game and 15 Ways to Play It

It’s part of the Winged Pen’s Master Your Craft series.

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Four Ways Writing a Novel is Different than Reading One

outdoor steel staircase with blooming heather filling in the risers
One of my favorite collaborative efforts. Steel and heather. Alfter, Germany. ©Laurel Decher, 2018.

Reading is a collaborative and creative activity. The reader is in partnership with the writer, and they create an experience together. Writers are told to read, read, read. . .to improve their writing. Good advice. 🙂

But I’ve recently noticed four ways writing feels very different from reading.

  1. The set-up. Ideally, the early chapters go by in a kind of blur, so that later, readers never realize writers used up a quarter of the book to get them into the story. As readers we’re busy working, getting acclimated to the story world, figuring out who’s who, and what’s what. When we read, we don’t notice how long it takes.

This is why it’s easy to write the story set-up too short. Or way too long. If we aren’t allowed to write this story’s exciting part, we’ll write the exciting part of the one that happened before. This is called backstory or information-dumping. (Attractive, no?)

Re-reading is a much better way to find out what set-up is and how long it takes. If a writer can entice the reader in–all over again–with the ordinary part, that’s craft. The best writers leave a little space and time for the readers’ imagination to get cooking, without letting them notice.

2. Pacing. By definition, the writer is the first one to boldly go down the story path. Joyce Carol Oates describes writing fiction as slashing your way through the jungles with a machete. E. L. Doctorow compared it to driving by your headlights. Keeping writerly despair at bay must add something to the reader’s experience, but I don’t know what it is. Tension, voice, scope, meaning, pacing? (A finished book? 🙂

3. Foreshadowing. (A.K.A. why it’s annoying to watch movies with writers.) It’s really hard–impossible–to foreshadow as you write. Once you know the cannon is going off at the end, it’s easy to add a box of confetti in a dimly lit corner of your brilliant opening scene. 20:20 hindsight. You just “put it in”.

4. Writing things inside-out and backwards. Judging by dreams and first drafts, I think the imagination doesn’t care much about what comes first. For me, as a writer, ‘story stuff’ gets sent up any old which way.

In a recent draft of my middle grade fairy-tale/fantasy, several chapters were clearly *cough* in the wrong order. Switching them around made my main characters stronger. Suddenly, their actions set the plot dominoes in motion. Yay!

Some writing friends compare story-telling to pulling yarn out of a skein. Their imaginations must be better trained. Personally, I have to slice the story up and tie it together, again and again. Judging from the overwhelming reaction to this blog post, a lot of other writers have the same problem.

But aside from all of these technical difficulties–oops, challenges–writing can sometimes feel the same as reading. Writing ‘in the zone’ or ‘in flow’ or in the grip of a story feels like being taken on a journey.

I think that’s what makes writing so addictive. Imagination is both a muscle to exercise and a dream to follow.

What’s your take? Does this all seem hopelessly obvious? Have you ever wondered about particular differences between reading and writing?

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Join me over at SCBWI Germany + Austria: I’m blogging about doodling

Hand-drawn doodle in pen and colored pencil with the heading 'Things I want to try, visit, read, remember because of the SCBWI Europolitan Conference Belgium 2017'
My doodle for the SCBWI Europolitan Conference in Belgium. ©Laurel Decher, 2017.

Hanging out with all of the illustrators at the 2017 SCBWI Europolitan Conference in Belgium must have rubbed off on me. I created the doodle above on the train ride home.

Just what I needed, a quick way to ‘revisit’ the conference in the months to come, without wading through pages of notes.

Read the rest of the post here: “Doodle Your Way into the Writing Life”.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

Serious about Writing a Series?

I’m over at The Winged Pen today with a round-up of the best online mentors to help you plan a series of novels.

Read the whole post here: Six Mentors to Help You Plan Your Novel Series.

 

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

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4 Things Trappist Monks know about Safe Spaces for Creativity

Abbey and church buildings painted white with red trim against a blue sky
Abbey Mariawald, the only existing Trappist monastery in Germany. Founded 1470 A.D. Heimbach, Germany. ©Laurel Decher, 2017.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about safe spaces to create art. On the weekend, we visited Abbey Mariawald, famous for its split-pea soup. Judging from the number of motorcyclists, families, and hikers, they’ve hit on something with universal appeal. They also have a private life that soup-eating tourists don’t see.

  1. While tourists are welcome in the shop, the cafeteria, and the patio, the rest of the Abbey was closed up tight. The Abbey, the Abbey church and the long wall around them were painted a dazzling white. If you want to go in, you have to ring the bell for the Porter and tell him your business.

Physical defenses. We went into the church at 2:00, the time for the None service. We didn’t have to speak to the Porter, but there were 4 physical barriers:

–A glass double-door entry to get into the church,

A metal grille with a gate labelled “Nur für Beter” [only for those who want to pray]

–A fence-like rood screen between the congregation and the monks.

The hoods of the monks. Trappists wear white robes with hoods, so each monk had yet another way to make an individual safe space while singing or praying.

The monks chanted the short service in Latin and the ethereal sound swirled around us. It felt magical.

It would have been impossible to sing that way with a constant stream of doors opening and closing.

Monks know how to structure their space and their time so they can make their art in community.

2. A writing community can be a safe space. Two other writers and I held a one-day writing workshop at the local YMCA. We created a “writers’ buffet” with a variety of writerly tools to choose from, ranging from writing prompts to character and plot development and an exercise on the dreaded inner editor. Everyone liked the tools. But the most empowering thing we did was create a supportive atmosphere for writing.

3. Writers stop writing because they don’t feel “defended.” Jennifer Louden’s and Jennie Nash’s  (Author Accelerator ) recent webinar about getting scary work done advertises a course, but also truly inspiring and insightful tips. According to Jennifer and Jennie, writers don’t stop writing because of fear of failure or even fear of success. Writers stop writing when they don’t have a protected area to create their work.

What’s even worse: When we don’t have a safe space and we stop writing, this can devastate our creativity because then we’re not keeping promises* to ourselves.

*Keeping promises: For a sort of evolutionary narrative what taking out the trash has to do with creativity, check out Chris Fox’s short video.

Cows resting and grazing in a beautiful green meadow with the hills behind changing colors for fall.
These cows at the Abbey Mariawald apparently feel well-defended. Cows might be a useful addition to your next writing group. ©Laurel Decher, 2017.

4. How to create defenses for your creative space. In his excellent book, Motivation for Creative People, Mark McGuiness writes about separating internal and external outcomes to create a safe space for ourselves to write.

Focusing on the outcome: publishing, prize, earnings etc. takes us out of our safe space.

Focusing on the goal of making the-scene-we’re-working-on more exciting, funnier, or more vivid takes us deeper into our safe creative space. This is what we mean by “flow.”

The monks at Abbey Mariawald have been singing and praying since the year 1470.  We could take a page from their book** and

–Separate the business and creative sides of our work.

–Choose physical spaces that let us fall into the work

–Seek out other creative people to get the writing juices flowing

–Practice keeping small promises to ourselves.

**I love this tactful request to tourists to return “borrowed” notebooks. What might you request to make your creative space safer?

Note from the monks of the Abbey Mariawald asking that you return the notebook if you accidentally take it with you

“Dear visitors of the Abbey Mariawald, We would like to offer you the chance to follow along in the Divine Office and in this way to lift your heart up to God. If you happen to take this notebook with you when you leave, please make your confession to your priest and let the notebook wander back to us. The monks of Abbey Mariawald.”

 

 

 

 

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

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