More Information on Books and School Visits

Friday, 9 March 2012

Back to School

I never thought I'd brag about revisiting middle school, but I am proud to say, "I returned!" I did my first school presentation to help celebrate International Women’s Day at my daughter’s middle school.

This is the institution I attended. The same school where I flunked out of French class, was cut from the 7th grade volleyball team, and slow danced with a boy for the first time.

The song - Open Arms by Journey. My age - 12. The boy - shall remain nameless.

But I digress. This past Monday I wasn't there for a Sadie Hawkins Dance. I was there to discuss writing. My topic? Top 10 Writing Tips. There are possibly hundreds of tips I could’ve shared, so it was hard to narrow them down. I decided to share pointers that I hoped a classroom full of 10-13 year old wanna’ be writers, would find helpful.

It was exhilarating looking into those faces. Some were familiar; 5th grade friends of my daughter, students I’ve seen while lunch monitoring, and a few kids I recognized from the neighbourhood. Others were complete strangers. But all of them were eager to learn about the craft of writing.

As many of you know by now, normally I have the cursed luck of the eternally damned. If something can go wrong, it typically does. But at Ecole Viscount Alexander, on a blustery day in March, everything went smoothly. Well, most everything. I did run out of time and had to fly through the last three slides. But still, the gist, the real heart of my presentation had been delivered by then.

And I did overhear two girls, who looked to be 7th or 8th graders, comment that they could, “totally use these handouts.” I decided to take that as a good sign. And not, as my dear husband pointed out, because one of them is fishing for babysitting gigs. (Rumour has it we pay our sitters above market.)

So here, according to me, are my Top 10 Writing Tips. Have any you’d like to add? Please make your suggestions in the comments tab below.

Keep on Writing!

    1. Just write
    • Write every day. Write a lot of garbage and edit brilliantly. (Thank you Anita Daher, middle grade and young adult writer and editor extraordinaire, for this nugget.)  
    • Idea purge – get it out and tell that story. Finessing the details will come with your edits.
    2. Keep a writing journal with you  

    • In your backpack, car, cottage, bedroom, locker, or purse. They don’t have to be big. I carry my notebook wherever I go and jot down random thoughts, feelings, or observations.
    3. Think like a writer

    • Become an active observer and write down your thoughts/observations/sounds/smells/textures. If you hear interesting phrases or an odd way someone speaks – write them down.
    • Become a people watcher. There are great characters all around you – at the mall, at the doctor’s office, standing in line at the movies, on the bus.
    • Take pictures to help you describe subtle details – those details make your writing more believable and real.
    • This is the research that makes readers think, “Hey, did this really happen?” or “This sounds so familiar – I feel like I’ve been there or done that.” Or “This could’ve totally happened to me or my friend.”
    • Keep yourself wondering about people – your friends, family, teachers, everyone around you. Why do they do the things they do, or say the things they say and imagine the answer. 
    4. Keep a great ideas file
    • On your computer. A central storage place.
    • Newspaper articles that seem interesting, funny observations.
    • You can transfer all your thoughts from your writers’ notebooks here.
    5. Hone your craft
    6. Do character sketches and plot outlines
    • The character sketch will help you tell a more believable story. The more you flesh out the details of your protagonist, antagonist and supporting characters the more real your story becomes.
    • The plot outline will help you determine what the heck is going to happen in your story to your main character. I like to do a loose chapter by chapter outline. Helps you determine what really bad thing is going to happen and what your character do to resolve the problem. You need to build to this point, the climax, in a steady believable way, laying the groundwork so when your character makes the final decision, the reader says, “Of course he/she did that.” If your plot is not developed the reader will pop their head out of the book and say, “What the…where did that come from?”
    7. Tighten your writing
    • Remove adjectives and adverbs where possible. Modifiers are not your friends. Instead use strong nouns and active verbs. Use fewer, better words to say the same thing.
    • Those stronger, active verbs will add concise detail and add to the texture of your description.
    8. Show don’t Tell – this is HUGE!
    • Good writing is active writing that shows something to the reader rather than merely telling them about it.
    • Descriptive details illustrate statements and bring them to life.
    • Specific words express exactly what you want to say. 
    • Avoid labels that categorize but don’t describe: Awful, delightful, scary, pleasant, nasty, delicious, handsome, pretty, beautiful, ugly, mean, funny.
    • Labels flatten your writing. Too general and don’t create your intended image in your reader’s mind. The reader creates their own image, not necessarily the one you wanted them to visualize.
    9. Read, read, read

    • Immerse yourself in language. You will find your writing, including grammar, will naturally improve as your innate sense of what “sounds right” will grow as you read more.
    • Join or establish a book club where you can talk books with others.
    • Stephen King suggests you should read a minimum of 75 books a year. Better get started!
    10. Build your writing community
    • Establish a writing group. This helps build your writing community, filled with others who share your same dreams.
    • Get together with fellow writers to share your work, share ideas, and to get feedback. Your writing is so close to you that often you can’t see what others can. Sometimes a scene is so clear in your mind that when you write it out, you miss important details.
    • Go to public readings and book launches. Find websites for the authors you enjoy reading. They will often have great writing tips and insights.


    1. How exciting! And what useful info for the kids (your future readers) and all writers.

      One other tip I'd add: Let the writing sit for a bit and cool down (like pizza). It makes it easier to revise (and cut ) after a week or so.

    2. Awesome and important tip, Gabe. When I present this again, I'll roll my Great Ideas File into another section and add the Writing Cool Down step. Good to give yourself some distance from your writing so you can revist with fresh eyes.