Passages of Promise: A Student eBook Anthology of Creative Writing

I am pleased to announce that the SOAR Creative Writers eBook, Passages of Promise, is now available as a free download at Smashwords. This collection of creative writing is an anthology of creative works written by the SOAR Creative Writers over the last eight weeks.  The anthology includes:  poems, short stories, song lyrics, book chapters, memoirs, and a play script.  SOAR students also created the artwork for the cover design and most of the chapter dividers.  My job was to compile all the manuscripts, strip them, and put them into Smashwords formatting while serving as a “light” editor of their works; these tasks took approximately fifteen hours on my part.

One of our Language Arts teachers, Justin Reynolds, shared these thoughts on the eBook:

I just want you to know, I am thoroughly enjoying reading all the student submissions. You really have some superstars in there. I’m even using some of the memoirs to help teach my unit on memoirs.

I’m happy that the eBook is providing inspiration to teachers and students; it is always heart-warming to help the students who are truly passionate about their work have an outlet for authentic publishing.   While I don’t think the response to this eBook experience has had the student excitement of the one I did with Amy Balogh and her ESOL students last year (I think high school students may have a greater appreciation of what it means to publish one’s work), I hope to do more projects similar to this one in the future.

I hope you enjoy the eBook, and I’m happy to answer questions you may have about publishing through Smashwords.

Nurturing Your Inner Writer: Exploring Writer’s Craft with Molly Brodak

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Last Friday, we had the honor and privilege of Zooming with author and writing teacher Molly Brodak.  Brodak, who teaches at Emory University and Kennesaw State University, is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Bandit.  In our 45 minute Q&A session, we all learned new strategies for writing; Brodak’s reflections on writerly life and ways to approach creative nonfiction were also incredibly insightful as well as inspiring.  My take-aways:

  • Brodak’s concept of the “writer self” and “editor self”.
  • Doubt is healthy–we tend to think of doubt in a negative way as writers; embrace the questions in your mind.
  • Do not turn on the editor brain too soon or you will not get anything written; give yourself permission to write.
  • Be open to new experiences and interests/courses outside your comfort zone; these can give us new lenses and inspiration for noticing the world around us.

Big take-aways from my SOAR Creative Writing students include:

  • Don’t make yourself the “hero” when writing memoir.
  • When you awaken, don’t grab your phone right away.  Instead, enjoy a few minutes of quiet and just “being” to clear your mind and to be open to the world around you.
  • Engage in activities and classes outside your normal realm; you may discover new passions.  Getting outside your comfort zone forces you to look at the world with “fresh” eyes.
  • Don’t take rejection of publications personally.  Rejections don’t mean your writing is not good.
  • There are many kinds of poetry; just because you haven’t found a poem that speaks to you doesn’t mean there is not a poem out there for you.
  • Don’t pressure yourself to come up with ideas for writing; writer’s block is common.  Get outside or do something different to jumpstart the creativity/ideas.
  • You need patience and persistence to publish a piece of writing.
  • Don’t pick a career just for the money.
  • When you begin a piece of writing, stay out of “editor” mode.
  • Imagine you reading someone else’s work when self-editing; be sure to let the writing “rest” for a day or two before re-reading and editing.
  • Writer’s block is a real thing.
  • Do not give up–be persistent.
  • It’s OK to take a break from writing, especially if you are feeling “stuck.”
  • Don’t be afraid to have confidence in your writing.
  • Don’t let doubt stop you from writing.
  • Read modern poetry and poets, not just the classics.
  • Be curious; pay attention to what is around you.
  • Unplug whenever possible–technology often distracts us from “seeing” and noticing the world around us and/or being present in the moment.

The students all shared in their written reflections how much they enjoyed this virtual visit.  For the last year, I’ve been thinking about going back to school and pursuing a MFA in Creative Writing; this session as well as the first one and the one we did today (blog post coming soon) with the Kennesaw faculty and writers have reinforced my desire to pursue this goal to help me grow as a writer and a teacher of writing.  My heart is full of gratitude to Dr. Tony Grooms, Director of the KSU  MAPW and Professor of English, and the faculty who have so graciously shared their time and expertise with me and my SOAR Creative Writers.

I have included a few video clips that I captured with my iPhone (I apologize for not using the Zoom recorder!).  Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Learning About Creative Writing with Real World Experts: Jenny Sadre-Orafai

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We are indebted to Jenny Sadre-Orafai, Associate Professor in the Department of English at Kennesaw State University, for her time today in our “virtual visit” with a creative writing expert! We appreciate how she took time to really think about the questions sent to her from the students, and how thoughtfully she shared her expertise with us. I learned so much today as a writer and teacher, and I know my middle school writers did, too! I am so pleased my SOAR Creative Writers had this opportunity to learn about writer’s craft, poetry writing, and literary journals.

Dr. Sadre-Orafi took great care and time to answer each of the student questions:

• What is your favorite writing genre?
• Did you want to be a writer when you were younger?
• What’s your writing process like?
• How much do you write in a day?
• What do you find most difficult about writing?
• How do you deal with writer’s block, especially when writing poems?
• What do you think it takes to be a professional writer (career)?
• What inspired you to write?
• Who are your favorite writers and why?
• Do you have favorite writing topics? If so, what are they?
• How did you figure out your passion?
• How do you get ideas for writing?
• Where is your favorite place to write?
• What are literary journals?
• Does creative writing get easier as an adult?
• What made you choose to write creative nonfiction instead of fiction?
• What advice do you have for aspiring poets?
• What advice do you have for someone who is interested in writing for a career and choosing a college and major?
• How often do you write?
• Where do you grow up and did your childhood influence your writing in any way?
• Do your life experiences influence what you choose to write about?
• Did you choose your career or did it choose you?
• Do you ever feel “powerful” because you are in control of a piece of writing like a poem?
• What is creative nonfiction?

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Some of the insights and “take aways” we gained from our virtual visit include:

  • To be a writer, you must be curious.  Soak in everything around you.  Think of yourself as a being with antennae and pay attention to everything around you.  Notice and observe!
  • If you want to be a poet, read as much poetry as you can; Dr. Sadre-Orafi specifically recommended we read contemporary poetry (yay!).
  • Very few people become “professional” writers, but majoring in English or a similar field can allow you to use your writing talents and find pathways into related career fields.
  • Literary journals are a great pathway to publication, especially for poetry.
  • A professor once told her that there is no such thing as writer’s block.  If you find yourself getting stuck for ideas, physically remove yourself out of your comfort zone if possible.  For example, walk down a different street or hallways.  A change of scenery or placing yourself in the unfamiliar can help you notice things around with you fresh eyes.

Thank you to Dr. Tony Grooms of the Creative Writing program at KSU for connecting us with Dr. Sadre-Orafai, and thank you to our tech expert Greg Odell for helping us connect through Zoom!  We will be connecting with three more faculty from Kennesaw State this month and in early March; we look forward to learning through these upcoming virtual visits.

Exploring Writing Craft with Noticings + See, Think, Wonder

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Because so many of my Creative Writing SOAR students indicated they were interested in writing longer pieces of fiction, I thought it would be both fun and meaningful to do an activity to help us explore writer’s craft and ways that writer’s begin works of fiction.  We began last Friday by taking time to read the first chapter (or chapters) of these works:

  • The Sun Is Also a Star, Nicola Yoon
  • The Secret Hum of a Daisy, Tracy Holczer
  • Goodnight June, Sarah Jio

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After students read the excerpts, they jotted down their noticings and questions using the graphic organizer below.

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We worked on this part of the activity for about 30 minutes last Friday and finished up during the first ten minutes of class this past Tuesday. Students then formed groups of three, and we reviewed the See, Think, Wonder strategy and discussed how our ideas could come from the individual activity and/or collective discussion.  Although some groups needed a little nudging to get the conversation going (they were sitting silently and not conversing or trying to do the activity without talking), all groups eventually warmed up and engaged in some meaningful discussions.  Groups worked for about 20-25 minutes, and then each group presented their ideas using their See Think Wonder poster they created.  Afterwards, each group hung their poster on the wall in the classroom.  We ended with a short discussion about each work; nearly every student wanted to read at least two of three texts!

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Today, I provided printed copies of interviews with each of the authors so that students could read more about each writer’s craft and approach to writing in the author’s own words.  Today we also did a final wrap-up activity to pull together our noticings as we try to read like writers.  


I borrowed this idea for synthesizing our noticings  from Allison Marchetti and asked students to complete this statement:  “Writers of fiction…”.  Here are the responses from my creative writers:

  • Create new worlds
  • Are quite descriptive
  • Use flashbacks
  • Partially base their work on their lives or life experiences
  • Use good “hooks”
  • Start in the middle of a story to get you to ask questions
  • Make you want to read more
  • Tie in their culture to their story
  • Have a lot of emotion behind their words
  • Can write in ways that are open to multiple interpretations
  • Provide backstory for characters without telling you the details directly (through actions, how others see that character)
  • Use descriptive details you might not expect
  • Use everyday situations and scenarios
  • Sometimes write in first person
  • May shock readers by starting with unexpected or startling events
  • Create a picture in the reader’s mind
  • Provide different points of view
  • Make you wonder if the story is actually real
  • Leave you hanging on the edge of a cliff at the end of a chapter
  • Make you feel gratitude or identify with a character/event
  • Use words to make the emotions REAL
  • Leave the readers with questions
  • Give the main characters conflicts to resolve or solve
  • Enhance something seemingly small to emphasize a point or scene
  • Connect readers to the characters
  • Develop characters really well

I will take this list and with help from the students, craft a poster that we can hang in the room as well as mini-version for them to put in their writer’s notebooks.  I think I will try this approach to introduce poetry and some genres of creative nonfiction works to the students in the upcoming weeks as they seemed to really enjoy it. How are you introducing genres of writing to your students?  How do you help your writers read like writers?