Schools Out!

Schools across the country are letting out, to the joy of children everywhere. My children’s last day of school for the year is today, and while they enjoyed school and are both looking forward to moving up to new schools in the fall, they have many plans for the summer.

Every summer we try to learn new things, both children and adults alike. This summer my daughter will try learning to be a better swimmer, tying her shoes, riding her bike with training wheels, and starting to read independently (whew!). My son wants to try some new sports for him – running, swimming, and tennis. For me? I’m going to work on learning to be a better runner, writer, and mom.

For all of us, reading is a central part of summer. We have longer stretches available for reading books – whether it is during road trips, cuddled up on the couch in our PJs, or while sitting on the front porch in between bike riding adventures.

I’ll share more next week about what we are each reading this summer, but I will tell you that Aidan and I will be doing another reading challenge. We are challenging ourselves to read 20 books again this summer. We took this challenge last year, but didn’t quite make it. We learned from that experience that while we enjoy reading to each other (and will still do so from time to time), we both read faster independently. So this summer we are taking more of a book club approach (if you can have a book club with only 2 members) – we are each reading a book at the same time, and then we’ll have a special sit down at the bakery or elsewhere to discuss it. We are already 2/3 of the way through Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, so we’re off to a great start. I’ll keep you posted on how we progress.

Happy summer reading to all of you!

The Value of Honest Feedback

I’m a big believer in honesty. Not painful, hurtful honesty, but the idea that being upfront with people (especially friends and family) avoids much drama, misunderstandings, and unnecessary conflict.

However, for honesty to work fully we must be open to feedback. Sure, honest feedback might still sting a little, or initially rub us the wrong way, but if we can ultimately incorporate the information it can be a gift.

Take the writer’s submission process for example. Joanna and I were discussing how we hope for open feedback when we submit our work to agents and editors. Even a little open feedback instead of a standard rejection would help us to know which direction to go. Such as:

“Not really the kind of book I represent.” – Try another agent.

“Strong concept, but the prose needs tightening.” – Now you know where to focus your revisions.

“Good idea, but I wasn’t hooked at the beginning.” – Time to rework the first few chapters.

“I like the characters, but the stakes for them aren’t high enough to keep me interested.” – More work needed on the plot and character development.

Knowing how to proceed in this highly subjective art of writing is invaluable. And why I need my critique group so much. We encourage each other, make suggestions, and give balanced feedback that helps us each be better writers.

So if someone asks you for your honest feedback, consider giving it. It could make all the difference.

Choosing the Right Books for Your Advanced Reader

I have an advanced reader in my house, who devours new books. My son has read and enjoyed many of the classics, such as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Indian in the Cupboard; James and the Giant Peach; Charlotte’s Web; and The Borrowers. Aidan likes the newer books too, like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Holes, and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid. He is eager to discover new series and new books, preferring fantasy and adventure topics.

He is, however, only in 3rd grade. I do not yet want him exposed to the world of middle school, nor do I want him worrying about the kinds of topics kids that age face. I do not want him to be exposed to excessive violence or death.

It is an ongoing challenge that I have in finding new quality books to read, and it is a topic I have discussed frequently with his 3rd grade teacher, Irene Drake. I’m sure many of you parents and teachers have faced the same issue.

So far, my approach has been to dig deep into the lists of “must read” books for his age, and sought recommendations from librarians, teachers, writers, and other parents. I also discovered the Scholastic Book Wizard, which with a little tweaking comes up with a list of appropriate books by Lexile Level or DRA along with age range. However, for Aidan, his reading level with a grade 3-5 filter only comes up with non-fiction books. Those are certainly helpful books for when he is in a non-fiction mood, but not always.

Joanna shared a list that her library prepared for accelerated readers. Some that caught my eye for Aidan were: The Moffat’s, The View from Saturday, The Enchanted Castle, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, Whittington, and Extra Credit.

What suggestions do you have for accelerated readers? Please share in the comments.

Happy Easter and Welcome to Spring!

I find Easter and the beginning of Spring as a time of reflection, much more so than on New Year’s. In January, it is still cold and gray (and often we are knee-deep in snow), so it is hard to see the potential for the new year. For those of you who celebrate Easter (as I do), it is symbolic of rebirth, renewal, and joy. And if you’re lucky, the sun is peeking out more often and the temperates are gradually rising.

Photo by Katie Cullinan

There is promise in each day – a promise that what has incubated all winter under the snow and within ourselves is ready to blossom. You just need to look – are you ready to be brave? Take on that new challenge? Try something new? Take a bold step towards a new direction?

Best wishes for a restorative and peaceful Easter and Spring to all of you. Get out there and shake things up. What are you waiting for?

Congratulations Joanna!!

I am pleased to announce that Joanna has officially graduated with her Masters in Fine Arts from Lesley University! She has invested 2 years of hard work, which went by amazingly fast (she may disagree with that last part).

The other member of our critique group, Anne, and I are so proud of her. We are excited to see where her writing career goes next – it will certainly be to wonderful places.

Congratulations Joanna!

One Word Can Change Everything

Happy New Year! We are now 9 days into 2015, and most of you have probably thought about resolutions, goals, or other plans for this brand new year.

Happy New Yearr

I love the idea of a fresh start, even though it’s a bit arbitrary. Spring also feels full of new opportunity to me, so perhaps in March if you look back and find that things have not gone as planned for the first few months, you can update and tweak your plans.

There are many ways to approach your planning – some people make resolutions (lose weight, finish that novel, be nicer, smile more). Conventional wisdom says that resolutions are not effective for most people, since there is no measurable plan for how to get there. (What are you going to do to get your novel finished? Write each day for 10 minutes? Set a deadline with a friend to read your draft?)

I am a believer in setting goals. Not too many, because then I will get overwhelmed and try to focus on too many things at once. I have three main categories for my goals – writing, fitness, and personal. In each category, I have 3-5 goals. I try to make them as measurable as possible, so I can legitimately celebrate when I get there. Some of my goals include Get an Agent (= rewrite the first chapter of my finished novel + send out my manuscript repeatedly), learn/re-learn to knit, and earn a 5K race time of under 30 minutes. Wish me luck!

Perhaps goals or resolutions don’t work for you, or you want to take a different approach this year. Perhaps you are looking for an overarching theme for everything you do this year. When Joanna and I were discussing this subject, she proposed taking a One Word approach. The idea is to use one word as your guiding principle – words like Believe, Forgive, Dare, or Simplify. It could even just be Write! If I were to choose one word to guide my year, I might choose Soul. I want to focus my choices on those things that feed and nurture my soul. While there are things that I have to do that are neutral on my soul (certain kinds of work, perhaps?), it gives me permission to get rid of those choices that are life-suckers and drag me down. Why make time for that?

What are you goals, resolutions, plans or one word for 2015? Please share in the comments! We’d love to hear them.

Merry Christmas!

For those of you who celebrate Christmas like we do, we hope you have a peaceful, joyous, and blessed Christmas with your friends and family. Whatever your traditions are, and whatever the day may bring, may you enjoy the little moments that cause us to celebrate the good in the world.

Christmas decorations

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am finally sitting down after a long day of food, family, and blessings. I am thankful for so much in my life that makes it joyful, loving, and full. And I am thankful for all of you readers of our blog! I hope you each had a few minutes today to reflect on all you are thankful for.

The Last Weekend of Summer

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, fall begins in the Northeast with the autumnal equinox on September 22nd at 10:29 PM EST. So we technically have one last weekend of the summer. The weather has already started turning cooler and the kids are back in school, but we can still claim a summer state of mind.

I know it’s hard – I find myself barraged on a daily basis with Halloween candy, Christmas layaway programs, and pumpkin spice lattes. I love the holidays more than a lot of people (my dad calls me a Christmas Nut), but this year I am resisting the push. Getting caught up in the mad rush just leaves me harried and exhausted on January 2nd, wondering what just happened.

I have decided no fall decorations until October – that leaves 2 full months to fully enjoy the season. It also means that any mums I eventually buy won’t have to try and hold on for an extended period of time. While I will still slowly work on all of the Christmas projects that I began over the summer (in an attempt not to be stressed in December), I will wait to fully embrace Christmas until Black Friday.

I am hoping this holding back approach will translate to other areas – a calmer approach to fall house cleaning and more time spent outdoors enjoying the crisp air. I’m also looking forward to its effect on my writing. I have so much that I want to accomplish – new novels to write, other work to revise, blog posts to write, contests to enter, and agents to get. Because I never have as much time as I would like, I sometimes feel paralyzed with what to do in the limited time that I have.

So I will take it one item at a time. This week I’m going to tackle the planning for my novel, and spend time with my son this weekend writing a picture book story we’ve been talking about. Maybe we’ll write it outside – and take lots to deep breaths to remind ourselves of what we loved about summer, and then open our hearts to autumn.

summer into autumn

Back to School!

It’s that time of year again: it’s cool in the mornings, but still warm mid-day. In my house, counters are covered with lunch containers, water bottles, new pink erasers, and sharpened pencils.

School is back in session!

photo 3

For me, this means getting back to a more “normal” schedule now that my kids are back in school. Hopefully this schedule means more time for writing. I have just begun writing a new middle grade novel, and I want to keep the momentum going. I haven’t decided if the pumpkin spice lattes at my local coffee shop will be a motivator or a distraction, but I’ll guess I’ll have to try and find out.

I’m not sure why, but I also find that back to school and the fall season are prime times to read. My son and I read quite a bit this summer, but there is something about fall that inspires me to dig into the long list (and pile) of books that I have been wanting to read.

My son did not meet his goal of reading 20 chapter books this summer, but it was a good kick-start to a new summer tradition. We enjoyed reading together, and discovering new characters and worlds. I think the biggest accomplishment for the summer was when my husband asked my son if he wanted to watch a particular family movie, and my son responded, “but I want to read the book first!” Yay for reading! Aidan and I will continue to work our way through the chapter books on our list, which will be a nice compliment to the non-fiction books his teacher has already begun sending home.

I hope you all had a lovely and relaxing summer, and will make time for reading (and writing?) as you ease into fall.