Tag Archive: Education

How To Get Work as a Writer

I have worked as a television screenwriter for most of my adult life, and currently I’m working as a video game writer. Some of WOS’s readers have asked me how to get work as a writer, and I was reluctant to write a post about that because it’s such an individual question. My story is specific to my education, location and vocation (though if you’re curious, I’ll include my story at the end of this post). But, I do know a lot of writers of various disciplines (screenwriters, journalists, magazine editors, game writers, copy editors), so I decided to put that combined knowledge into a general post on how to get work as a writer. Here goes…

Work as a Writer

1. Education

Professional writers, myself included, have all met aspiring writers who say, “Oh, I already know how to write. I got A’s in English class. I just need someone to hire me!” Or, even worse, “I don’t need to go to school for writing because creativity can’t be taught.” But regardless of your stance on creativity (born with it or learned), everyone must educate themselves on the craft of writing. Why? Because each writing discipline is a little bit different and has its own format, structure and rules.

Acquiring a writing education doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get a degree or a masters, though those things may very well help. If full-time school doesn’t fit into your life right now, there are lots of continuing education courses you can take. Also, if you are good at teaching yourself, the plethora of writing craft books out there are a fantastic resource.

However, take note that the one big advantage of formal education, be it full-time or part-time, is connections. When looking at schools, choose one where the professors are working writers. Not only will your professor be a good connection when you graduate, they will know people in the business to introduce you to. Even better, befriend your classmates because they may very well be in a position to hire you or let you know of job opportunities in the future.

2. Writing Samples

To get a job as a writer, you need writing samples of the type of writing you want to be paid for. I stress that point because I’ve met people who have short stories and want to get a TV gig. Well, you can’t get a job writing television without a television spec script. If you followed step one and got an education in the type of writing you want to do, you should have writing samples from class assignments. Even so, you should write more and continuously improve your craft. Education is the step that never really stops.

3. Contacts

Next, make connections with people who can hire you. This is the step that frustrates most people. I bemoaned this myself when I was young and inexperienced, because it seemed as if people got jobs because of who they knew. And guess what? That’s absolutely true! So get out there and meet people. Again, if you went to school or took some writing classes, you’ve already got a few contacts. But the best way to make more is to simply approach people, either writers you admire or people you’d like to work for. You can find these people at industry events, conferences or online. Then ask if you can take them out for coffee and ask questions about the industry and their line of work. Do NOT ask for a job. This is not the time for that. If you’ve met a really generous person, they may request your writing samples, but don’t hand them a stack of paper on the spot. It’s the 21st century; email it. Afterwards follow up with a thank you. If you’re really lucky and you two hit it off, the other person may add you to their social network. Congrats! You’ve made a connection.

But what about the introverts? Some writers don’t feel comfortable talking to strangers. Well, luckily it is the Age of Internet and many connections can be made online via Twitter and blogging. Though I would still recommend meeting in person if possible.

4. Patience and Persistence

Finally, it’s important to note that once you finish the first three steps, the job offers won’t come promptly rolling in. And this seems like the appropriate time to tell my story…

> My Story

RyersonUniI attended Ryerson University for Radio & Television Arts and focused on screenwriting. Ryerson has a great program with professors who work in the industry. And I made even more contacts by interning at a small production company that produced great kids shows. I also went to some industry events Ryerson hosted where I met a writer who grew up in the same area of rural Ontario that I did. And I graduated with a television spec script that was okay but not great (as is to be expected from a 22-year-old newbie).

Then for the next four years I worked grunt jobs in the television and film industry (production assistant, driver, security – aka guarding pylons, etc.). During that time I read more screenwriting books and wrote another script, one that was much better than the one I wrote at Ryerson. I asked a few of my writer contacts if they could give me feedback on it. One of them was the writer I mentioned above. Another was a former professor at Ryerson who was now a full-time screenwriter. They both agreed it was a very good sample script.

Soon after that, I applied to the Canadian Film Centre for the Television Writing program. I don’t remember how I heard about it. My former professor might have told me. Either way, the deadline was that month and I had a spec script and letters of recommendation from my mentors, so I sent in the application. After paying off university, I had no plans to pay for more education (didn’t I already know how to write?), but the CFC program is prestigious and responsible for launching many screenwriting careers, so I gave it a shot.

And I got in. It was a six-month, full-time program. I quit my job and went back to school. I learned some stuff about writing, but the most important thing I got from that program was that our tiny class of eight was introduced to everybody in the entire TV industry in Toronto. We met all the agents, all the producers, and all the broadcasters.

So when we graduated, we all got jobs right away, right? Not exactly. This is where the patience comes in. I was actually the first person to get a writing job in my class, but it wasn’t from a connection I made at the CFC, it was from that writer I met years ago. He finally got his own show greenlit! Which meant he could hire who he wanted, and he wanted to give me a shot at my first writing credit. Yippee! And my second job also came from a contact made years ago while interning at that small production company that was quickly getting much bigger. Now, this is not to say the CFC didn’t have a big impact on my career because it certainly did. Graduating from the CFC  gave me more credibility in the eyes of the contacts I made years earlier.

And then the ball just started rolling. One writing job led to another job which led to another. But that only happened because I had the education, the writing samples, the contacts, and the patience and persistence not to give up during those years working grunt jobs.

And now you all know my story! And even though I quit my career years ago, the contacts I made while I was a full-time screenwriter continue to come through with part-time writing gigs here and there. That’s how I ended up writing a video game this summer.

What about the rest of you? Are you paid to write stuff? How did you get that work? Share in the comments if you feel so inclined.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/how-to-get-work-as-a-writer/

10 Writer Goals for 2015

2015 Star ImageInspired by Brooke Warner’s post 52 Things for writers to do in 2015, I’m committing my own 2015 hit list to paper. Honestly, I felt like 52 weekly goals was a bit too much for a home-schooling, work-from-home, writer mom to tackle. I’ve created something challenging enough to make me push myself, but not so difficult that I will abandon my goals by midyear.

This year I will:

  1. Up my blog writing game. After over a year of weekly blogging with WriteOnSisters, I’ve learned a lot about my weaknesses as a blogger. For me the hardest part is being personal. That might have something to do with an appalling cyber bullying attack my family survived a few years back. However, I need to work past that experience and engage more. I refuse to let other people’s negativity define my life. I’m here in the blogosphere to stay!
  2. Buy my family and friends books for no reason at all. Books continue to be my favorite gift, and the joyful smiles all those new Christmas books created should be savored year round. If I shop for these goodies at small local books stores I’ll be helping the local economy and supporting independent book sellers at the same time. A win/win scenario for everyone.
  3. Read and review more culturally diverse YA books. I’m lucky I grew up in a home where my cultural identify was guaranteed by two Hispanic parents and a strong ethnically diverse community. But my own kids are only half Hispanic and aren’t exposed to my culture as much as I would like. We Need Diversity is a movement sweeping the book market with good reason. Books need to show all the faces of the world. As a Latina woman, and a writer, I have an obligation to promote good fictional representations of my culture, not just for my kids, but for everyone’s kids.
  4. Attend author readings. I moved in October to a smaller town, and since then I’ve seen several author meet-and-greets posted in the local newspaper. For some reason (general moving madness) I haven’t attended any of these yet. This year I vow to attend at least four author events and show some support for my local community of writers.
  5. Get involved with my local library. Again since moving to a new town, I haven’t resurrected some of my old volunteering commitments. Helping the library is a project I highly recommend. My new library has a rather impressive friends group, so my January commitment is to sign up as a member and see what I can do to help out.
  6. Show more support for my fellow bloggers. I’m so bad about leaving comments or likes on websites. When I read something I like I will tweet about it, or send a personal message to the author, but for some reason posting public blog comments always makes me cringe. This year I will get over myself and just post more likes and comments. Comments make a huge difference in my blogging life, so I need to spread the blog love around.
  7. Improve my writing skills. This year I want to take my skills to a higher level. I’ll be attending at least one writer conference, and taking part in at least one writing class. I’m open to suggestions. If anyone has a great West Coast Writer conference to recommended (preferably for the second half of the year) please send the information to me.
  8. Put my fiction writing out into the world. This year I’m going to enter contests, submit ideas for guest blogging posts, join in flash and micro fiction hops and just generally be more present with my fiction writing. Who knows, I might even publish an ebook of short stories.
  9. Create some rewards for accomplishing my writing goals. Right now if I slip on a self-imposed deadline, no one cares. I shift my Trello notes around to compensate and keep on working. It would be nice if I had something waiting for me at the end of a challenging project cycle. I will establish at least 12 prizes for each of the major writing milestones I plan to tackle this year.
  10. Finish my 2015 writing projects list. I have always have a long list of things I want to do every year, but this year the list is pretty impressive. I plan on shopping a new project to agents. I started a new book over the summer that I want to finish. And I have a new historical book fully researched and plotted, that I would love to start writing before the end of 2015. Will I complete everything on my project list? Perhaps not, but I have to try. Check back with me in a few months. I’ll post some updates on how I’m doing.

The New Year is like a bright beacon of hope, and I want to make the most of that motivational energy. If you’re a hardy soul, your list might be much longer (or more interesting) then mine. If so, please share your blog link in the comments. I’ll be sure to stop by your blog and say hello, and I’ll do it with a real comment and a like. : )
Whatever you’re striving to accomplish this year with your writing, or your life, I wish you well.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/archive/10-new-year-goals/

5 Gifts Writers Should Give Away

Wolfgang H. Wögerer, Wien, Austria. CC-BY-SA-3.0

Wolfgang H. Wögerer, Wien, Austria. CC-BY-SA-3.0

This year my family will take part in our first potlatch inspired celebration. The organizers intend the ceremony to teach everyone about the joys of giving back to the community.

They also want us to remember it’s important to keep gently used items out of the landfills.

Our donation will be a number of books we no longer read, as well as some winter clothing.


A potlatch is a gift-giving feast practiced by indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada and the United States. The word comes from the Chinook Jargon, meaning “to give away” or “a gift.” Historically potlatches went through rigorous bans by both the Canadian and United States federal governments, yet they continued underground despite the risk of criminal punishment. Since the practice was de-criminalized, the potlatch has re-emerged in some communities.

Klallam_potlatch_at_Port_Townsend, WA.

Klallam potlatch at Port Townsend, WA.


The gift giving season is a time many people find their wallets strained and their joy levels plummeting. As writers we are uniquely suited to giving back in so many wonderful ways and most of these ways don’t require any financial commitment. Plus there is a restorative property to sharing your time with others; it might be just the right tonic for reviving someone with flagging holiday spirits.

Here are five ways writers can use their skills to spread goodwill this winter.

Become a political voice.
Open your laptop and write a letter to your local politicians. Tell them that the continued and/or increased funding of local libraries and literacy programs matters to you. Take a stand on book censorship. Find your cause and make some noise. Share your letters with your writer friends see if they’re willing to send similar letters. I’m inspired by the naturalist writer John Muir. He is proof one writer on a mission can use their gift to change the world.

Read to those who can’t read.
Adult and child reading programs go begging for volunteers year round but even more so at the holidays when the pool shrinks. Contact your local hospitals and libraries to find out how you can become involved. If you don’t have the time or patience to read longer adult works, offer to read picture books to children. The hours a child hears books being read aloud directly impact their love of reading later. Just half an hour once a week can make a huge difference in the life of a child, especially if they don’t have parents who read to them. Hospital programs also need help gathering, repairing and distributing books. The arrival of the book cart makes the day brighter for anyone stuck in a hospital during the holiday season. Wear your Santa cap and deliver a smile along with the books.

Photo from the Connecticut State Library website

Photo from the Connecticut State Library website

Preserve some oral history.
Local historical societies often keep a list of notable citizens they would like to collect recollections from, but staff time is stretched to the limits and they can’t always make arrangements for an interview before tragedy strikes. Veterans in particular are known for holding on to their stories, and since they consider them too painful for family members to hear, they need a third-party to become their official recorder. I have collected dozens of oral histories. A few of my contributions have found their way into TV documentaries and academic history books, but all are treasure troves of information and gifts for feature generations.

Teach what you know to others.
Schools and community centers are often in dire need of anyone willing to teach writing. As class size grows, teachers often can’t give as much one-on-on instruction as students need. I started working in my local schools over ten years ago and I love it. I have worked in the school library, taught kids reading skills and helped them with creative writing projects. If the thought of 250 Crayola-stained fingers leaves you queasy, there are countless adults and teens in need. Pitch in helping job-seekers craft resumes and cover letters. Many students are filing out applications for colleges, summer internships and study abroad programs and need an extra pair of eyes to check over their essays. Language learners almost always need the guidance of a native speaker to help smooth over their writing and catch funny little nuances of sentence structure and spelling.

CC 3.0 By Lemurbaby

CC 3.0 By Lemurbaby

Make books and writing supplies available to everyone who needs them.
However you chose to do it, by trimming down your own abundance or buying new items, there are places all around the world that need books and supplies desperately. My family has sent books, reams of paper, boxes of pencils, and basic art supplies to children all over the world. When you give kids the knowledge of reading and writing you give them the tools to change their own lives in profound ways. Talk to your librarians, or go online and find a reputable charity and then send a box of whatever size you can afford. When a community has almost nothing, a shoebox filled with cheap notebooks and pencils is a miracle.

Community gift giving and generosity should be a year-round practice, so if you find this season too over-scheduled, please make one of these give back ideas the first items on your New Year’s resolution list. I promise that you will get back so much more than you could ever give away.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/gifts-writers-give/

Use KDP Changes to Help Promote your Children’s Book

Public Domain Reading WebIf you haven’t already published a juvenile book with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) you don’t know they announced a big change on June 2.  In a letter to all their children’s book publishers they wrote:

“You can now set age and grade categorization refinements to help readers discover your books.”

Okay maybe this doesn’t sound news worthy to some of you, but every independent children’s book author cheered wildly. Or at least they should have if they understand anything about marketing. Before this announcement age and grade classifications (in all but a few cases) were restricted to the big named publishers. Now Indies can compete on an equal level, getting their books onto those all important children’s book recommendation lists, and it may be a game changer. This is Amazon handing out the marketing equivalent of a golden ticket. It immediately gives authors the opportunity to position their books perfectly, maximizing their chances of finding buyers.


There is a downside. Unless they already know a lot about education and child development, some authors may have no clue where their book falls in the Amazon brackets.

The categories are:

  Baby to age 2 – Board books
  Ages 3-5/Preschool – Picture books
  Ages 6-8/Kindergarten-2nd grade – Early level readers; first chapter books
  Ages 9-11/3rd-5th grade – Middle Grade chapter books
  Ages 12-14/6th-8th grade – Teen and Young Adult chapter books (mainly aimed at middle school readers)
  Ages 15-18/9th-12th grade – Teen and Young Adult chapter books (mainly aimed at high school readers)

These categories may sound like arbitrary distinctions, we all know readers who let personal preference dictate their selections more so than age or grade. However, that’s not how the book industry sees things, and most educators and librarians share that view. Educational buyers are traditionally a big portion of the children’s book buying market and are professional groups with little spare time, small budgets and high user demands. Every bit of information the author can provide these circumspect buyers will help them make good decisions. Plus once educators know and love your books they tend to be solid repeat buyers for years to come.

Understanding what type of information educators need to make informed selections is the first step toward building a lasting relationship. These sophisticated buyers must rely on a number of variables when making purchases, but one important piece of information is a standardized readability score. These are scores generated by specialized software that uses a mathematical formula to analyze written language and then awards it a number to represent the necessary skill level needed to read that book. The skill number loosely corresponds to a grade level. More specifically to the grade when the “average” student might attain that level of proficiency. This type of software is not foolproof, but it is a great place for buyers to start searching from.

One of the most common scores in traditionally published books is the Lexile system which is often printed on the back cover of popular children’s books. However, there are a number of other readability score systems. Remember, these assessment tools look at the language from the standpoint of readability, not content. Some children may read at a higher grade level, but lack the reading stamina to tackle a longer book, or the maturity for every subject.

You can find a number of readability calculators available for free over the internet or you can use the one built into MS Word. I ran this post through an index and generated this report:

          Reading Ease

A higher score indicates easier readability; scores usually range between 0 and 100.
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease    61.3   

Grade Levels

A grade level (based on the USA education system) is equivalent to the number of years of education a person has had. Scores over 22 should generally be taken to mean graduate level text.
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level    8.7       
Gunning-Fog Score    11.3      
Coleman-Liau Index    12      
SMOG Index    8.4      
Automated Readability Index    8.9      

Average Grade Level    9.9     

Understanding the value of reader evaluation tools is important for all authors, even those who want to seek representation and a “traditional” book deal. While finishing up this post I happened to catch an agent on Twitter explaining in heated detail that a book cannot be MA and YA at the same time. And that by pitching it to her as such, the writer was proving they didn’t understand the market.

Don’t be that writer. Do your research, study the markets and use reader tools to help you get it right.
I understand many writers hate guidelines; they prefer to write their book their way. I respect that, but you have to think about the reader. There is nothing more frustrating to a child then getting a great book they can’t read comfortably. They need to find books that help them achieve a careful balance, ones that leave them with a feeling of accomplishment, not frustration. Placing your book in the right reading level category is the final step toward making a child’s reading experience with your book a magical one. And isn’t that why we all write for children in the first place?

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/3392/

Guest Post: Academic Writing’s Plurality as a Driving Force by Natacha Guyot

Today we welcome guest blogger Natacha Guyot!

Guest Blog PhotoNatacha Guyot is an independent scholar. She earned her master’s degree in media studies and digital culture & technology from Sorbonne Nouvelle University and King’s College London. She works on Science Fiction, transmedia, gender studies and fandom. Her published works includes Gender Dynamics in Star Wars: The Old Republic (Thought Catalog, 2013) and the upcoming Women in Science Fiction Television (Scarecrow Press, 2015). More about her projects can be found on natachaguyot.org.

Writing has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Even before I was able to write, I enjoyed making up stories with fictional characters and universes. I wrote Star Wars fan fiction as a child, years before knowing it had a name. I always thought fiction writing would be my passion. But in my mid-twenties it fell to the wayside. I am still sitting on a novella, a novel, and a good many other projects, all falling into the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. I haven’t touched them in a very long time and I don’t know when I will again, though I know someday I will.

Why did I abandon fiction? Because I am fascinated with academic writing and this has become my new universe, my creative bubble of predilection.

Diploma and CapIn Fall 2009, I embarked on a Ph.D. in Film and Media Studies. I had a solid idea for my dissertation but I was very much on my own. I needed to not only search out appropriate readings to support my thesis, but also conferences and journals for submitting papers. It was a trying experience, and while I eventually quit my studies to become an independent scholar, I realize now how much this experience taught me. Part of me wishes things had gone differently but everything happens for a reason.

In my three years of doctoral work I acquired valuable skills: how to find resources, to juggle schedules, to be more resilient, and to view research with a greater eye for discovery. Not only coming up with ideas, but practical things like following submission guidelines, networking, and getting used to multiple formats. Admittedly, I found the whole submission process daunting, even while alone in front of my computer. I was very much afraid getting a rejection would be traumatizing at first. It is disappointing to receive a refusal letter for a conference or after submitting an article, but it only encouraged me to keep going and submit elsewhere.

Eventually I had the opportunity to speak at conferences and as a guest lecturer and developed skills as a public speaker. I don’t present in a formal, written way. I have notes, slides, sometimes video and picture support, but I don’t arrive with a paper completely written. One reason is that if I decide to turn a presentation into an actual chapter or article, I like having the room to include what I heard from other speakers or students. The exchanges and discussions are inspiring in such settings and can spawn new insights and unexpected ideas to fuel further research. This methodology even led to my first opportunity to co-edit an academic volume with a fellow scholar. Just another random twist in the road, and I unexpectedly learned how much I enjoyed editing work. This revelation encouraged me to accept other opportunities for editing regardless of whether or not I have a chapter in the published work. Stretching your skill set can be scary at first, but it is a good way to learn and meet new people.

Since I became an independent scholar, I have published in the form of books, eBooks, chapters, and articles. I even contracted a book with Scarecrow Press, Women in Science Fiction Television, which is due out in early 2015. This proved to be my largest academic project and a huge challenge. I learned to focus and strengthen both my research and writing, adjusting for audience, length and guidelines, and it has been a daunting but rewarding experience.

Now that I’m writing for the blog world, I find those same insecurities surfacing. I’ve had a professional and a fan-based website for a few years, but in summer 2013 I felt I needed a better platform to promote a more meaningful online presence and to increase my networking. I moved my site Science Fiction, Transmedia & Fandom to WordPress. It took me a while before I gained confidence and finding ideas for regular content was more difficult than locating the direction or niche for the blog. Being able to follow other blogs and interact with other writers has been invaluable. I’m excited about this new venture but I know I have room to improve as a blogger. I am looking forward to launching a new series that could span up to forty weeks. “A Galaxy of Possibilities: A Discussion of Character-Writing, Star Wars and Fandom.” It will bring together aspects from my fiction writing – incorporating my role-playing character, and significant elements from my research – about Star Wars, gender and fandom.

When I look back at my academic writing path, I am surprised by all the detours. Each new venture and learning experience makes me very curious and eager to find out what the future has in store for me.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/guest-blogger-natacha-guyot/

5 Tips For Keeping the Kids Reading All Summer

To do listYes, I admit it! I’m obsessed with education. If you follow my blog posts you already know this about me. I’m deeply alarmed by the current downward trajectory of childhood literacy in the United States. Statistics recently released from U.S. Department of Education are not encouraging. In the media rich world we live in, reading is losing ground everywhere as kids migrate toward other entertainments. As writers we are the elite of literacy. We have an obligation to help educators turn back the rising tide. With summer rapidly approaching this is the ideal time for our community to get involved. Remember, kids who don’t read all summer can lose up to 3 months of reading progress. Let’s put the brakes on reading decline. The stakes are too high for anything less than our full efforts. Reach out to your local library. Many children’s librarians have programs planned this summer. They may be in dire need of extra hands. Go ask! Become a reading coach. Or offer to type up some grade level book recommendation lists. Help them with an event. If you have the time, get involved. If you have a teen reader, sign them up too. Librarians are on the front lines of this battle all year long, but during summer is when they get the chance to do even more. Please support them in whatever way you can, even if it’s just a small donation to their summer reading program coffers.

I know not everyone can volunteer, especially if your own kids are younger and at home for the summer. So here are a few of my mom-approved tips for making literacy improvement a big part of your summer holiday.

1. Organize treasure and scavenger hunts:
Kids love these, and you can gear them for any reading level. I taught my kids the ABCs by hiding them inside plastic Easter eggs. I did the same with the Dolch sight words, and later moved to hunt clues. Soon my eldest was writing the clues to find. Throw the hunt in the front yard while other kids are around, and encourage everyone to play. Don’t restrict yourself to the ordinary. Throw items in the pool and make the kids recover the items listed on the slips of paper they draw out of a hat. Please make sure the items are pool safe. Or sink plastic letters in a bowl of shaving cream for some messy preschool entertainment.

2. Have the kids make lists:
Every summer my kids make their “To Do List” of all the fun things they want to do over the summer. I’ll help with the spelling, (if they ask) but that’s it. We post these lists, and the kids check off the items as they accomplish them. The fun stuff they want to do can be pretty ordinary, like eat a whole jar of hot fudge. I negotiated that down to a less gut-busting wish. Or something huge, like a Legoland trip. The point is not to do everything on the list, but to have big dreams, and of course to write out the list. Sneaky old mom. I have the kids write out special occasion meal plans, like for trips, BBQ’s, and parties. I’ll resort to any means to keep a pencil in their hands while school is out. Whenever my kids come to me with: “Mom can we….” I don’t say yes or no, I say: “Write it on the list.”

Prize Box

I always have a prize box ready.

3. Post a goal chart and give prizes:
We always have a summer literacy goal chart, and it always includes tons of small prizes to win, and a big prize they can earn at the end of the summer if they knock off most of their goals. I create the goals realistically, striving for some skill-building, but mostly just for practice. My kid’s early charts kept track of the words they learned to read. They won a small prize each time they learned 10 new words. We moved up to: read a book- get prize. Write a letter- get a prize. Write a story- get a prize. Every year the stakes go up. Last summer my eldest had to write a 50+ page story to get his big prize, and he got it.


4. Book Clubs are for everyone:
Most kids don’t want to sit around talking about a book, but they love the idea of being part of a secret club. So throw a book themed party. Match everything to one popular book, the decorations, the food, have them play games and/or make crafts that fit the book. Don’t expect every kid to know the book you’ve chosen, but make the party a blast and chances are they’ll want to read that book ASAP. I know this sounds like a lot of work, but make the kids help. They can read cookbooks for cool food ideas. Or have them pull quotes from the book to use in a pin the quote on the character game. My kids love book themed parties. These were super popular a few years ago when everyone wanted a Potter Party. They have since died off, but I say bring them back. Great books should have fan clubs.

board games5. Make time for tabletop games:
I’m a huge family game night person. I always make sure the kids take an active role in reading the rules and keeping track of scores. There are tons of high literacy games, Trivial Pursuit, Beat the Parents, Boggle, Scrabble and Hangman. We also like cooperative games, Castle Panic is a favorite. Not as much reading involved in this game, but the core values of teamwork more than make up for it. Or invite the local kids in and have a contest to make up their own games. Offer a prize to every participant. Writing down the rules is great penmanship practice.

Remember it must be fun! I can’t stress this enough. Show kids that being a reader is a gateway to new adventures and tons of summer excitement.

I’d love to hear from you. What are you planning in the way of summer reading challenges or incentives? Please share your ideas. Working together is our best hope of curbing this sad tread in declining literacy.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/tips-for-getting-kids-to-read/

Friday Inspiration: The Right to an Education

Magnified flag of nigeria with blue globeI’m stepping away from writing craft today in order to discuss the horrid situation in Nigeria.

The morning I awoke to the Today Show reporting 234 girls had been abducted from a boarding school in Nigeria, I gasped. Not just at the occurrence of such a despicable act but over the fact that it had happened THREE WEEKS PRIOR! It seemed that social media was finally responsible for bringing it to the global stage. How could something so terrible occur and not be reported by every news agency in the world as soon as it happened? Good Lord! We wake up to breaking news about the most ridiculous and trivial things that reporters lose their minds over, recounting every stupid detail, over…and over…and over…ad nauseum.

Can you imagine if 234 girls were abducted from a school in Paris or New York? The uproar would be deafening, demanding immediate and aggressive action.

According to accounts, armed members of Boko Haram, and Islamic terrorist organization, overwhelmed security guards at an all-girls school, herded the girls out of bed and forced them into trucks in the town of Chibok. The convoy then disappeared into the dense forest bordering Cameroon. (CNN)

Fears for the fate of the girls turned even more nightmarish when the leader of the terrorist group announced plans to sell them…as wives…for $12! Abubakar Shekau, who claims to be the leader of Boko Haram, said in a recent video, “I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah. There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women,” according to a CNN translation from the local Hausa language. Boko Haram means “Western education should end,” a message Shekau emphasized in his nearly hour-long rambling video. “Girls, you should go and get married,” he said.

Thankfully, international pressure is mounting as protesters take to the streets around the world to demand the girls’ release and recent reports say that the U.S. and other countries are sending assistance in a variety of forms. Admittedly, I am far removed from such a culture and as a professional educator for nearly forty years, the incomprehensible idea that a child, a girl, would be denied the opportunity for an education is unfathomable to me. Worse, that these girls were kidnapped for the sole purpose of being sold as wives threatens to stop my heart. Abhorrent acts like female circumcision and marrying off girls as young as ten and eleven, plus denying girls the freedom to chart their own destiny are intolerable abuses in my mind.

As Americans, we sometimes take for granted the right to our freedoms: speech, religion, education, and the right to marry whomever we want, if we want, and as writers- to write whatever we want. These young women represent the future of many impoverished nations and are some of the best and brightest in their country: potential doctors, lawyers and educators. Though Nigeria has Africa’s largest economy, poverty remains widespread. Nearly 62% of the country’s nearly 170 million people live in extreme poverty, according to the CIA World Factbook.

And let’s not forget fourteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai, shot by the Taliban in Pakistan in 2010 simply because she wanted an education. Her subsequent bravery to return to her country and go back to school is hard to comprehend and yet, now, education officials in Pakistan have banned her memoir, I am Malala, written by the teenager with British journalist Christina Lamb. Adeeb Javedani, president of the All Pakistan Private Schools Management Association, said his group had banned the book from the libraries of all affiliated schools. He said Malala, now 16, was representing the West, not Pakistan.

Malala has advised Nigeria’s Boko Haram to “go and learn Islam”, saying the dreaded extremist outfit is “misusing the name of the religion” by kidnapping these schoolgirls. “I think they haven’t studied Islam yet, they haven’t studied Quran yet, and they should go and they should learn Islam,” the 16-year-old told CNN. “I think that they should think of these girls as their own sisters. How can one imprison his own sisters and treat them in such a bad way?” she said, referring to threats to sell the girls into slavery. “They are actually misusing the name of Islam because they have forgotten that the word islam means peace.”

“Access to education is a basic right and an unconscionable reason to target innocent girls,” former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote recently on Twitter and I echo her thoughts. Although all education is important, the ability to read is probably the most important. When women are able to read they acquire knowledge, and that is crucial to helping them improve their lives. And these terrifying extremists know this, hence, why they target education and books. You can use #BringBackOurGirls on Twitter to enter this discussion.

Boko Haram’s name translates to “Western education is a sin” in the local language. The group especially opposes the education of women. Under its version of Sharia law, women should be at home raising children and looking after their husbands, not at school learning to read and write. Okay, my blood is boiling!Tree growing from an open bookMy personal philosophy in life is pretty much “to each his own.” Believe and act as you wish, according to your own tenets, just don’t shove them down my throat. However, it is difficult to accept that in this modern day, one’s religion/culture would ever prevent a child from obtaining an education. It should be a right for all people, not a privilege, ignorance is far worse than any sin, and if you prevent people from seeking the tree of knowledge, well, then how can we ever evolve from the proverbial Garden of Eden?



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Honoring Creativity: What My MFA Taught Me, And What It Left Out

Not so long ago, there were a whole lot of good reasons to go to university and earn a degree. This is increasingly up for debate, what with rising tuition costs, spiraling and unforgiving student debt and increasing numbers of graduates who find themselves armed to the teeth with glossy educations, near perfect GPAs, tons of enthusiasm, and little means to channel any of it into life beyond campus.

I don’t doubt the value of education and learning. If you want to immigrate anywhere, odds are you’ll need either a minimum of one university degree or truckloads of money. Becoming a well-rounded human being necessitates a quest for knowledge and wisdom, but the search can become holy-grailish without a compass, so here are some quick pointers to set you on that elusive path towards becoming a mensch:

  1. Sit under a tree or on a mountain and stare into space until something other than a headache emerges from the fog;
  2. Find someone smarter than you and stalk them;
  3. Apprentice yourself to a master;
  4. Make millions of mistakes and learn how you could have avoided them;
  5. Read books;
  6. Study animal behavior;
  7. Grow a plant;
  8. Go to school.

GraduationJennCroppedAt various stages in my life I dabbled in all of the above, but for the purposes of this post, let’s focus on school and zoom in on the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. My undergraduate degree was in Anthropology, English and Politics, and since I loved to write and hoped to become a seriously read author, the MFA seemed a logical progression–it suited me and I it. I finished the three year course in two, mainly because I was dangerously close to running out of money, and studying 18 credits a semester seemed preferable to dropping out.

My nest egg (and then some) depleted, I galloped (stumbled) out into the world on my big white horse (a Pekingese called Fifi) and found I had more in common with dear old delusional Don Quixote than I did with Xena the Warrior Princess. Through no fault of my own or my professors, I found myself believing the illusion that, MFA in hand, I was better equipped to navigate a publishing industry that was a cross between a screaming toddler, a suicidal adolescent and a profoundly depressed geriatric. In the (few) years since graduating, I’ve tilted my sturdy (wilting) lance at a sizable windmill, and now look back, not without nostalgia, at what I learned:

  • I read books and studied authors I might never have come across on my own;
  • I joined a group of hungry, curious peers whose minds, like mine, were opening up and sharing a rich, diverse heritage of experience;
  • I learned from professors who were not afraid to explore, experiment, guide and innovate;
  • I delved into the work of aspiring writers and exchanged critiques, guided by principles of growth, expansion, and discovery;
  • I learned a fortune from my correlatives: Teaching Creative Writing and Professional Editing;
  • I drank a lot of coffee, and learned that coffee is as good a sidekick as Sancho Panza.

Historically, artists have made their careers by working, often in poverty, towards recognition, which as we know can take years or decades. Given the costs and challenges of a university education, colleges need to take more cognizance of today’s economic realities. An education shouldn’t be a luxurious indulgence, but rather a realistic step towards equipping students with the means to competently navigate the industries they’ve worked so hard to become part of. I would have liked to learn more about the publishing industry itself:

  • how it works.
  • how it’s changing.
  • how this affects the writer and the career choices s/he will face.

In reality, I learned more about elements of craft, technique, and the commercial aspects of publishing when I became an associate literary agent and subsequently went out on my own as an editor and author. Formal teaching jobs are few and far between, and if writers are to survive, they must develop an entrepreneurial approach to their work–something authors and artists in general skitter away from.

For an education to be holistic, it needs to go beyond exploration and tackle preparation. With so many graduates emerging from universities and facing precarious futures, a lot of talented, hard working writers must carve out a career with tools they should, but don’t have. Business and commercial skills may have been anathema to institutions of higher learning in the past, but now it’s no longer an option to ignore them.

When agents consider query letters, they may read a little more closely when the letters MFA show up, but the benefits of credibility don’t amount to any form of guarantee. Certain programs have more clout than others, but ultimately, the novel itself has to have legs, stamina and appeal in order to survive, let alone thrive.

With clarity of hindsight, would I have chosen to study an MFA? To be honest, I might have gone for a Master’s Degree in Forensic Anthropology instead, but I don’t regret the time and effort spent. I’m proud of what I learned, and covered more intellectual ground than I would ever have attempted on my own.

In essence, the learning never stops, and in many ways, I think of my MFA as one (or two) big step/s along a very curvy, fabulously challenging road. 








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