Most kids HATE writing. I did. I'm pretty sure it had a lot to do with not being able to spell. I'm still an awful speller. I remember my teacher saying, "sound it out" or "look it up."
Both were impossible to do. When I sounded a word out, I never seemed to sound it out the way the word was spelled, which leads me to the second part, how do you look it up in the dictionary if you can't spell the word? It all was a mystery to me.
Now you’re saying, “What about spell check?”
Spell check and computers and all the technology that you enjoy today weren't available when I was a child.
I'm not sure when I came to realize that maybe some of this writing stuff could lead to something. It might have been when my mother encouraged me to enter a contest being offered by Kool-Aid.
If I remember correctly, they were looking for a creative new flavor name and flavor personality. They invited children to come up with a name, character traits, and something of a jingle using a very limited word count. I entered, and remarkably won third place. The prize was a set of walkie talkies. I was beyond excited!
Not long afterwards my brother entered and won a similar contest where the prize was a kit to make a dinghy. Yes, there was something to learning about nouns, verbs, adjectives, punctuation, and making sure you have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
So, I have to admit I kind of got hooked on writing. In high school, Mr. Marshall was very encouraging. He even suggested I pursue a career in writing. I thought he was crazy. Yes, I enjoyed the creative part of writing, but I still didn't always get where commas should go, or how to keep the correct tenses.
In college I decided on a degree in early childhood education. I minored in English. Thank God my roommate was an English major, or I may not have graduated...Thanks, Gail! But along the way I was beginning to get it.
I went on to teaching elementary school. Most of my teaching career I was a kindergarten teacher.
I also began writing for my students when I couldn't find a book about a subject we were discussing. Again my inability to spell, and weaknesses in grammar and punctuation hindered me. Thank goodness for my patient critique partners, who would catch my mistakes. Yes, I still made mistakes. But I was getting better.
I am now 45 books into my writing career, and I’ve taught writing classes all over the United States. These are the truths I've learned about writing.
So from one kid who "hated writing" to another, I think you need to give this writing thing another chance. As an author, I've been to places I never imagined---28 states, Mexico, and Canada, speaking about writing.
Think about all the things you could do. I've gotten to go boogie boarding in the Pacific, panned gold in the Black Hills, stayed on a Lakota Indian reservation, traveled in a steamboat on the Mississippi, and worked a round-up in Wyoming. These are all adventures I never would have had if I didn't follow a career in writing.
Think of the satisfaction at seeing your words printed on paper, or on the Internet, being read by other people. You can follow any passion you have with writing as a tool to get you there. All kinds of opportunities are waiting for you if you change your attitude about writing and give this writing thing another chance. I hope you do. I now LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, writing!
A Pirate's Writing Code
What I learned from a pirate about writing:
Every pirate needs:
1. A Hook: Hooks grab the reader in the first few sentences or can be found at the end of a chapter to keep the pages turning. EXAMPLE: Captain Hook stood on the edge of the plank. Below swam a wide-mouthed crocodile, chomp, chomp, chomping at the air between Captain Hook and the sloshing sea.
2. An Anchor: A ship is afloat without an anchor. Your anchor is the story question. The story question keeps your writing focused. Will Hook make it out alive?
3. Navigation Tools: A pirate needs to know how to navigate the genre. Know your story structure. A play structure is going to be entirely different from a picture book structure. But each will have:
4. A Hearty Fight: A pirate cannot collect his bounty without first having to fight every step of the way. Conflict makes for a good story.
5. A Plank: Every story must reach the point where the main character’s toes are hanging over the edge of the plank with nowhere left to go. This climax should have your reader feeling that sorry bloke’s anxiety. Tick, Tick, Tick!
6. A Cutlass: A pirate has to be willing to use his cutlass. Once your story is written cut, cut, cut, down to the briny bones of a swashbuckling seafaring story.
7. A Treasure: When your reader closes the book make sure he leaves with a treasure he will want to come back to again and again.
Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton grew up on Lake Erie as a Rocky River Pirate. Her latest book, PIRATES DON’T SAY PLEASE, was recently released through Pelican Publishing. You can find Laurie at www.laurieknowlton.com. Or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
COPYRIGHT: LAURIE KNOWLTON. Contact for permission to share or reprint.
We writers are an insecure lot. We worry every time we are invited to a book store or book fair to do a signing. You see, we fret that no one will show up and we will be stuck sitting next to a pile of our latest book answering questions like:
“You’re an author? What do you write?”
“Where’s the bathroom?”
“Can you tell me how to make this Nook work?”
I was at an author fair over the weekend held in my childhood home town of Rocky River, Ohio. It was a cold, damp day. (That is a good thing. If it had been sunny and warm everyone would have been outside enjoying the weather.) Instead they came in a steady stream. There were toddlers to golden-agers, all enjoying being able to talk to 40 authors and illustrators. We sat by our books and discussed where our ideas come from (life) and how long we’ve been writing (since fifth grade).
I especially enjoyed the little people who were sometimes afraid to talk, but loved flipping through my books. (A few even chose my book as their purchase for the day. I was truly honored.)
The other great component to an author fair day is having been able to meet other authors from the area. We sat and discussed the ups and downs of the writing business. We encouraged each other. We commiserated over patrons who would walk right past without a word, or a look in our direction, and laughed at our own insecurities.
The good thing is that signing events keep us humble. We sit and offer a small bit of our imagination and hope for a person who will read our words and relish the journey. When we connect with one reader all that unsettling insecurity is replaced with joy.
Yes, I realize book store is not one word. My blogs are usually center on one word. Book Store is my word because I recently had the pleasure of doing a signing at an independent book store, Katy Budget Books, in Katy Texas. This town is very close to the farm area that I lived in while in Texas.
What a blessing book stores are to both readers and writers. Venturing out to a book store and away from my desk allows me to connect with my readers. I’m able to see a child’s eyes light up while reading the words within the pages of my book. What an amazing blessing.
I had the chance to chat with many readers during my signing. I especially enjoyed speaking with the children. I love hearing what they were passionate about. I spoke with a future writer, a seven-year-old film director, a lovely home school family of passionate readers. A woman who collected first edition signed books. A young writer who writes journals daily but was letting her inner editor shut her down. A sweet little gal who’s teacher had read my Nana’s Rice Pie to her class. All of these unique individuals made my day. I am so grateful for the opportunity to meet, and exchange conversation with them.
Thanks to all the booksellers who love books. Thanks to the readers who are bucking the new trend to read from a table and enjoy the feel of a real book in their hands. Thanks to the teachers who purchase books for their classrooms. You all are why I do what I do. We speak the same language. The language of words put on paper and shared.
He who walks with the wise grows wise. ~Proverbs 13:20
My new book, I Know a Librarian Who Chewed on a Word, just came out. It is dedicated to all the admirable librarians who have welcomed me into their library either by purchasing my book or by physically having me come to share my talents with their patrons. I am blessed to have met librarians all over the United States as a result of my travels. These women and men are bankers to the wealth of wonder associated with the great gift of books and being able to read.
I remember a librarian from my childhood who challenged me as a fledgling reader to take out more and more difficult books. In seventh grade I read all of Ayn Rand’s books. Back then they were the page-length equivalent of reading the Harry Potter books, but the content was worlds apart. Ayn Rand took me to places I never would have experienced and challenged my outlook on life. She wasn’t an easy read, believed me, but I did it. All because a librarian believed I could.
So this blog is for you, dear librarians. Thank you for challenging our youth to discover places they never would have without you. Thank you for welcoming and encouraging people of every race, religion and color. Thank you for seeing beyond the walls of the library and bringing authors like myself in to encourage the next generation of writers. Your actions are never forgotten. Your public loves you more than you will ever know.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him. ~Romans 15:13
I am a fairly organized person. I was raised by an everything in its place mother. And if you came to my house you would say that I keep it looking ready for company. That being said, if you were to come into my office/craft space/guest rooms, you would wonder if the same person owned both. You see, my office looks like someone with ADD had a party. The whole space is like a collage of who I am.
Just to give you a visual picture: the efficiency kitchen counter is covered with beach glass in piles that are in the process of being sorted by color. I have stacked Pop-Up book ideas on the bed, the coffee table is buried beneath my Bible and my journal, the kitchenette table is hidden by notes, articles and how-to pages for the classes I teach on writing, and next to my desk are piles collected for writing projects that I have in the works. Right now those mounds would be a stack of pirate books, and rewrites, a heap of bug books and manuscripts, and a mountain of picture books that include math concepts.
My husband seldom ventures up to my office. He doesn’t like the piles of clutter. I know my mother would be appalled. But you see, she shouldn’t be, because I do have everything in its place, my office. It is my place to create art and to build stories. This space is solely mine. I think creative people need a place to let their creativity flow, unencumbered by the worry of piles.
So if you are an artist, or a writer, or a musician, find a place, or a space where you are free to express your thoughts and actions away from anyone else’s prying eyes or judgment of the loot you have collected to encourage the creative juices. And if you are thinking, “I don’t have a guest/craft/office space,” I just want you to know that my first office, back in 1985, was in my infant’s bedroom closet with a homemade desk and chair underneath her foo-foo dresses. And, yes, under the desk was a pile or more.
Each one should use whatever gift he has received. ~1 Peter 4:10
From as early as I can remember, I have had an imagination the size of Texas. My report cards always mentioned, “Laurie needs to stay focused on her school work. Or Laurie is often lost in daydreams.” Both statements were true. But my natural instinct was to wonder. I wondered if Dick and Jane could run faster and jump higher with their PF Fliers. Or, I wondered what it would be like to taste a cherry off of George Washington’s cherry tree, or what it would sound like to ride a leprechaun’s rainbow.
All that wondering transported me to welcoming places in my imagination. I don’t think a day went by in my childhood where my imagination wasn’t producing great adventures for me. I was a pirate, I was an astronaut, I was a cowgirl, I was a librarian, I was a teacher, I was a mother, I was Leonardo’s prodigy. Every day I as I stepped into my imagination, I learned something new about myself and about the world.
I am grateful God wired me differently. I’m glad he allowed me to view things differently than many of my classmates. The very thing, my imagination, that used to get me into trouble in school is now one of my most valuable tools as a writer.
A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. ~Proverbs 25:11
I was grateful in elementary school that we were allowed to go home for lunch. I’d ride my beautiful blue bike, sailing down the hill, passing cars, and people who would yell, “Hey! Slow down.” But when I was on my bike, there was no stopping me. I was invincible.
Actually, I felt pretty invincible at just about anything outside of my fourth-grade classroom. On the playground I could run faster, climb higher, jump rope better. In gym, I could definitely out do all the girls and most of the boys. In art, I was the best in my class. In music, I sang my heart, out--never mind I was not always in tune. The teacher loved that I gave it all I had.
When I was home, I did a good job at my chores and when I was done my mother set us free. I’d grab my bike and be off. Back then we had the freedom to go as far as our legs could pedal. In my community that meant I could ride to the mall, or the river, or the city park pool, or to the beaches of Lake Erie.
My bike meant freedom. My bike was my independence. My bike drowned out the thoughts of being incapable in school. My bike made me invincible right up to the time I had to return to school and enter my classroom.
Then, invincible became vulnerable. I sometimes wonder how it is that one person or place can strip away your self-confidence. How I wish it weren’t true. How I wish we could ride through life being invincible.
How sweet are your words to my taste. ~Psalm 103
I have been a treasure finder all my life. I’m semi-addicted to garage sales. I say semi because I have really cut back to only stopping at the ones I happen upon. I used to search the paper, set up a map in the order of the most promising sales and then get to the sale first if at all possible. I’d come home with beautiful treasures that I decorated my home with. The only “new bought” furniture in my house is a dining room set--new from a discount Amish outlet.
When I walk the beach I am always looking for treasure, and I usually find it. I find sharks' teeth or a friendship circle stone or a finely sculpted piece of driftwood that I make into a wreath, or a tree. I also bring home multicolored pieces of beach glass that I make into jewelry, hats, purses, or dresser jars.
When I hike, I find stones, flowers, or four-leaf clovers. In the winter, I watch for perfect snowflakes to land on my dark coat. I love every season because each one holds its own treasure. Like the trees that have been outlined in snow, or a flock of robins announcing the coming of spring, or the bullfrog's song singing me to sleep.
I guess that’s why I am a writer. I love the promise and possibility of words. You start out with the glimmer of an idea. By working with the words there is a possibility of something wonderful. Typing, editing, rereading, adding more words, and taking some words away, you start to see a promise. And then the words flow and take on a life of their own, until finally there before you is a treasure: a real treasure that will live on beyond any thrift store buy.
I would like to begin this blogging business with a disclaimer: I cannot spell. Seriously, spelling is an ongoing nightmare for me. Memories of the once a month class Spelling Bee still haunt me. I was always the last one chosen for a team. I use the term chosen loosely. I was acquired by default. Once appointed to a team I had to hold the tears, while groans and threats of, “You better not make us lose,” bombarded me.
I’d stand in line along the windows, with my heart thumping hard against my chest. All the while I’d be praying, “God, give me an easy word like red or blue or green.” Words that would never be found on a fourth-grade spelling test. You see, I could spell the color words. I understood the color words. I knew how to put colors on paper.
When my turn finally came, I always got a word that was beyond me. With a hot face and a lump in my throat that could have choked a cow, I’d return to my seat. My team would mumble, “She is such a loser.” On the opposite side of the room, the other team would cheer, “Way to go Laurie! Thanks for helping us win.” In the meantime, every word missed by my former teammates sent glares boring through my back. “It’s Laurie’s fault we’re losing.”
So, as I said, do not expect perfect spelling in this blog. I will do the best at using my dictionary since I don’t seem to be able to find the spell check here in the blog menu. There will probably be words that I'm sure of, but that are in fact misspelled. As Clint Eastwood says, “A man needs to know his limitations.” I know mine and I am asking for your acceptance.
My blog is about words, the tools of a writer. "Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones." ~Proverbs 16:24