Author Archives: T. P. Jagger

Five Reasons to Keep a Writing Journal

This week, I’m wrapping up the eight millionth draft of a manuscript, polishing it to a high shine before querying agents. Of course, putting the finishing touches on one manuscript has put my mental gears spinning as I think about what’s next. Should I tinker with an old manuscript, trying to salvage a story that’s been pushed aside? Or should I start fresh, seeing where my muse might lead?

I’m still not sure what direction I’ll go, but this transition from one story to the next has sent me flipping through my writing journal, weighing my options. And it’s also provided the inspiration for today’s post.

When I first started writing, I didn’t keep a journal. After all, I like things nice and neat and orderly. A writing journal is inherently messy. There are jotted down bits of dialogue. Clipped newspaper headlines. Pictures of people, places, and potted plants pilfered from magazines. A bazillion ideas for story starters. In general, just lots of “stuff.”

And it’s all an absolute mess.

So why do I do it? Why do I now jot, clip, tape, and scribble things into my writing journal, even if the chaos pushes me ever closer to crazy?

I’ve got my reasons. . . .

Writing Journal

1) How else will you remember when a friend sees a man in Wal-Mart pushing his wife in the shopping cart while the wife paints her nails?

2) Sometimes people say the darndest things. And characters have to talk, too.

10-year-old coming off of a looping roller coaster: “I kept my eyes open the whole time! . . . I just blinked kind of slow on the twisty part.”

3) Real newspaper headlines can often trump anything my imagination could ever conjure.

“Rifle cases taped to bike give away Elkhart burglar”

and . . .

“Woman fends off bear with zucchini”

4) Often, it’s that extra little detail that makes a setting come alive.

Slogan on the side of a plumbing truck: “A flush beats a full house.”

5) When I write a story, I always uncover a lot of “what if” questions then try to answer those questions in interesting ways as the story unfolds. Of course, I may need a bit of help with the initial question that gets a story rolling, and a writing journal is the perfect home in which those questions can reside.

What if . . . a boy’s dad sometimes wears a kilt?

So how about you—are you the writing-journal type? If so, take a meandering stroll through one of your journals and see what you find. You might uncover an old spark for a new story. Even if you don’t, you may find something to inspire the rest of us. Feel free to share a snatch of stolen dialogue, a meandering musing, or any other random tidbit that’s found its way into your journal over the years.

And, of course, happy writing!

T. P. Jagger, The 3-Minute Writing TeacherAlong with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at www.tpjagger.com, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original readers’ theatre scripts for middle-grade teachers.

 

Lots o’ Fives

Being responsible for the MUF post on Cinco de Mayo is a grand responsibility. After all, not only is today the fifth day of the fifth month of the year, but there are a lot of other things that come in fives. For example, like most folks, I have five fingers on each hand, which come in useful when giving high-fives. Last I checked I have five toes on each foot. And just last week I stole five pieces of chocolate from my son’s Easter stash and ate them all in exactly five seconds.

So . . . in celebration of all the fives in my life, here are five lists of five things you can think about in five minutes or less.

churros

Five Foods I’d Like to Eat to Celebrate Cinco de Mayo While Completely Ignoring Caloric Intake:

  1. Burritos
  2. Tortilla chips with salsa con queso
  3. Churros with chocolate sauce
  4. Mexican fried rice
  5. More churros

Five Children’s Novels I’ve Read and Enjoyed in the Past Five Months:

  1. The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage
  2. Scumble by Ingrid Law
  3. The Last Present by Wendy Mass
  4. Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko
  5. Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington

Five More Children’s Novels I Really Want to Read before the Next Five Months Are Over:

  1. The Summer I Saved the World . . . in 65 Days by fellow-MUF-member Michele Weber Hurwitz
  2. Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue by Tom Angleberger
  3. Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana
  4. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  5. Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass

the summer i saved the world

Five Character Names from My Writing Journal That I Hope to Use Someday:

  1. Abigail Blinsteen
  2. Lucas McShooster
  3. Olivia Ingledue
  4. Shishkabob Stubs
  5. Silas Slump

T. P. Jagger, The 3-Minute Writing Teacher

Five Reasons You Should Visit My New Website at www.tpjagger.com and Tell Your Friends About It, Too:

  1. You can read my bio page and see what an Amazonian treehouse has to do with the day of my birth.
  2. I’ve posted free, original readers’ theatre scripts that middle-grade teachers can download and use to improve students’ reading fluency.
  3. I’ve adopted an alias—“The 3-Minute Writing Teacher”—and begun posting a series of short writing-tips videos that teachers can use with their students (and that beginning writers may find helpful, too).
  4. You can easily subscribe to my e-newsletter to receive automatic updates whenever I post new readers’ theatre scripts or how-to writing-tips videos.
  5. Did I mention the free readers’ theatre scripts and the videos of how-to writing tips from The 3-Minute Writing Teacher? . . .

Well, HAPPY CINCO DE MAYO, loyal MUF readers! Got anything to add to any of my lists? A must-eat Mexican food? A favorite book? A completely different list of five things? Post your comments below.

Along with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at www.tpjagger.com, where he provides brief how-to writing-tips videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original readers’ theatre scripts for middle-grade teachers.

The Thing about Birthdays

                    b-day cake

Two weeks ago, my daughter turned twelve. I celebrated the milestone by threatening to pluck out the eyes of any boys who happened to notice her climb toward womanhood.

Not sure what I’ll do once she becomes a teenager.

A week later, my son turned ten. I wrestled him to the ground and gave him a wedgie. I’m not getting any younger. He’s not getting any smaller. Figure I have to whoop him while I can.

Anyway, all those birthdays got me thinking. While my middle-aged self grudgingly accepts each birthday as a reminder that my knees are getting achier and my hair is getting thinner, my kids’ birthdays remain highpoints of celebration and anticipation. A birthday-kid may only be one day older than the day before, but it feels bigger than that.

And since birthdays hold a lot more significance for the middle-grade crowd than the middle-aged crowd, they often play a major role in middle-grade stories, too. Here are a handful of books where a kid’s “special day” helps get the story moving:

 Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

by J. K. Rowling

Come on, you’ve read this. Harry turns eleven. Everything changes.

11 Birthdays

by Wendy Mass

Amanda Ellerby’s eleventh birthday doesn’t go so well. So it’s kind of a bad thing that when she wakes up every morning, it’s her birthday again.

(Don’t neglect the other three birthday-based books in the Willow Falls series: Finally, 13 Gifts, and The Last Present.)

11 birthdays

   the challengers

Galaxy Games: The Challengers

by Greg R.   Fishbone

This is the first book of the Galaxy Games series by MUFs very own Greg R. Fishbone! For his eleventh birthday, Ty Sato has a star named in his honor. Only it’s soon discovered that Ty’s star is not a star at all—it’s a spaceship bringing news that will change Ty’s life…and maybe the world.

Wringer

by Jerry Spinelli

This Newbery Honor book takes a twist on birthday-based stories because the protagonist, Palmer LaRue, isn’t looking forward to his tenth birthday at all. In fact, it’s something he dreads.

wringer    

    Savvy

Savvy

by Ingrid Law

Yet another Newbery Honor book, Savvy tells the story of Mibs Beaumont, an almost-thirteen-year-old who comes from a family with a secret—each member gets a supernatural talent when they turn thirteen.

So what birthday-based stories have you read and enjoyed? Feel free to post a favorite title (or two or three).