Tag Archives: writing tips

Writer’s Tools: Wisdom from a Third Grade classroom

UnknownOne of the things I love about school visits it that I get to go to classrooms all over the country and meet wonderful students and teachers. There are some comforting universals to a grade school classroom: a certain amount of clutter, a map, the alphabet along the wall. And then there are delightful surprises: a pet iguana, a stunning view of the wilderness, a reading loft, a tank of salmon fry to be released in a local stream, a flag flown by a student’s father over his army camp in Afghanistan. It’s a window into the thoughts and values of the community I’m visiting.

I recently visited a third grade classroom where I saw two student made posters on the wall. The first was titled Writer’s Tools in the Hand. Underneath was an illustrated list: paper, pencil, eraser, dictionary, word list, and illustration tools.Unknown-1
It was a good reminder to take a moment before I begin my writing session of the day to have all the tools I need at hand. I especially liked the word list idea. I know many teachers help their students brainstorm a list of likely words before they start a writing assignment to help them get started. Though I don’t need that technique, I have used a variation of it. Every writer has word habits, words or phrases that pop up more often than they should. I have about a half dozen that I lean on more than I should, so I make a word list of them and post it over my workspace to remind me to make stronger word choices and not lean over much on the familiar.
It was the second poster that really struck me though. It was titled: Writers’ Tools in the Head and Heart. The list included: thinking, good ideas, awareness, fun attitude, information, concentration, quiet or silence.
There are so many things to love about that list, and perhaps most importantly that writing well engages both the head and the heart. I love it that thinking comes before good ideas, an excellent reminder. Sometimes I have to think about a scene for days, even months, before I have a good idea about how to fix it.
    Awareness is a tricky idea, I asked a group of the third graders who had made the poster what they thought awareness meant. They said that it meant you should pay attention to all your ideas about a story not just the easy ideas that were in the last story you read. Excellent advice!
  images Fun attitude might just be the best advice of all though. If my writing isn’t going well, it’s almost always because I’ve lost the joy of it. Loss of joy may not be the cause of bad writing, but it is at least the reliable companion of bad writing. And when I change to a more positive and playful outlook, the writing reliably improves.
   Information and concentration are pairs I’ve been learning to use as a pair. I love research so much, I could spend all my time chasing the next dazzling fact and completely lose track of my story in my zeal to fill it up with the amazing details I’ve learned. But sometimes what I need is not more information but concentration on the research I’ve already done.
   Finally I love it that quiet and silence are not the same thing. Sometimes I need absolute silence for a particular task. Reminding myself to turn off the music for the duration of the task helps. Other times I just need the quiet of my brain focusing on just one thing, not email, not social networks, not housework or snacks but simply the quiet of letting myself be a writer and nothing else for a few hours–a true gift!
So how about you? Do you have a favorite tool of the hand, head or heart?  I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

120 Ways to Get a Character Moving

Some writers write quickly, their keyboards rattling like machine guns. Others take a more plodding, deliberate approach, weighing each word before allowing it to ooze from their brains and crawl onto the page. Regardless, the objective for both types of writers remains the same—to move words beyond their minds and muses.

When I write, not only must my words move, but my characters have to get going, too. That’s what led me to create the “120 Ways to Get a Character Moving” list, which I keep close at hand when I’m searching for a just-right verb that will do more than simply take a character from one place to another.

No Running

Of course, as both a writer and a teacher, I have to keep in mind that a well-chosen verb can pull double-duty. It can move a character around while simultaneously showing other facets of the character’s personality or mood. So the sad character trudges while the happy character skips. The graceful character glides while the cocky one swaggers.

If you’re a writer in need of a little inspiration to get a character on the move, feel free to tap into the list below. Or if you’re a teacher, use the list to challenge your students to explore descriptive verb choices.

There’s only ONE rule:

No running or walking allowed.

  1. Ambled
  2. Approached
  3. Barged
  4. Barreled
  5. Blazed
  6. Bolted
  7. Bounced
  8. Bounded
  9. Breezed
  10. Burst
  11. Bustled
  12. Cantered
  13. Charged
  14. Chugged
  15. Climbed
  16. Coasted
  17. Crawled
  18. Crept
  19. Cruised
  20. Danced
  21. Darted
  22. Dashed
  23. Dove
  24. Dragged
  25. Drifted
  26. Eased
  27. Escaped
  28. Fell
  29. Flopped
  30. Fled
  31. Flew
  32. Flitted
  33. Floated
  34. Galloped
  35. Glided
  36. Hobbled
  37. Hopped
  38. Hurdled
  39. Hurried
  40. Hustled
  41. Inched
  42. Jogged
  43. Jumped
  44. Knifed
  45. Launched
  46. Leapt
  47. Limped
  48. Loped
  49. Lumbered
  50. Lunged
  51. Lurched
  52. Marched
  53. Meandered
  54. Moseyed
  55. Muscled
  56. Nosed
  57. Paced
  58. Paraded
  59. Pirouetted
  60. Plodded
  61. Pranced
  62. Pushed
  63. Raced
  64. Rambled
  65. Reeled
  66. Retreated
  67. Roamed
  68. Rocketed
  69. Rode
  70. Rolled
  71. Rumbled
  72. Rushed
  73. Sailed
  74. Scampered
  75. Scurried
  76. Scuttled
  77. Shifted
  78. Shimmied
  79. Shot
  80. Shuffled
  81. Sidled
  82. Skidded
  83. Skipped
  84. Skittered
  85. Slid
  86. Slipped
  87. Slithered
  88. Sped
  89. Sprang
  90. Sprinted
  91. Staggered
  92. Stalked
  93. Stepped
  94. Stomped
  95. Straggled
  96. Strayed
  97. Strode
  98. Strutted
  99. Stumbled
  100. Swaggered
  101. Swayed
  102. Swept
  103. Tiptoed
  104. Tottered
  105. Tramped
  106. Trampled
  107. Trekked
  108. Tripped
  109. Trotted
  110. Trudged
  111. Tumbled
  112. Vaulted
  113. Veered
  114. Waddled
  115. Waltzed
  116. Wandered
  117. Wobbled
  118. Wriggled
  119. Zipped
  120. Zoomed

Have another character-moving verb to add to the list? Wander, waltz, or wobble down to the comments . . . and share it!

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, free readers’ theater scripts for middle-grade teachers. He also has even more readers’ theater scripts available at Readers’ Theater Fast and Funny Fluency. For T. P.’s 10-lesson, video-based creative writing course, check him out on Curious.com.


A Brain-based Interview on Writing & Creativity

I needed to write another MUF post. I sat in front of my computer, staring at the screen. Time was tight. Inspiration limited. Then my brain stepped in to save the day.

In a gloriously generous gesture, my brain volunteered to conduct an interview with a wide variety of sources, tapping into their collective wisdom about writing and creativity. When I accused my brain of simply pulling together a random sampling of writing quotes and miscellaneous ramblings, it assured me this was not the case. It then provided the following transcript from the interview.

* * * * *

MY BRAIN: I sure do spend a lot of time staring out the window when I’m supposed to be writing. Is that okay?

ALBERT EINSTEIN: “Creativity is the residue of wasted time.”

MY BRAIN: Thanks, Al. I guess that sitting-and-starting thing is okay then. But even once I get something written, it always needs so much more work. . . .

ROBERT CORMIER: “The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.”

SCOTT ADAMS: “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”

MY BRAIN: That’s really great! I’m quickly gaining insights. This is truly—

STEPHEN KING: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

MY BRAIN: Oh. Sorry, Mr. King. I’d even say I’m really sorry, but I suppose that would only serve to quicken my journey down the road to hell. Anyway, what about plot? I want to make it so my readers feel compelled to keep going.

BLAKE CROUCH: “Create an expectation in the readers for what’s going to happen next (let them think they’re ahead of the author) and then do something completely different.”

WILLIAM ARCHER: “Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty.”

KENDRA ELLIOT: “Give the characters sucky and suckier choices.”

MY BRAIN: That makes sense. . . .

MAX ALLAN COLLINS: “Suspense only works if we care about the characters. An incredibly dangerous situation involving a character we care little for is rather a waste of the imagination.”

MY BRAIN: I’ll keep that in mind, too. . . . This writing thing is hard work, but it feels like my story idea is coming together now! Of course, once it’s done, I know I’ll have to revise. And revision sucks. Any advice on how I should approach that part of the writing process?

ELIE WIESEL: “Writing is not like painting where you add. It is not what you put on the canvas that the reader sees. Writing is more like a sculpture where you remove, you eliminate in order to make the work visible. Even those pages you remove somehow remain.”

MARK TWAIN: “Substitute damn every time you’re inclined to write very; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

ELMORE LEONARD: “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.”

MY BRAIN: Well, I guess that does it. Thanks again, everyone, for all of your help! Now, if anyone else has a writing quote or personal insight to share, I sure do hope they post it in the comments below. . . .

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, free readers’ theater scripts for middle-grade teachers. He also has even more readers’ theater scripts available at Readers’ Theater Fast and Funny Fluency. For T. P.’s 10-lesson, video-based creative writing course, check him out on Curious.com.