Six To Consider: Writing Books Worth a Look

I’ve always got a stack of things to read, don’t you? My stack’s typically related to my latest interest or project. I’m a nonfiction reader, my current stack a mish-mash of art techniques and inspiration, small business ownership, and the craft of writing. When writing evaded me over the past year, I figured I’d read about writing until my own writing mojo found its way back! And my dear husband, who reads mostly on his iPad or iPhone (BIG screen) feeds my wish to have books near me… Christmas 2014 found a stack of Writing books and Writing magazine subscriptions under the tree…. a welcome diversion in a year that was often silent.

Here are a few that make my short list in an other otherwise long list of Writing resources, some found in the quiet of 2015 and several from years past:

cover of stephen king's on writing: a memoir of the craftFirst up – Stephen King’s, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, a fascinating read about the man behind the typewriter. The best part is, you don’t have to be a fan of his fiction to get a lot out of this book, though it’s definitely a bonus.  One of hundreds of tips to ponder as you read his book:

“Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot. It’s not just a question of how-to, you see; it’s also a question of how much to. Reading will help you answer how much, and only reams of writing will help you with the how. You can learn only by doing.”  

Remember his gruesome accident in 1999, when he was hit by a car while out for a walk? That chance encounter makes a small appearance in this book….


cover of a book, how to write short, by roy peter clarkAnother favorite is one I wrote about [here] in 2014, How to Write Short by Roy Peter Clark. In that post, I ask:

How many words was your last blog post or article?  Under 100? 500? 1,000?  Did you get your message across? How do you know? Could you have said it in fewer words without losing its essence? What would have been the benefit of doing so?

Mr. Clark discusses the history of language and communication in this book, with an emphasis on short-form communication, a style that continues to be one of my favorites.  I’ve read a few of his books, even buying a copy for a few friends…. good stuff!


book cover: 140 CharactersThird on my list, 140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form, by Dom Sagolla, one of the co-creators of Twitter, is a nod to short-form communication, too, with a pretty cool discussion about the telegraph and Twitter. I originally blogged about this book in 2010 and did a remix in 2014 [here]. Brevity. Practicing.  😉


Next up on my list is a little book with a big message that was actually the second one I read by author, Austin Kleon, Show Your Work!




book cover: A Writer Teaches Writing A newer favorite, A Writer Teaches Writing, Second Edition, by Donald M. Murray, is ironically a much older publication, but a serendipitous discovery while reading Roy Peter Clark’s work. He referenced his ‘good friend Donald M. Murray,’ and in an instant I was taken back to a time I couldn’t remember clearly, but the name tickled my brain. Turns out, the copyright date is 1985, the year I graduated from high school, and the book appears to be a soft-cover textbook, like the ones found in high school and college composition classes … I suspect we crossed paths during my tumultuous high school and early college years – the book and I – it waiting patiently for me to be ‘ready’ to read it… which came 30 years later.

I also suspect I may have read some of his work back then and just don’t remember it specifically.  He summarizes his first chapter titled, Learning to Allow Learning, this way:

Several key assumptions underlie this book:

  1.  Writing is Thinking
  2. Writing is a Process
  3. Effective Teaching is Responsive
  4. Writing is an Interaction of the Global and the Particular
  5. There is No One Way

When I read this book in the past year, I remember thinking, It’s as if I wrote some parts of this book, like he was in my head! Now, I’m no Donald M. Murray, but my teaching/learning/writing philosophies are incredibly similar… Somehow, this man’s writing must have influenced me earlier on… lucky me, indeed.


book cover: A year of writing dangerouslyThe last book is one that arrived in the Christmas 2014 stack, but only recently made its migration from bookshelf to nightstand when I ‘re’discovered it on one of my Amazon Wish Lists and was about to buy the Kindle copy (because I was too impatient for Amazon Prime …overnight or two-day just wouldn’t do!) and realized, ‘Hey! I think I’ve got this book!’ Sure enough, waiting for me to find it when I was ready, A Year of Writing Dangerously: 365 Days of Inspiration and Encouragement, sat quietly on my bookshelf.

Barbara Abercrombie’s compilation of anecdotal stories and quotes from fellow writers is a pleasant read and a joy to share.


Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Are there others you’d recommend? I’m always looking for new titles to replenish that nightstand stack. 😉


Creative Chaos?!?!

I took this picture yesterday ….

Home Office Desk
What?! I can’t hear you over the noise on my desk…

I’d love to tell you it was a few minutes of messiness, but that would be a BIG, FAT, l.i.e.

Can you relate?

Or, are you shrieking as you look at the cacophony that threatens to swallow my desk in its discord?

One day last week, as 1st period was getting underway, one of my HS students suddenly proclaimed, “You must be really organized in your home office!”  Another student enthusiastically agreed, “Yea!!”

I don’t remember what spurred this revelation, but it was clear in that moment that my students have met Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and don’t even know it.  🙂

They (my students, not Jekyll and Hyde) know I’m a blogger/writer, have a home office, and don’t have kiddos under foot.  They also know our classroom is organized; everything has its place and everything is labeled.

I smiled and thought, “If only you knew!” Before I could fess up, morning announcements began. *Saved by the Pledge of Allegiance. Phew!

Truth is, my classroom and my home office are polar opposites. It would be easy to think the spaces belong to two different people. Enter Jekyll and Hyde….

It’s kind of weird, really.

Or is it??

I’m pretty sure I get the whole J/H thing….

At home, my creativity gets to run rampant … and it shows. I often say my home office space (aka my Creative Space) is a reflection of my mind…. Holy Messy, Batman!!!!  A gazillion ideas compete for my attention. Constantly. Relentlessly. Ruthlessly.


Piles of books, magazines, and newspapers – on my desk, on the floor, on a table, on shelves, on each other!

But Wait...

Sticky notes hang precariously from most surfaces – of quotes overheard, lists to do, and ideas in progress.  A 4′ x 5′ whiteboard covered with scribbled notes – snippets of ideas waiting to be developed – hangs above my desk – for inspiration and to not forget(!)  Did I mention all this STUFF in my head contributes (I think) to my forgetfulness.  Sigh…..

Then …. there are the half-finished projects of all sorts – writing, crafts, school-related, gifts, you name it.

My husband, a neatnik, has become comfortably numb to the situation, no doubt his coping mechanism.  😉

So, what’s up with this messiness?  In my surfing, ummm…..  reading on this and that, I’ve run across a few things…

Creativity is chaotic, so say some.

Seems several have quoted John Briggs and F. David Peat from their book, Seven Life Lessons of Chaos, in which they suggest, “Chaos is evolving from a scientific theory into a cultural metaphor. As a metaphor it allows us to query some of our most cherished assumptions and encourages us to ask fresh questions about reality.”

Well, it’s clear my reality involves piles of ideas, still under construction.  I find comfort in the messiness.  Usually.

In the academic arena, there’s talk [here] that suggests, “Tidiness and academic work just don’t go together…” an idea explained by the piles of books, articles, and student papers often found in college profs’ offices.



So why are my spaces so different?  My answer, in a recent post, is [here].  Short version?  Structure gives my high school students (and me) stability in our learning environment.  Our writing is messy. Our thinking is messy. But our classroom is organized…. so WE can be messy.  Win-win.  They are, after all, teenagers, and well, messy.  Their teacher-mom helps them put things in order…

Want to know more?  Check out this great article over at Fast Company.  Several of my favorite ‘creatives’ talk about connecting the dots, visually explained by cartoonist Hugh MacLeod, aka The Napkin Guy.  Definitely check him out!

Turns out ~ all those piles, unfinished projects, snippets, and bookmarked sites are my dots. They are my flow, as I disappear into my writing world for hours on end, content and focused, blissful inside the messy chaos.

Mostly, they’ll stay scattered throughout my space, but every now and again, my brain yearns for quiet and order…. and all the dots must line up neatly and wait their turn.
Are you creatively chaotic?

Or do you prefer the organization described by Roy Peter Clark (one of my favorite writing instructors) in Writing Tools

Writing Tools

Save String, he advises (#44).

While he suggests this system for larger projects, I immediately saw its usefulness for gathering all writing ideas when I first read his book. It speaks to my organized side to help connect all those dots…. maybe in the future I’ll adopt that approach more often?


But for now, who’s with me?
Messy or methodical?  Where do you fall?

Help Readers Read: Banish Boredom!

Quote - Reading is Not BoringFive years into my teaching career, I decided to move from English Language Arts to Reading, specifically. I began working on my Master’s in Reading Education, and while I learned a lot, my biggest A-ha! came not from the volumes of textbooks read or the 1,000s of words written. No, my biggest lesson came from my students.

“Reading is boring!” they said.


There was no hiding my surprise … or confusion!

“What do you mean, ‘Reading is boring?'” 

I wanted to ask, “Have you lost your minds?” but I had been teaching long enough to know that was not an appropriate question –  at least not in that tone.

Turns out, reading comes down to two things for kids (and adults??):

  • Am I interested?
  • Do I understand it?

Notice which comes first:  Interest.  Plain and simple – If I’m not interested, don’t bother me. I don’t have time. I could care less.

Add:  Understanding it or the willingness to struggle to figure it out.  You lose lots more kids:  What do you mean I have to think? That’s too hard. Lose adults, too?

Add:  I don’t have time, I’d rather watch TV, etc….  Our current technologies make on-the-fence-readers fall quickly, but that doesn’t have to be – if marketed well and planned for.

Why is this important to educators and writers?

Because we both have to know how to reach readers.

To think nothing is interesting or to not be willing to figure something out is where we get into ‘doing it wrong.’  We have to teach them how to ‘do it right’ so readers will have ‘buy in.’

Now you might be thinking, Well, Robin, there are a lot of other things that we read – job applications, e-mails, medicine bottles, food labels…  the list goes on – that have nothing to do with interest.  That’s true.  But, if I’m bored in school and tune out when it’s time to read, then guess what? My skills are limited and I can’t read the other, important stuff.

So what do we do?

  • Build interest.
  • Teach and develop skills and strategies.
  • Make reading (and writing) as natural as eating and breathing.


1.    Start at home. If you have kids in your life – related or not – make reading so much fun it can’t possibly be boring. This is easy when kids are wee ones, but how do you keep them interested when they become ‘tweens and teens?

  • Make reading accessible.
  • Make reading part of every day.
  • Make reading cool.
  • Talk about reading, model good reading behaviors, subscribe to magazines, and let kids subscribe, too.
  • Dig into the digital world.  From book trailers to e-readers, there are lots of ways to incorporate digital content and process into today’s reading. Did you know book publishers use YouTube to share their books?  While I like to think of myself as ‘old school,’ with 300+ books in my home office, several magazine subscriptions (print + digital), and frequent visits to our library, I’ve discovered in the past year that I like some aspects of digital reading, too.

Whatever your choice, share it with the kiddos in your life!  Buy them gift cards for books.

2.    If you’re an educator, talk about books every day… not just in primary grades, but through high school – and beyond.  My classroom is ‘print-rich’ – a term often used to describe primary/elementary classrooms – with lots of books, magazines, posters, and other things for kids to read. I teach 16 to 19 year-olds.  When they first arrive in my classroom, they balk at the idea of reading (You want me to do what?!?).  They also go to great lengths to show off their boredom and disdain (This is stupid!!!).  I’ve learned this often means their reading skills are limited.  Acting like a jerk is a survival technique; if I get into trouble and make a scene, I won’t have to read today.  In my college classes, I’ve added numerous professional articles, electronically, to supplement textbook reading; it’s typically well-received, seen as interesting. (There’s that word again!)

3.    Finally, if you’re a writer and want to grow your readership, interact with your young readers and their parents/teachers at the ground level. Let them meet you. Let them know you.  Let them know you are human!  😉  Year after year, I find when I talk about books with students, they seem surprised to learn that a book is written by someone. I know, sounds funny, right??  Students often don’t make that connection. To most of my students, books are inanimate objects meant to torture them by being ‘required reading’ – textbooks and ‘reading’ books (novels, etc…) all lumped together.   No interest, no pleasure, no joy… until the kids learn there’s a person talking ‘to’ them – telling them a story, often an interesting story, at that!

Writers, reach out to your young readers via Skype, Facebook, or Instagram. Let them see you and your writing process. I recently tweeted with Roy Peter Clark who graciously bantered through a silly word game with me, and was favorited by Austin Kleon, creator of newspaper blackout poetry, after I tweeted about my students’ progress in creating their own blackout poetry.  When I shared this with my students, they thought it very cool!

Since I began my own writing projects, I share my process with students, whether it’s a few pages written, a chapter completed, the struggles of editing or finding just the right word. Some ask questions, many do not, but by talking about books and writing daily, I’m planting the literacy seeds.

My takeaway:   Reading should never be boring! Life is too short.  If reading is boring, we need to rethink how we’re doing it, indeed!

Life is too short to read boring stuff.


(My own quote in my classroom that typically raises a few eyebrows)

How can you help a reader get past ‘boring’ and on to the good stuff?



How to Write Short: a Must-Read! {Great Reads}

How to Write Short

Quick:   How many words was your last blog post or article?  Under 100? 500? 1,000?  Did you get your message across? How do you know? Could you have said it in fewer words without losing its essence? What would have been the benefit of doing so?

These are just a few of the questions addressed in Dr. Roy Peter Clark’s How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times, publication 2013. “A writer who teaches and a teacher who writes…,” Clark shares many historical and contemporary examples, annotated to help the reader see the value in and purpose for, short-form communication.  Grace Notes help put ideas into (approachable) practice.

Both the title and the cover design caught my eye a few months ago. Life came first. I finished How to Write Short last week, chuckling – and highlighting – to the last page.  This book speaks to my writing sensibilities. Turns out I’ve been a short-form writer all along!

Texts, tweets, t-shirts …. all part of my writing real estate, and all represented in this book.
Six words? Got ‘em covered nearly every Wednesday! (that’s six by the way)
Lists? Love them.
Sticky notes?  Queen of…
Margins. Text annotation.
Word craft.
Short form.


word count?  212  😉