Writing Joy Lost and Found: Take Joy by Jane Yolen

One of my New Year’s commitments this January was to get back to fiction writing at least three days per week.

Due to illness, I didn’t.

Although I am down to revising the last half of the last chapter of my novel-in-progress, I felt so lousy I did not trust myself to do my best work.

Nonetheless, I am finally coming to accept, that for a time, chronic exhaustion is a partner in my life, therefore I need to get on with living, and writing, anyway.

A Visit with a Friend

One thing I did do right: while resting, I picked up an old writing book by a particularly inspiring author, Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft by Jane Yolen.

Yolen’s words fed me, floated me, excited me.

Last week, I finally got back to work on my novel, and it felt good!

Take Joy

In light of how Yolen inspired me, I thought I’d share some of her nourishing words with you.

“Chapter One” of Take Joy discusses the way some authors describe writing as a bloodsucking, agony-inducing practice. I have seen these claims in essays and blog posts, and they have always irritated me.

Yolen proposes a different attitude:

I suggest you learn to write not with blood and fear, but with joy.
Why joy?
It’s a personal choice.


Chapter One, page 2

Yolen reflects on how difficult it is to actually get published:


All we can count on is the joy in the process of writing.
Uncovery, discovery, recovery are all part of the process.
So take joy behind publishing’s shadow. The joy in the process.

Chapter One, p. 5

In conclusion, Yolen wishes readers:

…joyous flights in your own writing. Save the blood and pain for real life where tourniquets and ibuprofen can have some chance of helping.
Do not be afraid to grab hold of the experience with both hands and take joy.

Chapter One, p. 12

Remembering…

Yolen’s guide reminded me that I love my work-in-progress. I have often spoken of it as a labor of love.

I also remembered that I love writing. When the writing is going well it feels like flying, laughing—a wild joy.

Thank you, Ms. Yolen, for these reminders!

Your Turn

How does writing nourish you? Which parts of writing bring you the greatest joy? What are you working on that you can’t hardly wait to get back to?

Please share your comments in the box below. Let’s encourage one another.

P.S. Read Yolen’s book. It will bring you joy.

Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate Lives; Take Joy by Jane Yolen
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A Literate Lifestyle: Journaling and Me

A Literate Lifestyle: Jjournaling & me https://literatelives.wordpress.com/I have always been somewhat of a journal keeper. I can remember in my senior year of high school (You know, when life was DRAMA) coming to the realization: “I think better with a pen in my hand” (and now-a-days, more likely a mechanical pencil).

Although, I was never a daily diarist, journaling as a life practice has held steady, even if sometimes a month or so elapsed between entries.

This past year journaling has exploded as a practice in my life, and I move into 2019 with a deep commitment to a diversity of forms of journaling, including:

  • basic, general journaling
  • working through a “Journey Journal”
  • maintaining a gratitude journal
  • using a hybrid bullet journal/planner

My Digital Journal

I do I basic, general journaling on my computer. In this journal I do the typical things like capture memories, plan, dream, work out my concerns… However, to this basic function, I have also added the recording of quotes, my responses to them, and correspondence between myself and family and friends (Once I’ve written something in a letter or email it seems redundant to write it again in my journal). The digital journal works particularly well for this; I love “copy” and “paste.”

My Journey Journal

 These last two years have been particularly filled with trials and seismic events. Life is irrevocably changed and will never be the same again. To process the impact of all this, I began my Journey Journal. I am using it to sit with and understand my emotions, explore the roots of ongoing issues, practice and build my resilience, and dream of the new horizons that lie ahead. Needless to say, I’ve been using my digital journal a lot less since starting this. 

My Gratitude Journal

My gratitude journal (pictured above) is a beautiful little book someone gifted me. (I am so sorry I do not remember who, but know, if it was you, I love it!) My gratitude practice stems from three sources, my faith and gratitude to God, my susceptibility to seasonal affective disorder and the value of gratitude in fighting depression, and my desire to capture the little things, as well as the big, that I value in my life.

Each day, I simply write in the date and “Thank you,” then write a brief bulleted list of things I am grateful for from the previous day—usually just 3. I love doing this. It is a real mood lifter. Despite my troubles or inner conundrums, it keeps me aware of how incredibly blessed I am (And it’s likely, so are you).

My Bullet Journal/Planner, or is it Planner/Bullet Journal?

During the months I have been ill, I did a LOT of online reading, and as is the case online, one blog post links to another, and another, and another, and I found myself exploring new and interesting things. One of them was bullet journaling, popularized by Ryder Caroll. Here is a little video.

Now I have used a planner ever since I started teaching and was required to keep an open, filled-out lesson book on my desk. I very quickly learned how handy it is to use a planner and have done so both personally and professionally ever since.

Bullet journaling, however, was a whole new world. The planning part blended well with my already developed planning instincts, but the discovery of decorative page spreads, trackers, reflection pages, and the wonderful omnibus of lists that could be incorporated… I was enchanted.

I immediately began practicing, using the disc-bound planner I had already purchased for 2018. I added dividers for sections instead of “indexing” –as by-the-book bullet journalers do, began experimenting with different forms of trackers, and have been following planner and bullet journaling blogs online and pinning oodles of inspirational images on Pinterest.

 This year I am making my own pages for last year’s disc binder. I finished the “Future Log” this week, and have weekly spreads in place for January and February, with templates for weekly spreads, and more on my computer. I love the creativity of making my own pages, and the efficiency of tracking what I need to do and have accomplished. (I especially love checking or tallying items off! There’s just this little kid inside of me who delights in a “showy” completion.)

Your Turn

  • What kinds of journaling or planning do you include in your literate lifestyle?
  • Do you hand draw or create digital bullet journal spreads?
  • Would you be willing to share pictures in the comments?

I look forward to hearing from you. Let’s encourage one another!

A Fresh New Year: The Literate Lifestyle I’m Looking Forward to this Month


Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate Lives: A Fresh New Year: The Literate Lifestyle I’m Looking Forward to this Month
One of the wonderful things about the holiday season is that it is—wonderful: a celebration of family and friendship, magic and awe, and contains feast days of many faiths, including mine, which commemorates the season for the birth of our Savior.

Another wonderful thing about the holiday season is that it goes away. It sweeps like a joyous madness from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, and then it is gone until next November.

I don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to resuming normal life this January, and that includes a normal, for me, reading and writing life. (As you can see by the delay in this post, full “normal” has not yet been achieved.)

Here are some practices and links to articles I am looking forward to reading this month.

Pleasure Reading

Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate Lives: A Fresh New Year: The Literate Lifestyle I’m Looking Forward to this MonthDuring the holiday season I enjoy reading holiday novels, and now that it’s over, it is with pleasure I resume my regular reading rotation (after I finish reading the gift book,  The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons, which my husband received for Christmas—I know, his book. Yeah, that’s another story.) What’s next?

  • a Celtic fantasy—whichever one is next in line on the shelfDebby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate Lives: A Fresh New Year: The Literate Lifestyle I’m Looking Forward to this Month
  • something from the Library—I’m thinking more of Rachel Caine’s Great Library Series.
  • a historical novel—I’m not sure which one I’ll pick next.

Online Reading

This month I am looking forward to reading saved posts on a variety of topics:

Writing:

History:

Bullet Journaling:

Writing Craft:

Reflection

Rather than make a rash New Year’s resolution, I plan to use the month of January to reflect on:

  • my practices from the past year
  • changes I want to implement
  • and maybe craft a personal mission statement.

I look forward to reading the following posts to aid me in the process.

From Little Coffee Fox:

More Reflection Posts:

Writing

I also look forward to resuming the final editing of The Swallow’s Spring, my folkloric fantasy novel. Last August, before I came down with the sinus infection from #*%%, I was down to the last half of the last chapter to complete edits on and run through my writers’ group. Due to both illness—three solid months and then recuperation—and the resulting depression I did not trust myself to do my best work. And then, of course, the holidays…

When my husband, a teacher returns to work next week, I will, too. At last, I am looking forward to it.

More

For more great reading, check out the following applicable Pinterest Boards:

  • A Literate Lifestyle
  • Crafting Fiction
  • A New Year!
  • Celebrate Winter

Your Turn

  • How does the joyous, crazy holiday season impact your literate lifestyle?
  • What practices do you look forward to resuming this month?

Please share your thoughts in the comments box below. Let’s encourage one another!

Language Arts Teacher’s File Drawer: Gingerbread Character Analysis

Gingerbread Character Analysis; https://literatelives.wordpress.com/One beloved feature of the holiday season is the familiar stories we tell. It is framed by songs, books, movies, religious practices, and the unique family stories we cherish. And every one of these centers on a character or group of characters.

Understanding Characters

Understanding characters is central to comprehending fiction and much of non-fiction. It is so central, it is included in the common core standards and many of the state standards that preceded these.

As a fiction author, I do not have a viable story idea until I have envisioned a character. In fact, much of my fiction comes to me in the form of a character first.

Here is a Language Arts Lesson to help you teach this important skill.

Character Analysis Exercise: Discuss and Instruct

For this exercise, instruct your students to think of a favorite holiday character, from any form of media. There’s Rudolf and Frosty from songs, Ebenezer Scrooge from classic literature and movies, and the iconic figures of the religious practices in which the holiday season is rooted. Many of the characters appear in multiple stories. Invite your students to share, and honor the choices of every one

Discuss the ways creators help their audiences understand the characters that make their stories meaningful.

Surface level:

How the character looks—both the basics of the physical appearance we are born with and the things we have control of, like hair style, clothing, and accessories, reveals character. However, like the old adage about books and covers, a character cannot be fully understood by appearance alone.

Observable:

What the character does—our behavior reveals far more about us than does our appearance. How does a character carry herself? How does he relate to others? What does she like to do? What does he hate to do? How does this character choose to invest his or her time?

What the character says—what we say reveals far more than the information we want to convey. It can reveal where we are from, our degree of interest, our attitudes, our moods, how we feel about the people we are interacting with and more. Even what a character doesn’t say can be revealing.

Internal:

As we move “inward,” the character tells become more and more significant.

How a character thinks—our thought patterns, like what we say and do, reveals a great deal about us, and in characterization, this is where things can get really interesting. A character can speak and act one way, while carrying on an inner thought process that can stray so far as to even be contradictory. Our thoughts also reveal our general attitudes toward life—optimistic, pessimistic, cynical, enthusiastic—which in turn colors what we do and say. So, too, with characters.

How a character feels—this one is two-pronged. How does the character feel, physically, and how does the character feel, emotionally? Is she fit and healthy? Has he been injured, or does he experience a chronic illness? Our responses to how we feel color what we say or do and impact our overall attitude.

How a character feels emotionally—a fully rounded character experiences joys and sorrows, trials and challenges and has done so during the phases of their “lives” that occurred outside the framework of their story. These, too, impact behavior and choices. An intriguing or beloved character is never perfect. Furthermore, characters rarely live in a vacuum. As they work their stories out, they interact with others. They have good days, bad days, and many people in their lives. Who do they love? Who do they tolerate? Who do they loathe? This impacts how they react to and treat secondary characters. It also reveals who they are as a person.

Discuss a character from a story previously read by the class to analyze each of the above features and list class findings on the board as they come up.

Assign

Pass out the handout.

Gingerbread Char Analysis Handout; https://literatelives.wordpress.com/

Instruct your students to give an example (or two or three—whatever you feel your students are ready for) for each of the ways creators make their characters seem real.

Another way to use the handout is to have the students work in small groups or pairs. If this approach is chosen, you could have each group present their finished analysis to the class using the document camera. This would allow you to assess for speaking standards as well.

A Step Farther

Use this character handout for the springboard to a creative writing assignment. Instruct students create a character, and then assign a short story written about this character.

Your Turn:

Who is one of your favorite holiday characters? What qualities or traits make you love him or her?

A Creative Advent Practice from Sybil Macbeth

Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate Lives: A Creative Advent Practice from Sybil MacbethI am so excited for this Advent season (the Christian church calendar’s four Sundays plus remaining days before Christmas) to begin!

Why? Because I am finally going to doodle one of Sybil Macbeth’s Advent calendars, and my mom, daughter, and granddaughter are going to do it too! We’re going to share our Advent creations Christmas Eve! (Please forgive the excess exclamation points; I truly am excited.)

Who is Sybil Macbeth?

If you are new to following Literate Lives, you may not be familiar with Macbeth and her book and blog, Praying in Color.

Reading Praying in Color revolutionized my prayer life. What Macbeth teaches and practices is prayer through drawing, writing, and coloring—essentially, mindful doodling.

For me, this practice has helped me to pray when I have more feelings than words to speak. Her drawing, coloring, writing practice has also helped me pray for longer amounts of time, stay focused, and pray with greater depth.

What is Sybil Macbeth’s Advent Practice?

At its most basic, Macbeth’s practice for the season of Advent is to doodle/meditate/pray each day through the three-plus weeks before Christmas.

She has developed a variety of creative grids that have a spot for each day’s prayer/meditation, which she shares, for free, on her site https://prayingincolor.com/handouts. My family and I have all chosen to do the Christmas tree template, but there are several others—including calendar-style rectangles and a “stained glass window” baby Jesus.

Macbeth also recommends multiple ways for using the Advent grids each day:

  • Write the name of a loved one in a space and pray exclusively for them.
  • If you are using a devotional book, choose a word from your reading upon which to pray and meditate.
  • Because Advent is a season of hope, you might use each space to doodle what you hope for, not just tangible items, but hopes and dreams for yourself and others as well.
  • Since Christmas is the holiday that celebrates Christ’s birth, you could use each space to reflect on one of the many names for Jesus—wonderful counselor, prince of peace…

Last year, Macbeth shared an article she’d written for The Living Church, “Year-round Advent,” in which one of her suggestions was to make a list of words you associate with the Advent season and select one to doodle in the day’s space. I was excited to try this strategy. Macbeth and The Living Church provided a list of words and quickly brainstormed some more:

  • Luscious
  • Angel
  • Mary
  • Shepherds
  • Gifts
  • Prayer
  • Invitation
  • Transformation
  • Salvation
  • Blessing
  • Love
  • Grace
  • Search
  • Celebrate
  • Share
  • Give
  • Create

I planned to use an index card for each day, but got derailed very early in the season by illness. Here is one of the cards I did make:

Advent Vocabulary: Patience; https://literatelives.wordpress.com/

(Sorry for the crooked scan, at the time, I never thought I’d be sharing it.) A new Advent word list is posted on the Building Faith website, here

For my Advent Tree, I want to doodle prayers for loved ones and some Advent vocabulary. I’m planning to alternate from one to the other each day.

Your Turn

How do you celebrate Advent or count down to your family’s holiday? Please use the comment box, below, to share your favorite practices. Let’s celebrate a December filled with love and goodwill, and of course, let’s ever continue to encourage one another!

P.S. Our schedule at Literate Lives will be a little different this upcoming month. In order to bypass Christmas, instead of blogging on the first and third Thursdays of the month, Literate Lives will come to your inbox on the second and fourth. Have a wonderful holiday season!

For more on Sybil Macbeth, check out Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God by Sybil Macbeth.

It’s Thanksgiving Time!


It's Thanksgiving Time! https://literatelives.wordpress.com/
It’s time for Thanksgiving, and I have enjoyed reading a variety of blog posts I’d saved just for this holiday month. Here are a few nibbles from each. Just click through the title links if you want to read the entire article.

Two Great Lists from Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D.

In Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D’s “Ten Things to Be Thankful For: Thanksgiving is a very special holiday, embrace those around you,” he proposes an eye-opening list of things to be thankful for. Among those that stood out for me:

“Be thankful for growing older. Not everyone gets this opportunity. Aging with health and grace is a rare and beautiful gift.”

“Be thankful that you can read these words. It is a very sad thing that many  people do not have the ability to read.” This second one is definitely a favorite of mine. The ability to read and write has enriched my life in so many ways—helping me to learn, express myself, enjoy myself, even work at a job I loved–helping students build their reading and writing skills.

And last, this suggestion, particularly poignant since my dad died just a year and a half ago: “When your parents are telling you how to run your life, be thankful that you still have them around.”

In “10 More Things to Be Thankful for: Look at what you have, not what you’ve lost,” Goldsmith lays out another powerful list things to consider, focusing on our closest relationships. This list includes “Laughter,” “Tears,” and “Health.”

On Health, Goldsmith writes:

“If you’ve ever dealt with a serious or chronic illness you know how important your health is. Being with someone who will care for you if you ever have a physical crisis gives you a powerful sense of well-being.”

After enduring several consecutive seasons of prolonged illness, I know how one’s health truly is. I also know, without the love and support of my husband, this time of nearly 100% rest would have been unbearable for this recovering-perfectionist overachiever. Early on, especially, depression hovered at the periphery of my days, and I am still learning how to live well when not feeling well.

Gratitude is Good for You

In, “Gratitude and Giving Thanks: Being thankful is not just part of a holiday, it’s good for your mental health,” Samantha Smith, Psy.D. points out that negativity bias, a propensity for focusing on what’s going wrong, comes naturally to human beings and shares studies indicating the practice of gratitude “can have a powerfully positive effect on our lives.” Studies indicate that nurturing gratitude can lead to better health, increased optimism, greater satisfaction in both your familial and social relationships, and enhanced academic achievement.

She then lists a number of ways to maintain a grateful perspective. The first, keeping a gratitude journal, is something I have benefited from greatly. She lists five other practices, some I would never have thought of, that are worth taking a look at as well.

Thanksgiving 2018

So, how do you want to practice Thanksgiving this year? I have two suggestions to consider. First, cut out one paper leaf using a variety of autumnal colors, for each person who will be attending Thanksgiving dinner. Place one leaf at each place setting and scatter pens /pencils across the table. Rather than ask each person to tell what they are thankful for this year, ask them to write it down on their leaf.  After dinner, either collect the leaves and make a Thanksgiving wreath by taping them onto a pre-cut cardboard ring. Other options could be to have the children who are present tape the leaves to the ring, or have each individual tape his or her own leaf on the ring. When done, hang the wreath somewhere everyone can enjoy it.

Option Two? Consider making a Thanksgiving time capsule. For this you will need slips of paper, pens/pencils, and a jar. If you wish, decorate the jar ahead of time or ask someone crafty (or a kid) to do so. This time, instead of asking Thanksgiving diners to share what they are grateful for, ask them to write it down on a slip of paper, sign their name, and place the slip in the jar. Wait a year, and on Thanksgiving 2019, as you sit down to dinner, open the jar and enjoy reading aloud what people were thankful for last years. Discussing what you were grateful for in the past can be a great conversation starter for reflecting what you are thankful for in the new year.

In either case, you can still add the step of sharing, verbally, what you’ve written.

More Things to be Thankful For

If you would like more suggestions for sharing gratitude with your friends and family this season, check out “Thanksgiving Conversation Starters,” a post from Literate Lives’ Thanksgiving past:

Your Turn

  • How do you and your family express gratitude at your Thanksgiving gatherings?
  • What kinds of questions do you ask to help loved ones focus on what they are grateful for this season?
  • What are you thankful for?

Please use the comment space below to share.

Reading Response Questions: Comprehend, Connect, and Predict

Reading Response Questions: Comprehend, Connect, and Predicthttps://literatelives.wordpress.com/I love reading response questions and exercises. As a teacher, they served as a means for building my students’ reading skills with self-selected reading; as a parent, they provide valuable conversations starters and opportunities to nurture my kids’ literacy skills (whether reading is done together or side by side); and as a reader, I enjoy how they propel deeper thought about what I am reading, and their usefulness when thinking about writing a review—which helps both authors and fellow readers.

What follows are six reading response questions/exercises to prompt writing or conversations. Before you or your student uses them, however, be sure to read either a whole picture book or for 15 to 20 minutes in a novel

Comprehend

  • Put on your newspaper reporters hat. Answer the 5 W’s (Who? What? When? Where? Why?) You can even throw in #6—How? Support your answer to each question by including a detail for each from the text.
  • Play teacher. Write three questions about what was just read: 1) A factual question, a question someone can find written in the text, 2) An inferential question, a question that can only be answered using clues within the text, 3) A critical question, a question that asks for an opinion or conclusion based on evidence in the text. Have fun sharing your questions and answers.

Connect

  • Compare and contrast. How does what was just read compare to a previous book read or movie/TV show viewed? How are they similar? How are they different? Was one enjoyed more than the other? Why?
  • Be the judge. Pick a character and list three things he or she has done. Pick one of these actions and explain why you think it was a good or bad thing to do.

Predict

  • Make a simple prediction. What do you think will happen next or result from a plan made in your reading? What in the text makes you think this? What do you think will be the consequences of this action or event?
  • Be a time tripper. How would being set in a different time period effect what you are reading. For example, if the story is set in the past, how would happening now change it. You can choose to jump forward or backward in time. Explain how the change in time period would effect what has happened so far in your reading and might impact the outcome.

Your Turn

There you have it—6 ways to have fun with your and your kids’ reading and improve reading/thinking skills.

Which exercise did you like best? Did you or your student/s write one you’d like to share (be sure to let us know the title and author of the book it’s based on, in case we are intrigued and want to read it.

Or, do you have particular reading response exercise you enjoy using? How about sharing it here? Just use the comment box below.

*Background for graphic: Depositphotos_135562_original

My New Facebook Page: Debby Zigenis-Lowery, Author


Facebook Page; Debby Zigenis-Lowery, Author; https://literatelives.wordpress.com/
My Facebook page—Debby Zigenis-Lower, Author—is up and nearly fully operational. (When you see the widget in the right column here on the blog to connect you to the page, you’ll know I am at last truly done—however, it does contain an opening post.)

Yearning to Share

I’m excited about my Facebook page. There are so many things I long to share with you in quick, brief ways, too many to always write a post, and so many not requiring a full post. So, I hope my page will provide greater opportunities to share and enrich your reading, writing, parenting, and teaching practices.

What can you expect to find on Debby Zigenis-Lowery, Author?

“Play With Your Words” Writing Prompts

One of the most valuable things I learned when I studied for my master’s degree in teaching was that studies show two of the best ways to improve at both reading and writing are to read or write. Each helps to improve at both skills! With the exception of longer writing projects (which will be archived here, in Teacher’s File Drawer), I will now post writing prompts—for fiction, non-fiction, and personal journaling—on my new Facebook page.

Reading Response Exercises

These were another favorite in my Language Arts teacher’s toolbox. When students reflect on what they read, it helps them to understand the text more deeply and remember it better. Free reading + reading response exercises were my favorite Language Arts homework. Reading Response Exercises will also assist aspiring authors in reading like a writer, a practice highly recommended by the pros.

Wonderful Words: Quotes

I love quotes. I love ideas powerfully stated. I love words strung together in marvelous ways. (To refresh your memory, check out my post here.) While I have had fun preparing omnibus quote posts, I have so many quotes collected, and I long to share these beautiful and inspiring words more often. Now I can on my new Facebook page.

My Literate Lifestyle & Writing Journey

I will also use my Facebook Page to share my literate lifestyle and writer’s journey—books I’m reading, projects I’m working on, insights and organizational strategies—and I hope you will share yours. I’d like to be a friend and comrade to you in your pursuit of a literate lifestyle.

Your Turn

My vision is that this new Facebook page—Debby Zigenis-Lowery, Author—will facilitate more daily interactions and opportunities for us to encourage one another. Please use the comment box below to let me know how I can be a help to you.