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Friday, June 28, 2013

Inspiring Others to Write

All this week, I had the privilege to sit under the instruction of a terrific teacher who has inspired me to do something I never wanted to do: Teach grammar.

Yes, that’s right. 

She inspired me with her enthusiasm, intelligence, and love of teaching. Now I cannot wait to get into my classroom and teach my students how to be better writers and communicators. Yes, I know grammar can be tedious, but once you see how important it is in writing, you will love learning more about it!

What’s the big deal about teaching writing and communicating anyway?

Well, try reading an essay written with “texting” language.  Or try not to overreact when your student calls you “dude” during an oral presentation. Or try not to scream with frustration after counting all the “uhs” and “ums” in that same oral presentation. 

And don’t get me started on email communications!

To Write=To Communicate

Yes, our students are in great need of instruction in effective communication. And that’s why I am grateful that our teacher this week showed us the importance of teaching this topic.

But the main thing she did was educate me about the importance of grammar in writing. She taught me the trivium:

  • ·         Grammar
  • ·         Logic
  • ·         Rhetoric

And how all three go together when teaching reading and writing. This idea, from the classical liberal arts curriculum, aligns nicely with my personal philosophy of teaching. 

  • ·         Grammar- how to use words properly. 
  •  ·        Logic- thought/critical thinking
  • ·         Rhetoric- speaking and writing effectively and with reason in order to persuade.

As a teacher, I long to inspire my students to think for themselves about a variety of topics using reason. And then take those thoughts and put them down on paper in an organize manner using the tools (grammar) I have given them. Finally, I long to see them defend those thoughts judiciously, with factual support. 

How hard can that be?

As much of a challenge as it is, it is also that rewarding!

I find it sad that so many schools do not teach logic and rhetoric along with grammar. We, as a society, are losing out because of this. 

By teaching students how to use words properly, we are helping them succeed. By teaching students how to think for themselves, we are helping them succeed. By teaching students to speak and write using factual evidence to support what they are saying…we are definitely helping them succeed in life. 

Now that I have sat in a classroom where my teacher inspired me, I can be the teacher inspiring my students to want to write properly, think reasonably, and argue judiciously. 

All this will help make better and more productive citizens. Citizens who can communicate effectively in a variety of mediums. Citizens who can contribute to society. Citizens who can THINK and want to LEARN. 

In the end, isn’t that what we all want? 


Author, Ruth A. Douthitt’s first book, The Dragon Forest, was released by OakTara Publishing in 2011. The second book of the trilogy, The Dragon Forest II: Son of the Oath, is set for release in July 2013. Ruth teaches writing to middle grade students and lives in Phoenix with her husband and son. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Making the Best of Writing Contest Results: Guest Post by Lindsay Harrel

Let’s face it: one of the scariest things we can do as writers is put our work out there.

What’s even scarier than that? Putting our work out there to be judged by other writers.

*The horror! The horror!*

But as a newbie writer, contests can be a helpful way to get feedback. I entered my first fiction contests in 2012. My motivation was not to win or get accolades of any sort (though of course I wouldn’t turn them down if I did!). No, my reason was simply feedback.

At the time, I didn’t have a critique partner and had just asked a few non-writer friends to look over my work casually. I truly had no concept of how “good” or “bad” my writing was – in other words, I didn’t know where I was on the spectrum. Entering a few contests was a fabulous way for me to start the process and claim the title of AUTHOR.

After I entered the contests last year, I eagerly awaited the feedback – and, I have to admit, was a little disappointed.

Because results seemed to conflict.

Because a few judges weren’t so nice.

Because the amount of criticism was overwhelming.

So for anyone who is new to entering writing contests, here’s a little 5-step plan I’ve devised for dealing with the feedback.

  1. Give yourself 24 hours to react. Regardless of the feedback – whether positive or negative – you need to just let yourself absorb the information, or in some cases, the sting. It’s okay! I say, it’s the perfect excuse for ice cream whether you did really well in the contest or not.

One day is a great amount of time to process the emotions before moving back to look over the results in more detail. Take a few more days if you need it, but don’t stay off the horse for long.

  1. Read results carefully and compile them in one document. Open an Excel spreadsheet or Word document and organize each piece of information from judges side by side, so you can compare what they thought of your writing within the same category.

  1. Find at least one positive. As you look through the judges’ responses, find at least one area where you did well. Are you great at drawing in readers to your storyworld and setting? Are you fabulous at bringing characters to life? Maybe you have an uncanny knack for stringing words together beautifully. Whatever your strengths, find them and rejoice in them.

  1. Glean at least one area that needs improvement. Inevitably, judges are going to differ in their responses. That’s why you should look for commonalities. Is there something that all the judges, or at least more than one, mentioned as an area for improvement? Focus on finding one and then finding a craft book that deals specifically with that area.

  1. Remember that a contest does NOT determine your self-worth or your worth as a writer. There is an incredible amount of subjectivity between contests and judges. This week, I finaled in a writing contest, but last week, there was another contest I entered and didn’t even semifinal in! Keep sight of WHY you do what you do: to bring God glory.

Writing is a hard business, but don’t let contest results or rejections of any sort make you feel like you aren’t meant to do this. Look to the One who gave you this talent in the first place, and ask him to direct your steps.

Lindsay Harrel

Lindsay Harrel has a bachelor’s in journalism and a master’s in English. She is a 2013 ACFW Genesis Finalist (Contemporary Category) and is published in the Falling in Love with You anthology from OakTara. She works in marketing as a copywriter and has worked in the past as a business writer and curriculum editor. Lindsay lives in Arizona with her husband and two golden retriever puppies in serious need of training. Connect with her on her blog or via Facebook or Twitter (@LindsayHarrel).

Monday, June 17, 2013

Yay - Lindsay Harrel is a Finalist!

Last month we celebrated with CWOW member, Lindsay Harrel when ACFW announced that she was a Semi Finalist in the ACFW Genisis Contest. Well, break out the party hats and streamers again because the news just came out that...


 Lindsay Harrel

 is now a FINALIST!

Woot! Woot!
You go, girl!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Pesky People

“The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Gen 2:7

When my husband and I finally had an empty nest our house eerily reverberated with…SILENCE.  After so many years, it was -- er, cough, cough --  exhilarating, exciting. Because I have such a mommy-heart, I never thought I would actually enjoy this silence, this absence of children.

Then I retired from work and through the encouragement of my friend, Jan Christiansen, decided to pursue my life-long dream to write. I had hardly begun my writing journey when people started moving into my home. Not just one person, but several. With time, it grew to be many people. 

photo courtesy COBRASoft,
These are demanding, bothersome, often annoying and irritating people. They follow me everywhere and even have the nerve to interrupt my sleep. I find myself torn between hating them and loving them. If I had any backbone, I would have sent some of them packing. I took the cowardly way out.  I just killed off some of them, but then others took their places. 

Of course I’m not God, but in light of the scripture I used, I became god-like. You see, I created these people. I gave them life, breathed into their nostrils, so to speak, the breath of life, these characters in my novels. 

Now they go with me throughout the day. They will not be ignored. They urge me to create chapters, write continuing conflict, expand their lives and world. Pesky creatures! I am boss. Without me, they wouldn’t exist.  With one touch of my finger on the Delete key, they will be annihilated. I have the power.

Yet, I coddle them. I give into their whining demands. They want so much from me. They want a different hair color, different name, a more glamorous occupation, more romance, less romance – their demands never end. I even pray over them. Well, not them, but I pray over whatever I’m writing.

I absolutely love it. It’s more fun than playing house when I was a little girl, even better than imaginary friends.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Traveling Writer

photo courtesy lusi,
Summer is upon us. While it is a fun time of vacations and family events, it's also a tricky time for the traveling writer. We want to keep up with our writing goals of minimum word counts and/or pages written, maintain blog posts and social media, and leave a foot planted in the other world of literary happenings so we don't feel out of the loop. Such ambitions are lofty, but not altogether impossible with a little planning and--dare I say it--goal downsizing. Here are a few tricks I like to employ:
  • Rise early and get the writing done before anyone else wakes up, but put a little slack in your daily goals (i.e., if you normally write 1,000 words a day, decrease it to 500)
  • Take vacation time to plot and research other stories and ideas instead of working on a current project: this takes less uninterrupted time, and I've found being on the road tends to add a little extra spark to the imagination
  • Read for writing: instead of using travel time to read solely for pleasure, grab that marketing book and a highlighter and plow through it mid-flight
  • Schedule your blogs: Write your blogs in advance and schedule them to post while you are on your vacation, schedule guest bloggers, or--if your break is less than a couple weeks--post to let your readers know you will be taking a vacation
  • Post interesting pictures or tidbits about your vacation on your social media periodically (make sure it's interesting and not overly personal)
Last but not least:
  • Give yourself permission to have a good time. It is, after all, a vacation.
Although all writers should wear that "get your seat in the chair" mindset like a banner across the brain, we must also be purposeful about stepping back a little to enjoy and be a part of the real life stories going on around us. So continue to write while you travel, continue to plot and plan and engage your readership, but take a courageous (and generous) step back when your travels involve family time. This way, the story you live will far out-impact any story you could ever write. Happy travels!
Tanara McCauley