Thursday, July 3, 2014

Friday Feedback: Introductions and THE RULES

photo credit: Rick Kopstein

Hey all you lovely Teachers Write! campers,

I'm so (effing) excited to see some of my "old" regulars back and meet some new shiny lovelies here at TW! and Friday Feedback.

We won't officially start until NEXT Friday (so don't be sneaking any excerpts in the comments for me to read, but DO say hi and/or introduce yourself so I start getting a handle on the names**). But, I did want to take a luxurious moment to introduce myself properly to any newbies, and explain THE RULES of Friday Feedback fully here, so I don't take up any space on next week's post, since next week I'll only be "half" here (I'll explain below), and besides guest author, Amy Fellner Dominy, has a ton of amazing stuff to say to you about BEGINNINGS (stuff that helped ME -- a seasoned "pro" *coughs* -- this week when I was reading her draft post and getting it ready for posting) so I don't want to bog her post down.

Seriously, you guys, you are SO crazy lucky to have the advice of the amazing guest authors Kate and I somehow get to help us out every summer! If you haven't seen Kate's lineup for any reason, read HERE. I'll share mine at the way bottom below. For sure, all of them are way smarter on this stuff than "seat-of-my-pants" old me which is why I love doing this so much. I learn something new every week!

So, first, who I am (if you know all this already, just scroll down to the RULES): Well, you can read all about me HERE, but what you really can't read there is that I didn't start writing (again) until my mid-thirties, so I'm an "It's never too late," story.

I'm also a "life-is-full-of-rejection" and "perseverance-is-the-key-to-success" story as you will now see.

I wrote a ton as a kid and a teen, and even into college, but then went to law school where, I'm fond of saying, I had the creativity sucked right out of me. I got married, practiced law, had kids, and then, in my early to mid thirties really missed the creative side of me. Of course, with two babies at home and part time work, I had little time to write. I'd go down to my basement where my computer was between 10 pm and 3 am, when my colicky, night owl babies might actually be asleep. I wrote furiously, not knowing where I was going with it, or whether I even had a book in me. It took me about 5 years to finish my first manuscript, a piece of women's fiction that, after two years of solid rejection, finally got me agented ("Has anyone ever told you that your writing reminds them of Nicole Krauss?"). With great hope and talk of six-figure deals, that manuscript ("mss" often) got submitted to -- and rejected by -- well over 30 publishers! (I still have to breathe through when I type that).

During that time, I wrote a second piece of women's fiction. My then-agent and even a second agent loved that mss even better, so now we were really on our way!

Except that that mss also amassed an endless slew of amazingly complimentary rejections: "gorgeous writing," "compelling story," always followed by a big, bold, neon-glowing "but. . . "

It's an extraordinary and surreal feeling to have that
first box of author's copies arrive. . .
Then, about 8 years from the date I started writing again, I wrote THE PULL OF GRAVITY, and less than a year later, I sold it to the extraordinary Frances Foster. And the rest they say is history.

(The rest, I say, is an ongoing battle of writing, breathing, hoping, rewriting, and not knowing. But it's all good, I promise you.)

Anyway, I tell you that story. . . well, you know why I tell you that story. The writing biz is a tough one. Writing a good story is hard. It's full of work, tedium, rewrites, rejection, self-doubt and exhilaration. It's that last one that keeps us going.

It never gets old seeing your
work on the shelves of a bookstore
This March, my second novel, THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO, came out.

If you took a minute to click on that link, you'll see it took you to a pretty lovely review in the Sunday Children's Book Review section of the (effing) New York Times! Like I said, exhilaration. 

I hope many of you here will buy, borrow or steal it (okay, fine, not steal it) and read it, and find some moment of lovely connection. If your TBR is too huge and you have any summer road trip plans, it's also out in audiobook and the narrator, Tara Sands, does a tremendous job.

Okay, enough about me, onto Friday Feedback and the RULES:

Every week, as part of the FF post, my guest author or I will prepare a writing-related blog post and at the end, we will share a BRIEF excerpt from one of our Works in Progress ("WIP" often) that will hopefully illustrate a bit of what we are talking about. Because the excerpt we share will be from a WIP, we, too, will often be filled with the self-doubt and fear of sharing that many of you will come here toting in your first days. Read that again.

Why do we subject ourselves to this?

One of the slides from my part of our NCTE 13 presentation!

I have a saying: Brave is as brave does. So, we, the "published authors" open ourselves up to the same constructive feedback we hope to give you, because we need it and because, ultimately, it's the eyes of objective readers that help us to see the gems and, sometimes, the flaws we need to see. Otherwise, so much of the work we do is in solitude, in a vacuum, and we plod along not knowing.

To be clear, this FF system is not a perfect one. It is very hard to assess a piece of story out of context, from just a brief sample. And so all feedback here must be taken with a grain of salt. On the other hand, over the years, we've found it helpful and often exhilarating, so on and on we go.

So, back to the RULES: At the end of the blog post, we'll post a brief excerpt and ask you for three specific pieces of feedback in the comments:

1. What works for you? 

2. What doesn't if anything, and why?

3. If it's a beginning, does it hook you? If it's not, does it compel you to keep reading?

Now, read that again. Notice the order. If you are a teacher I beg of you, never grade or assess a student's writing without telling them first something that works, what they've done right, before you correct them or offer constructive criticism (which in any writer's mind, especially a kid writer, is akin to telling them what they've done wrong). Hopefully over the course of this summer you'll see how much more open we all are to constructive criticism when we're given some honest praise first.

Once you have done that, you're invited to post your own BRIEF excerpt in the comments and we -- my guest authors and I, and even other Friday Feedbackers -- will offer you the same information in the comments.

By BRIEF, I mean brief. Regardless of how short or long our shared excerpts are, please limit yours to between THREE (3) and FIVE (5) PARAGRAPHS, NO MORE, five if they're short, three if they are long (if it's a ton of dialogue, then we will adjust this rule accordingly). This is for our protection and yours. Ours because there can be up to 30 or more excerpts shared in a given day, and that's a whole lot of reading and feedbacking for my guest authors and me, and yours because I don't want there to be enough up there that, if someone "lifted" your words from my blog, you'd feel a significant piece of your story was plagiarized or stolen. It's the Wild West internets, after all.

Once in while I will do one of my patented SUPER SPEED FLASH EDITS on your excerpt if it lends itself to it, in which I will quickly eliminate unnecessary words that might bog the piece or pace down, change tenses, or combine sentences, etc. Small fixes that don't ever mess with your voice or your words, but illustrate a concept that may help your writing to pop and shine even more. If you don't want me to do a SSFE for any reason, speak up or forever hold your peace.

Oh, and last but not least, even though it is called Friday Feedback, you are welcome to post an excerpt through SATURDAY, and at least *I* (I can't guarantee my guest author) will give you feedback through the weekend. Please do NOT post past Saturday night, as any stragglers beyond that will likely lack comment as I will already be preparing the post for the next week.

And that's that. I will relink to these rules every week. Please read them, internalize them, and try to abide. We have a lot of fun on my blog, but the first goal is always to encourage, and never to tear down.

Me, super excited, un huh.

I'm truly super excited about this summer! As I mentioned, I'll only half be here next Friday (it seems to never fail that I am travelling during the first week, alas), as I will be en route to, and at, Eight Cousins Bookstore in Falmouth, MA. I will try to read posts as car internet service permits and will likely stop by late that evening after all my bookstuff is done. Providing I have service where I'm staying on Martha's Vineyard, for my Bunch of Grapes signing the next day. If you are near either of those venues, PLEASE come by and say hi, and let me know you are from Teachers Write!

Regardless of me, you will be in extraordinary hands with Amy Fellner Dominy, I promise you. Plus, we may have a little bookish surprise. . . so put your brave caps on, and get your beginnings ready to share!

And, now, last but not least, after Amy, here's the rest of my amazing Friday Feedback lineup (please click on the links, order their book(s) and/or request them in from your local library): Nova Ren Suma (7/18); Avi (7/25!!! I know!!! Pinch ME on that one too . . . ); Charlotte Bennardo (8/1); and William Ritter (8/8). Each of these amazing and generous authors is donating his/her time to me. Please share their titles and, when you love a book, be sure to spread the word and/or put up a review. ;)

xox gae

** if you post using an online name that doesn't identify you, please include your real first name in the comments when you post. It's very hard to hold on to a weird, fake online name when I'm trying to make a true connection with a writer.


  1. Greetings! So looking forward to another session of camp with you! Hoping to enjoy some star-gazing (OMG-Avi?! Present blogger included on that OMG), lanyard weaving- a tale or two, kayaking through drafts shallow and deep, and sharing stories around the fire-err, Friday Feedback. See you soon...

  2. I'm eagerly awaiting the official start of camp! For now, I'll read profusely in hopes of gaining inspiration. Merci mille fois to all of the gracious authors volunteering their time and the teachers who put themselves out there so we can learn from each other. -Destiny

  3. Is "buchma" mary? I assume so!! If so, can't wait to have you back either... And, I know. it's amazing to connect with some of the authors we all get to...

  4. AH, Destiny, good girl signing off with your name! And welcome! So looking forward to having you!

  5. I cannot WAIT! EEEEEEEEE!

  6. As I will give up some of my nature days/hours, I am ready, always willing, and hopefully able to take on this new experience.-Cindy

  7. Thanks again to you, Kate, & the guest authors for hosting this! Highlight of my summer because TW is something that I do for myself, shutting out family demands & technology for 30 minutes a day ... ahhhh!

  8. Just heard about this venture last night and quickly signed on this morning as I knew that, with Kate involved, it was sure to be well worth the time and effort. But THEN, I read your post here, Gae, and now, I am, as the kids would say, totally pumped! I am a very recently retired 7th grade humanities teacher who has been pushing kids to put their hearts and souls into their writing and put that writing "out there." And yet, despite the fact that I've been writing all my life, I've never had the guts to finish anything and actually get it into the rejection process...yep, I'm finally admitting print. It's because, I suspect, the word "brave" appears so often in that post. So, I'm psyched and ready to roll! Thank you! --Sue

  9. Welcome, Sue! Look at how the planets (or something) aligned! So glad you're here! Reading all these comments reminds me why I do this crazy venture!!! Inspiration is contagious!


  10. I was so excited and pleased to happen upon this corner! I have been promising myself, my dogs, and everyone within earshot that this would be the summer that I write. A month into break, and I have little to show for my intentions, unless you count the increasingly infrequent false starts and mounting anxiety. This font of inspiration and accountability is just the prescription I need. As a teacher intent on introducing, facilitating and nurturing a classroom of 7th grade writers, I want to be ready as an authentic sojourner down that path first. Okay, the biggest priority is to actually find out if I can still put words together in a compelling and meaningful way. When I uncork this venerable vintage, will it taste like wine or vinegar? Regardless of the outcome, I look forward to the process, to hang out with fellow teachers and REAL WRITERS(!) and see what happens. Thank you for doing this, Gae, and for allowing me to be a part of it. ~ Matt

    1. Glad to have you on board, Matt! And I happen to like a little vinegar. Gives things a nice kick! ;)

  11. Thank you, Gae, Kate, and all the othe fabulous authors, for hosting Teachers Write. I am excited to be back again and am already writing. I can't wait to see what everyone else is writing. I have SUMMER OF LETTING GO up next on my TBR. I'm looking forward to it after hearing so many good things already.

    1. Oooh, hope you like Summer! Glad to see you back!

  12. Thank you to Gae, Kate, and the incredible authors that are dedicating some of their precious time to help out us "aspiring" authors. This is my second summer doing Teachers Write. This past school year I shared some of my writing with my students and I think that helped to inspire them to write more. I'm looking forward to getting back into writing and hopefully making some progress with my WIP from last summer and I have another idea rolling around in my head that I hope will make it's way onto paper this summer. Can't wait to dig in on Monday!

  13. Hey, Renee! Can't wait either! Woohoo to returning campers, our anchors!

  14. Well, I'll try again! SO excited to be back for another summer, Gae. Your support, along with your amazing author friends and Kate and her amazing author friends has really given me more guts to share my writing. I am thrilled to be a part once again.

  15. I am very excited (code for "nervous") about my first #TeachersWrite experience! I have loved learning to use the workshop model for teaching writing, but I feel that not feeling like a writer myself really prevents me from reaching my kids. This is such an unbelievable opportunity to learn from the authors that my kids love to read, so I knew it was finally time to take the plunge! Thank you for helping so many teachers like me!

  16. Hi, Valerie! Welcome, Kathryn! Don't be excited! Wait, do be excited! But don't be nervous! We have fun here! Thanks for introducing yourself. <3 See you soon!

  17. Hooray! Teachers Write is back!!!!! I'm so excited! It does feel like going back to camp and reconnecting with summertime friends. Mwah! and hugs and hugs and hugs! xo Jen

  18. The Summer of Letting Go is on my nightstand, ready to "go." Thank you to you and all of the other volunteer authors for lending your time and insights. I am working full time, so it will be fun to write super early like I did when my kids were little. At least I know that's "my style." Hope you had a lovely holiday and "see" you soon!!

    1. Ah, hope you like the book, Aileen... hard to have to work full time in the summer... but hopefully this will ensure you're also doing something solely for yourSELF! Can't wait to see you chiming in!

  19. Hello! I am a 6th grade ELA teacher and mom/step-mom of 7 busy kids. I have loved writing as long as I can remember. My parents and grandparents still tell me about the cute little stories I began writing as soon as I was able. My mom tells of the countless hours I would sit at the kitchen table writing and asking every 10 seconds, "How do you spell _____?"
    Today, I am still bursting with ideas, but have a hard time finding the time to write. Now that my kids are a little older (youngest is turning 8 in 3 weeks) I decided I would MAKE the time. I should be able to carve out a little bit of time each day to do something I love, right?
    I am excited to get started and see how things go.

  20. I am a first timer and still trying to figure out how this all works. I teach in a 5th and 6th grade looping cycle and will be teaching 6th grade this fall. Thank you for doing this for us!

    1. Wendy, hope you've joined the facebook page. Lots of explanatory stuff going up there:

  21. Edit Anonymous said...
    Georgette here, getting ready to start writing tomorrow and feeling nervous and excited, much like my fellow writers/campers. That's Gail for setting up a way to provide feedback to us, and to allow us to provide feedback to each other. I teach grade 3/4 and want to head back in the fall, sharing with students what I have learned about myself as a writer.

  22. Hi Gae! I am so excited for this! This is my first summer of Teachers Write. I'm an elementary school teacher turned literacy coach- actually embarking on my first year as a literacy coach. I truly love writing, and am just thrilled to have the opportunity to learn from you and so many other great authors. Thank you!
    -Christina Nosek, San Francisco

  23. Hi all,

    I'm a primary school teacher in Ireland. I've been writing for three years and it's cool to meet up with other teachers who are also writers.

    I;m working on a YA book and love all things bookish.


  24. This is an amazing opportunity, and I was so excited and nervous to begin today. Thank you and your fellow authors for devoting your time to this venture.

  25. Hi Amy,
    What worked: Love the short, stacked opening sentences. "Can't breathe." Who can't connect to that feeling? And the last line hooked me even deeper: "Everything I want is almost within reach." So I ask myself, what does she want? I'm sure it's more than wining this race. I'm hooked; I want to keep reading.

    What didn't work: t lost the sense of urgency a bit in the first long sentence. Perhaps using "All around" and "along" as well as the repetition of the phrase "the pool" slowed it down. What about: "All around the pool, coaches yell and pace the edge as if that’ll make us swim faster."

    Here's a piece that I'm trying out:

    The cat.
    It is a big marmalade cat.
    When I see a marmalade cat, I always remember the day my first grade teacher died.

    Miss Rogers was in her reading chair--it looked like any wooden library chair only with very short legs. Gathered around was a reading group. I was at my desk like others in my reading group. Softly Sally Ruth slipped past me. Oh no, Sally Ruth, I thought, you’re in big trouble. We were never to interrupt a reading group.

    Without a word, Miss Rogers turned to Sally Ruth and as she did her pencil slipped from her fingers and clattered on the wood floor. The hollow sound echoed in our quiet classroom; all eyes were on Sally Ruth and Miss Rogers. Miss Rogers leaned forward to pick up her pencil and as she did, she slumped slowly to the floor in a heap.

    Someone gasped and then the room was still--very still, too still for first grade.

  26. Gae: Happy summer to you. It is time to read, write and create. This is my first summer to participate in Teachers Write! What an excellent opportunity to learn and grow and hone the craft of writing. Over my thirty plus career in education, I am thankful for many experiences of teaching students in Prekindergarten through 8th grade, including ELLs [English Language Learners] and preparing future teachers at the college level. This past school year I had fun reading, writing, counting and creating with preschoolers. Thank you for all that you do. You are appreciated. So now, I must be strong and *let go* of my uncertainties and write! Hugs! ~Suzy Leopold

  27. My name is Michelle Dragalin. I have signed in with my twitter handle, well one of the them. It is very nice to be in on this bootcamp! I know I will learn a lot!