Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Guest Post: Improve Your Reading Habits

by Heather Johnson

“Hey, have you read anything good lately?” It's a common question -- but do you ever notice how some people never offer to tell you about a book they’ve read? That’s because a lot of people have trouble reading. Sure, they know how to read but they don’t know how to read properly. If you need to get over this hurdle then consider these tips:

1. Read. That seems like a no-brainer, right? But maybe you just can’t seem to get started on a book or even an article in a magazine. Come up with a reasonable goal for your reading habits. Maybe you tell yourself you’re going to read five books this year and then plan accordingly.
2. Vary your reading. Even if you’re a fanatical golfer and want to consume every written word about the game, you’re bound to become bored with the subject. Read fiction and non-fiction. Switch from a biography to a detective novel. This will keep your reading fresh and if you’re not enlightened with a particular choice at least you’ll know there’s something totally different on the horizon.
3. Read with a pen. It’s often beneficial if you interact with the author. Jot down notes in the margin or write questions that you think should be answered as you work through the text. This will help ensure better comprehension.
4. Read a heavy book. Robinson Crusoe may seem like too daunting of a task to tackle. But if you start a long novel you might realize that once you put a dent into it you won’t want to stop. It’s challenging, to be sure, but it will be so rewarding when you finish.
5. Read a light book. Just as a lengthy book is good for your reading habits lighter books also make for healthy reading. There’s nothing wrong with reading a quick book or "guilty pleasure."
6. Pick up an old classic. Don’t always go for the hot new release that everyone’s talking about at work. Reach for a novel that has stood the test of time like Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. While you may feel like you’re back in high school, you’ll soon realize there was a reason teachers made you read these worthy books.

By-line: This post was contributed by Heather Johnson, who is an industry critic on the subject of Alabama teaching certificates (http://www.teachingtips.com/teaching-certificates/alabama/). She invites your feedback at heatherjohnson2323 at gmail dot com.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

"Write On!" Summer Writing Camp

Calling all young writers! I am teaching a summer writing camp for youth ages 8-18. The workshops will be held on consecutive weekends, August 9, 10 and 17, from 2 to 4 p.m., in the conference room at Jensen Design and Survey at 1672 Donlon Street in Ventura.

Students will not only have FUN, they will also learn how to improve central components of their writing, including dialogue, characterization, plot and setting, through various creativity-inducing writing exercises. Poets, playwrights, short-story writers, novelists – all are encouraged and welcome to join!

The cost is $125 per student, but I am offering a SPECIAL discounted rate of $100 to the first ten kids to register. A portion of the money raised will go towards my nonprofit literacy organization “Write On!” (www.zest.net/writeon.)

* * *

Here’s what teachers and students have to say:

“Thank you so much for sharing your story with our students. My fifth graders came back to my room just bursting with enthusiasm. It was wonderful for them to hear from a young adult about her joy of writing. Thank you for encouraging our kids.”
-- Lisa Harvill, Poinsettia Elementary School, 5th grade Language Arts teacher

“What you said really inspired me. I love to write and think that it's really amazing how you published your first book.”
-- Ashleigh, 7th grade student

“Hi Dallas, I'm Bianca. You came to my school today, and let me tell you me and my friends were talking about how much you inspired us to write so I wanted to thank you so much for inspiring us to write.”
-- Bianca Rodriguez, 6th grade student

“Thanks again for taking the time to share your passions and inspire the next generation! I love the connection you make with kids by just being yourself!”
-- Stacy Eckstrom, Poinsettia Elementary School, 3rd grade teacher

* * *
My teaching experience: workshop instructor and coordinator of the Young Writers Program of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference for the past three years; guest speaker at the Jack London Writers Camp in San Jose; online workshop instructor at http://absynthemuse.com; speaker at dozens of schools, ranging from elementary school to high school; teacher of private writing workshops for the past four years.

My writing experience: I recently signed a contract with the highly regarded agency Foundry + Media to represent my novel, The Identity Theft of Dani Norhall. I am also the author of two self-published collections of short stories. My first, There’s a Huge Pimple On My Nose, was published when I was ten years old and has now sold more than 1,100 copies; and my latest, 3 a.m., was featured on the nationally syndicated PBS book talk show Between the Lines. I have also written for numerous national publications, including Family Circle, Writer’s Digest, The Writer, Cicada, Justine, Listen, and my work has appeared in four Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies.

To register or get more information, call me at 805-889-5570 or e-mail me at dallaswoodburn@aol.com.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Happy 20th Anniversary, Teen Ink!

Teen Ink is a phenomenal website for any teen interested in reading, writing, or simply engaging with the world. Written for teens by teens, the litzine is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Teens can submit their own work for publication, read more than 20,000 pages written by other teens, join teen blogs, seek advice on writing and what books to read next, and more. Visit Teen Ink at http://TeenInk.com.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Book Talk Video

My brother Greg took a video of some of my talk to the Ventura County Writers Club last week, and I was finally able to figure out how to upload it onto YouTube. Here's the link:


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Guest Speaker at Ventura County Writer's Club Meeting

One of my favorite parts of being a writer is getting to interact with other writers -- whether it is at a writers conference, book festival, or club meeting. I have been a member of the marvelous Ventura County Writers Club since I was in middle school, and was delighted when they invited me to share the story of my writing journey as guest speaker at their meeting last Tuesday night. They were such a welcoming and attentive audience -- some people took notes, others nodded at my talking points, and many even chuckled at my attempts at humor. :)

I loved being able to chat with members of the Ventura County Writers Club after my talk. To be sure, one disadvantage about writing being such a solitary endeavor is that it is easy to feel very alone, especially when dealing with an especially tough case of writer's block or a disappointing rejection letter. Which is why it is so important to have writer friends -- people to turn to for support and encouragement, who have been in your shoes and understand, indeed who are likely going through the very same thing themselves.

Looking to meet more writing friends? Find a local writing club in your area -- libraries and bookstores are great places to check out for possible club meetings. Search online for critique groups. Join an online writing community like http://www.absolutewrite.com, http://writersontherise.com, or my own http://www.zest.net.writeon. Subscribe to writing magazines and online newsletters (to subscribe to my Write On newsletter, simply drop me a line at dallaswoodburn@aol.com.)

And, of course, if you are looking to meet other writers, go to talks by authors at local bookstores, libraries, or events. Many newspapers list "Literary Happenings" and bookstores print up calendars of events. This is a terrific way to not only gain advice and inspiration for your own writing endeavors, but also to meet other writing and reading enthusiasts. And think of it as good karma for when you embark on your own book talk tour!

Thanks again to Lisa Baretto, Greg Elliot, and the Ventura County Writers Club for having me as a speaker!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Naming Characters

I recently was e-mailed a question by a young writer: I have a lot of trouble naming my characters. Is there any technique you use?

Naming characters isn't an issue I hear discussed often -- but it's very important. The name of a character is often the first clue the reader gets about him, and if it doesn't fit with the rest of his personality, something feels "off." For example, right now I'm reading Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl (a marvelous book, by the way, that I would highly recommend to every writer and word-lover out there!) and one of the main characters is named Hannah, which does not fit at all with her brazen, magnetically unique character. However, Pessl does this on purpose, in a way that further characterizes Hannah. The narrator remarks: "Whoever had named her -- mother, father, I didn't know -- was a person harrowingly out of touch with reality, because ... if she had to have a common name, she was Edith or Nadia or Ingrid, at the very least, Elizabeth or Catherine; but her glass-slipper name, the one that really fit, was something along the lines of Countess Saskia Lepinska. 'Hannah Schneider' fit her like stonewashed Jordache jeans six sizes too big. And once, oddly enough, when Nigel said her name during dinner, I could have sworn I noticed a funny delay in her response, as if, for a split second, she had no idea he was talking to her." In this way, Pessl brilliantly uses Hannah's unfitting moniker to shed light on her character; indeed, often those things that are not "us" tell the world just as much about who we are as those things that do reflect how we see ourselves.

Here's what I usually do when naming my characters:
in the heat of writing everything down, give the character the first name that comes to mind, or even just a letter of the alphabet, and focus on the story. Later, during the revision process, you can go back and change the name to something that feels right. If you're really stuck for names, go to the library and check out a baby names book -- it's like a dictionary full of names for potential characters! I'm sure there will be something in there that feels right to you.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Featured in Creative Artists Online Community

While writing is a solitary activity, it is also important to make connections with other writers. Writer friends can help you celebrate your successes, can buoy you up when you are overwhelmed by rejection, and can serve as a valued pair of eyes to proofread your latest spellbinding short story.

Online communities of writers make it even easier to connect with other writers, even if they live miles and miles away. A couple years ago I was fortunate enough to meet Donna Pacini, a remarkable writer and amazing woman who created the Starry Night Creative Artists Community. Donna writes, "It was Vincent Van Gogh's dream to create a community of creative artists who would encourage and support once another. In that spirit we come together as a community of artists who wish to join in mutual support."

Check out the website at: http://www.astarrynightproductions.com/creative/creativeartists.htm

And here's my profile: http://www.astarrynightproductions.com/creative/pages/woodburn.htm

Saturday, July 12, 2008

"Marketing the Muse"

I was fortunate enough to meet talented writer and marketing dynamo Marla Miller a few years ago at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. Marla leads a workshop on marketing and took me under her wing -- her encouragement lasted not only for the course of the week-long conference, but still lifts me up today whenever I am feeling discouraged or uninspired. Indeed, Marla was the one who helped me secure a post as Coordinator of the Young Writers Program at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference a couple years later.

Now she has created a website, www.marketingthemuse.com, to be an extension of the workshops she teaches at writers conferences.
Not only does Marla share fantastic insights and advice about the writing business, she also leads by example -- the site is so easy to navigate and eye-catching that you can learn a lot simply by browsing through it.

Great writing simply isn't enough these days -- you also have to be able to market yourself. That's why Marla's site is such a gift. Check it out!


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Keep Going, Patrick!

Last year I interviewed Patrick Pedraja, an amazing young person, for a "Spotlight" column for Listen magazine. Now, Patrick is being recognized by the "Energizer Keep Going Hall of Fame" for his efforts to increase awareness about the need for bone marrow donors – especially within minority communities. In the summer of 2007, he started a national marrow donor drive called DRIVING FOR DONORS. In a novel approach to raising money to fund tissue typing which was needed to add people to the registry, Pat sold ad space on his bald head and raised more than $150,000. To enlist new donors he visited 32 cities and added 6500 new donors in just 3 months. Pat was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 10 and is currently undergoing 3.5 years of chemotherapy.

To vote for Pat for the Energizer Keep Going Hall of Fame, visit http://www.energizerkeepgoinghalloffame.com/KeepGoing/Finalists/finalist8.aspx. It only takes ten seconds and one click to support this incredible, brave and inspiring young man. We're proud of you, Patrick!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

De-Cluttering your Space = Unlocking your Creativity

I returned home from England a few days ago, and was overjoyed to be greeted by my family, friends, and familiar comfy bed. I was not too happy, however, to be reunited with the stacks of papers, towers of books, and cluttered piles of stuff filling my room. Just stepping inside, I instantly felt burdened and stressed. Not good.

So, I took a few days and slowly sifted through it all -- donating most of it to charity. My time abroad taught me how much I enjoy a simpler lifestyle, how having an excess of material things can be overbearing rather than freeing. I mean, I traveled for three weeks around Europe with only a backpack of possessions! Do I really need to keep my term papers from sophomore year of high school, or those pair of jeans that I just might fit back into someday?

The time I spent cleaning my room has already paid major dividends in my creative life. When I wake up I feel refreshed and rarin' to go, instead of anxious and burdened. I know where things are now, and don't have to waste time finding that folder with sources for an article I'm working on -- much less sift through stacks of papers covering my desk to simply find a pen.

My challenge to you is to take a few days this summer and de-clutter your own space -- whether it be your bedroom, your office, your workshop, your studio. You've grown and your creative life has evolved -- your space should reflect that maturation. A little de-cluttering can bring huge boosts in your creative energy!