Learning Never Ends

journalPD (professional development) is a new buzz word, especially for educators. Yet, the idea of continuing to learn and develop in business has been around for decades and even longer for medical/health professionals (often called continuing education or credentialing to maintain licenses). For writers, and many creative types, it is part of the business and has been forever (though it was given no trendy label). To share and learn with others in the field, to keep up on latest trends, to continue developing and honing skills, writers and illustrators attend conferences, read industry journals (magazines about writing and illustrating), reading books, and meeting to network and share.

Take a clue from Rodin's The Thinker.

Take a clue from Rodin’s The Thinker.

When I taught at the local college, most of the professors were upset with a new mandate for annual teaching portfolios with a section on professional development. I was one of the few people complaining, so the faculty coordinator asked me why. I shrugged. “It’s not a big deal,” I said. Professional authors do this all the time, so it’s not a stretch to move from writing development to teaching of writing and meet the portfolio requirements.” Besides, I thought, I’m a lifelong learner which is why I wanted to teach at the college level. All the grumbling made me wonder about my colleagues though.

Why PD?
In a way, simply considering what it stands for answers this question: professional development = building on skills to improve performance; personal development = learning that aids growth. Both place you at a level higher than before the PD. For writers, learning really never stops. There is always more to learn and new trends or markets to keep up on.

Types of PD

Reading about writing craft in magazines, on websites and blogs IS part of a writing career.

Reading about writing craft in magazines, on websites and blogs IS part of a writing career.

Opportunities to continuing learning and developing are everywhere. For many occupations, not only writers, these might include:

  • Reading and/or individual study to increase knowledge and skill.
  • Video or audio recordings or presentations about specific topics to increase knowledge and skill.
  • Seminars or Webinars (online seminars) in which a lecturer shares expertise about a specific area/topic or skill set.
  • Conferences and workshops. In person opportunities to network with others and interact with attendees and presenters while building on knowledge and skill.

Where to Find PD Opportunities

  • Tune in for info and advice.

    Tune in for info and advice.

    Professinal Associations often sponsor workshops and/or conferences. Sometimes you must be a member or attend as a guest. I’m a member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) which hosts conferences plus numerous online (webinars). Local colleges, schools, churches, and community centers often offer personal enrichment classes. (Some gated communities or senior living facilities offer programs too, often opening them to the public for a fee.) Check newspaper listings for authors or presenters visiting bookstores or libraries, too.

  • Online programs and courses + Podcasts and internet radio. Look up favorite authors to see if they have websites, are affiliated with any learning programs or association (then check those). See what is mentioned on social media.
  • Newsletters, magazines, websites (books, both phsical and ebooks). Industry news, textbook publishers, magazines.
  • DVDs and video/audio recordings.
  • Associations and libraries/websites. Many writing conferences offer recordings of specific sessions. You do not usually need to be a member to purchase them. Check for options on Netflix or Amazon Prime (or your favorite streaming/rental service).
  • Some of my favorites. I’ve participated in webinars and podcasts this year sponsored by Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, and Education Week. Check their websites or social media sites for announcements (or get on their email list). I found 3 webinars through email announcements/newsletters about using social media, Sciviner, and doing book promo and blogging. I’ve taken ecourses through Daily OM, online courses through Gotham Writers Workshops and Udemy, plus courses on DVD from Elephant Rock, Master Classes SCBWI, Teaching Company. Opportunities are out there, and many of the above I’ve taken for free or under $15.

In addition, I teach writing workshops through local adult learning/enrichment programs. News for these are on my website (see the “At the Podium” page), through course catalogs, plus on the web and in local newspapers. Explore, search, connect. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll find and what you’ll learn.

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5 Lessons From a Writing Challenge

In-class writing prompts are incorporated into all of my writing workshops. Depending on their creative style, participants either love the challenge or hate it. Some writers thrive on receiving a story prompt and having a time limit for coming up with a creative response on the spot. Others need to think about it, allowing the possibilities to simmer and evolve before they’re ready to write. These are the participants who grumble about “writing on demand.” Still, sharing afterward and hearing how each writer tackled the challenge remains one the most enjoyable parts of each session (according to the evaluations on the last day).

The challenge of writing "on demand" pushes beyond the comfort zone.

The challenge of writing “on demand” pushes beyond the comfort zone.

Stretching beyond our comfort zone often ends with positive results. It keeps us from stagnating. It can also serve as a creative shot in the arm. So, for writers, challenging ourselves–whether with a different writing style, new prompts, or a writing contest–is important.

This is one of the reasons I signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year. I probably write more than the word count goal each month on all my projects combined, so the challenge for me is in drafting 50,000 words on a new, single project (in addition to what I normally write). I also tend to write to an outline–or at the very least use my “bullet and build” approach. But for NaNoWriMo I’m working as a “pantser” (that’s someone who writes “by the seat of the pants” instead of planning).

It’s the middle of week 2, not quite halfway, and I’ve already learned a lot. The lessons are important for new writers to remember, too:

1.  Just write. The idea is to get thoughts to paper and do it on a regular basis. I took on the challenge to make daily progress on my pet project. The key for new writers:

Create a regular writing routine and stick to it (even this means writing every Saturday or finding 20 minutes each day).

2.  This is clay. Drafts are meant to be shaped and reshaped. In my case (this hot NaNoWriMo mess), huge sections will be loped off and reassembled. But, not until later. So, don’t get too hung up on making scenes perfect–or even keeping all the writing “rules” in line. This is only the first step toward a polished manuscript.

Accept the fact there will be revisions (and likely more than one round). It’s part of the process.

Where does the ACTION take place?

Where does the ACTION take place?

3.  Think in scenes. In order to make the word-count goal for the month, I’ve settled into writing whatever scene is coming to me. (I’m not worrying about linear “order.”) As I focus on scenes, I consider what details about the characters, setting, and events the reader needs to know at this point the story. This helps eliminate writing out or “explaining” back story that will likely be cut later. I can always add during revision.

All stories and characters have a past but the reader doesn’t need to know every detail (and always sprinkled in, never all at once).

4.  Don’t get bogged down in technicalities. As a planner I like to have my facts in place before I begin. What snakes would they plausibly encounter in the woods of North Carolina? What is a typical day’s schedule like at a parochial school? At this point, though, it’s action I’m aiming for. What they ate for breakfast is not as important as what they do to move toward story resolution. Whenever I’m tempted to stop writing and check something on the internet, I instead use brackets and write a brief note to address during revision.

Description is good, but don’t get carried away (See lesson #3).

Create a goal and aim for it to grow from the challenge.

Create a goal and aim for it to grow from the challenge.

5.  Don’t compare your progress with everyone else. We are each individuals with unique voice, style, and creative approach. These writing buddies are not me with my goals (and juggling my life). Likewise, I don’t know what they are dealing with in their lives, so any comparison would likely be apples to oranges. Best to skip it. I’d rather focus on racking up the words to meet my goal (and with luck meet the overall goal of 50,000 words in 30 days).

Don’t compare your writing skill, progress, or ideas with other writers either. We are all different writers and different people. Embrace that.

Good writers never quit learning and developing their craft and growing in skill. Pushing beyond our comfort zone is a way to ensure we continue improving. So, embrace the challenge and write. 

Brag Board

I’ve added a new category so I can brag about workshop participants who have published. Hmm. Is it pitiful that I get more excited when a student or mentee publishes than when I score another byline?

Anyway, I found a delightful package in today’s mail. Louise Hess sent me a copy of Apple Blossom Time: An Autobiography in Prose and Poetry (IN: Dog Ear Publishing, 2011). Of course, it’s personally inscribed to me from Louise and included a matching bookmark. Congratulations, Louise, and thank you! Louise participated in workshops I offer through Renaissance Academy.

What makes this volume stand out is how the author shares universal life moments through the “seasons” of life and uses the apple tree as a metaphor. Each story provides insight into the author’s life through the people she writes about and the events she shares. And then there are the poems, scattered through the volume like apple petals on a late spring breeze.

This reminded me of another (former) student who became a dear friend. I helped Linda Aubel prepare her memoir manuscript, Summertime, for self-publishing several years ago. It also used a unique approach to organize the vignettes—Broadway song titles. Linda took Guided Writing classes I taught through the Center for Lifelong Learning at Hodges University.

Another student, who is also a close friend, has good news to share but doesn’t yet have a publication date and doesn’t want me to jinx it. So for now I’ll just say, congratulations, Susan! Get me the details so I can brag!

Inspired to Productivity

April promises to be incredibly busy. Four new workshops begin next week. A fifth is schedule to begin on Saturday mornings at the end of the month. In addition to preparing for these classes at different locations, I still have my monthly column to write, book projects to work on, articles to complete, clients to work with, and my college students to deal with.

Since the college semester is on the final lap, those students are scrambling to turn in late work and finish lab requirements. Meanwhile, I need to calculate final grades. It’s a lot to juggle, but instead of draining me all this activity inspires me.

First, I enjoy meeting the workshop participants. These are writers at various levels who enroll in 4- to 6-week courses. Hearing about their projects reminds me of the variety of ideas floating around out there. As I listen to their in-class writing, I marvel at the variety of ideas triggered by the same writing prompt. Often, their projects and ideas will remind me of a project I put on hold long ago.

Second, I have always enjoyed staggering projects. So, as I’m in the middle of one, I’m generating the details and initial plan for a new project. As I finish the revision on another, I’m creating the first scenes of the next project–or gathering facts and outlining, if it’s a nonfiction project. The teaching is the same. The energy of meeting new students and motivating them for the course carries me through in wrapping up the current course.

Finally, the writing and teaching balance each other. My writing inspires my teaching and my teaching inspires my writing. It’s win-win. Though April is booked, I look forward to encouraging and guiding all my writers, whether workshop pros or college freshman. In the end, I have a feeling it will be quite a productive month.

Plugged in again!

After much prodding by friends and fellow writers, I’ve taken the plunge and relaunched my blog. It’s been quite a long time (roughly 5 years) but I’ve been getting plugged in again, so why not share with a wider audience in every electronic way?

Around five years ago I became overwhelmed with how electronically I was. Since writing requires a lot of time and energy for tasks other than placing words onto paper, I found myself struggling to keep up with the demands of all those devices. I overreacted–and unplugged. I dumped the Palm Pilot (remember those?) and the cellphone (for awhile) and left all the listservs and online groups. I focused on writing. I loved dealing just with the words. I moved from magazines to books, and then to a masters program. I began spending much more time in classrooms working with my readers (mainly elementary and middle school children). And I was in love with my life againl!

Slowly I’ve been getting sucked into all the incredible things happening in cyber land again. And I’ve been attracted to the gadgets, the time-saving electronics, the devices! With these cool things came features and sites and methods to communicate. But I’m actually enjoying it this time around. I’ve learned how to balance doing all the things I love, so I actually make time for my writing. I’m enjoying it!

I look forward to sharing my “wonderings” about the things I love (books, writing, grammar, words, coaching) and my “wanderings” as I balance everything I do for a much happier me.

It’s good to be plugged in again!