a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Pay attention.

That was Ruth’s challenge to us.

Last week as part of her visit to my classroom, Ruth set aside time to work with the language arts teachers in my middle school.  

Her presentation was titled Nudging Joy: If I didn’t write, I wouldn’t know…  She spoke about the impact of our own writing lives on the work we do with young writers.  It is a topic I have heard Ruth speak about before.  It is the heart and soul of her work as a writing coach.  It is a message that settles more deeply in my heart and soul and each time I listen to her speak. 

It is no surprise that she inspired us to do some writing.   We did a quick write in response to Eve Merriam’s poem “A Lazy Thought.”  Ruth wrote alongside us.  

She shared some things she has learned as a writer and how they’ve impacted her work with writers.  

She reminded us to celebrate, to listen to the writerly voices in our heads and shut out the critics, to share our writing habits—the joyful ones and the spirit of endurance when the going gets tough, to think in terms of possibilities, to balance choice and structure, to play purposefully, and to write if not for immediate joy, then for the promise of future joy.

Then, she nudged us to notice what we learned from even the small amount of writing we just did that we could apply to our work with young writers.  This was the transformational moment. 
Today, my co-teacher and I talked about tomorrow’s lesson.  She got this little spark in her eye as she casually mentioned using the quick write from Ruth’s workshop as a model for the lesson about how writers develop a “So What?” in their work.  She wants to demonstrate how sometimes you just start writing and figure out the point later.

Pay attention.

We are rising to the challenge.  Thanks Ruth!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

NATIONAL DAY ON WRITING {OCTOBER 20th}: thinking about my writing life

SLICE OF LIFE is hosted by Two {awesome} Writing Teachers

I convinced all of the teachers on my team to spend the first 5-10 minutes of class tomorrow sharing their writing lives with our students (secretly I suspect this is a conversation that will blossom into more than just 10 minutes, but I just asked for a mere 10 minute commitment…shhh!).  I believe sharing our writing lives will help form connections.  The teachers on my team have writing experiences that range from writing poetry to cope with life changes, journaling to sort out the tough stuff, and archiving to record family memories. 

As an 8th grade language arts teacher, I have been sharing my writing life with my students since the first day of school.  Given that tomorrow I want to participate along with my team members, I have been thinking about what I might share about my writing life that would be new to my students.

So I have been thinking about my writing life—about why I write, about my current writing life, and about how I got here.  These are some of my thoughts:

·      I blog and use Twitter to connect with other writers.  These connections have become vital to my professional growth and sustenance.

·      I have been writing for as long as I can remember.  I still have my writing portfolios from 4th and 5th grade, which is how I finally realized I had participated in an early form of writing workshop as a student.  I still have picture books that I wrote and illustrated as part of the young author’s contest from 4th through 8th grade. 

·      Writing has played a role in many of my friendships.  My friend Dena and I wrote notes back and forth in notebooks throughout our junior and senior years of high school.  My friend Lizabeth wrote me a poem when I moved out of state during my sophomore year.  I wrote snail mail letters back forth with my friend Ced from the time he moved out of state up until he died in a car accident at the end of sophomore year (I still have all of those letters).  My friend Beth and I worked together on countless writing projects in elementary school, including turning a picture book into a script for a play that we cast and directed during our lunch hour after begging for permission.  Most recently, the colleague of mine who moved to the ad center and I exchanged a card each day of her final week at school. 

·      Writing is part of my family’s history; I wrote about my grandpa’s writing past a while ago in this post.  When my parents went on vacation to Jamaica when I was a child, my mother left poems she had written for my sister and me to open each morning they were gone.  My sister gave me gifts of writing on many occasions throughout my childhood (however just because they were gifts, does not mean they were nice).

·      Reading plays an important role in my writing life.  I just cannot separate the two.

(I think this could blossom into a conversation that lasts more than 10 minutes.)

Writing matters to me, it matters to who I am and who I want to become.  Happy National Day on Writing!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by TWO WRITING TEACHERS
Fire drill.  1:30pm.  Friday afternoon.  8th graders.  My co-teacher’s student teacher.  My co-teacher’s guest teacher. 

There is a reason they call them disaster drills.

I tried to pre-correct.  I tried to model a sense of decorum.  I tried. 

My 9th hour class exited the building quickly and safely.  Once outside, they split up to find their 1st hour teachers.  I broke away to find my 1st hour students. 

I approached a line of antsy, squirrely—well, 8th graders.  I wrangled them as best I could.  I held up my “Good to Go” sign when they were all accounted for.  I avoided engaging in conversation with them at a time when we are supposed to be silent. 

I stopped next to R.  He is usually quiet. 

“Mrs. Rush?”

I turned to look at him. 

“If this were a real fire they wouldn’t really make us report to our first hour teacher, would they?  I mean, what if I had to walk around the whole building to get here?”

I took a deep breath.  “Actually, R, we would expect you to report here in case of an actual fire.  In fact, that is the very reason we practice this procedure over and over again—so that you know what to do in a REAL fire.  That is also the reason there are teachers calling to you to walk around the building at a safe distance from it.”

“Yeah, but if it were a real fire they wouldn’t really care if we reported to 1st hour.”

By this time, I could see my efforts were futile.  If 9 years of public school system disaster drills had not convinced him, my attempts to explain certainly were not going to do the trick.  At 1:30 in the afternoon.  On Friday. 

For a moment I feared that exchange might be the nugget of school I would carry with me into the weekend. 

The classes around us began to move towards the door.  I held my class back to avoid being scrunched into the crowd.  To avoid allowing students to be swept away with other classes.  To maintain at least a semblance of control. 

Finally, I led my class into the building.  We merged with the sea of moving bodies. 

That’s when I heard it behind me.  A chorus of voices.  “When I say 21, you say VOICES.  21.”




“When I say VOICES, you stay STRONG!  VOICES!”




As we entered back into building at 1:45 on Friday, I was followed by 21 Voices Strong.  21 students, who started the year nervously asking if the mantra we are learning to repeat at the beginning of class each day would be shared with other classes, declared their membership throughout the hallways.  21 members of the Voices Strong class, which is my answer to the remediation-based interventions our system is currently putting into place, made me proud. 

Now that is one of the finest nuggets of school I have ever captured to carry with me into a weekend.   

Monday, October 1, 2012


This Saturday my husband and I attended the Anderson’s Bookshops 9th Annual Young Adult Literature Conference.  Here are some highlights:

First of all, we got to each lunch with authors T.M. GOEGLEIN and PAUL GRIFFIN.  What an awesome experience!  They talked about the author visit workshop they do and how it is about getting students to recognize that they each have a story to tell.  They had me at story.  PAUL GRIFFIN even signed copies of his books to “21 Voices Strong,” the name of the class I invented.  I am going to work hard to make an author visit happen for this year’s class.  

On where he gets his ideas: It’s like there are hooks in your brain and things get caught on them.

Questions he asks himself about every line he writes: Is this compelling? Is this gripping? Is this moving the story forward?

On his readers: The more people who read your book, the more you exist as a writer.

Two questions he explored while writing his latest book Every Day:
1.    What would it be like to not have a set body, just a self, with no physical manifestation of that?  No culture, no race, no gender, etc.
2.    Can you love somebody who changes every day?

On incorporating paranormal/magical realism into his work: You can illuminate real life by showing the alteration of real life.

On working with so many different characters in a single novel: Everybody has a story inside of them. 

On sharing all books with all readers:  We have to uphold the fact that books are as much windows as they are mirrors.

3 books he recommends you read:
1.    The Disenchantments
2.    Endangered
3.    Ask the Passengers

On work that inspired her to write/draw contemporary realistic graphic novels: the comic strip For Better or For Worse by Lynn Johnson and the t.v. show Daria

On her new book Drama: True high school events inspired many scenes, including the twin brothers who were based on a real set of twins she knew.

On her writing process: She drafts in thumbnails (rough outlines of images with words boxed out).  Her editor edits in this stage as well.


On her writing process: She drafts story with dialogue and all, but then inserts brackets that might say: [insert fight scene here].  She adds fight scenes at the end because they are most challenging for her to write. 

On social media: She enjoys that it allows her to interact with her minions.

On becoming a writer: Referred to library as being made of bully kryptonite.  Was bullied as a kid.  Wrote two books that were rejected hundreds of times.  Then decided to write what she knows:
1.  how to be unpopular,
2. teenagers (believes people hit the age they are and that their bodies keep growing old and betray them), and
3. vampires. 
So, she created Vladmir Tod, the unpopular teen vampire.  Soon realized that if she was going to write his story, she would have to write her own story.

On writing fantasy vs. contemporary realistic fiction: No fiction reader is really reading about reality.

On her childhood: “I remember when I was a girl.  I was a small and black-hearted creature.”

On what inspired her to write fantasy: Mom would manage her behavior at a young age by doing things like pointing to the woods while driving and saying, “Did you see that?   You just missed it!  It was a fairy!” to distract her from hitting her brother in the back seat. 

On writing fantasy vs. contemporary realistic ficton: Fantasy is more universal, doesn’t become dated.

On social media: Wants to interact with her readers first and foremost through her novels.

Something she said that was just plain poetic: “Brutal and beauty lie next to each other.”