5 Writing Goals for Summer

on vacationAh, summer. Is it really that time again? It’s hard to believe I’ll have two months to do whatever I want–clean my house, walk the dog, read, pursue educational enrichment, catch up on my writing, talk to my children–talk to my husband.

Truth is, I have more to do than two months of free time allows. I know what I should do–hone my teacher skills–but I want to work on my writing skills. I’ve waited all these years, putting children and husband first (and happy I did), then falling into a teaching job where my students go first (400 wide-eyed, eager brains. Never could talk myself into going on auto-pilot). When is it My Time?

This summer. I’m doing it. I am going to devote myself to my writerly craft and see what happens. I know–I’m a little nuts. Let’s stipulate to that and move on. Here’s my list of the top five ways I will spend my Writerly Summer:

Writing

I have two non-fiction books my publisher awaits. I have five more ebooks batting around in my brain I can dash off without too much trouble, then sell on my Teachers Pay Teachers account (see below). I also MUST finish Twenty-four Days. I’m either going to make my publisher happy or I’m going to have a Come to Jesus moment and make a Big Decision. Either way, that book is being birthed this summer.

That done, I want to rework the prequel to Twenty-four Days so its ready to go as the next in the series. Because I know readers will rabidly want more.

That done (here’s the tie-in to this month’s theme: what was I doing half a lifetime ago), I am going to rewrite the book that started me authoring–Lucy: A Biography. It’s the saga of our ancestors. I’m going to revamp it in first person so readers can relate to their roots better. I sure hope that works. Well, it will work because I’ll self-pub when I’m done (it’s a niche topic that has garnered little publisher/agent interest in the 15 years it’s been kicking around).

Teachers Pay Teachers

This is a great site to sell teaching materials to teachers. If you haven’t visited TPT, you are missing out. There is a wealth of resources on everything imaginable sold by people just like you (if you’re a teacher and a writer). It includes a robust ‘comment’ section for products where I get lots of feedback on my materials. The hitch: All customers are teachers. So, writing materials should be geared toward teaching K-12. Despite that, this is a great marketplace for me which often outsells Amazon. I need to look over my TPT store, make sure everything is current, crisp, presentable, then update as needed.

Google Hangouts

These are great. An expert alerts you s/he will be ‘hanging out’ at a certain date and time. The first ten people who accept her invitation are on-screen with her/him. She presents writing tips and tricks and you (as one of the first 10) get to participate in the conversation. The expert benefits because s/he can record directly to her/his YouTube channel of writing tips (you have one, right?). The viewer also wins because they get amazing writing advice for free. I teach technology education through Google Hangouts (as part of CSG online classes) and am loving it, as are my students (all adults). Trust me, fellow writers, this is the future of learning. Embrace it. All it takes is a little practice to get down the invitation process, how to record to YouTube, get screenshare linked to Google Docs, and get that comment sidebar up so everyone can talk at once.

Online seminars

You might call them ‘webinars’. I get lots of invitations, but put them off because I’m either working when the event takes place or too tired. No excuses anymore–I’ll do it!

Go Digital!

I will force myself to do everything possible digitally. No more newspapers (go online), no more paperback books, no more paper and pencil notes (I’ll learn Evernote). No more printed directions–I’ll figure out how to send them to my phone. No more trips to the library–I will use the online catalog. What else? Doesn’t matter what else. Anything else that comes up, I will try to find a digital solution to it. I can do it!

There you have it. What are your summer plans?


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger, a columnist for Examiner.com, featured blogger for Technology in Education, IMS tech expert, and a monthly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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Padded Brown Paper Envelopes and a Bus Full of Books

When I was a kid, I lived in the sticks. Literally, I was surrounded by trees and lived miles from anything that resembled modern civilization.  The nearest shopping mall, for example, was 40 minutes away.  The nearest movie theater was 45 minutes away.  Remember: I grew up in the dark ages before the internet, cellphones and digital media, so there was no OnDemand, streaming video, e-book downloads or anything like that, and the sheer distance to any of these things meant that I didn’t go unless I could ride my bike there. And even if I were to put a double-length tape into my WalkMan, strap my headphones on (since helmets weren’t required) and pedal as fast as I could, these trips would take a couple hours each way on a bicycle.

I think the part of living so far from everything that caused the most anxiety for me was the fact that the nearest library was also 40 minutes away. The Big Box book stores didn’t really exist yet (and even if they did, they’d have been the aforementioned 45 minutes or more away at the nearest malls)… so my only hope for getting new books was from the school library.  As an avid science-fiction reader, the paltry selection in my school’s library was not enough to satisfy my hunger for reading. As I got older and the required summer reading lists became duller and hardly ever included a science-fiction selection other than Fahrenheit 451, my desire to read over the summer waned. But that is when I discovered two things that changed my life as a reader.

First was the books by mail program.  Books by mail allowed me to request books from the library and have them sent straight to my mailbox. Readers could select as many books as they wanted and mail in the form, then the library would mail two paperbacks from the list to your home. Upon returning them, you could add more books to the list or just wait for the next pair to come (in a way this was like a precursor to Netflix).  Every couple of weeks I would look in the mailbox for that padded brown, paper envelope containing my weekly dose of fiction. It was exciting to get new-to-me books each week or two. Since there was no risk, I could just choose any or every book in the science-fiction category (or whichever genre I wanted).  This gave me the ability to experience new authors or really dive into specific authors’ catalogues.  One of the paperbacks I got through this program was Sudanna, Sudanna by Brian Herbert. While this isn’t the best book I ever read, it was one of the books that really made me think about the worlds I create in my own writing. I haven’t read it since 1986 but the basic story is about the peanut shaped planet, Ut, which is ruled by Mamacita – a 150 million year old supercomputer. Her every whim is a rule that is applied with dictatorial force. The book has humans in it, but humans are not its focus. The Utpeople are the focus. Their struggles as a society, their struggles as a species, their interaction and interconnectedness with their physical environment… all of this is investigated in the book in often humorous ways. This book helped me learn how to define the entirety of new worlds as opposed to just the locality of specific characters within those worlds. The book is out of print now, I think, but I keep my eyes open for it to either be re-released for the kindle or for it to be at a yard sale some day.

The second, more impactful discovery was the Bookmobile.  The Bookmobile was, essentially, a bus which was outfitted with bookshelves and a checkout desk. It was sent out to our town and others as a service from the county library.  I rode my bike a little over 3 miles each way to get to the parking lot where the Bookmobile would arrive each Tuesday at 3pm. Obviously, during the school year I couldn’t get there because I was still in school, but during the summers, I was there every week!

I remember the first time I went into the Bookmobile. The “book smell” was there, just like in a library. Rows of books filled the majority of the vehicle, with a narrow passageway down the middle allowing one to peruse the books and get to the check out desk right behind the driver’s seat. Only one or two people could be inside at a time due to the narrowness, but I liked that – the focus was on the books.  The selections consisted of almost entirely hardcover books across all genres. I, of course, dove right to the science-fiction area and grabbed all I could.  Unfortunately, the two books at a time limit made me put most of them back. There weren’t really that many sci-fi books to select, but I wanted to read them all. Every week I checked out my two books and rode away on my bike. Over time, the driver – I unfortunately cannot remember her name now – came to recognize my tastes and tried to help me out by adding a few more science-fiction selections on the days she’d be coming to my town, or by allowing me to take three or even four books at a time. After a month or so, I’d climb into that mobile library and she’d call me straight to the desk, where she had set a few books aside just for me.

Thanks to the Bookmobile, but even more importantly thanks to the librarian within it, I read books and authors I would have overlooked.  I read the entire Dune series one summer because she set them aside for me (I still haven’t seen the movie). I read other books by Frank Herbert as well:  The Green Brain, The White Plague… books I’d never heard of, but which were fantastic.  With the help of the librarian, I learned that I really don’t like Heinlein for some reason.  I learned that I like almost everything Arthur C. Clarke writes except for the endings to any of his books.  I learned that I do like everything Asimov wrote, including the endings. And all of these things helped me to learn about my own writing as well because it made me think about endings more carefully (since I saw the pattern of my distaste for Clarke’s endings) and it made me see more clearly just what I liked in terms of storytelling.

Ultimately, despite the best efforts of the school district to limit my reading to moldy oldies, summertime allowed me to discover books I’d have never read during the rest of the year. Much of this exploration and discovery was thanks to that one librarian who got to know me a little bit over so many summers. As libraries cut hours, services and branches, I worry that we will lose the ability to find books or authors to try in a “risk free” way. It feels like a rite of summer is slipping away from our children and I don’t know how to save it.