Category Archives: Best Writer Tips

Writer love: 2nd Teen Story Slam was amazing

Last November, a small circle of writers and I tried something daring. We asked local teens to come out and read something they’d written to a live audience. It could be a poem, a confession, a chapter from a novel in progress, or a short story. The uber-talented (and literary award-winning!) teens in our after school program weren’t so sure about standing in front of a bunch of strangers, but a handful signed up. We thought we’d have an intimate circle of intrepid readers, and we were cool with that. Well, our literary event, Teen Story Slam, WENT OFF! We packed a giant house wall to wall,  on the night of the World Series no less. It was an historic outpouring of enthusiasm for the spoken word. Naturally, the students begged us to do it again.
With the support of Island Cool Frozen Yogurt, the Kitsap Regional Library, and the Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network, we threw another lit party, and packed another venue. The stories were outstanding!
As a teen writing mentor, I’m so thankful to each teen for making this special event happen–again. It gives me a such a warm heart to see these young women and men choose to come out with their parents and friends and share their creativity.
The peer support was overwhelming. Local teens and their friends came early and grabbed the couches and floor space directly in front of the mic. They demonstrated such love, encouragement and acceptance of one another’s words and efforts. Wow! I’m just so thankful for them and for our Teen Story Slam team of organizers. It’s a privilege to share these kids’ writing journeys. Teen Story Slam is good for the heart!

Teen writing co-mentor Margaret Nevinski said, “What a wonderful evening! Our teens are so incredible. So wonderful to see families and other teen supporters show up. These community events are so cool.” There were teens who came to listen but not participate. With the encouragement of friends and the support of a rapt audience, a few pulled up stories on their phones and took to the mic for an impromptu reading. “Nick F. decided to read because his friends did,” Margaret noted. “So proud of our teens.”

Will there be a Teen Story Slam 3? Definitely! We will return in the fall to Westside Pizza for another slam. If you’re considering fun ways to raise funds for non-profit programming, I’d be happy to provide info about organizing your own Story Slam. Just comment below!

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One for you, one for schools!

todayThis Giving Tuesday (Today, November 29), for every Yoobi item purchased on Yoobi.com or a Yoobi owned retail store, Yoobi will double their give back! (If you aren’t familiar with Yoobi, for every item purchased, they donate an item to a classroom in need, more details below.) Today, for every item purchased, Yoobi will donate two Yoobi items to a classroom in need in the United States.

If you’re a writer, Yoobi is a fabulous resource for pens, notebooks and journals, office supplies, organizational systems, and other useful items for the business of writing. 

Yoobi makes colorful, vibrant tools that spark learning and creativity from office and school supplies to fun stationery and craft items! Not only did they want to perk up the supplies aisle, but they wanted to help solve a very big problem. Many kids in the U.S. don’t have access to basic school supplies, unless teachers pay for them out of their own pocket, which averages out to $485 per teacher per year, for a collective total of $1.6 billion a year. In just 2 short years, Yoobi has impacted over 2 million kids with their mission and hope this Giving Tuesday only continues to impact more!

They will also be doing a social media GIVE. If you retweet @yoobigives’ designated #GivingTuesday tweet tomorrow, they will donate an item to a classroom in need for every retweet! Tweet this:

It’s ! RETWEET THIS and will donate an item into a classroom pack. It’s that simple!

It’s such a great and easy way to give back!

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My HuffPost: 1 week of meditation boosts creative problem solving

Please read my latest article on Huffington Post:

Just One Week of Meditation Can Boost Creative Problem Solving

From deciding what to eat for breakfast to handling a complex dilemma at the office, there is always more than one solution to any problem

The paths linking a problem to any number of resolutions can become twisted with doubt, uncertainty, or fear. Choosing one solution means giving up other opportunities. How do we select the best course of action?

Divergent thinking is a style of thinking that allows many new ideas to be generated. It offers personal space and an outlet for creativity, making room tothink up as many uses as possible for a given topic or solutions to a problem. Or better, discovering solutions that provide unexpected gains, or minimize compromise.

“Creative breakthroughs are often reported to emerge spontaneously, when the mind is distracted and not focusing on the problem at hand,” says cognitive psychologist Mark A. Smith, Ph.D.

How can we get started with divergent thinking and produce multiple creative solutions to problems in a short time? The answer is as simple as breathing.

Please click here to continue reading…

 

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Kitsap Area NaNoWriMo Write-in

nanologoHey neighbors, friends, and PNW writers!

We had so much last year hosting Monday night NaNoWriMo write-ins at the Poulsbo library, we’re doing it again!

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

It’s especially meaningful because so much has changed over the past year. Our group, formerly known as Field’s End, as been folded into the fabulous Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network, but our ongoing strong friendships are what make this year’s Monday night write-ins possible.

We all value writing together as a community–regardless of genre or level–and the awesome people at Poulsbo Public Library have graciously opened their doors to us, and will supply yummy snacks and writing craft books to keep our wordcount moving toward the 50,000 mark.

If you’re in the Kitsap area, and you like the positive peer pressure borne of the sound of fiercely typing fingers, come join us every Monday evening at Poulsbo Public library. I’ll be hosting on November 21st, from 6pm to 8pm.

What: NaNoWriMo Write-ins
Where: Poulsbo Public Library, 700 NE Lincoln Rd. Poulsbo, Wa 98370
When: Every Monday night in November
Time: 6pm -8pm

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Teen Writing Group Starts Thursday!

Calling all teen creative writers! It’s time for our monthly Teen Writers Group. We will meet the second Thursday of every month, throughout the school year. Our first meeting is:
Thurs. Sept. 8th
3:30 to 5:00
at Bainbridge Public Library
today
Looking forward to seeing returning writers, and hoping to see new faces. Please bring a friend who likes to write!
This free, drop-in group is for Grades 7-12, sponsored by Kitsap Regional Library and BARN Writers.
We’ll write, have a snack, and you can meet 1:1 with me or Middle Grade author Margaret Nevinski. We always allow time to share your work aloud, if you’d like some encouraging peer feedback.
For our first meeting, we’ll brainstorm our list of writing topics for the year. What do YOU want to learn about? Last year, we delved into writing scenes featuring: love, death, fighting, comedy, a first kiss, and school issues. We explored revision techniques, and prepping for publication. Should we revisit these topics on a deeper level, or venture into new territory? Bring your ideas!
See you this Thursday. 

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Memoirs of Teen Writing Camp

There’s something magical and heart-warming about teens who choose to set aside a week of their summer break to craft their daydreams and ideas into captivating stories. I had so much fun teaching at the filled-to-capacity Teen Creative Writing Summer Camp last year, I couldn’t wait to do it again this year.

The Teen Creative Writing Summer Camp is the brainchild of co-host and Middle Grade author, Margaret Nevinski, MFA. Just as the previous year, we had a full house of 22 talented writers from Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, Port Orchard, and Kingston, Washington. I can honestly say that the talent of our participants is astounding. Modern students understand instinctively how to begin a story, building to an inciting incident, and setting tone and character. I learn so much from watching them do what comes naturally.

What I loved about Teen Writing Camp Held at my beloved local public library, each day, we met in small Writers Circles, an encouraging and safe setting to read our work aloud. Often, the writers created fantastical worlds with strange creatures, but the problems their characters faced were very close to the teens’ hearts. Teens tend to write about what’s troubling them, or explore unknown territory, or sort out fears and anxiety. When a story is shared as fiction, the peer group offers solutions to the character’s problems, and in the process, help the teen writer feel supported, heard, and understood. By the end of the week, the bond between writers grew profoundly, and it was an honor to witness.

The teen writers submitted pieces to our annual camp literary magazine. This year, the writers chose the name THE QUILL. Teen Librarian Stefanie Reddy provided fabulous snacks, writing craft books, laptops, and a good sense of humor.
Margaret Nevinski agreed that camp was a resounding success. “I was inspired by the talent, ideas, and caliber of writing,” she said. “Several pieces came from the writing prompts we started out with each day, and others were from their own works-in-progress. Writers met with Rebecca and me for 1:1 consultations, and several chose to share their work with the group in the Writers Circle. We also had a good day at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, writing about a piece of art.”


todayDay 1:
The  writers had a mere seven seconds to scourge the Teen/YA section of Bainbridge Public library for a book. Their quest: find the seventh sentence of the seventh page, and write a story beginning with that one, random sentence. Some chose to apply the sentence to their work-in-progress. Others created fresh, new characters on the fly, crafting tense, energetic mini-stories.

Day 2: I lead a Fish Out of Water activity created by screenwriter Blake Snyder. This prompts deep, intricate story ideas, and often results in longer prose, including novels. The teens voted on proposed book cover designs for Lisa Manterfield’s A Strange Companion.

Day 3: Field trip! Our Teen Writers enjoyed lessons on Ekphrastic writing and book-making with Kristin Tollefson at BIMA. The stories that came out of the paintings, sculptures, and installations were astounding.

Day 4: The pressure was on! The writers worked one on one with me and Margaret Nevinski to edit and revise their pieces for our camp literary magazine, THE QUILL. Getting professional feedback is critical for writers at every level. Local editor Christina Tinling helped shed light on how new writers can open their work to constructive critique; “Consider any feedback a gift, not an insult. It’s assistance, help to make your story shine. Also, remember that each edit is just a suggestion, that it’s your story, and you get to make the final call. It’s not like English class, with your teacher marking something “wrong.” It’s just a “hey, I see what you’re saying here; it might connect more cleanly with readers if you put it/punctuate it/etc. like this…” Well said.

Day 5: The students learned the power of a deadline. All story submissions to THE QUILL were due, and the writers were eager to have us help them polish them. Some students were finished, and began new stories. We met in the Writers Circle and shared our best work. At first, some felt terrified about reading their private words aloud. But, in the safe and encouraging Writers Circle, our participants discovered they were on to something wonderful, that their peers admired what they’d written, and with peer feedback, they gleaned new ideas for taking their stories to the next level.

Would you like me to visit your classroom, book club, or libraBook Club or Classroom (1)ry? Learn more here or contact me at rjlacko (at) gmail (dot) com.

Live in the area? Margaret and I will be co-hosting the monthly Teen Writers Workshop at Bainbridge Public Library, the second Thursday of every month, 3:30pm -5pm.

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From fact to feeling: Adding emotional tension

In fiction, one truth prevails: emotional tension turns pages. A beautifully executed and thoroughly researched story comes across as ho-hum and put-down-able if the characters do not share authentic feelings with the reader, regardless of whether those feelings are fear, love, or rage. Conversely, a loosely plotted, implausible story can be absorbed enthusiastically in a number of hours because the emotional tension is held from page to page. A heart-wrenching book receives high praise from readers because it “stayed with them,” they felt a part of the protagonist’s journey, because they shared all the highs and lows along the way.
frostSo how do we craft a beautiful story AND weave in authentic feelings? Here are a few of my favorite tips. These only scrape the surface, however. Please share your tips in the comments below!
One absolute rule: NEVER say how a character feels. NEVER. If you ever type, “she felt,” or “he felt,” just stop right there and search your heart. If you are thinking about how a character feels or should feel, you aren’t selling it to your reader.
Key words: SEARCH YOUR HEART. As Robert Frost pointed out, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” We must do the dirty business of feeling on behalf of our characters, in order to make those feelings appear on the page. Let them do things and say things that are truly brave, and deeply vulnerable, maybe beyond our own capacity. Let them be heroic in their willingness to give of their hearts.
In order to show how a character is feeling, remember that in real life, approximately 60% of our messages to others are in the form of nonverbal cues. Keep this in mind–show the reader how the character is feeling by their nonverbal behaviors. Then, fill in the final 40% with truly vulnerable dialogue, words the character can only share with the person causing the feelings, be they mad, sad, or glad. What a character is willing to say to one character and not others reveals so much about their relationship, and deepens the characterization.
We must allow our characters to be honest, at least with the reader, if they can’t be with themselves. For example, when a character is hiding from his own feelings, let the reader know better, let the reader see how he really feels, so the reader can keep turning pages to see if a light comes on for the character. Readers WANT the character to grow, and to improve self awareness.
Happy writing. Keep me posted on your progress, and please share your tips for revealing emotions in characters. Let’s connect on Twitter @TheRJLacko

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