August 9, 2016
When I signed up for this Institute of Children’s Literature course, I figured I could get the ten assignments completed in twelve weeks or less. I teach, so I have my summers off. I thought for sure I could do one assignment a week and left myself a bit of leeway for interruptions. I read how other students took a long time to finish the course and thought, “Not me.”
Well, here it is week ten and I haven’t even submitted assignment four yet. I feel anxious and want to be past the halfway mark. I do this a lot. When I start a book, I first check how many pages there are and then figure out the halfway mark. Sometimes my heart races as I push myself to read faster or more. Do any of you do that as well?
With my reading, I set goals regularly. I actually just set a goal of reading forty books in many different genres from September 1 to June 1. I know that to be a great writer, I need to read a lot of books. I also know that I won’t do that without prior planning. I have to sit down and start reading, just as I must sit down and start writing.
Even though I know this is a college level course, and college courses often take a school year to complete, I don’t want this to take me a year to complete. I know it’s not the completion that matters, but I want to sit down and do these assignments. Every day that I don’t sit down to write, even for 30 minutes, is another day further from my goals. Every writer that I’ve read has had these same concerns. Prolific children’s book writer, Jane Yolen says some very wise things about making yourself write. This is one I keep on my phone and in my journal.
“Just write. If you have to make a choice, if you say, 'Oh well, I'm going to put the writing away until my children are grown,' then you don't really want to be a writer. If you want to be a writer, you do your writing... If you don't do it, you probably don't want to be a writer, you just want to have written and be famous—which is very different.”
This one hits me hard.
I could blame my kids, but they let me write. I could blame my husband, but he tells me to write. It’s me. I’m stymied by so many different things. I do want to be a writer and so I must follow what Yolen says. I look deeper at why I’m not writing and find that I work better on deadlines. I even set the timer to clean my house. It’s a race: how much can I clean in 30 minutes? So I decide to set up some deadlines for myself. The first is to write for 30 minutes each day solely on my ICL assignments. Sometimes I convince myself when I write blog posts or emails that this is enough, but this does not complete my assignments.
This week I set my 30-minute-a-day goal and even write it into my schedule for the day. I post my journal blog posts on Tuesdays, so Tuesday is the start of my writing week.
Tuesday: My Week 9 blog post is up, I re-read assignment four and realize that it is supposed to be more of a quick-write in order to get the feel for how to write non-fiction. Here I’ve been agonizing over an article that would be for a major magazine, when really I’m supposed to try some non-fiction out. I can do that.
Wednesday: I spend the 30 minutes answering questions I have about the topic I’ve chosen. It takes the full 30 minutes because even though there are a few articles written for adults about the topic, they don’t answer some questions that I think think kids will have. I go so far as to tell my kids a bit about my topic and ask them what kinds of questions they might have. That in-person research helps me a lot actually. I now have a list of about 25 questions to get answered.
Thursday: I organize my researched facts into common areas and try to find the strand of spaghetti that ties them all together. I thought it was going to be about dogs riding the subway in Moscow, but instead it seems to be about how animals use humans for behavioral adaptation. I’m pleased with the 30 minute time allotment. It’s long enough to allow me to get something accomplished, but short enough to give me the mild pressure I need for focus. I find, in fact, that sometimes I roll it over to a full hour of completely focused ICL coursework.
Friday: I complete the first draft of assignment four and put it away for now. I read some more non-fiction articles in the ICL resources to get some ideas for livening up my piece and paring it down to only what is necessary. I open my writing notebook and take some notes on things I read that I like.
Saturday: I revise assignment four and give it to my husband to read. He thinks it sounds good, but kind of boring. My nine and ten-year-old children agree. Instead of being deflated, I use my 30 minutes on this day to think up ways to make the article read with the Wow! factor that I initially felt when I discovered the topic.
Sunday: I make my final edits to the assignment and try to remember to include all the formatting pieces. One of the things I’ve learned through the course is how important it is to format correctly yet every single assignment I’ve handed in so far has been missing at least one formatting requirement. This bugs me because I know how critical formatting is to getting an agent or editor to continue reading. I make a note in my writing notebook to spend more time on formatting.
Monday: I read my final assignment and send it to my instructor. Then I spend the 30 minutes reading the next assignment. I’m hoping to do the same basic schedule next week. You know I’ll keep you posted!
Now that I’m deeper into the ICL course, I realize if I really want to take advantage of the value of this course, there is no way I can rush through it, getting every assignment done in one week. But I do think I can make a huge dent in the work if I give it just 30 minutes a day! It’s helping me to look at my day in 30-minute increments which is improving my efficiency and effectiveness at other things as well. I can feel it in how my words are flowing and how I’m looking more critically at my writing and at what I’m reading.
For me, writing needs to be a part of my life, not just something I do to get through a course. I know that with each assignment I’m getting better, and that’s the most satisfying feeling, even better than getting everything completed in twelve weeks or less.
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Kimberley Moran's site
Kimberley Moran is a gifted and talented teacher and freelance writer who lives in Hampden, Maine. She has two children and one very nice husband. Kimberley would like her bio to make her sound brilliant, witty, and kind because she knows that when you write and read you get to be anyone you want to be.
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