Ah, November. A blank page on which to write.
Today marks one week into National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short). This year, I’ve made a commitment to the scribbling craft. The pledge? To write every day.
The force rolling me along is four fellow writers (a.k.a. The Furious 5). Each day, we email the group to report on how much time we’ve written, and sometimes what we worked on. Despite the “novel” aspect of NaNoWriMo, our group sets no requirements for genre. Among our quintet, we’ve already covered fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Timing is also flexible. As one member put it, you can write for “5 minutes or 5 hours.”
If this November is even a fraction as productive as last year, I’ll consider it a success.
What writing commitment could you make for 30 days?
I see them every now and then – furious complaints or snappy comebacks about student behavior, posted or shared by college professors on social media. Sometimes they’re pretty funny. Overall, though, they bring me down.
Here’s a thought: What if we abstained from posting nastygrams about our students, just for this semester?
Students have thrown some curveballs my way, but many have left me open-mouthed in amazement. I’m talking about students who revealed they were the first person in their family to set foot on a college campus; a student who wrote a gorgeous short story out of the blue, because something in the assignment touched him; students reading ahead in the assigned book because they got so into it.
If I succumb to the seduction of a social media rant, I degrade those stories. I feel only the anger of the injustice and the momentary boost from Facebook cheerleaders.
If you’re not convinced that a rant moratorium has merit, consider this: Acting like a cad isn’t just for students.
In Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay presents a beautifully humble essay on her first year of teaching college students. She writes:
Sometimes, during class, I catch students staring at their cell phones beneath their desks like they’re in a cone of invisibility. It’s as funny as it is irritating.
…Sometimes, when students are doing group work, I sneak a look at my own phone like I am in a cone of invisibility. I am part of the problem.
Filed under Blog, Teaching
Here’s an example of the Week 3 assignment for ENG 360. This one is an analysis of tweets from two DC City Council reps during the 2016 election year.
To start off your own assignment, add an intro to the analysis you’re about to provide.
[^ I embedded this tweet. If you don’t know how to embed, you can screenshot and add a link to the original tweet ^]
In this tweet, Ward 4 city council rep Brandon Todd shares several images of himself with constituents in the first week of school. There are four images total, including one with a child and parent or guardian; two with just children; and one with what appears to be a teacher or school administrator.
I think Todd is keeping in mind the diversity of the ward he represents and, specifically, the audience that would be following him on Twitter. He selected a STEM-focused school, and made his layout balanced both visually and conceptually. [FURTHER ANALYSIS, USING THIS WEEK’S READING, WOULD GO HERE]
Here, rep Mary Cheh tweets in honor of National Dog Day. She shows one photo of a dog-owning constituent wearing a Mary Cheh T-shirt and other shot of just a pooch.
I think Che’s intended audience was the thousands of dog lovers and dog owners in DC. [INSERT MORE ANALYSIS HERE]
In a new article for the Jewish Daily Forward, I visit a family camp at the Pearlstone Center. Check it out:
Image by Diego Torres via Pixabay
Wondering what I’m doing this summer? Here’s the story behind one project.
It all started in April, when I took a crash course in pitching an agent. I had registered for Books Alive! 2016, presented by the Washington Independent Review of Books. It’s a local conference with workshops, speakers, a book fair, and book signings. It also features the coveted Agent Speed Pitches.
I figured I would brush off a journalism fellowship proposal, make it into a book proposal, and convince an agent to love it in five minutes or less. Soon, I’d be on my way to a book deal.
It turns out I went about it all wrong.
It’s not hard to do what I did. To practice how not to pitch an agent, follow the simple steps below.
How Not to Pitch an Agent for Your Nonfiction Book
- With about six days to go before your nonfiction book proposal must be ready, discover that six days is a preposterously inadequate amount of time to write a book proposal.*
- Write a good query letter instead. While working, sing a little song about how the kindly agent will adore your query, swoop in, and help you write that pesky proposal.
- Do not use a single sentence from your query letter. Instead, turn what was once a book proposal and then became a query letter into a three-minute pitch.
- Practice the pitch on nonfiction writers, novelists, and your cat. At least one out of three will give constructive feedback. Treat the other two to a rendition of that song about your guardian agent.
- At 6:45 am on the day of the pitch sessions, as the Uber waits downstairs, decide to print your query letter after all. Clutch the letter close throughout the morning.
- Use the pitch on agents — the ones assigned to you for speed-pitch sessions as well as the one who magically asks you about your book while you sit around the lunch table. That last one will listen intently until you must both stop for the keynote by Bob Woodward.
- Note the questions the agents ask and suggestions they make about structure. Note also how said questions and suggestions are not at all consistent.
- Note also how, though the agents are all wonderful people, not one extended a cloud-soft wing to envelope you.
- Rejoice that several agents asked to see either a sample chapter or full book proposal.
- Realize this is better than a guardian agent. Also understand that you must produce a book proposal.
- Attempt to write a book proposal. Take more than six days to do it.
- Start now.
So there you have it. The Book Proposal (incorrect capitalization for Emphasis) is one of my projects. I look forward to posting updates.
*Why inadequate? Thanks to author friends Michael Chorost and Fran Hawthorne (plus online searching), I learned that a nonfiction book proposal comprises some 50 to 60 pages of details. It covers the content, author, and market. Sample chapters also go in there. As you can imagine, a normal human can’t do this overnight. If you’re interested in more information, here’s a great guide from Zimmerman Literary.
For your reading list
If you’re prone to binge reading, close this tab right now.
Think you can handle it? Here it comes: Check out the Toast’s If X Were Your Y. This section caught my eye with If LaVar Burton and Yo-Yo Ma Were Your Dads by Nicole Chung and Karissa Chen. Then I read another piece. And another. You could say it’s my latest obsession.
The premise is as simple as one phrase: “If ___ were your ___.” Writers fill out that phrase, and then take it to its logical – and then far beyond logical – conclusions. With that Chung-Chen piece, the idea led to passages like:
If LeVar Burton and Yo-Yo Ma were your dads, when you were a kid, every time you had a question about anything (“How do you spell ‘loquacious’?” “Do sharks sleep with their eyes closed?”), LeVar Burton would tell you to take a look, it’s in a book. And when you complained about how annoying Dad was being, Yo-Yo Ma would play a slow, sad song on the cello, and they’d laugh at you (never unkindly) as you stomped away.
Logical enough. But did you know “if LeVar Burton and Yo-Yo Ma were your dads, your orchids would never die, no matter how much you overwatered them”? That one waves to logical as it passes, keeps going, and ends up three galaxies away. Another great one: If Justin Bieber Were My Terrible, Golden Son. Continue reading