Tag Archive for writing

How to Turn Your Great Ideas into a Great ASCD Book

I have never shared this publicly on my blog, but I have a big dream of publishing a book.  If you follow my twitter conversations on the Wednesday night #educoach chat, then you could probably guess what I’d like to write about (and have been working on for quite some time now with Shira Leibowitz and Kathy Perret).
This is why I chose to attend the #ASCD13 session on “How to turn your great ideas into a great ASCD book” led by ASCD editors Genny Ostertag and Stefani Roth and by authors Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey. This was the perfect session for a writer to attend and I especially enjoyed hearing Fisher and Frey’s stories on writing (I LOVE learning about authors!)

If you’d like to write, but maybe not a whole book Eric Vandenheuvel attended the ASCD session on publishing an article. HERE are the notes he took in that session (Thank you Eric!)

Here are my notes from this session:

What do you want to write about most?
Do: choose a relevant topic that meets a need in the field that you have expertise/experience to share. ASCD gives priority to topics that include  educating the whole child (their mission) and will look for this in a proposal.
What’s your hook?
What really differentiates your content, what makes it special/different. What makes people think “that’s a problem I have and I can solve it.” Think of a spine supporting everything in it, provides a backbone for all the material. Make sure you have a fresh angle. 

Don’t: give a gimmick or try to hard (ex: abc’s list or sending with a teddy bear)

Who is your audience? who is your writing for? What outcomes will they be looking for? You must connect with your readers and offer solutions to their problems.  What keeps them up at night? Don’t tell them it’s for everyone.  If you say everyone will love it, then you likely haven’t thought of your audience.

Competition–do you research to know your competition. What has been done already and why was it done? If there’s nothing on it, it may be a reason. Don’t assume your idea is original. Google your title, google under publishers. 

Starting April 15, ASCD will be accepting proposals in an online portal that will allow you to track your manuscript’s progress.   Proposal guidelines are at www.ascd.org/write When you send in your proposal don’t skim on sample material. They’d rather see the whole manuscript than just one chapter. They are important for the review team. They need to get to know you on the page. More is better than less.  

What do editors want? Top 5 qualities:
1. Original-What is original about your piece? Give fresh information.  Don’t state the obvious (no lit review). 
2.  Research based-evidence based, make sure it is scalable/sustainable. Don’t labor over methodology. Good example: new Principal Evaluation book by James Stronge. Not every book has to be that research-based. Could just have one chapter that includes the research and then move on to be practical. Don’t just say “We know from research” and not cite anything.  
3. Practical– Provide guidance as specific as you can so people know, but don’t be too academic. It needs to be readable. 
4. Specific-Offer helpful ideas, show what they look like in real classrooms/schools, don’t over-generalizes so much that readers can’t specify to their situations. If you can’t figure out to apply to your school while you’re reading, you’ll stop reading. A great example is How to Create and use Rubrics.
5. Conversational-ensure your text is engaging, succinct, easy to navigate, be accessible, be yourself. An editor can help you add research, but they can’t make it super conversational and give you personality…you need to do that. Don’t include a lot of jargon or over-complicated language. Don’t try to impress people with crazy big words. Don’t be over-personal “I’m so great, I’m the best…”  Great example: How to Create a Culture of Achievement by Fisher and Frey.

DeClutter–make sure that other people can see themselves using it. Put forth the how-to. 

Do talk to published authors! Dont’ stalk them!! (They must not be on twitter…my authors on twitter don’t mind the stalking and have become great resources!)
Frey and Fisher sharing their writing tips

Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey shared their writing experiences and tips:

If you get a contract from a publisher-whatever date you negotiate…HIT IT! When they say your manuscript will come in on 11/15, that means they have lined up editors and the rest of the team for that date.  If you don’t hit it, they will not want you for future books.  Add 3 months to what you say you can do and then ask the editor for that date and then hit it. If something comes up, tell them immediately so they can try to change it. They do NOT like it if you miss a deadline.

Fisher said (about their published books), “None of these are our titles! The marketing department gets the title and the cover…none of them were in our minds. Let it go, don’t make the exact title/cover your concern. The marketing department knows what they’re doing.  I don’t even bother anymore…I just give a general “here’s what the book is about” for the title.”
Processes to write-everyone develops their own. Nancy writes in an office at Doug’s house, because  his house is bigger and she won’t get distracted by knowing what laundry needs to be washed!  They have 2 desks in one office to talk to each other to parcel out what they will each write about.  Planning process-they cover the back of the office door with sticky notes to sort based on those sticky notes.  Then they  put on individual sticky notes a shorthand about the point/tool and then easily move/sort ideas into chapters.  Gives a good visual for conversations.  

Other publishers-know who they are and who best fits your ideas. 

 Write about what you know. Look closely at your context/experiences, this is what you are expert in. Listen to what people ask of you, pay attention to the patterns that emerge in those questions. That’s the idea that you need-if they’re seeking you out about something, it means they can’t find it out somewhere else and it means you’re an expert in. 

Books are all about the same size. Do not write a thick book for ASCD. Aim for 50,000 words. If you’re at 45,000 in chapter 3 you’re writing too much. If you hit 60,000 it won’t be thrown out, but you don’t want it to be too long.  People want short chapters to read. They’re busy and want to read small chunks in one sitting. If it’s too long, they’ll stop. 

When you send a proposal, do not send your first chapter–if you wrote it first, it won’t be your best chapter. It’s likely very general and probably won’t show your conversational tone and practical examples.  Write the meat first and THEN write the 1st chapter. Otherwise you end up saying everything you want to say in the first chapter!

Nancy keeps a writer’s notebook to jot down good ideas.  You don’t want to lose your thoughts in busy lives. Keep track of super funny quotes too!!  Keep those little stories that could possibly be used.  
If you’ve been in education for a number of years, you have a book inside of you!  It’s just that some people take the time to sit down and do it. Your butt in a chair…that’s how you write a book!  Part of the writing process is like being a brick layer of words.  There’s a level of discipline to keeping yourself from being distracted.  Schedule time to write. Treat it like a meeting. Schedule it just like a conference or something else that’s important. Keep it as a promise to yourself. If you can’t do that, how can you keep a promise to someone else.  

 Create a goal for each day, ex “today I will write this idea.”  “Today I want to finish___” and then stop.  This will help you pace yourself better to finish the book.  You will get fatigued and get frustrated if you try to write for 8 hours a day.  Nancy writes notes about what they talked about so she can look back if they haven’t written them yet.  You will paralyze yourself if you keep going back to reread what you’ve already written. Leave yourself a note to know where to start tomorrow and get going again.  

Doug said that staring at a blank page intimidates him so he opens a chapter from a previous book and writes notes on the top of the page and then copy/pastes it to where he’s working…it’s all a psychological thing for him!  Nancy-puts down a quote or a scenario to get something on the page. She may not keep it, but it gets the flow going.

Their first book started as a conversation in the car.  Her first chapter took 4 weeks to write—laboriously.  Now she writes fast.  It was hard for her emotionally to see the edits/revisions come back, because it’s like your own child.  She’s learned to become detached from that.  When you get your first book out, ask the publisher for a copy of the cover to frame on your wall…it feels good to look at it. 
And have you ever wondered how ASCD chooses their member books? (The free one you get with your membership?) It must weigh less than 1 pound!

Writer’s Block

Here is another cross-post from my staff memo blog that will post tomorrow morning for my “Monday Musings.”

Writer’s Block

While having a mental block of not feeling like I have anything worthy of sharing with you all in a Monday Musings post (because I’ve spent my weekend in a book entirely for pleasure, not thinking of anything school-related) it made me think about our students having writers block, not knowing what they should write about. This immediately led my thoughts to modeling writing for our students in an authentic way, which I learned from Regie Routman. (Unfortunately for the students I taught it was after I already moved into the principal role).

When I taught writing, I modeled the writing process for my students; however, I modeled how to write a piece that I had already previously planned out before.  I had completely gone through the writing process on my own, wrote my piece and then recreated the process in front of them so there was no authentic modeling or thinking out loud of writers actually do as they are trying to think of what to write.  How can our students learn to get through a writing struggle if it is never modeled for them?  In the book Writing Essentials, Regie Routman says, “One of the most powerful ways for students to grow as writers is to watch you write–to observe you plan, think, compose, revise, and edit right in front of them, pretty much off the cuff. Very few of us just write down page after flowing page. Students need to see and hear our in-the-head thinking as we change our mind, ‘mess up,’ make adjustments, do everything ‘real writers’ do.” (page. 45).

So, how can you help model for students that may have writers block? This comes from constantly modeling for them and sharing yourself as a writer with them.  Start with a story…tell students a story that you want to write about.  On page 25, Reige writes to pick a story that:

  • Is easy for students to relate to.
  • Is appropriate to share with students.
  • Is important to me.
  • Lets students know more about me.
  • Allows me to take some risks.


Tell students the story you have chosen. Routman writes, “saying the story outloud engages the students, lets me clarify my thinking, and reinforces the importance of conversation before writing.”  Then take that story and model writing it in front of your students.  Write the story just as lively as you told it: include the details, descriptive words, or recreate the conversations you told.


As you model this process for students throughout the year, they will continue to make the connection between reading and writing…writing is a way to tell stories for others to read.  They will learn how to use events from their lives or use what they are reading to inspire them to write.


Have you written in front of your students before without having planned it? If not…try it. Take the plunge and share your writing struggle with students.


(Please note-this post took me about 10 minutes…I opened it only having the idea of writing about writers block and helping our students.  I did not take time to thoroughly plan it out, I just wrote as if I was talking about it.  If I were doing in this in the classroom I would then tell students that I will need to go back to revise/edit later, but this was to just get my ideas out).

Sharing Authors’ Personal Stories with our Students

Anchor Chart image from Teaching and Tapas

My 7 yr-old son is a tough audience when it comes to books.  He enjoys having me read novels to him, but he has yet to find the right books that he is completely interested in reading himself.  I thought about what his favorite pastime is and decided to try to write a story with that hobby as the major part of the plot to interest him.  I have never been a creative writer, but he absolutely loved what I wrote and asked me where the rest was!  Before he went to bed on Saturday night, he gave me my homework: “You can NOT go to sleep until you write me 2 more chapters to read in the morning, ok Mom?!”  I tweeted his homework assignment out to my PLN to share my humorous situation and got the following reply:

I was intrigued and started reading about the author, Rick Riordan, on his website .  As I read through his page on “Advice for Writers,” I realized how important it is for our students to learn more about the authors whose books they are reading.  In one of his answers, Rick has a list of tips, including:

“Secondly, read a lot! Read everything you can get your hands on.  You will learn the craft of writing by immersing yourself in the voices, styles, and structures of writers who have gone before you. Don’t be afraid that you’ll start sounding like a particular writer you admire.  That just means you need to read MORE, not less.
Thirdly, write every day! Keep a journal.  Jot down interesting stories you heard. Write descriptions of people you see.  It doesn’t really matter what you write, but you must keep up practice. Writing is like a sport — you only get better if you practice.  If you don’t keep at it, the writing muscles atrophy.”
What incredible advice from an author that many of our students (in upper grades) love to read!  As I thought back to my classroom days, I recalled having “author studies,” where we read several picture books from the same author, comparing/contrasting among them.  I can’t recall ever taking the time to share with students the authors’ stories behind why they wrote each book or any other information they shared about what they do to write. 
Do you take time to share any of this with your students?  I’d love to hear about how it has impacted your students’ writing.  Here are some websites I found with resources on authors:
The Stacks list of authors from Scholastic
You can also google almost any author to find their homepage where they include far more information. Here’s some that I know are popular authors to our students:
And an author that is new to me, but I’m sure our students will love after he visits our school this week, is… Michael Scotto

Share Your Writing Life

*Here is another cross-post from my Friday Focus post
on my staff memo blog:

Photo courtesy of J. Lauzier

Share Your Writing Life
“I write out of ignorance…It’s what I don’t know that stimulates me.

I merely know enough to get started.” ~Toni Morrison

In Regie Routman’s book Writing Essentials, she discusses the importance of sharing your writing life with students…even if you don’t think of yourself as a writer. As you examine your writing over an ordinary week, it may include lists, letters, emails, cards, journal//reflection book, book/movie reviews on amazon, etc. Routman states, “the simple fact is we have to see ourselves as writers if we are to teach writing well.” She goes on to discuss the need for students to see why we write and why good writing matters.

As I reflected on this, I asked myself the question, “when did I become a writer?” To be quite honest, it wasn’t until I started blogging about 3 years ago. Of course, I wrote whatever essays were assigned to me throughout school, dutifully following whatever criteria each of my teachers graded on and managed to get A’s. However, it wasn’t until I had choice in what I was writing and wrote for an “audience” that I could get feedback from online by sharing their comments that I became excited about writing. I recall the dread I felt having to think of what to write (in any class), however, now I am constantly adding to the list of topics I want to write about as I read new books and just experience life. My list is long, because I think of the ideas, but don’t have the time to write about all of them.

This also makes me think back to how I taught writing in the classroom. I’m sure I never really inspired my students to write, because I wasn’t that excited about writing. I taught lessons on the 6 Traits using picture books that our grade level agreed to use, and led students through grade level specific writing pieces. I also used a 6 Traits program that consisted of packets of activities and writing prompts on each trait. As I think back to those packets, I think of how boring and meaningless it must have been for my students (let’s face it, I was bored with it).

What I was missing, was my own realization that I am a writer and to share that with my students. Routman suggests bringing in examples of your real-life writing to share with your students to show them that you are a writer. You can easily share your reflection journal or a printed email with them without actually reading it to them. In addition, you should model writing for your students using the same concept of a mini-lesson with a think-aloud that you do when teaching the literacy strategies. One strong suggestion from Routman is to not only model writing in front of your students, but to do it “cold” (not rehearsed) so that they can see you struggle with it. To let students see what “real writers” do as they think through what they’re writing. This concept was entirely new to me, as I can recall wanting to get my model writing piece “perfect” before I wrote so my students would see what was needed, however, it’s the actual struggle that helps them learn.

As I read Routman’s book I was also intrigued to learn about the process of writing to learn, especially since we know that writing across the content areas is huge in the common core standards. Routman states, “writing enhances thinking and helps develop it.” I used to always think that I had to have all the information before I could write something, however, it is the process of writing that helps you figure out what you know and don’t know.

My reflection prompt for you: to think about yourself as a writer and how you can share it with your students:

  • The next time you sit down to write, examine your process–do you just start writing, do you need to make an outline/web, do you need to talk it out first? Do you write straight through? Stop to reread? Revise as you go? Look up information? Apply what you do as a writer to teaching your students.

Photo Courtesy of Writing Talk