Tuesday, November 3, 2015


"We read to learn how to write." 

Written on Facebook last March... Avoiding my taxes and book revisions, I roamed my house this early morning taking photos of the stacks, rows, piles, and clumps of books that line my tables, shelves, desks, and piano. Some of the books I've read; some I haven't. Some are hand-me-downs from my grandfather, F. Allen Burt; others are in storage for Ken, my brother-in-law, a dyed-in-the-wool bibliophile. A select few come from my graduate school studies--those books have been read multiple times, the pages are dog-eared, sticky-noted, Post-It'd, and scribbled on. I feel smart when I see those books, except when I remember how often I sat staring at the dense writing, reading it over and over again, puzzled, left wondering.  

Hundreds of my books come from my old high school English classroom, Room 109 of Mountain Valley High School. There, my students and I collected 2500+ books for our classroom library. In fact, my students got extra credit once a quarter for donating a book! (Yes, I could be bought, but only with books.) In Room 109, we had every-anything in our stacks, from "The Basketball Diaries" and "When Someone You Know Is Gay" to "How Cars Work" and a book on forensics with a full-blown autopsy report and detailed photographs. 

John Steinbeck said, "I guess there are never enough books." This morning, I’d agree. Time to get to work. The full album of my books may be accessed by clicking on this sentence

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Advice to writers

I've taught writing for a very long time and have shared the classroom with a number of students who spin fabulous lines or stories during a short writing exercise in class. These are students who could find a place in the writing world, students whose writing makes me envious. I love the way they use words and evoke emotions. Perhaps most of all, their voices ring clear. I admire the ease with which these writers craft a journal entry or an in-class story. However, once class ends and they're on their own, many of these writers tend to falter and stop writing. My gut says these would-be writers don't trust the process and as a result find it hard to commit to the day-to-day of a writer's life. As writers, we don't publish our work after a 10- to 15-minute writing activity. Usually, our writing projects wear on for months or years, and we don't get much in the way of feedback except from our editors. Their words of encouragement mean the world to us and keep us moving forward. My best advice to students who wish to write has always been, "Trust the process: keep putting words on paper and revise revise revise." Perhaps Bonnie Friedman in Writing Past Dark takes my words even further:

Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences.
They are the ones who keep writing. They are the ones who discover
what is most important and strangest and most pleasurable in themselves, 
and keep believing in the value of their work, despite the difficulties.   

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Monnie's book

Most writers have those go-to books that stimulate writing and prompt ideas. Monica Wood's The Pocket Muse is one of those books for me and for most of the students I've taught. Monnie's prompts force writers to twist their understandings and think more creatively. Here are three examples:

–Write about a noise–or a silence–that won't go away.

– Until _________________, nothing notable had happened in the town of Madison since the year of its founding. (Now, keep on writing.)

–Use the following verbs in any way you wish:
          racket  snug  green  spoon  boggle  snake
They're not all verbs, you say?
"Jeremy is racketing across the lawn as we speak."
"Can you hear earthworms snugging out of the ground as the sun greens the trees?"

                    –Verbs are sometimes a matter of opinion.

A used copy of The Pocket Muse can be purchased for pennies. My advice... invest.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Grandpa's Book: The Story of Mount Washington (41/60)

The Story of Mount Washington
by F. Allen Burt
My grandfather, F. Allen Burt, wrote the history of Mount Washington back in the late 1950s. Published in 1960, The Story of Mount Washington, shares a wealth of history, science, and stories of this venerable mountain. Much of the book comes from the archives of my grandfather's father and grandfather who published a newspaper on the top of the mountain from the 1870s to early 1900s.

I convinced myself some years ago that I had read this book as a young man. But I'm certain now that I only spot read various sections. But now I will.

I doubt many from my family have read this book. It's curious how that happens. I've noticed it in my own career: family members haven't read my books or articles. I wonder if it has something to do with the way we view authors as–would it be–other-worldly. Or perhaps it's more like, "Well, that's my brother or grandfather or aunt... what does she have to say me?"

No matter. It's time to read Grandpa.  

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Final Readings

Wow... Three cheers to the process. What an absolute treat to listen to Friday's readings. We heard personal stories about gardening and family, laundry and marriage, what we leave to others, 
and sailing/cruising x 3. What better way to spend a Friday morning in July than with 
thoughtful writer-friends... 

As always, click on the first photo to enlarge and scroll through the entire collection. 

Nonfiction Writing, Summer 2015
(l-r) Jay, Lynn, Emily, Deb, Rich, Val, Karla, Richice, and Pete








Friday, July 17, 2015

Chocolate, Bread, Coffee, Root Beer, and Writing

During our 4th day, the penultimate, Pete took us on an uproarious hiking adventure with Bill Bryson while Ricky treated us to homegrown goodies and a book talk on Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate. Throughout the week we've discussed various revision techniques, and on Thursday morning, I passed out a sheet with seven of my favorites.
From Classroom Revision Strategies

Click on photo 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Welcome to Nonfiction Writing

Where did we start this course? With these letters from early June. 
Click photos to enlarge

And then a month later, we geared up for the next phase of course. 

Our projects....

On our first day, we wrote a bit about our projects. 
On Day 2, we added a few lines about our progress. 

Click on the first photo and scroll through using
your arrow keys/ 

Sharing our authors

Emily and Lynn led us off with author talks. 

Click on the first photo and scroll through using your arrow keys.

Our Writing Projects

Our time together is focused on one writing project. 

Click on this photo and scroll through
them all using your arrow key