Category Archives: Writing

Labels, Labels Everywhere!

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Raising a Writer

Last night, Z came into my office and snatched a post-it and ran out of the room. Later after the kids were in bad, I found this on my bedroom door. After having a good laugh, I went and opened a new package of post-it notes and wrote him a note on the top one and left it along with a pen on the built in shelf on the headboard of his bed.

This morning I found labels on several things, and I encouraged him to keep doing it.

Why? wow, I am so thankful that I am not scrubbing these marks of the walls right now I just want to dance, and I will go and buy a whole box of post-it notes to keep him happy if I have to!

One of the ways that I have learned that parents can create a ‘print rich environment’ is to label things so that your kids can see the labels and then learn the words for things. I did label things when my oldest was learning to read, but that was 10 years ago. The difference is that this time, Z did it on his own. I know he would have loved if I had labeled things for him, but it is just so much more meaningful this way. And, I should have known that he would crave this kind of input, since he learned to read all of our family’s names from the chore chart in the halway when he was 3.

Here are some of the other labels he made:



I am putting this in with my “Raising a Writer” series, because I think that this (writing things down) is really one of the first steps after books. If a child learns to love the printed word, and feels confident in his/her ability to read, write, and understand it, then they will really blossom and there will not be that intimidation and fear of making mistakes. They will already know that they can do it, and that if they don’t get it right the first time they can go back and fix it and it is no big deal.

Some other ways to create a ‘print rich environment’ for early readers:

  • Make sure there are lots of books available and that your kids can reach them.
  • Create a reading center with a comfy chair in a well lit area.
  • Have paper and writing utensils available and let them write letters. They can ‘write’ using pictures if they still are not writing letters.

Raising a Writer

When my oldest daughter, now almost 15, was 3 she came up to me and grabbed my hand and dragged me over to the computer and said “I want to make a Poem. Type!” a few days before I had been reading her some French poetry (to which she had said very sternly “Mom, don’t talk me like that!” because she couldn’t understand the words.) So I sat down and she stood there with a very intent attitude, and whipped off the words she wanted. Then after she made sure I typed them in, she ran of as if nothing had happened. It was as if she had been briefly possessed. She was always precocious, but I have to admit that took me by surprise.
After that, it became a sort of intermittent occurrence, and I have several things that she made up when she was little.

Then she went to kindergarten, where a very pretty, but stern teacher who she desperately wanted to please beat her down with homework that was not age appropriate, and who was a stickler for correct spelling. So my daughter began to have a fear of words and their being incorrectly written on the page and no matter how hard I coaxed she would not write anything unless she knew exactly how to spell it. I should have yanked her right out of that class at the first sign of these goings on, but she was my first child and I was young and all of the other reasons parents allow their kids to be traumatized and beaten down until they fear writing.
It has been a long road to get back to where she loves to write, but still even though she has filled up countless notebooks and spends her free time writing stories, she barely will even turn in a writing assignment. She almost flunked out of English this year, because she was blessed with yet another Nazi English teacher – no offense to any English teachers out there; I used to be one. (I did have the sense to take her out this time, but I waited longer than I should have. . . I was under the mistaken impression that I would be able to get her to change her approach through diplomacy, so I wrote e-mails, had a meeting with her and the administration, even offered to come do a training on teen brain development – LOL – etc but to no avail – this time it went way deeper than the red pen treatment and spelling – this woman had serious issues and really disliked kids, especially my daughter which is hard to imagine and I am not one of those deluded parents who overlooks their teen’s bad behavior . . . I don’t think anyway ;))

So anyway, getting to the point . . . because of this history, combined with my work, (I have been at the Reading is Fundamental training all day so this is on my mind because we discussed emergent literacy) I think a lot about emergent literacy, and properly raising the writer in my children. I think it is really important to keep things in perspective when working with kids and teaching them to write. I think the quickest way to scare them off is to grammar them to death too early, and another big way to create writerphobia is to put too much emphasis too soon on spelling. These things are important but I tell people all the time, “which would you rather read? Writing that is interesting and dynamic, or writing that is boring, but is all spelled properly? That is what revision and the writing process are there to iron out the kinks AFTER the story is laid out.
I love writing because it is a fun emotionally rewarding way to get my ideas out where I can see them. I love that my daughter loves to write, and she is very passionate about it (She actually said that it is her life passion to be a writer.) So why do some teachers cheat kids out of this pleasure by ruining it all for them by nitpicking their writing when we should just be jumping up and down for joy that they are catching the writing bug?

Here are some quick tips for raising a writer:
1. Don’t nitpick spelling and grammar. Sandwich specific constructive criticisms with meaningful positive comments, and never just say “it’s great,” or “it’s stupid.”
2. Always have something specific and positive to say, even if it is “I think it is wonderful that you are enjoying writing so much!” If they are not very good at it, they will get better. Keep in mind that writing gets better with maturity and practice.
3. Keep in mind age and ability levels. If a child is interested in writing at a young age, they will only get better with encouragement.
4. Keep it fun — read books together and brainstorm with them to come up with lots of fresh and fun writing ideas; talk about authors of the books they really like and take them to book signings to meet their favorite authors.
5. It is never too early or late to learn the craft of writing.

The Write Brain Workbook: 366 Exercises to Liberate your Writing

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Raising a Writer


The Write Brain Workbook: 366 Exercises to Liberate your Writing by Bonnie Neubauer is a fun book. I don’t usually go absolutely nuts about writing prompts, but that is really what this book is. Every page has a new exercise, made up of a combination of pictures, graphic elements, and writing ideas that can be done in any one of several different ways depending on your mood, or if you change the wording in the prompt just slightly, or who you read it with . . . I found my kids flipping through it one day, and we looked at a few of the pages together, reading the exercises and looking at the pictures, and each of us had a completely different idea of what we thought we would write about each page. Fun! Even after writing a few pages bases on one of the prompts, I was able to come back to the same one from a different angle and come up with something different, and that is what is so great about this book. Each page has a “take the next step” that gives you a different twist, or an idea that can be used over and over for an endless number of original ideas. For example on day 133, it has “List 6 different snapshots from your life that took place in May. Use these to prompt further writing.” You could change May to any month, and combining different snippets of memories can give you a lot to write about. This is the kind of book you will find that you want your own copy, because the library only lets you check it out so many times in a row!

Another Fun Writing Excercise

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Raising a Writer

For something fun that can help break you out of a rut when you’re stuck, try going through the dictionary for a bunch of interesting words, and then put them together into a poem or story. You never know exactly what you will end up with.

The Reverie

in my reverie i rode along the zodiac
past scorpio and sagittarius
i heard the zither play
i was sitting with xerxes
eating grapes, discussing the zeitgeist of zoroastrianism
drinking some sort of zymurgy
when the wind rushed through my soul
then, i was riding on a camel
with a yemen sheikh
past men in yarmulke
praying at the wall
in a caravan to zaire or zambia or zanzibar
with a bunch of xenophobiacs
a zulu warrior and his pet zebu
a zouave munching zwiebacks
making zounds to crush the yahoos of spain
and suddenly the world expanded
and i was blown like a leaf
into the xylem of a yucca
bringing me to stand
in the peyote hut of a zuni warrior chief
in a sand painting of the clouds
racing through the sky in a zeppelin on a zephyr
when i came up out of the ocean
off the coast of guam
with water in my snorkel and zoophytes on my arms
and a bad case of the bends.

You can also try words that only start with a particular letter for a fun excercise in alliteration:


Avast! The axial anopheles lurking in the azalea
avaricious in its ardor of
the aliphatic crimson heat;
his greedy brain’s abaci
prematurely counting out his prize.

Rising to the apex
of his azimuth—
a fleshy airdrome
agog—an amateurish astrogator
on the aphelion of grace
actuating his annular descent
an agnostic tourist visiting Alsace-Lorraine;
an aquanaut exploring depths
never before explored

He paid no heed to the accelerometer
Paid no heed to the slapping hands . . .
He gleefully dodged them, refusing to abdicate,
But to no avail—buzzing through the arnica
At last arriving at the abattoir
Of his apoplectic end

(Now, wasn’t that way more fun than just saying the circling mosquito got smacked? Take it and run!)

Crossing Napoleon’s Yard

Here is a story that I posted on the writing bolg that I have been participating in. You can find this and other fun stories at the Utah Children’s Writers blog here:

Crossing Napoleon’s Yard

Their eyes met, his brown-flecked eyeballs unblinking. He was much smaller than she was, but she also knew that without a weapon she was no match for him. Dena had been in this position before—only this time was different . . . this time, as she desperately scanned the area for a stick; anything to fight him off; she couldn’t see even a decent sized twig within her reach. Her palms began to sweat. Without turning her back, she ever so carefully, slowly, took a step backwards, and then another. He did not move, but looked steadily on, his small head cocked to the side.

A wave of anger briefly swept over her. How could her sisters have forgotten the plan? She backed up more quickly now, ready to turn and bolt the first chance she got. His small body seemed to expand as he prepared to attack. Quickly she turned; taking one gigantic leap, when suddenly, she tripped, hitting the ground with full force.

Egg collecting was never easy. It was the responsibility of the girls to collect the eggs once in the morning, and again in the evening. Now, this doesn’t seem to be such a big deal, but then again, you have never met Napoleon.

Napoleon was a small rooster with beautiful iridescent blue and green tail plumage streaming out behind his jet-black body. His eyes were yellow with brown flecks, and he had a blood red comb at the crest of his head that seemed to drip down under his chin to his waddle—he had looked majestic when father had first brought him home. Now he just looked frightening. Even though he was small, he was also swift, powerful, and fearsome—a true enemy to any egg collector who crossed his territory, which in his mind, was any part of the farm.

Things had not gone as she and her sisters had planned, of course. Not only had the stick been missing, but today Dena had to get the eggs alone.

She raised herself up with her hands, screaming with rage and spitting dirt and blood. She could hear Napoleon’s quick little footsteps getting closer and closer.

“Why couldn’t they just leave the stupid stick by the door?” she screamed, pulling herself to her feet. She Staggered a little, and then saw for the first time what she had tripped over—a three-foot piece of pvc pipe. Grabbing it and turning in one movement, Dena could feel short bursts as Napoleon’s wings beat the air. He was attacking! Without thinking, she swung the piece of pipe with all her might at the blur of feathers and talons.

Crack! In horror, she watched wide-eyed as Napoleon flew, spinning through the air, landing with a thud next to Mother’s zucchini patch. He hopped right back up and began to run towards her again, his little feet stirring up dust. A flood of relief passed through her as once again she turned to run. At least he wasn’t hurt.

She had only taken two steps when she realized that she could no longer hear Napoleon running. The sound of his footfalls had been replaced by strange flopping noise. Stopping, she slowly turned to see Napoleon thrashing wildly on the ground.

That very evening, mother served ‘mean roster soup’ and everyone, even Daddy, said it was the best they had ever had.

A Great Exercise for Writing Dialogue

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Kid Quotes

Writing down funny things that people say and writing them just how they were said is a good writing exercise. When I taught school, I would have the kids eavesdrop and write down conversations in a notebook and then we would change the context a little, or change the words slightly to create dialogue for a story that they were working on. I like writing down quotes by my kids, and collecting them from other people I know. They make great fodder for stories 🙂 Here are a few funny quotes by kids I know:

Alex (age 4): Mom, do you like it when people do things for you? I do, but there’s some stuff people have to do themselves – like sitting on the toilet or blowing your nose. But I wish someone could go to the bathroom for me, cause I hate going poop!

Alexisms: easy as cake, lickety slip

Alex (age 4): easy as a piece of cake.
Mom: don’t you mean easy as pie?
Alex: no, I do it in the cake kind of way.

Alex (age 4): Mooooom! Jake pinched me as hard as I dropped a rock on my toe!

Zee (age 3): Dang it!
Mom: What?
Zeeh: My Pixar! Bee just freezed it with her freezing power!

Mom: I really wish you wouldn’t have done that!
Niece (age 3): Mom, I’m not yours fairy!

The Many Hats of a Writer

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Raising a Writer

I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago for the Utah Children’s Writers Blog:

I just got home from a ladies social where the theme for the night was vintage fashion and the girls put on a fashion show. There were vintage era dresses and hats from the late 1800’s to present day. I have never seen so many outlandish hats and froofy dresses in one room all at one time!

It made me think about all of the many hats we wear . . . just today I have been a business woman doing outreach for my agency at a charity breakfast, an office assistant, a mom cooking vegetable beef stew and checking homework, a friend, a fashion consultant for my 14 year old daughter, a napkin for my 3 year old, and now I am attempting to put on my writer’s hat, while at the same time serving as a bean bag chair for a child who will not go to bed.

With life sometimes spinning out of my control, I often feel at a loss when trying to fit in time for writing, and yet on those days that I barely have time to think, it is in the quiet moments after the kids have gone to bed (and sometimes after I have finally gotten comfortable) that the ideas start coming in like waves. It can be really irritating. Of course I never have a pen and paper handy, so while I lay there all comfy in my blankets with my pillow just so, staring at the ceiling and knowing that if I go to sleep the idea will be gone in the morning . . .

With my eclectic web of life experiences, it seems like there are always a wide variety of crazy stories bouncing around my head, from pirates on a picnic (inspired by my 5 year old) and tales from the little farm I lived on as a child to the more serious stuff of family dysfunction and teen angst, divorce, and moving to the city.

Even now as I sit here typing, Brie has pulled off one of my shoes and socks, and is asking for a glass of milk. As I get up to accommodate her, I notice that she now smells strongly of perfume and is wearing gray-blue eyeshadow on her eyebrows and lips — how long was she gone? My foot is cold and she is finally falling asleep in my lap . . .

The Story Bag – Writing Fun for all Ages

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Raising a Writer

I went to a writing workshop a long time ago when I was teaching High School English. I don’t remember who it was that presented now (it was over ten years ago!) but there is one fun activity that I have used over and over again, with myself, my kids, the writing club that I was the advisor for, my writing group . . . it turns out to be a very useful tool to get over writers block, and for brainstorming new story ideas. I have modified the activity a little over the years, but the idea is still the same. All you really need is a small notepad and a pen, or a computer, if you prefer. But you can make it even more fun with a little bag and a small object to represent each story. Here is how you do it — Get out your steno pad and your favorite number two pencil and make ten lists:

  1. Make a list of all the teachers you have ever had.
  2. Make a list of all of the teachers you have ever had who were not at school or who did not carry the official title of “teacher.”
  3. Make a list of all the teachers you have ever had that are animals.
  4. Make a list of all the teachers you have ever had that are objects or things.
  5. Make a list of all of the strange or unusual people that you have known.
  6. Make a list of any strange or interesting creatures that you have met or seen.
  7. Make a list of all of the places where you learned something important.
  8. Make a list of all of the interesting or unusual places you have been.
  9. Make a list of any interesting problems you have faced, or any weird or uncomfortable situations you have ever found yourself in.
  10. Make a list of any interesting, quirky, accidental, brilliant, or just plain stupid ways that you or other people you know have solved problems.

Now publish list 9 to the internet with your name, address, and a photo of yourself. (Ha ha, just kidding)

If you like, you can add illustrations in the margins (this is a great excuse to doodle) Obviously some lists will be much longer than others, and some of these lists may be quite short, but each item on these lists is a story all by itself. It can get really interesting though if you choose a few from different lists, for example choose a setting from list 7; characters from lists 1, 5, and 6; a problem from list 9, and so forth.

Now, here is the next step, which is optional: get a small drawstring bag and choose a small object — a unique stone, a really small toy, a coin, a marble, slips of paper color coded for character, plot, and setting, etc. — to represent each item from these lists. Put all of these in the bag and then when you are having writers block, or just want to give yourself a fun writing experience, pull one out and write the story that goes with it. Or you can randomly pull out a few and mix it up a bit.

Welcome to My Blog!

This is my blog about life, writing and all of the fun and frustration I experience as a mom, a wife, and a writer. I am hoping this will be a place for me to vent, get feedback, and supply helpful information, but not necessarily in that order.

The name is a twist on “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” but it actually comes from a true story too. . . and plays on my belief that life is not always soothing, but that the struggles that fill our daily existence can be finally pulled together to make a very satisfying cup of soup nonetheless.

The story behind the name starts with a small farm, a henhouse, four small girls, and one mean red rooster. After several months of taking turns fighting off this rooster every morning to gather eggs, one of the four girls found herself under attack without a weapon, and so she reached for the closest thing she could find. A small length of PVC pipe.  This turned out to be deadly for the rooster and extreemly tasty for the four small girls.

As it turns out, where my writing career is concerned, I am still battling my way past the rooster every day, but one of these days I hope to revel in a very fine cup of mean rooster soup!