Monday, October 16, 2017

Giving Good Feedback

I recently read an article about learning being based purely on how much quality feedback a student receives from their teacher. It brought me back to my very first critique group meeting with Giles and Emer. We had to teach ourselves to give meaningful feedback, and then we had to learn to listen to that critique without getting ultra defensive.

If you're a writer and you've never been to an in-person critique session, I highly recommend it. Some days feel like getting stuck in a room with a horde of Internet trolls. Other days can surprise you with positive feedback. The great thing is that even terrible comments can help you learn–what matters is  seeking the feedback in the first place.

Knowing how to take feedback isn't just a skill for writers. Whether you have an office job, are a full-time student, or get to spend your days traveling the world, the ability to listen to feedback without having a mental breakdown is indispensable. If my teaching mentor never told me what I did right or wrong, I wouldn't know what to improve. Imagine never knowing if your boss thought you were good at your job or not–how awful would that be?

Whenever I have to give someone feedback, I try to use what we call a "crap sandwich". Instead of pointing out every single thing I hated or that was wrong, I mix positive responses with constructive criticism. I'm not always the best at it, but it's something I'd like to continue to work on.

How about you? Do you give good feedback to the people around you?

Michelle definitely doesn't have too many different shades of red lipstick.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Let's Be Odd Together

I'm a fan of odd things. Odd stories. Odd dishes. Odd people. It could be an art thing--ever heard of the Rule of Thirds? Or, just maybe*, it's because I'm as odd as the things I like. Perhaps that's why I've found myself beating–cough–teaching the finer points of literacy and the English language to a gaggle of high school students in Thornton.

Teachers are an odd breed, for sure. I thought writers were weird (they are), but teachers have their very own brand of kooky. We walk into our schools laden with bags of food, school supplies, and graded homework; it looks like we're moving in. Every time I swipe my key card to enter the building, I get the distinct feeling of walking into the zombie apocalypse. Every day we face the zombie hoard, trying to get them to at least use a complete sentence when they ask us for more brains.

Writers and teachers have a lot in common. Besides often fighting zombies, both groups are trying to save the world. My writer friends do it one story at a time, and my teacher friends do it one person at a time. Not that we're saviors by any means; I simply mean that in the grand scheme of things, imagination and a caring, kind adult can be the difference between a kid's success and his/her failure. Every time I volunteer at Sunday school with my little first and second graders, I see those differences being built. Every time I walk into a high school classroom or through the halls at work, I watch those successes (and failures) being fortified. My mob of zombie students takes in every word from the stories and teachers around them, trying to make sense of who they are now and who they will be later.

I've been thinking lately that we live in odd times. Life is chaotic and everyone seems to be looking for a way to bring things into peaceful perspective. It's been a bittersweet year for myself and many of my close friends–in the end, though, the sweet outweighs the bitter. Sometimes I wondered if we would make it through, yet my odd circle of teachers and writers has triumphed. It may not be the end of the year yet, but I can see the finish line. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, and...oh, wait. Is that...a zombie?


Michelle's students all love reading horror, which is simply further proof that they are all zombies and will soon overrun the earth.

*"Maybe"? Ha. Try "definitely".

Monday, October 2, 2017

Pace Yourself

As many of you know, I'm part of a rather intense teacher's residency. My work life essentially consists of doing all the work of a master's program...without it actually being a master's program. On any given day, I might play the role of a T.A., a student teacher, the primary teacher, or someone who is simply incredibly lost and confused.

I'm the kind of person who tends to go big or go home. Do your best or don't try at all. "A" is the only acceptable grade. Yet when I was a copywriter, I didn't consider myself to be a workaholic. I simply had a lot I wanted to do. Podcasting didn't count as work. Tutoring didn't count as work. My vacation days were rarely spent on vacation–instead, you often found me working my "hobby" jobs on my days off.

So, being a person who worked a lot and didn't mind being busy, I never thought I would get so stressed I needed a mental health day. But last week, my mentor declared that I wasn't allowed to teach because I was running myself ragged. I had, as we say, run out of spoons.

At first I said I would still try to come in for half of a day of work, but my mentor nixed that idea. He was sick, and I needed to learn to actually take a vacation day that didn't have any other responsibilities. And can I just tell you...that single day off was the best day off E-V-E-R. For the first time in years, I restricted how much work I did on a day I wasn't at my day job. I watched Netflix, edited, and took my dog on a long walk. It was glorious.

This experience has taught me that it's important to take breaks before I need them. They say that if you're thirsty, you've already waited too long to hydrate. I haven't been one to allow myself to chill, but over this next year of residency I want to teach myself to be more careful with my time.

Michelle corrupts high school students with the nerdery of grammar, punctuation, and well-written stories.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Stretching My Skills

Recently, I volunteered to take on another blogging project for a good friend of mine. This project will be wildly different from anything I've done before because it's going to be photography and business focused.

While I don't have a lot of experience with business blogging, I do have experience interviewing people. The first three posts I'm tasked with are "featured member" blogs for the group I'll be working with. Writing interviews will be new to me, but it's not much different from how I've blogged in the past or shared stories of conversations I've had. Some people tackle it differently, but I'm going to start the way I handle interviews for the show. Obviously, with a different focus.

The other blog posts I'll be diving into, though, are going to be more of a challenge. First, I need to work out what I'm going to talk about. A lot of it will be branding, networking, and time-management focused, I think, but there will be topics covering art, style, and industry trends in an industry I'm not active in (yet).

There are a lot of reasons behind why I'm willing to take this risk, and the biggest one is that I need to stretch myself. It's been a long time since I forced myself to write outside of my comfort zone, and as a result, I'm not really pushing the limits of what I can achieve, even in my day-to-day writing (which isn't as day-to-day as I'd like due to my crazy schedule). It's exciting for me because I don't take as many risks as I should, and while this is a "safe" risk, it's still a big risk. One I didn't even know I wanted to take until I was offered the opportunity.

Question: what's the biggest risk you've ever taken in your career? And/or to improve skills you've wanted to improve?

Giles wrote this several days in advance so that it would be ready to go today. He's tired of missing his Wednesday blog posts, and even though his schedule is crazy and way different, he doesn't want to make excuses.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Book Review: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle

I have been in love with this novel since my third grade teacher read it to us after recess every day. She did all of the voices and read with such amazing expression the story has been forever imprinted on my mind. 

Meg has always been one of my favorite literary characters. She's headstrong (almost to a fault) and completely imperfect. She has braces, a temper, and is fiercely loyal to her little brother. About the time I read this on my own, I had braces, a temper (who doesn't at 12 years old?), and was fiercely loyal to my little long as she stayed away from my stuff. I’ve always loved the faith of Meg’s little brother, Charles Wallace, as he, Meg, and their friend, Calvin, travel across time and space to try to rescue Meg and Charles Wallace’s father from the terrifying IT. Calvin’s patience and love towards both Charles Wallace and Meg, even though they aren’t technically family, is something we should all inspire to. 

I’ve always loved how the story is so straight forward. Father disappears, kids try to find him, they encounter obstacles, and, well, I won’t say how it ends. I loved how the book starts with the trope of, “It was a dark and stormy night…” but somehow, L’Engle doesn’t make it sound like a cliché. I could go on gushing for a long time.

Is there anything I didn’t like about the book? Yes. It was incredibly creepy to an eight year old. Monsters with no eyes, kidnapped parents, and a giant brain that controls everything you do, down to what you can play? *shudder* But, as an adult, I really can’t think of anything that I don’t like. 

The best part of A Wrinkle in Time? It has sequels and companion novels. If you fall in love with the story as much as I did, there is more of the world you get to discover and explore through L’Engle’s other works.

Emily is loving the fact she has time to read again. She's hoping that won't change any time soon!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Book Review: Anna and the Vampire Prince by Jeanne C. Stein

Ladies and gentlemen, the book reviews are back! New and improved and…a heck of a lot shorter than before. Why? I’m hoping with the book reviews being shorter, I can write them more easily and more frequently. So, here we go!

Anna is the Vampire Prince is an Anna Strong Vampire novella which takes place between books nine and ten in Stein’s wildly successful series. I must admit, I haven’t read any of the other novels in the Anna Strong series, but I really liked this story. Stein did a marvelous job of introducing just enough of the main character and her back story, that even a reader who is a stranger to her world won’t have trouble following along. In fact, reading this novella made me want to read her entire series. Anna is a likable “human” character who seems to live in a completely believable world. 

The story is told quickly, but is appropriately paced for a novella. It’s a classic kidnapping story whose ending then ties into the plot of her 10th novel. That being said, and this is my only criticism, I wish the kidnapping plot would have taken up more of the story. The ending, I’m sure, ties into the next novel wonderfully, but I was so wrapped up in the kidnapping story, I didn’t want it to end.

Go check out Anna and the Vampire Prince, even if you haven’t read Stein’s other novels. It’s a quick, entertaining read and you won’t be disappointed. 

The Other Emily is excited to start writing book reviews again. She hopes our listeners won't mind the shorter format and encourages them to go and read these books for themselves. She loves to have book discussions with other people!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Writing + Teaching

There is an enormous difference between saying you are going to do a thing and actually doing the thing. I've been saying for months that I was going to switch careers and become a teacher, but I've noticed recently that there is a difference between a teacher in thought and a teacher in action.

This concept isn't necessarily new for me; it's difficult to avoid after years of writers' conferences telling me that if I'm not writing, I'm not a writer. In school, you can be a "teacher" yet do little to no teaching. We've all seen or heard about it. Some teacher's names are spoken in a sort of annoyed whisper because everyone knows they are employed at the school out of habit, not because they are any good at their job.

I don't want to be one of those writers who "isn't a writer", just as I don't want to be one of those teachers who "isn't a teacher". This means working hard to stay away from easy solutions. In stressful times as these, I tend to pick the easier route. It often means putting off goals, such as when I decided to stop querying because my life was incredibly chaotic. But Giles and I have been planning an afternoon of querying, so I'm glad to say that I'm beginning to steer away from the writer's easy route*.

It's easy to jump in front of a class of students and treat the space like a giant stage for all your great ideas. The hard part is tricking the students into using things they've learned in the past and a few new tidbits of information to teach themselves. I'm excited to learn to be a better teacher; I never want to be the person whose name is attached to not trying hard enough.

Michelle didn't make anyone cry at school today. 
Oh, well. There's always tomorrow. 

*This is one of my personal goals :) If you're a writer and you're not querying, good for you. If you are querying, good for you! Everyone has a different definition of what makes them a writer. Actively querying and getting words written or edited every week happens to be mine.