Monday, March 17, 2014


Green is washing over winter’s wan fields in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where I live, teach and write. I have some goats, and like them I am using the changing landscape as fodder—literally, in their case, as they tug at each new shoot for nourishment; figuratively, in my case, as I look to the awakening pastures to inspire my prose. I’ve recently taken to setting my fiction on these hills I call home, and I’m finding this to be a fruitful strategy. One such short story will be published in June in Chautauqua, a literary journal that showcases work each year by both adult and youth writers.

It seems that what I hear students frustratingly refer to as “writer’s block” is just a manifestation of being overwhelmed, of not knowing where to start. So, consider having the young writers in your life begin with what is in view, what they call home. Don’t think story. Just think setting and use simple words that first come to mind. The tree out there is bare and gray. Later, with the help of a thesaurus, it can become exposed, ashen. Then, some sounds might arrive when a March gust blows through the branches. (See MaryQuattlebaum’s “Vivid Words and Actions” for ideas on writing the aural.) And someone will surely plod through the mud to get to the tree. (See Jacqueline Jules’ “Follow the Snowprints” for ways to invite characters in.) Let the story grow in this way—slowly, steadily, like spring’s greening outside your window.

Common Core Connections: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.3.3; 4.3; 5.3; 6.3; 7.3; 8.3.

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