JaniceHeck

My Time to Write, but The Cats have The Last Meow!

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

Cat-Antics: Simon’s Cat

Catillions of people have clicked on YouTube to check out Simon Tofield’s adorable, mischievous, perpetually hungry, and somewhat destructive cat, otherwise simply known as Simon’s cat.

But the truth is that Simon has four cats: Hugh, Maisey, Jess, and the newest addition Teddy (an abandoned kitten rescued by the Tofield house human). All four cats contribute to the antics Tofield draws in his cartoon videos and print books, but Simon’s cat gains all the notoriety.

The first book in Tofield’s series is Simon’s Cat: In His Very Own Book. Simon’s cat, a master man-ipulator, claims his sleeping territory which just so happens to be the major portion of Tofield’s bed, leaving the house human to hang out on the edges, sans blankets. Then this maxi-meowler flicks his kitty litter out of his porta-potty in the make-a-mess-for-Simon-to-clean-up game. He pounces on Simon from unexpected places, sneaks into the kitchen cupboard to check (gorge on) the food supply, and performs other normal (but annoying) cat tricks. Tofield’s line illustrations are laugh-out-loud funny as Simon’s cat works through a catalog of crimes against his personal food purr-veyor.

Simon’s cat gets annoyed with his humans when the food dish remains empty beyond the anticipated feeding time (an unforgiveable offense), but he becomes even more irritated when the human decides to do the cat-in-the-bath routine. In Simon’s Cat: Beyond the Fence, Simon’s cat, feeling unappreciated and not at all desiring a bath, leaves home and goes off to explore the world. Friendly hedgehogs become his unlikely accomplices in his curious adventures.

In Feed Me, Simon’s cat has only three things on his mind: food, food, and food. He uses all of his wiles to find his meals including pretending to be any of a number of other creatures hunting for food.

My favorite book in the Simon’s Cat series is Simon’s Cat: In Kitten Chaos.  A new kitten in the house causes trying times (sibling rivalry?) for Simon’s first cat. Turns out this newly rescued kitten is even more mischievous and maybe a bit more destructive than Simon’s first cat. All the same, you know how it is, the older critter gets the blame for the damage. Do cats smirk? Well, this new little invader often gets the last laugh!

Cat lovers of all ages will enjoy these books. Teachers can have students write captions for the cartoons or narrate the events, and kids can tell the stories to Mom or Dad at night before lights out. Adults can just laugh.

Writers know that cats and writing don’t often mix well. Though we love and adore them, sometimes, just sometimes, our cats drive us to distraction. Simon Tofield captures this writer-cat problem in this Cat and Mouse video.

http://www.simonscat.com/Films/Cat-Mouse/

YOUR TURN: Do you have a cat? How does your cat help or hinder your writing?

Writers at Play: The Lucky 7 Meme

I mentioned in an earlier blog (They Laughed When I Started to Twitter) that writers have fun tweeting and blogging. Of course, sometimes these distractions keep us from doing what we should be doing.  Or maybe we just, plain and simple, procrastinate. Whatever.

The Lucky 7 Meme is one good example of the fun we have. Well,  Elaine Smothers (www.elainesmothers.wordpress.com) calls the Lucky 7 Meme a zombie virus, but no matter. And though this is supposed to be lucky, my personal Writer Troll thought otherwise. (Read more about the Writer Troll on Myndi Shafer’s blog- www.myndishafer.wordpress.com.) With the Troll’s help, WordPress hiccupped and produced seven non-identical draft versions of this post on my dashboard! Lucky me. I had to sort through the unlucky seven to find the latest version. Fooled him though. I found it.

Special thanks to Judythe Morgan (www.judythewriter.wordpress.com)  for the Lucky 7 Meme nomination!

Here are the game rules for Lucky 7 Meme:

1. Go to page 77 of your current MS/WIP.

2. Go to line 7.

3. Copy the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs, and post them as they’re written.

4. If your WIP doesn’t have 77 pages, you can post 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs from page 7.

5. Tag 7 other writers and let them know.

So far in the Lucky 7 Meme event, I have read well-written, attention-getting excerpts from novels of my writer friends. But alas, I do not write crime novels, murder mysteries, historical fiction, memoirs,  romance, westerns, YA, or kidlit.

I write nonfiction about (are you ready for this?) teaching writing and grammar to struggling and unmotivated students! How’s that for excitement, mystery, intrique, danger, romance, inspiration, or whatever?

Yes, I teach students with learning disabilities, behavior and emotional problems, and even drug and alcohol problems. Some of these students are high school dropouts. Some have zero or less interest in education and routinely challenge the purpose behind assignments. “Why do we have to do this?”  Others don’t mind writing; it’s the revising and editing they don’t like.

Some want to take the GED (General Educational Development-high school equvalency test), and for this they must write an essay and complete a multiple-choice test on writing conventions. They must also take tests in reading, math, science, and social studies. By the time they get ready to take the GED, they know they need help!

The pages of my WIP are not numbered yet. Rather I have them in chapters printed out in notebooks. Here is an excerpt that comes from page 7. The working title is Grammar You Can See: Strategies for Helping Struggling and Unmotivated Students. My sister, Judie Rush, my biggest fan and director of a local GED program, keeps bugging me about when “The Book” will be finished, but I manage to avoid commitment each time she asks. One of these days, I promise. But right now I have to break up this nasty argument between the Lucky 7 Meme and my Writer Troll. Why can’t they get along?

***

“Noun? What’s a noun?”  Paul asks.

Paul, a thirty-year-old high school dropout, drifted through elementary and junior high, then quit high school at his first opportunity. Now, as an adult with young children of his own, he is determined to give himself (and his children) a better life, so he has enrolled in a school district-sponsored GED prep program that’s hidden in the dimly-lit basement of the local library. He meets almost daily with twenty or more dropouts (some teens, some adults in their 20s, 30s, or 40s, and one in his 60s!) to work individually or in small groups on basic reading, writing, and math skills.

Some of these students come voluntarily, eager to improve their skills, to advance their educational and professional goals, and to obtain better paying jobs. Others attend because they must: the local judicial court system and social welfare services require their attendance. Regardless of their reason for joining the GED program, these students works quietly and independently, making gradual, but steady improvement in their academic performance–a total contrast to the time they admit they wasted in high school.

The GED writing test is a major hurdle for Paul whose simple, bare-bones paragraphs have so many sentence fragments, run-ons, verb tense agreement errors, and misspellings that his good ideas get lost in the jumble. To make matters worse, he has no interest in revising any of his work. “One and done” is his motto. And the multiple-choice questions related to writing conventions? Forget it!

***

Now to name seven other Lucky Memers:

M. J. Monaghan      www.mjmonaghan.com

Linda Adams          www.Linda-Adams.com

Helen McMullin    www.conantstation.com

S. J. Driscoll             http://sjdriscoll.com

Emmie Mears          http://emmiemears.com

Jacqui Talbot              www.justjacqui2.com

Lanita Bradley Boyd     http://lanitaboyd.com

Have fun meeting these bloggers. I have already enjoyed reading their blogs!

They Laughed When I Sat Down to Twitter

Years ago (1926), when novice advertiser John Caples (1900-1990) sat down to write ads, he wrote “They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano…But When I Started to Play!”–
In his ad, Caples described the local bar-crowd having fun at the expense of one attention-craving buffoon. But one day things changed.  After a dramatic entrance, this socially inept guy strode to a grand piano in the bar, shook out his silk hanky with a flourish, dramatically dusted the piano keys, then flawlessly played Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata–much to the amazement of those who had earlier egged him on.

In just a few minutes, the jokesters in the crowd went from mocking their favorite taunt-target to singing his praises.

Caples’ ad quickly became a model for highly successful direct-mail advertising campaigns.

Some of us, as Twitter newbies, can identify with Caples’ ad character.  As we started to tweet, we more or less bumbled along until we figured out what this form of social media was all about.

A few friends tried Twitter, too, but they just didn’t get it. After three or four tweets to a friend or two, they decided that telephoning and texting were far more efficient. And didn’t they laugh at us when we announced we were “tweeting”?

“What? You? Tweeting on Twitter? What on earth for?

Hold on. Consider these six reasons why we find value in posting mini-messages on Twitter.

1. We make lots of new friends. It’s slow at first, but then it becomes addictive. We connect with a few like-minded people, then snag some of their friends. Then we learn about #hashtags, those seemingly magnetized key words that connect people with common interests. And we join funny-numbered groups like #WANA112, #WANA711, and #WANA1011, led by social media guru Kristen Lamb. (See Kristen’s blog at www.warriorwriters.wordpress.com, read her book We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media, and find her on Twitter @KristenLambTX.)

Kristen has a heart for newbie tweeters and bloggers. She puts us in a group and spoon feeds us info on how to be successful in our social media endeavors. She constantly reminds us that “We Are Not Alone” (WANA). And she teaches that encouraging others is more important than becoming important ourselves. What can be better than that?
 2. We become better writers. It’s tricky to write a 140 character message on Twitter—12 to 15 words, one or two sentences. How can you say something meaningful in that bit of space? Write more than that, and Twitter tweets back: “You have to be more clever.” And with a chuckle,  we reword the tweet; choose better, shorter words; abbreviate; or just delete irrelevant words. In short, we become tighty writees.
 3. We stretch our imaginations. Writer challenges flourish on Twitter as writers encourage each other. Can you write your bio in 140 characters? Can you write a story in exactly 100 words? Can you write a novel in six words or six sentences?  Can you write a novel in 30 days (NaNoWriMo)? Can you write a nonfiction book or article in 30 days (WNFIN-write nonfiction in November)? Poets join the fun in April (NaPoWriMo). These challenges not only provide mutual support, they test and develop our writing ability.
 4. We learn to proofread better. Snarky typos sneak into our writing without so much as polite notice or fake apology. We type, check, and check again. We post a tweet, and there, glaring in its naked arrogance, is a typo, an error in grammar, a misused word. We think faster than we type, and our eyes fail to catch the typos before we hit send. It only takes a few embarrassing errors to prod us into proofing better. Good lesson to learn before we finish that novel or nonfiction book!
 5. We make commitments to our new writer friends to take our writing more seriously. A number of brave writers join #ROW80 and commit writing goals not only to paper but to the others ROWers. With promises to report each week on progress, these writers keep on writing despite the many time-consuming obstacles that crop up in our lives and steal our writing time.

 6. We build our personal brand. Many newbie tweeters and bloggers join Kristin Lamb’s WANA tribe. Not only do we make instant friends, we can ask dumb questions without embarrassment. “Blogging babies” (as Kristen calls us) further along the blogging trail help us with their own new-found expertise. These friends become our first readers, our first commentators, our first subscribers. And they become plain good friends.

Jeff Bullas (www.JeffBullas.com) suggests other business-related reasons for tweeting in his blog post, “10 Reasons Why You Should be Using Twitter….” His reasons relate primarily to business and focus on Twitter as a major marketing tool. But we newbies are happy just to be writing, making new friends, and having fun in the process. Maybe later we’ll worry about making some money.

We mastered Twitter, and now we’re starting to blog. Don’t laugh. We can do this!

Here’s someone else who was teased by his friends. George Formby (1904-1961), British singer, songwriter, actor, comedian played his banjolele and sang “They Laughed When I Started to Play.” I thought you might get a chuckle out of this video clip.

http://www.youtube.com/v/ZN-hI4leQNc?fs=1″></param><param

YOUR TURN: How did your friends and family react when you started to tweet and blog?

Do You Remember This Poem from High School?

English class was always my favorite class in high school.

I enjoyed the required readings, at least, most of the time. But I especially remember a number of poems we studied, and sometimes bits of them pop back into my mind.
I remembered one poem on my way home from meeting with our tax man the other day. On a backwoods country road, we passed a white clapboard cottage with a weathered, split-rail fence surrounding the yard. And under the fence was a multitude of daffodils, the first of spring. I had my husband stop the car so I could take a picture.

When we got home, I looked up poems about daffodils and found the one I remembered: “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth. Then I found a video of Kevin Geary reading it. It brought back lots of memories of my favorite teachers and the wonderful poems they taught us.

YOUR TURN

Do lines of poetry that you learned in high school pop into your mind from time to time? What memories do they trigger?

Fluffy Cat vs Hard-shelled Turtle. Who will win?

The learning curve for how to blog on WordPress can look like an undulating wave rather than a nice smooth upward line.

For me, it’s been more like an almost straight-up vertical incline. But I have secret help: WANA friends (We Are Not Alone). Thanks to Kristen Lamb (http://warriorwriters.com), we can seek out our WANA friends for help with the technical details of blogging. So when I saw this cat and turtle encounter, I thought I might try my hand at embedding a video in my blog. Wana friend Laird recently published a post on how to do just this. (http://www.lairdsapir.com/2012/02/gettin-friendly-with-wordpress/) Good timing for me!

So here’s the video. Cross your fingers that I followed the directions carefully enough.

Thanks again, Laird. I think I see the top of this vertical incline now.  I have printed off your directions for the next time. Now I need to learn more about shortlinks!

YOUR TURN

Where are you on the learning WordPress learning curve?

The Naming of Blogs Is A Difficult Matter

Poet T. S. Eliot (1888-1965), author of Old Possum’s Book of Practical CATS, thought the naming of cats to be a difficult matter, but I dare say the naming of blogs is harder.

Even though I dearly love cats and would love to have a cat’s name in my blog title, I can’t use such clever names as Jennyanydots (the Gumbie cat), Growltiger (the one-eyed, one-eared cat), or magical Mr. Mistoffelees (the original conjuring cat). No, with Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical production of CATS (www.catsthemusical.com), these feisty felines have become too famous to be ordinary blog cats. And anyway, they would not fit my blog on serious topics (education, books, writing, grammar, spunky seniors) or occasional frivolous topics (a cat-a-log of cat-antics and maybe a cute puppy or two).

No, I have to be more practical.

My Twitter and blogging friends have already taken names I fancy: Cat’sEyeWriter, Kitty_writer (and all of its various permutations), bloggingcat, catgossip, ittybittykitty, SassyCat, catblogosphere (Blogging Cats Unite!), littlecatdiaries, and even ThePsychoKittySpeaksOut. Who could top this last one? “Blogging isn’t just for humans anymore.” (Squidoo.com).

My serious writer friends have taken DailyWritingTips, writingwarriors, TheWritePractice, TerriblyWrite, ThePassiveVoice, copyblogger, GhostWritingonWriting, WriterGranny’sWorld, judythewriter, TheFridayBookReport, TheQuivering Pen, and MessyThingswithWords, and so many more.

My eagle-eyed grammar-loving friends sign on as GrammarGirl, Grammarsnark, GrammarMonkeys, Dr.Grammar, or Grammarly. A few of these even sound a bit…ummm…scary: GrammarPolice, GrammarRevolution, Confessions of a Grammar Nazi, The GrammarVandal, the Blood-RedPencil, and the MightyRedPen. (Say this last one with your deep announcer voice!)

In fact, hundreds of blogs by poets and writers can be found listed at http://NewPages.com. And WordPress claims that 415,524 bloggers have posted today just on WP alone (on thousands of topics). Astounding. But now it’s MY TURN! I just need a blog name.

Fortunately Internet advice for naming blogs proliferates faster than a Google spider hatching babies.  How about using the Blog Name Generator or the Amazing Meganame Generator?

Jane Friedman, now e-media professor (http://janefriedman.com) advises a blog name that has a very specific angle, topic, or audience focus that tells people why they should read your blog. Sounds reasonable.

Dan Blank (http://WeGrowMedia) emphasizes the need to focus on your target audience and what they need and want. Yes, of course.

But Kristin Lamb, (http://warriorwriters) the social media guru from the great state of Texas, tells her #WANA friends (that includes me!): “Use you own name as your blog title in order to ‘brand’ your blog.” Sounds good to me. (Type in #WANA112 or #mywana on Twitter and see what comes up!)

Who knows, if I use my own name as my blog title, I could be discovered in the blogosphere and end up with a book and movie deal! Julie Powell did it (Julie on Julia, http://juliepowell.blogspot.com). Why shouldn’t it happen to me? Why not Janice Heck and The Grammar Connection? That’s compelling and maybe even a bit intriguing, you know, almost like The French Connection! No? Hummph.

So what should I call my blog? Which blog title will entice Google spiders to crawl all over it and give it high exposure on search lists?

After numerous messy lists (on my own lo-tech paper blog name generator) and many false starts, here’s what remains:

1. Janice Heck, On Education and Writing (Too broad!)

2. Grannie Jan’s Grammar Goodies (There’s a story behind this one!)

3. Janice Heck, Grammar Connection (Too narrow?)

4. Cat-A-Log of Cat-Antics (Too frivolous?)

5. Grammar-You-Can-See (What?)

6. GED Writer (Tried that-didn’t work! Way too narrow!)

7. Janice Heck

Oh heck, I think I’ll stick with Kristen Lamb’s advice and just use my name and forget the clever cat names, alliterative names, and other snarky titles.

Oh. Wait? What?

Kristen says I need a log line? Oh. (*hums* Whatever Kristen wants, Kristen gets!)

Well, ummm, what would T. S. Eliot say? This? “A blog’s a blog; a CAT’S A CAT. And that’s enough of that!”

YOUR TURN: How did you decide to name your blog?

Tags: Janice Heck, teaching, education writing, grammar, grammar-you-can-see, GED, cat blogs,

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