Michelle Wittle On in the Tradition of Halloween

Michelle Wittle On

I thought it would be fun to use today’s blog to work in the spirit of Halloween and perhaps tell some good old-fashioned ghost stories. I did this a few times with my students and it was fun. We would all sit in a circle and share our ghost tales. The one year I made it an actual competition (like they did in The Canterbury Tales) and it was a lot of fun. So, I would like to bring that spirit to you.


Comment with your own ghost story. They could be real or made up; only you will know the truth. But we will all get a good read.


So here is mine:


It happened in the town of Gettysburg, PA during the Civil War. Mary was up all night tending to her eight year old son Joshua who was suffering from a high fever. The doctor was called and he could not find any reason for Joshua to be so ill. Mary was beside herself with worry. Her husband was off fighting in Virginia and her brother had just enlisted in the army two months ago. With no word on her husband and brother, Mary was already sick with worry. Now that Joshua was ill, Mary just could not control her tears and her emotions.


It was late at night and Mary was sitting by Joshua’s bed putting a cold compress on his fevered forehead. He was restlessly sleeping and kept mumbling on about someone standing in the corner. To appease her son, she got up and walked over to where he kept insisting someone was standing. She put her hand out and was met with an icy cold breeze on top of her hand. She quickly pulled herself away from the spot and told her son to go to sleep because he needed his rest. She put a glass of water by his bed and left his room. Mary wanted to grab her Bible and pray for her son’s fever to break.


The fall was making its annual approach in the town and that night a nasty wind was whipping through the trees. Mary kept hearing brittle branches scrap against the window and she couldn’t shake the feeling that her husband was calling her name.


She decided it was time to check on little Joshua. So walked into his room and she saw that he was finally sleeping. She went to pull the covers in around him, but something heavy was holding the covers in place. Joshua looked so peaceful that Mary didn’t want to struggle with the covers anymore. She kissed her son on the cheek and felt another icy breeze brush up against her lips and her son’s cheek. Mary stood straight up, blessed herself, and quickly left her son’s room.


In the morning, Joshua ran into his mother’s room and was shaking her awake. He kept asking his mother where was his dad. Mary was beyond confused and tried to explain to her son that his dad was fighting in the army. He told his mother she was wrong and that his dad was the one who helped him fall asleep by telling him stories from the War.


By that time, someone was knocking on the door. Mary got her dressing gown on and walked to the front door. When she opened the door, her sister in law was leaning up against the doorframe and tears were all over her face. They just received word that about two weeks ago, her husband died in battle.


Now…your turn….   


Michelle Wittle On UGHHHHHHH.

Michelle Wittle On

I can’t get it in gear, people. I can’t write. I have that November 15th deadline hanging over my head and all I want to do is just fall asleep, wake up, and read a book. I have no one to blame for this mess but myself. I was the one who wanted to submit my work and now I am self-sabotaging myself again.


It boils down to this one thing that I think I have talked about before. I don’t want the American Idol syndrome. I don’t want to send work out that everyone around me thinks is great and in reality it is the worst stuff on the planet. I don’t want to punish someone with my bad work. I don’t want to waste someone else’s time.


This is all a part of the bigger picture. I am not afraid of failure. I can handle defeat. My life has been filled with negativity and unpleasantness, so failure is something I understand. I have the road map of healing in place already. The tracks have been used so often on that map that it looks like the second Grand Canyon. I am equipped to handle failure.


I am not able to understand success. What do I do if they like my work? I will start analyzing everything and I will twist it in my mind to make it a negative thing. I will take the acceptance not as a good thing, but I will think that maybe no one else submitted and they were forced to take my work (which I know is a complete lie). I will think that they just picked me because they needed a female writer to balance out the gender in their magazine (again, not true). I don’t know how to handle something good. I am always looking for the other shoe to drop or the yang to the yin.


Logically I know I am just keeping myself from trying. I think it is because if I keep myself down then I know others can’t keep me down as well. It’s like that theory I have about picking out our own flaws. If we tell someone our work sucks, it is like giving them permission to think it sucks as well. It’s telling others we are aware of the problem. However, we really aren’t because the problem isn’t our work; the problem is we can’t see that we might actually be good at this.


I always pretend quitting my teaching job to become a writer was such a big risk. In theory it sounds like it would be a huge risk. But I didn’t really work on being a writer the whole time I wasn’t teaching. I just stayed around and read books. I hardly left the house. I built up a wall so big and so thick no one wanted to bother trying to get passed it. I did that because, of course, I was hurt and didn’t want to be responsible for hurting anyone else. So I just stayed away from the world and pretended I was working on the next great American novel.


The good news is that I know what I am doing and I know what I was doing. I wasn’t so far gone that I lost myself. I could come out and join in any time.


I am coming out of it. In the last couple of months I have done more to advance my writing career then I did in the last two years. I am becoming more comfortable with seeing myself as a writer.  However, I still have miles left to go.


I understand that I am warping my mind and I think this is a common thing that writers do. I’m sure there are millions of reasons why it happens, but I only can understand my own.


I am afraid to become a success because when I do, what would be my next goal? What if I can’t achieve my next goal? Does that then make me a failure? What is meant by those words success and failure anyhow?




Michelle Wittle On Deadlines

Michelle Wittle On, Writing Tips

So, the other day I was doing a bit of surfing on the Internet (I don’t know how to swim, so other types of surfing are off the menu for me) and I was looking into master’s programs. I came across this one school that looked pretty cool, so I investigated a bit further. I found out that they have a literary magazine and anyone can submit his or her work to the magazine.


This made me happy because I am always on the hunt for a new place to punish with my work. Then I saw that they take fiction and non-fiction and the list of my requirements for a magazine were getting checked off in my mind. They take up to two pieces of your work and the word count is pretty generous. Submissions should be sent through email only. There is no payment other then a free copy of the journal in which you appear. All this is sounding perfect.


However, I think I may have a few roadblocks. The deadline for material is November 15th. Also, they have a theme for the literary journal and the theme is “change.” Lastly, I can’t access the current issue so I don’t know what kind of voice they look for in the publication.


So, here is my dilemma. Do I quickly fix up a short story and write a creative non-fiction piece and send it along? Should I go against my own advice and send my work without seeing what they like first? Can I afford to take this chance?


The bigger question is, can I afford not to? Seriously, the 15th isn’t that close. I have nothing but time to work on some pieces. I certainly have gone through a lot of changes in my life and I have plenty of material I can pull a non-fiction piece from.


Then I wonder if I am reading the signs wrong. I, stupidly, also live like my life is a novel and everything is foreshadowing something. I went looking online and in my head I was looking for a place in which I could belong. I was a bit depressed and just needed a nudge in some kind of direction. Can I really look at me finding this website as I sign I should submit to them? I know that things never happen as we think they should happen. At first glance, I would assume that this could be a sign to submit because they will love me and publish me. But, I take another breath and try to rethink it. Maybe this is a sign to push me to write something really good that someone else will want to publish. Or it could be just a sign to keep trucking along and take chances.


Perhaps I should stop thinking all together. Live in the moment just like the Dog Whisperer tells all pet owners. Maybe I should just relax, act confident, and live in the now. As much as I want to, I can’t predicate the future and maybe I need to seriously stop trying. I need to take chances and stop looking for “safe places.” In the writing world, there really aren’t safe places.


Well, I guess I have my answer. I will rework my story I read at the open mic (which you missed, but whatever). Then, I will dig in my past and find a story about change. I think I might use the piece I was working on called, “My Crappy Handed Life.” The title might need some revamping as well.




Michelle Wittle On the Lonely Life of a Writer

Michelle Wittle On

Hmmm. I am going to be honest. I am a bit sad. I have revamped my other blog and no one is coming to it. There are no comments telling me to “go kill yerself” (and yes I know that yourself is spelled wrong, that is a calling card of someone I hold very dear and sure I miss them today).


In a way I feel like I am repeating myself and I probably am repeating myself. But, I can only report on what I feel and today that feeling is alone.


My email inbox only holds ads for Viagra. No one is talking to me on twitter. I can’t find people on twitter because every time I try, I get a pop-up screen that tells me that they are fixing that problem. I am not getting poked on facebook. My stalker has stopped calling me.


But I am still hopeful.


Again, I know that it takes time for people to find me. Not everyone has twenty hours a day to be on the Internet like I do. When I was a teacher, I would come home from work, pee, and then spend about half an hour on the Internet checking myspace, facebook, and my email. Then it was naptime. So, I can’t get mad for others doing the same stuff I used to do.


In a way, I feel like Carrie in that episode in Sex in the City when Carrie writes her column and asks her friends if they have read it. They all report that they have been too busy and they are sorry they missed it. She gets upset because she feels like since her friends can’t even read her work, no one must be reading it. Also, her boss keeps calling her and she is getting the feeling that she is getting fired. But it turns out that some book publishing company wants to publish her columns in a book.


Sure, I am not saying that some book company is totally stalking me (they could be, but I seriously doubt it). However, I do see a lot of practical truth in that episode.


First, the writer’s life comes in waves. One day you are surfing that wave and owing it. Then next day it kicks you in the shin and takes your lunch money. You can’t predict the waves outcome, you just have to ride it and let it take you where you need to go.


Second, unless your friends are writers as well (or in the arts), your friends will not read your work. Part of the reason, I think, is that they don’t know what really goes into writing a piece. They aren’t trying to be rude, they just see it as words on the paper. They can’t wrap their head around the struggle that goes into writing. Especially because we make it look so easy to them. But that is because on the outside, it just looks like a person tapping some keys. The hard work and muscle is in your brain and that isn’t so easy to see.


Also, why should you friends read your work? They can just call you up and hear you talk. Your friends get a free pass to your next creation. Fans don’t have that luxury. It could be simplified to this, “why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” Shouldn’t your friends get something more then just your work that you share with everyone else? In a way, I think it is a bit of a jealousy factor. As in, why should I read something you share with the world, I want to just have this small, unknown piece of you. 


Lastly, you never know who your fans really are and maybe that is a good thing. Sometimes when you break down that imaginary wall, the magic is broken and people get disappointed. No one needs disappointed fans. Your fans love you for your words and how your words reverberate into their lives. They really don’t want to get to know you on a personal level. Be their hero and not their friend. They have enough friends.


Wait, that statement made me think of something else. The “being the hero and not a person’s friend.” Sometimes we let people into our lives and the magic is broken. When some people see us for what we really are, then the distance grows. I’m sorry, Muchkin that I became a broken person and not a hero. I’ve let you down even more then I though previously.


Well, anyhow, the writer’s life is a difficult one because there are these long stretches of time filled with nothing but white noise.


But when we have the white noise, we have to understand that something bigger is coming. Rest now because you will need it for later.


Michelle Wittle On The Compare and Contrast Essay

Michelle Wittle On, Writing Tips

This blog will be short, sweet, and directly to the point. Basically, I am assuming you read the blog about the five-paragraph essay, so I am not going to go over that stuff again. But, a small refresher: Start with one way to write the compare and contrast essay and let the students really learn that way and then introduce another option. Call it options instead of a new way. They might be tricked into thinking this new way is the only way you will accept the essay. Maybe as you are introducing the new option, you can be specific, but once they master it, let them take ownership of their writing. Also, make sure you remind them that this is just another type of essay. They may get confused and think they are learning something brand new. They aren’t because they already know how to do the introduction and conclusion; you are just changing the “meat” of the sandwich.


So here is option one (and I am only talking about the “meat” of the sandwich): Pick like three of four ways the stories (or whatever you are choosing to compare and contrast) are the same and discuss them all in paragraph two. In paragraph three, you guessed it, three or four ways they are different.


Bam! Compare and contrast essay is done. Of course the introduction and conclusion are there so, there you have the four-paragraph compare and contrast essay. This is by far the easiest essay to teach and to write. It is highly structured and it will keep your little word wonderers in line.


Now, the five-paragraph compare and contrast essay is a bit more stylistic and much harder because you are asking the kids to do a much more in depth analyses of the pieces. However, that doesn’t mean you should shy away from using this format. You know your students and you know what they can do and what may be a bit over their heads. Use your teacher judgment.


Here is option two: Instead of the “meat” being all compare in one paragraph and contrast in another, you can have three paragraphs with both compare and contrast in each paragraph. What you want to do is have the students find three literary topics to analyze. Let’s just go with the easiest of them all: main character, setting, and theme. Now, have the students look at those three attributes and find ways that the authors are similar and how they are not. Keep in mind that if a student tries to pass off, “both stories had a plot” as a legitimate comparison, do not accept that. This compare and contrast format is designed to really get the students looking at the stories and deconstructing the stories.


Again, make sure the students don’t forget to have an introduction and a conclusion and then BAM! They have another essay written.


There is just one more thing that always annoyed me about essays. Everyone thinks it is the English teacher’s responsibility to teach this, but writing should be happening in all subjects. When a child goes to college, they will write essays in ALL of their classes, so why should middle and high school be any different?