Descriptive Writing Exercise

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012


As National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) approaches, many people gear up for an enormous leap into creative writing. November has been one of my favorite months of the year for this reason, now for almost a decade, as my tenth year of participating in this program approaches.

One of the areas young (and other) writers struggle with is descriptive writing. Now that so many young people spend a huge proportion of their time in front of screens, I think the other senses get neglected, and a corresponding decrease in the ability to express sensation in words comes with that. For that or whatever other reason, I end up needing to do this exercise with each of my writing students at some point.

First the student and I go outside and sit somewhere comfortable, and we both close our eyes. Then we go through these questions:

  • What do you hear?
  • What do you smell?
  • What do you feel?
  • What do you taste? (inhaling a big breath)
  • Finally, opening our eyes again, What do you see?

For each of these steps, both of us describe our experiences and sensations. We might walk around a little when describing what we see, or pick up a dry leaf to feel it. It’s not a cut-and-dry series of steps, but rather a fluid experience that changes based on the student.

Next, we jot down what we experienced. Some students go straight into poetry or prose; others do better by writing a list of sensations, then later weaving them into a descriptive writing.

Every time I’ve done this, I’ve seen an improvement in the level of detail and description in the student’s writing. It also creates a concrete experience for the student to draw upon when they heard that they should “use all five senses” when describing a scene they are writing.

New Presentations for the Fall

Monday, September 26th, 2011



As the fall gets into high gear, I will be getting on the road again. If you’re in New York, try to attend NYSCATE this year and register for my session on Singapore Math on Sunday, November 20. If you can come on Saturday, I will be giving a three-hour workshop on NaNoWriMo in the classroom, which will be fun and hands on.

I will also be offering six Singapore Math full-day workshops this fall, starting in October and ending in December. The schedule and links to register for those, and for the conference, are at the bottom of my Professional Development page. If you come, be sure to tell me you saw this website, and you will receive a special little gift!

NaNoWriMo YWP TGIO Party

Monday, December 6th, 2010


On Friday, my young writers and I had a Thank Goodness It’s Over party to celebrate our accomplishments during the month. The TGIO party is a well-established tradition for any NaNoWriMo group. I have always used it to showcase and celebrate each individual child’s writing.

We met at a family’s home, and each child had five minutes to read an excerpt from his or her story. I was impressed by the quality of the writing; three years of doing Nano for most of them has led to exceptional storytelling abilities in these young writers. During the reading part of the get-together, we had the usual stage fright issues, eventually overcome, and we had to practice being a good audience, also as usual.


The new experience was that one of the students had written a song and dance into his story, and he read us the description. His mother encouraged him to perform it for us, which he did. What followed was an expression of pure delight and joy as the boy rapped out a song and did a rhythmic, but hilarious, dance with it. We all laughed so much, along with him, that nobody managed to videotape the performance, but I did manage to snap a photo or two. That was an experience I will never forget.

After we all had a chance to read from our stories, we all enjoyed snacks, and the children played together. It was a perfect ending to a great program. The photo below is me with most of the participants (some couldn’t make it) holding their winner certificates.


NaNoWriMo is Over!

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010


Today is Wednesday, December 1, and November is finally over. All of the students in my program, Your Greatest Writing Adventure Ever, achieved their goals of writing a story in the month. The word count goals ranged from 1,500 to 4,700 words, and their ages ranged from seven to ten. What an amazing accomplishment! Not only the writing, but the fun they had doing it.

Nano Winner

I am so proud of everyone, but I’m also relieved that NaNaWriMo is over. In fact, doing this program is such a mammoth accomplishment that it’s pretty much a requirement to have a TGIO (Thank Goodness It’s Over) party at the end of the month. I will be attending two: the party for my students on Friday night, and the New York City party for grown-up Nano-ers like me who wrote the full 50,000 words. Time to celebrate our accomplishments! All the students in my program will have the opportunity to self-publish their illustrated works through On that note, my own novel, a futuristic biotech thriller, doesn’t really inspire me to revise and publish it. However, I do think it would make a good screenplay, so my rewrite may be during Script Frenzy in April. That may also be my next group writing program, so please get in touchif you would like your child to participate! Now that November is over, I should also be able to write for the blog more regularly again. I just did not have the time during this month. Writing 1,667 words per day in a story is quite a commitment! I’m glad for the experience, though, as it helps me relate even more to the struggles of my own student writers.

Video: Our NaNoWriMo YWP anthology is famous!

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010


Imagine my delight today to find out from one of my young writers that my students’ anthology from last year had been featured on the NaNoWriMo Young Writers’ Program blog in late October. I’m kind of surprised we didn’t hear about it sooner, but it’s inspiring to discover it now, since so many of us are struggling with word counts and the challenge of finishing our stories by the end of the month.

You can watch the video below, or view the video on the NaNoWriMo YWP site. The anthology is called The Sun Shines on the Golden Dragon and the Mysterious Wizard, But Not on the Fat Smelly Alien. It is available for purchase on, and any royalties go to support The Garden Road School, a wonderful, progressive, non-profit school.

If you would like more information on the anthology, please visit the About Susan page of my website.

NaNoWriMo Begins!

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010


Yesterday was the first day of NaNoWriMo, and it began with a bang. My group has seven bright, eager children in it, and we all dove in to our writing projects yesterday.

NaNoKids 2010

Prior to that, we had a couple of meetings in which we worked on character development, understanding what plot is, setting expectations, and deciding on word count goals. I think my students from previous years underestimated their abilities yet again, if yesterday was any measure; they seem to grow their ability to write fluently almost exponentially each year. I’m impressed.

Even more impressive, one of our new members, a second grader, outstripped everyone in word count during a word war or two. This was the same little girl who couldn’t even get started at first. She was so excited and proud by the time her mother came to pick her up.

Like every year, I write alongside the students, and we all share excerpts from our writing in progress. Last year, however, I was writing a children’s book, while this year I’m writing an adult thriller. This means my word count will need to be higher, and I won’t be able to share all of it with the children. I’m also less enthusiastic about the subject matter; it was a plot idea that came to me months ago, and it’s just not as alive in me now. I started without any idea of characters, settings, or even specific plot ideas, so it was really stretching to get anything down.

On the bright side, though, I did reach over 1,700 words last night, the minimum to accomplish 50,000 words in a month, and the story wheels started spinning in the shower this morning. So maybe it will take on a life of its own yet again.

The write-ins are such motivators to get the ball rolling that I’m glad we held a meeting this Monday. We will meet again on Friday for those who want to get together. Be in touch if you’d like to join – it’s not too late!

NaNoWriMo: Our virtual classroom is up and running!

Friday, October 8th, 2010


Good news! The virtual classroom for our awesome YWP program is up and running. As soon as participants are fully signed up, they will receive login information.

I have received a number of inquiries about the location of the program. The answer is: it’s up to us! Some people are north, some are south, some are middle… we will make it work, even if I travel a couple of times a week. Carpooling can help too.

Remember, if you want to facilitate this, we would love your help. Let us know if you have good meeting places, and what dates and times work for your family.

Brief Review of Pubit! New ePublishing Service by B&N

Monday, October 4th, 2010


Barnes and Noble launched its new pubit! service today, where authors can upload their manuscripts and have them automatically converted to ebooks.

While I’m not crazy about the name (as I had my concerns about the iPad name initially), it looked like it might be easier to use than the Amazon Kindle service. I published my printed books using CreateSpace, but making them into Kindle ebooks looked pretty convoluted. So I gave this service a try.

I went through the process as far as uploading my book file and previewing it with their Nook previewer. It’s a nifty service, and it showed me how terrible the results would be. Going from my beautifully typeset, illustrated book that had been laid out in Pages, exporting it to Word (.doc), and then importing it into their format made a hash of the layout. PDF is not supported, which is probably good, because reading a PDF on these readers can be very tough – the text does not usually flow well.

The next step would be to edit the original file and/or to edit the changed file. Since I know HTML pretty well, I’ll probably have faster results with the latter than the former.

I also made a stop by the Kindle publisher. It is a little more difficult to do the initial publishing steps, but it also looks like there may be more flexibility. Without much time, though, I would probably find the pubit service easier to use.

A New Story Begins: This Year's NaNoWriMo Program

Saturday, September 25th, 2010


This is the first year since 2003 that I will not be teaching NaNoWriMo in the classroom. What’s good about this is it frees me up to do it with a whole bunch of area students. I have posted a new program description for our fun, exciting adventure to come.

Here are a few details not included in the program description page:

Each student will get to set his or her own word count goal, usually with some consultation with me. That goal can be fairly flexible to a point in November. The idea of the program is to write as many words in a story form as possible, creating fluency and breaking self-imposed limitations of what we think we can do. The important point is to meet the goal. Editing and improvements can happen later.

As a several-time NaNoWriMo participant and winner, I am in a good position to empathize with the struggles and triumphs of this challenge. I also write alongside the students, so rather than a taskmaster, I am a fellow writer and friend. We inspire each other.

Last year, with my amazing class, they did so well and were so prolific that I had to find new ways to encourage them to continue as they surpassed, then doubled, then tripled their original goals. Everyone surprised themselves, and me. I finally challenged them to a race, and the first person (me) or group (them) would win a prize from the other. It was neck and neck until the very last day, when the group emerged victorious. I treated them all to hot cocoa at the local coffee shop a few days later.

An added dimension this year is that I am working with the YWP to develop teacher training, so even more students can experience the joy, delight and struggles of this roller coaster ride. I welcome contact from teachers who are interested in finding out what it can do for your students.

Sign up for the program now, and find out more about NaNoWriMo’s YWP here.


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