On Writing When You Aren’t Sure What to Write

New growth on a treeI need to write what I call a spare blog post, that is a post that I can send to the editors of the Bedford Bits blog to use one week when I’m sick or overwhelmed and don’t have time to do my normal, weekly post.

At NCTE, we called these evergreen posts, a post or article that could go up any time of year, something useful to teachers or that teachers were always looking for. For our purposes there (usually to be included in the INBOX newsletter), we leaned toward topics like grammar and persuasive writing.

Try though I have for two days now, I simply cannot think of a good, long-lasting idea to write about for my spare Bits post. I can come up with some timely topics that would be great for today or next week. I can think of ideas that would connect to current events or articles about education.

But a generic idea? I’m just out of them. I feel like I’ve used every good, generic idea I have ever had. All of them. I’ve spilled them out into Lists of Ten, Inbox blog posts, and my other writing until there’s just nothing at all left. What do you do when that happens? What do you do when all the ideas you had stored up seem to be used, and yet the looming deadline says that you need one more?

2000 Posts!!!

2000 Posts on Tengrrl.com!I logged into the blog just now to add the January Ink’d In to the newsletter archive list (yes, I’m behind) and found this summary information. That’s right. There are officially 2000+ posts here now.

Now never mind that about 2/3 are probably news update summaries. And let’s not mention that there are some missing posts on a Zip cartridge somewhere. Let’s just revel in the nice, pretty numbers :)

Mmm. Wisconsin Swiss Melt!

My 1st Wisconsin Swiss Melt in years.No news posts today. I’m on the road home from Columbus.

Had a great time at the Stampin’ Up Regional yesterday. So many ideas and so many wonderful swaps! I love that Stampin’ Up folks are so interested in sharing ideas. I have a great basketful of examples to inspire me now.

Just as exciting, on the way home I got my first Wisconsin Swiss Melt in years. Mmmm. The news can wait while I enjoy this tasty treat. I’ll catch up tomorrow.

My Top Blog Posts for 2011

i iz blogginz / leef I alonzeThese were the most popular posts on my blog during 2011:

  1. 6 News Stories to Connect to Orwell’s 1984
  2. Text + Image = Tagxedo: The Next Generation of Word Cloud Fun
  3. Teaching Students About Headlines, Titles, and Subject Lines
  4. List of Ten: Fun with Crayons
  5. Poem 3: Green Eggs and Ham
  6. Community Building Classroom Activities: A Round-Up
  7. Which Books Would You Ban?
  8. Write a Poem a Day for National Poetry Month
  9. Top 10 Things to Do with a Banned Text
  10. What’s the Trick to Building Community in the Classroom?

I know that normally these yearly posts are a nice reminder of what’s happened during the year and easy posts for the weeks during winter break when there’s less going on in education.

This year, the list turned out to be an eye-opener for me as well. Half of the posts that had the most hits in 2011 showed up on the list in 2010. In fact, only three of the posts listed were even written in 2011 (3, 7, and 8). There is no question that Teaching Students About Headlines, Titles, and Subject Lines made the list because it was promoted by Guy Kawasaki on Google+. There are similar stories behind the other two posts from 2011. Which Books Would You Ban? got an extra push from some librarian colleagues, and Write a Poem a Day for National Poetry Month was cross-posted on several educational sites.

I guess I have a goal for 2012 now. The posts I’m putting on my blog aren’t doing enough to capture anyone’s interest. It’s nice to have posts from 2009 and 2010 that are still popular, but I’d like my current posts to have readers too. Here’s to writing some posts in 2012 that connect with more readers!


[Photo: Lolcat submitted by brad, on ICanHasCheeseburger]

Happy Christmas!

Ugly Christmas SweaterIt’s a slow day for educational news, with the U.S. on winter break, so in lieu of news, I’d like to share my Ugly Christmas Sweater greeting card.

It’s part of a 25 Holiday Cards Challenge I tried this year. You can find details on how I made it in My Digital Studio and the other 24 cards on my Cardmaking blog. Happy Christmas everyone!

While I’ve Been Away

My beautiful flowers from ReadWriteThink. I <3 you. Thank you so much.You may have noticed that I’ve been away for a while. There have been no @newsfromtengrrl updates since early this month, no blog posts on Bedford Bits, and none of the usual updates for ReadWriteThink or Bedford. There’s not even an inappropriate greeting card around.

So much for that streak I had going with daily posts. Being sick seems to ruin things like that, and essentially I’ve been sick since Labor Day weekend.

It turns out I had a bit of a skin infection (cellulitis), and some clogged pores in the same area turned into a mightily infected abscess. I went to the doctor’s office Thursday the 8th, when I realized it wasn’t getting better on its own (and at that point, I didn’t know what it was). The doctor sent me directly to the hospital ER. I ended up spending a week in the hospital, with surgery to drain the abscess on Saturday evening (the 10th). In the process of all the testing, they have me on medicine for my high blood pressure, and they found that I have Type 2 Diabetes.

Obviously I’m sparing you images of all that, and instead, giving you an image of the lovely flowers that ReadWriteThink sent me. There are beautiful daisies hiding away in there among the yellow lilies and other flowers.

I’m still recovering, but trying to get back on track with all the news updates and work for ReadWriteThink and Bedford Bits. I’m taking lots of meds now, and they seem to make me quite drowsy. The whole eating with diabetes thing is causing trouble as well. I hope to be back to normal soon. In the meantime, please be patient with me. Thanks everyone.


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Historical Shot Tower

Historical shot towerWe drove back from Charlotte today, and I’m a bit behind on the work from the days off. I’ll upload more images in a day or two, but for now, here’s the historical shot town, near Fort Chiswell, Virginia. It’s 150 feet tall with another 150 feet below ground. More details soon.

Changing the Workflow to Get More Done

IMG_6433If you show up somewhere with your shirt on backwards, someone usually lets you know. People realize right away that the picture is on the back, the buttons aren’t where they belong, and the shirt just isn’t right. A friend or kind-hearted passer-by whispers in your ear, or perhaps you catch a look at yourself in a mirror. You excuse yourself to the bathroom and turn things around.

If only everything worked that way. Earlier this week, I was behind on my work. For months now, I’ve been behind on my work. Every day, I do the same thing:

  • Find and post articles to @newsfromtengrrl.
  • Answer any pending email messages.
  • Write the blog posts that are due.
  • Set up outgoing social networking posts for @RWTnow and @BedfordBits.

Intersperse spot checking email, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, and you have a pretty good picture of my day.

The problem was that by the time I got through finding the articles I post to @newsfromtengrrl, I usually have to stop and go take care of family duties. When I got back to my work later in the evening, I felt anxious and stressed. The “real” work that I needed to do, the blog posts and social networking updates, only got done when I was in panic mode (and often tired). Many times, I found myself in the wee hours of morning sleepily wondering if I could just push a few things off till the next day.

One afternoon this week, I found my stress levels rising. I hadn’t finished finding posts for @newsfromtengrrl, yet I only had about 30 minutes left before I had to clean the kitchen and cook dinner. The inner dialogue started:

Why can’t I ever get enough done? The afternoon is gone, and I still haven’t gotten to the real work. Damn it. I never get to what I need to because of the stupid news posts. But I have to finish the news posts before 6:45 so that the blog post goes up by midnight.

Out of some corner of my mind, a quieter, calmer voice said, “You could change the settings for the blog post, you know. You made this problem when you decided the post needed to go up at midnight.”

It wasn’t just a lightbulb moment.

There were rainbows. And unicorns. And glitter.

For nearly a year, I have been doing my work backwards, but no one had kindly leaned over and whispered in my ear until now! So a couple of days ago, I flipped my work flow. The news articles are the last thing I look for. Writing blog posts and status updates come first. I reset the WordPress plug-in so that my blog posts go up at noon instead of midnight.

It’s made all the difference. Look, here I am actually writing a blog post and the dinner fixings aren’t even out of the refrigerator!


[Photo: IMG_6433 by abbybatchelder, on Flickr]

Top 10 List of Lion Features

LionMany people I talk to are super-excited about Lion and I thought it was time to share in that excitement by creating a List of Ten on my favorite lion features. Here goes, in no particular order:

  1. Lion are carnivores and therefore would share my love of bacon.
  2. Lions are family animals, though they are not exactly monogamous.
  3. Lions are vulnerable. I like a creature that is open to feelings and emotions.
  4. Lions have scary teeth that would make them great vampires if they need a second line of work.
  5. Lions are considered “a symbol of power, courage and nobility.”
  6. When a lion growls, the sound can be heard up to 5 miles away.
  7. Perfect for social networking, lions are “the world’s most social felines.”
  8. Some lions sing songs, usually in English, according to Disney anyway.
  9. Male lions have manes. Everyone should have a mane man.
  10. Lions, much like me, are mostly lazy. They can be found “sleeping, napping, and resting” for “up to 21 hours.”

I’m sure this list has inspired you. If you cannot afford a lion, however, do not despair. They are easy to make and require only a few things, like paper plates and crayons.

[Photo: Lion by cheetah100, on Flickr]