Author and third grade teacher, Jody J. Little is joining the TBR Blogging Team. Jody writes books for middle-grade readers and I got the chance to ask her a few questions:
What did you learn from writing this book that helps you teach your students?
In writing Worse Than Weird, I was reminded of how important and valuable my critique partners are. I have seven amazing writer friends who are my editors and cheerleaders. I truly could not have completed this book and the many revisions without their help. They let me know when and where I was getting off-track. They asked me questions about my character’s traits, emotions, and quirks. Each time I asked for help, they gave me the ideas that made my story better.
I tell my students that writing partnerships are crucial, and I constantly encourage them to ask their partners for help. We talk about what to ask depending on where they are at in the revision process. After a first draft, we are looking at the big picture. In publishing, this is called a Developmental Edit. I use that term with the kids. I love hearing them say things like, “Mrs. Little, I just have to write my conclusion and then I’ll be ready for my developmental edit.” I like to call this revision, the Wait. What? edit. Some of the key questions to discuss with a writing partner in this revision are Does that make sense? Did I give enough detail? Do I have enough examples to support my opinion or main idea? How can I make it more interesting?
The next revision is called the Line Edit. Here’s where I encourage kids to talk to their partners about those juicy, descriptive words. They also look at their partner’s writing for repeated words or phrases.
Finally, before submitting their papers, students do a Copy Edit with their partners. This is the dreaded spelling, punctuation, and typo edit. Partners are a huge help in this edit.
I am blessed to have the opportunity to share my writing life and strategies with my students.
Why this story? Where did you get the idea?
Worse Than Weird is a mish-mash of so many different ideas I’ve had over the years. The main character, twelve-year old Mac, is deeply embarrassed by the alternative hippy-lifestyle her parents lead. She believes that no one has it as bad as she does. My first nine years of teaching were in middle school, and I saw this attitude often in students—the notion that “my parents are ruining my life” or that “the grass is always greener in someone else’s yard.” I wanted to write about a character who discovers the flaw in her thinking and makes a change in attitude.
When I decided to set the story in my home city of Portland, Oregon, all kinds of ideas came to mind, namely the food carts! Portland also has a yearly Rose Festival which includes a medallion treasure hunt. Combining a treasure hunt with clues from the local food carts gave me my plot! It was so much fun to write about Mac and her friends on their adventures around the city. Of course, the bulk of my research included visiting and sampling from the hundreds of food trucks around the city. Best research I’ve ever done!
Tell us a bit about your writing process. How do you balance teaching and writing?
I’ll be honest—the balance is tricky. I deal with a lot of guilt about what things are not getting done. Sometimes it’s guilt over the papers that aren’t graded, and other times it’s guilt from the effort (or lack of effort) going into book promotion.
After I sold Mostly the Honest Truth, I officially had two full-time jobs. The writing and revising of Worse Than Weird was exhausting, to say the least. I would leave for school at seven am and get home about 4:30pm. Then, I would give myself about two hours to unwind with dinner, talking to my husband, and reading. By 6:30, I was in my office, putting in at least two to three hours of writing. On the weekends, I did close to eight hours each day of writing. I am fortunate in that my children are grown and either on their own or in college, so luckily, parenting is calm at this point.
Currently, I’m working on a new project, but I don’t have any hard deadlines I have to meet. It’s definitely more relaxing this way. I love both my jobs, and I can’t imagine (financially or emotionally) letting either one of them go. I will never be an author who writes one book a year, and I’m okay with that. I’m also accepting that my house will never be as clean as I think it should be.
If you would like to learn more about Jody and her work, visit jodyjlittle.com or follow her on Twitter at @jodyjlittle.