Guest post: ‘Flow – writing workshops for Inner City Youth’ by JD Mader

I’m delighted to welcome back ‘Joe Café’ novelist, short story author, blogger, biker and musician (and more) J D Mader on the topic of teaching writing to young adults. (I’ll never tire of this picture :))

Flow – writing workshops for Inner City Youth

I have spent the majority of my professional life teaching.  Much of that time was spent working with students who suffered from learning challenges such as autism, severe dyslexia, hyperlexia, auditory processing disorders… the list goes on.  I enjoyed it thoroughly.  It was challenging and frustrating at times, but the kids I got to work with made it worthwhile.  And the insights I gained into the workings of the mind were incredible.  There is no doubt that working with these students improved me as a person and a writer.

When I look at all the teaching I have done, however, what sticks out the most are the writing workshops I led for almost six years.  I was employed by a non-profit that worked with low-income, at-risk youth in San Francisco.

I “designed” this writing workshop, but it was like most writing workshops… like many writing workshops I have been in myself.  We wrote from prompts, pictures, discussions… all the standard stuff.   The big difference was that most people participate in writing workshops because they want to write.  They have the desire to mine their subconscious, to see if there is any gold there, to learn how to make it sparkle, and to learn how to make the process easier… faster.  This was a whole different ballgame.

The first workshop I did, I basically begged the most cooperative kids to participate.  They did.  We started out covering basic concepts like metaphor, showing instead of telling, the importance of vivid, interesting language and flow.  We met every day.  The first week was slow going.  Then something amazing started to happen.

Every day we would do ‘circle writing’.  We always sat in a circle.  And, well, we wrote.  Pretty ingenious name.  I or one of the students would provide a prompt.  Usually a sentence.  Sometimes an emotion, a color (my story ‘Green’ that has been featured here came from one of these exercises), anything that I thought would ignite that illusive creative spark.  The first few times, we would write for five minutes and then go around the circle and read what we’d written.  I wrote with the students, and, initially, this exercise resulted in the kids writing a few awkward sentences and me writing a few hundred words.  We talked about what we wrote, and the kids would listen to what I wrote and say, “Damn, that’s hella good!”  It made me feel bad, but I feel that modeling is a very important part of teaching.  We talked about what parts were good.  What parts seemed weak.  Why it resonated (if it did).  Why it sucked (if it did).  And before I knew it, the students’ writing got faster, more interesting, more emotive… more, well, ‘hella good’.  Instead of a few sentences, they were writing in a frenzy, begging me not to stop them when the five minutes were up.  They came up with bizarre and ingenious metaphors that would never have occurred to me.  They had their own styles.  They were not copying their favorite writers because they had no favorite writers.  It was raw and powerful writing.

These were kids with some serious shit to write about.  And when they were given the opportunity, they hit the ground running.  And word got around.  And, pretty soon, I had kids begging to be in the writing workshop.  It grew.  I got better at finding out what worked.  And every workshop was different.  If the kids really wanted to write poetry, we leaned more in that direction.  If they wanted to write their life stories, they did.  If they liked fiction, we wrote fiction.  I always covered a little bit of everything, but it was majority rule.  We voted on everything.  We were equals.  And some of the writing that was produced in those workshops was staggeringly good.  And only some of the good writing came from my pen.

I would be lying if I said there weren’t kids that never ‘got it’.  But there weren’t many.  There were a few kids who just didn’t have the chops.  There were a few kids that didn’t take it seriously and just tried to make everyone laugh with sophomoric poems and stories.  But 90% of the kids entered the workshop with no confidence in their ability to write and left as better writers and, more importantly, as writers who wanted to write and felt like they could DO it.  They wrote things I didn’t even assign and emailed them to me just because they were fired up.  They couldn’t wait to show their Moms, Grandmas, and friends.

We wrote everything from essays to rap lyrics to folk songs, but the one constant was freedom.  I did not try to control the process.  I did try to guide it… gently, with praise, love and respect.  And it worked.  And watching kids who have rebelled against everything “educational” find their voices and start to see the beauty in the written word… well, it was damn near miraculous.  They not only wanted to write, they wanted to read, too.  And when they read, they read like writers, amazed at the poetry in the language and the simple beauty of words.  Some of these students still email me years later.  I was very lucky to be a part of it.  We all were.  And we all realized it.  There are not many things in life I can say that about.

I loved that, thank you (again) so much JD and congrats on going freelance… I’m right behind you!

J D Mader is a teacher and writer / musician based in San Francisco.  He has been fortunate enough to encounter many giving and inspiring people in his life.  He hopes to repay the debt.  And to make enough money with his writing to buy a house. You can help him buy a brick (although I think the eBook is actually cheaper!) by checking out his debut novel ‘Joe Café’ and there will be more soon. He’s done a lot for my blog so probably the easiest way is to read them all is via the ‘Contributors‘ page… just scroll down to the Js (although not too quickly in case there are some other authors you like the sound of :)).

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with firefighting mystery novelist Kurt Kamm – the one hundred and eighty-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can read / download my eBooks from Smashwords (Amazon to follow).

Guest post: ‘Writing for Children and Adults’ by Sheila Dalton

I’m delighted to bring you tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of writing for various ages by multi-genre author and spotlightee Sheila Dalton.

‘Writing for Children and Adults’

People sometimes ask me if I prefer writing for children or for adults. I answer that I like both, for very different reasons. They seem to come from different parts of the psyche. Writing for diverse age groups keeps me in touch with different stages of life. I get to feel like a kid again when I write picture books. They also take me back to the time when my son was small and loved stories. It was such a wonderful feeling, sitting in my rocking chair with him on my knee, reading storybooks to him. The only time I got fed up was on the twenty-third or so repeat of Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things that Go, when he insisted we look for Goldbug on every single page.  Again.

I think writing for children helps me create young characters in my books for adults. The same is true in reverse, but not to the same extent, because in a children’s or YA book, the adults are seen through the child’s eyes, not mine.

Writing for the very young is fun. Writing for teens can be heart-wrenching if you were a teen like me – miserable and skinny and awkward. Going back to that era in my head is no fun at all, at least it wasn’t when I was writing my YA mystery, Trial by Fire. It’s my own fault, though, I suppose. I chose a serious topic and I chose to write about a teen boy who was picked on and misjudged, and had a zillion problems to deal with.  The book was criticized, actually, because he had so many things on his plate, but he was based on children I had known through the Children’s Aid Society. The problems my character had were actually fewer than these real teens had to deal with on a daily basis. Thinking about these kids was another reason writing that book was sometimes a difficult experience.

The pluses for me in writing for adults are that I do not have to be careful about my content in the same way as I do for teens, and I also don’t have to try to see through any eyes other than my own. Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t adopt my characters’ viewpoints and outlooks in order to make them more real, but, overall, I don’t have to adopt another whole sensibility, or try to. I find it hard to imagine how a book will strike a teen reader, and that’s probably why I’ve only written one YA book.

Ironically, perhaps, my latest novel for adults, The Girl in the Box, features a teenage Mayan girl, Inez, who is held in captivity by her parents who believe she is cursed. When she’s rescued by a doctor and taken to Canada, she ends up killing him. Inez is so unusual, and so much my own creation, that I didn’t have trouble seeing things through her eyes, as I might with a contemporary teen.

I hope we didn’t need a spoiler alert there. Thank you Sheila!

Sheila Dalton was born near London, England and came to Canada with her family when she was six. When she was twenty, she returned to England to study at the University of London, ended up dropping out, and working as a barmaid at an Aussie pub in Earl’s Court where, as she says, “I could not make change, let alone mix drinks. All that saved me were the kindness of the owners, and my name. Aussies call all women ‘Sheilas’.”

Back in Toronto, Canada, she took up crafts, and worked as an independent craftsperson for a few years before completing her degree at the University of Toronto, later returning for a Masters in Library Science.

“I did not want to become a librarian,” she says.  “I wanted to be a writer, but as I specialized in dense, inscrutable bad poetry, the chances of making a living at it were non-existent.”

She married and had a son, then became a freelance editor and writer for many years. During that time, her first book of poetry was published, then a literary novel, and then a series of books for children, both fiction and non-fiction.

She has been a reference librarian at the Toronto Public Library for over twenty years. “And I found I loved the profession, after all,” she says. Her latest novel for adults, The Girl in the Box, is due out from Dundurn Press in November, 2011.

You can find more about Sheila and her writing via…

Her website, The Girl in the Box on and The Girl in the Box book trailer. You can also read her spotlight hereSheila is also kindly running a Goodreads Giveaway (US & Canada) which runs until 18th November.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with scriptwriter, novelist and actor Gregory Allen – the one hundred and seventy-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast ‘red pen session’ no.6

** Please note that I no longer run red pen episodes but do offer critique (first 1,000 words free) via** 

This week’s podcast was released today, Monday 24th October, the sixth of my episodes dedicated to reading a short story or self-contained novel extract (with synopsis) and then talking about it afterwards.

I run a fortnightly critique group as well as critiquing other authors’ writing which I really enjoy so I thought I’d create podcast episodes doing this. Please remember that it’s only one person’s (my) opinion and you, and the author concerned, are welcome to disagree with my interpretation – I will never be mean for the sake of it, but hope that I’m firm but fair. I also type the critique as I’m reading the story for the first time so by listening to the episode you will have had the advantage of hearing the story in full before hearing my feedback.

Regardless of what genre you write I hope that this helps you think about the way your stories are constructed and that you have enjoyed hearing another author’s work, the copyright of which remains with them.

Today’s story was a novel extract emailed to me by Kathryn Wild, a teacher who has spent the last three years in Thailand and Switzerland, working in their education systems, after four years in England. She is currently in the process of relocating again, most likely to Spain, having left the English Education system to allow herself time to travel and more importantly to write. In the space of the last two years, she has written two young adult novels (book one is almost ready to go out, book two needs editing but it is sitting in the ‘bottom draw’ so, she says, she can see it fresh when she come back to it). She is currently 20,000 words into the first draft of book three

I read the story, critiqued it and concluded with: “Kathryn has achieved what should be done in a novel’s first chapter; she’s introduced us to our protagonist, given a little description of her so we can form a picture, mentioned a small number of other characters, and given us their conflicts or dilemmas without giving too much away. It’s always very tempting to give as much information about the characters and setting at the beginning – known as an ‘info dump’ but we don’t have that here, and it makes us want to read on. Also as a non-reader of fantasy I don’t feel overwhelmed by the information we’ve been given. It’s a very relatable story and I suspect from Kathryn’s clear writing style it’ll continue like that.”

Kathryn’s website is and you can follow her on Twitter (where there’s currently a photograph of Kathryn and a beautiful tiger).

If you have any feedback on today’s episode or any other podcasts or aspects of my website or blog, I’m always delighted to hear from you – my email address is

And if you’re feeling brave enough to email me a (ideally normally) 1,000-word short story or novel extract (with a brief synopsis please) for these red pen sessions then feel free. I suggest you listen to at least one of the red pen episodes to get an idea of what happens.

Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast is available via iTunes, Google’s Feedburner, Podbean (when it catches up), Podcasters (which takes even longer) or Podcast Alley (which doesn’t list the episodes but will let you subscribe). Episodes include hints & tips (currently episode no.41) and author audio interviews – see this blog’s podcast page for more information.