Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Annoying career choices

Supply Teaching

I do not understand how the Department of Education works here. I really don’t. Supply teachers are paid all sorts of different amounts, then when they offer you a job for the day, they offer it to you for less than agreed in the contract (and half of what you’ve been paid in the past for the same job, at the same school, through a different agency.) You get called at 8:15 to ask you to be somewhere at 8:30. You get asked to drive 45 minutes to a school for potential less money. You get asked to work in special schools when you have no training in SEN whatsoever. You get asked to work as a P.E. teacher when you’re an English teacher with Qualified Teacher Status, only to be knocked into by a crowd of feral Year 10 girls.

When I researched how much supply teachers are paid, apparently not in London, you can expect to start off at £105 as a Newly Qualified Teacher, then get an increase in pay. I’ve never been given more than £100. In Scotland, the normal pay is £145, from what I read too. There are also all these different terms for supply teaching – cover support, English specialist, teaching support. Each one gets paid different, so even if you’re an English teacher with QTS, you can be sent into a school who only needs “cover support” and half of what an “English specialist” supply teacher would for the day.

Is the job different? Not that I can see. Supply/Substitute teaching means going into a classroom, fighting kids to be quiet and get on with it when they know they’ll never see you again, and given no work to do with them because no one has left lesson plans. (Not that the kids care anyway.) Whether you teach a history, English, or maths class, it’s always the same.

In Florida they just gave substitute teachers with a Bachelor’s degree $70 a day, and with a Master’s degree $75. You had an online timesheet you could look up jobs with and list when you wanted to work. Here there are twenty local teaching agencies that handle supply teachers. The teaching agencies are doing their job, but anyone can start up one, and decide whether to call you or not.

Teaching English as a Second Language

I’ve been told by people on Twitter, and in writing workshops or teaching gigs, that I should go get my certificate to teach English as a Foreign Language. So, since this supply teaching thing isn’t helping me any, I started looking into it.

First of all, the UK has either the CELTA or the Trinity certification program. This is the good, accredited program, apparently, and the shorter courses, although they are supposed to be accredited, aren’t worth anything. Now, the problem is that the USA and Canada, from what I’m told, don’t recognize anything that’s not a TEFL certification specifically. These UK CELTA certs are supposed to be internationally recognized, but apparently that’s not really true.

Also, one college who use to offer the Trinity program told me that teachers with experience can train and work at the same time in some colleges to get their certificate. Another college who offers the CELTA said that the British Council won’t let you teach ESOL without the CELTA, regardless of teaching experience. (Even though the CELTA says it’s for those who have never taught, but whatever.)

I wrote to the British Council to see if they could give me an answer to this. I’ve tried to ask Twitter if anyone in the UK has gone through ESOL training but, surprise surprise, I’ve had no response to that or my questions about supply teacher pay rates.

Also, in order to get into a CELTA program, you have to do an interview with a thirty minute language tasks (little mini-test) and an interview about your test, just to prove you should be in the course. And here I thought getting into grad school was tough. I’m telling you, no one in the UK cares if you speak English, have taught English, and were born and raised in an English speaking country for more than thirty years of your life.

And again I wonder, is it even going to be worth it? The program is apparently really tough, but if the UK will give me a steady job, I’m absolutely fine with going through the process. However, this test asks you to indicate is verbs are in “present continuous” tense and what the proper syllable markings are in different words. I’m not sure I could even pass the interview if that’s what they’re looking for.


Library jobs are posted. All kinds. Full time, part time, senior librarian, research librarian, library assistant, and so on. I apply. I get a rejection letter. I can’t get shortlisted for an interview for anything. Pointless, useless degree and a bunch of financial aid I’ll never pay off. What happened to this, “You can get $36k a year being a librarian!” theory they told us about four or five years ago?


I’ve never been happier than I have been, sitting here at home, working on my book. It’s a very anti-social way of conducting life but, hey, it works for me.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Quitting NaNo and choosing a book’s teen audience

I absolutely refuse to make a post about tips for writers, so this isn’t one. I taught writing, and I’ve taken classes on writing. Some tips are relevant, yes. Ending a story with “it was all a dream” is a terrible idea. That’s a given. But aside from having good punctuation, having a structure, and a strong character the rest is just what worked for one person. (I read something about how you don’t put “the end” in your writing, because the reader should know it’s the end. Not true in terms of manuscript formatting, I’m afraid.)
I gave up on NaNoWriMo after I sat down with an outline and rules on how to create a scene, and froze. Now I’ve moved on to something else and the whole racing to get a word count in each day has just gone out the window.
I’ve realized in the past three years that I’m really impatient. Steve, bless him, is the one who’s pointed this out to me. I have lived with the “Well, what are you going to do? You’d better do something!” mind-set all my life until I moved here. Now I understand that if something’s not working, don’t keep trying to push it. (As someone said on Twitter about my outline, “If it’s blocking you, ditch it.”)
I’m back to another story idea in the same world I had started early this year. I’ve been reading a lot about Middle Grade versus Young Adult because my subject matter doesn’t revolve around the character’s love life. (Crushing, yes, but details of a romance, just no.) Also, my sentences are shorter (again, what I learned in college short story writing: “Get in and get out.”) and my vocabulary doesn’t include a bunch of SAT words. I’m totally uncomfortable with the romance issues, and even when I’ve thought of good YA books that deal with such topics, I know they can potentially get into uncomfortable territory. (I know how my friends talked in high school and college. I don’t have any desire to try and stomach that in my own work.) I’m way more comfortable with a younger main character because I feel like I can concentrate on the story.
But in a few months I may change my mind. Who knows?
So here’s a few links I found regarding how MG and YA are categorized. One thing’s for sure, the age of the main character is a small part of it. Who the audience is, is what I have to keep in mind.
The Difference Between Middle Grade & Young Adult -
Middle grade novels are characterized by the type of conflict encountered by the main character. Children in the primary grades are still focused inward, and the conflicts in their books reflect that. Characters are also a key element to young adult novels, but these books often have more complicated plots than those for middle grade.
Is it MG or YA?-
My advice? Get out of that gray area! If you read a lot of MG and YA books, you can easily isolate the difference. MG books are shorter than YA, deal with any “issues” or “content” (edgy stuff) but only secondhand (like the kid’s mom is an alcoholic, not the kid herself), have less darkness and often a sweeter ending than most books for older readers, are sophisticated but still accessible for reluctant readers, are more open to curriculum tie-ins and educational content, and are written to appeal to 10-12 year-old readers, at their heart.
YA books are longer, darker, edgier, less about education and more about a riveting story (though MG should have one, too, of course), and written to appeal to readers 14+.
Middle Grade? Teen? Where Do You Draw the Line? -
Middle grade novels tend to be more outwardly focused: Their plot of events, of things happening to the character, is more important over the course of the book than what happens within the character. (Though that matters very much to the climax of the book, when the outward events trigger an inner change.)
Teen novels tend to give as much weight to the interior mechanics of character dilemma and change as to the outward mechanics of plot and event. That is, how a character feels about what is happening is as important as what is happening.
Teen novels tend to be less a simple-upsetting-of-a-status-quo (the world as it the reader knows it) and more the realization that the world is more complex than we suspected as children. (Its mysteries are legion.)
YA to MG: Young Adult Vs. Middle Grade -
MG: protag’s personal struggle is the focus. Anything that happens is viewed in light of how it affects him/her.
YA: protag focuses on other people’s struggles as well - whether or not he/she is affected by them.
These all helped me get a better idea of what middle grade books really are instead of just thinking they were one step up from chapter books. There are some beautiful MG books, like When You Reach Me and Liar and Spy that really influenced my love for MG stories. Right now I’m reading How I Live Now. While Daisy is 15 and the novel is shorter, there is an underage romance (with her cousin) going on. However the war is only dealt with in terms of how it effects her life. That seems to be a bit more MG than YA for me. There’s that gray area again.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Rules for writing and outlining blues

I talked on Twitter all yesterday about the rules of outlining. I had this seemingly good idea this summer, I wrote some ideas for scenes and what I wanted to happen, then I started getting into the “How to Structure a Novel.”

So. Many. Rules.

Scenes have to have three parts, and they have to lead into one another. Books have three acts, a Hero’s Quest, and the second act is broken in half. This is the only way you will ever write a good book because we live in the 21st Century and all books have to be like this to be a success.

Creativity is fine, I’m told, but you need framework. You don’t jump in, write something, then editing later. Nono. You’d have a mess. You want to follow the structure. Make sure every part is exact.

I’m exaggerating, of course, but only a little. I wanted to learn about structure of novels because we’re only taught short story writing, essay writing, and poetry as Lit and Writing majors. How to put novels together is tricky. You don’t just get in and get out. You don’t write a story, get feedback, edit and polish. No.

When I was taught as a kid, we had introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. That was what worked. Ah, the poor mis-led children of the 80s.

After I went through webinars and my Young Adult Writing class, I’ve used my big summer project idea to plan it out. At first I thought it was going well. I never completed an outline. You know why? Because I don’t know how the book is going to go. I have a beginning, scene ideas, and a conclusion to aim for. Granted, the smaller, basic outline that my professor gave me is easier to work with:

hook, backstory, trigger – crisis, struggle, epiphany – plan, climax, ending

And I have somewhat of an idea about what I could put in there but, you know what? It’s boring.

Now that NaNoWriMo showed up, I sat down and tried to go back to my diving in and making a scene. But now I can’t do that. My scene must have a goal, a conflict, and a disaster with a reaction that leads to the next goal. I don’t mind framework, but this has really killed my creativity and interest in the project. I didn’t like the project to begin with, and this has just solidified my need to throw it in a drawer once my class is over, and forget about it. It’s going to be a practice in character sketches and outlining. Maybe later, once the tears of frustration have left, will I try it again.

Anyway, I want to thank everyone on Twitter who assured me that outlining before writing isn’t necessary for everyone. I really want to create a good book, but I need to feel through the story first before I know what the prize and final threshold will be for my character.

I think the most positive reinforcement of this writing with creative freedom is from Meg Cabot’s “Why I Don’t Outline:”

I will tell you why I think you can't write your book:


Yeah. You wrote your book in OUTLINE form. Now your brain—your muse—your creative story-telling impulse—WHATEVER it is that makes us want to write stuff down and share it with the world—is telling you that your job is done: you already shared your story. You're finished. There's nothing left to say because you already said it all.


I know outlining works for people and they have everything set up before they put pen to paper. I like impulse and creative juices flowing that lead me on a journey. Again, I have to agree with Cabot, “I think outlines are ideal for expository writing.”

When I have outlined, I’ve gotten to the middle, or first quarter of the book idea and then got to the writing. I never looked at the outline again. It wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t the same story that came out in my writing. Again, I think outlining and planning are better for editing, at least in my case.

And by the way, I’ve written 650 words of the story I’ve decided to work on for NaNo, a going back to something I had already written 30k words of before I was working a lot. My project before I got to NaNo was maybe 5K. Once NaNo started: 90.

That’s when I cried and declared I’d never try to write that book again.

So I think the trying to plan and work slowly and carefully doesn’t work with NaNo. It’s too much all at once. NaNo is more of a doodle session, plotting and outlining is adhere to guidelines. There can’t be any rules for doodling.

Lastly, my favorite quotes about writing well this past week was on Ally Carter's Twitter:

Can't stop thinking about how the biggest theme in the Publishing/Writing Ask Ally was basically surprise that writing a book is hard.

Really curious why so many people think writing a book should be easy. Let me assure you: it's not.

So if you're trying to write your first novel and it is taking a long time and really sucks: congratulations! You're doing it right!

This is why I think it's the NaNoWriMo that's put me off more than anything. I dunno...