Writing quote

Sure, it's simple writing for kids...Just as simple as raising them.
— Ursula K. LeGuin

Monday, March 5, 2012


   Welcome to Monday Musings, my attempt to organize my posts into a more consistent schedule, so I'm hoping to post every Monday on writing-related stuff from publishing, editing, and writing tips to helpful links for writers, school presentations, and what I'm doing or not doing writing-wise, and how you can learn from my mistakes and successes (hopefully).
   So, I'll begin my first Monday Musings to say that I am in LOVE with power point presentations—ever since I figured out how to put them together with Apple Keynotes which is so much easier to use than Microsoft's Power Point. 
   The thought of doing an assembly school visit used to have me shaking in my boots. What? Speak to 100 kids in an auditorium? I'd much rather make 3 separate visits to individual classrooms. But a month ago, my publisher arranged for an assembly visit at a school in San Mateo, and I was forced to put together a power point presentation because I couldn't see how listening to me talk for an hour was going to be engaging enough or how it would work to hold up my book and have it be visible to the kids in the back of a large hall. Fortunately, I didn't have to do this visit alone. Janie Havemeyer, author of Catherine de Medici, The Black Queen, and I did this presentation together. It was fun, the kids were really engaged and engaging, and I got a huge boost in confidence—yes! I can do school assemblies!
   Last Monday, I did two school visits, Salmon Creek Elementary School in Occidental, and Guerneville School in Guerneville. The first was to about 50 4th and 5th graders, and the second was to about 100 4th - 8th graders. Again, I was partnered up with another Dastardly Dame author, Gretchen Maurer, author of Mary Tudor, Bloody Mary. Having done one large assembly using power point, I felt so much more relaxed. Through visuals of ourselves as kids, families (and pets, in Gretchen's case—that one elicited a few "awwws" from the audience for her dog, Ozzie), snapshots of early writings, images of reams of revision notes from editors, pictures from the books and other sources about our dastardly dames and the times in which they lived, we were able to summarize in a 45 minute nutshell who we were as authors, our writing and revision process (always much appreciated by teachers), and the story of our subjects.
   So, if you intend to use power point for your next school presentation, here's a few pointers I've learned:

1) Kids love to know that authors were kids once themselves, so put some pictures of your early life in there.
2) If some of your early writing was lucky enough to have survived your childhood, kids and teachers love knowing how you became interested in writing and being a writer, and that the seed of writing doesn't always have to begin with stories or poems. It could be taking notes in a scrapbook, writing letters to pen pals (as Gretchen shared), or keeping a journal.
3) Kids LOVE humor, so funny pictures are a big hit: pictures of you as a toddler or pre-schooler, your kids, family pets etc.
4) The revision and writing process–many teachers are focusing on this in classroom assignments so teachers appreciate when writers share how much revision goes into the writing process to make the work publishable. And kids like knowing that they're not the only ones getting their work marked up.
5) Technological whatsits. Okay, so this is not always easy for writers. Generally, we know how to turn on our computers, find the word processing program, cut and paste, and that's about it. If you know a tech savvy teen who can help you, you're way ahead of the game. I had to spend some time learning all the special effects I could add to my power point. Fortunately, with Keynotes as I said before, after familiarizing myself with where certain bells and whistles were located and how to add them to my slide, it was pretty simple. And the kids love the little image of the airplane I had flying across my map of the world from Hong Kong to California that showed them how I came to the United States.

   If you want to learn how to use Keynotes, here's a clear, concise tutorial to get you started. And if you want to learn Power Point, click here to get a free tutorial download.
   School visits used to be an author's bread and butter in terms of book sales, but with budget cuts, and tighter budgets for everyone including parents, it isn't that way anymore, so don't fret if you travel a distance for a school visit and don't sell many books. Here's something I've learned: school visits are not about selling books, it's about connecting with kids. And if you and your story resonates with kids, you've done your job as an author.



  1. Great post! I completely get you when it comes to technology. That's the part I'm having the hardest time getting my head around. Skype, though, opens new opportunities to writers. Have you tried Skype visits?

  2. Hi Shevi,

    I am listed on the Skype an Author website: http://skypeanauthor.wetpaint.com/page/Natasha+Yim, but so far have not had any bookings through the site yet. It's an intriguing idea, but so far, have only done in-person school visits. I would love to try a Skype visit.

  3. I've been doing Powerpoint presentations to large groups of children for a couple years now. The part that still makes me nervous is wondering if the projector, speakers, and my laptop are going to "play nice" with each other the day of the visit. I always make sure I tell the school that I am NOT a techy, and I really need that type of person from their staff to help me set up. On one occasion, we couldn't get things working until the kids were already lined up outside the door of the media center, and I happened to hit a button that made everything okay! That's the kind of stress I don't need.

    As for Skype, I have done quite a few Skype visits. Again, the technology can be friend or foe in that situation. One time my computer's built-in microphone decided not to work (even though I had tested it with the school the day before!) So I could hear them, but they couldn't hear me. Also, you have to think about how/where to sit so that you are not too close or too far with whatever you trying to do for them on screen. I did figure out how to show Powerpoint slides to the audience by clicking a button or two while in Skype.

    Gone are the days when an author could just sit in a chair and read his or her book to the students! You have to put on a show. So that's pretty much what i try to do!

  4. As a techno-idiot I greatly appreciate this information!

  5. Hi Scotti,

    You bring up some good points. Yes, technology can be friend or foe. I forgot to mention this in my post, so thank you for bringing it up. If you do a power point presentation at a school, folks, be very specific about what you need. Telling them you have a laptop computer is not good enough: mention if it's a PC or Mac and what model, what year even. It's a very aggravating part of technology that as they put out "improved" models, they change the cables and other attachments so you're left with a multitude of wires and cables that no longer work! GRRRR!!!

    At the school in San Mateo, I did not have the cable (called a dongle) that attached my computer to the projector, but the school did, although they had to test out 5 different types to find the one that fit my computer. At Guerneville School, Gretchen had a dongle that worked for my computer, but the history teacher who coordinated the event thought we were bringing our own projector, so hadn't set one up. Fortunately, she had one in her office, but the power cord wasn't long enough, so she sent a couple of people scurrying for an extension cord. If you're lucky, the event coordinator will have everything set up before you arrive. But it's a good idea to plan for the best, and prepare for the worst. I always have a copy of the presentation on my computer, and on my flash drive (just in case the school doesn't have the right cable to my computer and I have to use their computer). However, it's always best to bring your own cable (that's next on my list of things to do).

    And ALWAYS have a Plan B...just in case.

    When I visit individual classrooms, I still sit in a chair and read a book, and depending on time, sometimes conduct a writing exercise, but yes, for school assemblies, power points are more entertaining and takes a lot of pressure off you, the author.

  6. Ah yes, the extension cord issue! Pack one in your school visit bag if you possibly can.

    I just did two Skype visits with a Seattle school and they went perfectly (huge sigh of relief)!

  7. Good idea. Boy, the list keeps growing! Very soon, we'll be packing our own projectors and screens, which isn't such a bad idea...

    Scotti, I'm curious how you set up your Skype visits? Do you do your own promotion on this or are you listed with a site like Skype an Author? I'd love to do some, but have not had any bookings yet in that regard.