So You Want to Tutor? Get Them Talking.


This is part two of the series, “So You Want to Tutor?”

  1. Prove It
  2. Get Them Talking

Establishing rapport, in this case, isn’t about selling knives, makeup, or used cars. It’s about breaking the ice a bit, and establishing a common ground. A bit of rapport doesn’t mean finding out their favorite ice cream and their relationship status. You’re not here to be best friends, you’re here to help.

The primary aim is to get them talking and to find out what assignment they’re working on, what class it’s for, how much time they have to devote to the project before its due, what grade they’re shooting for, and other aspects that may be piling on the stress for them.

So besides getting them talking (which is very important), it’s about arming you with the bare minimum of knowledge you’ll need to actually help the student. Rather than charging into the assignment with a red pen, ready to bleed the page, find out a bit of background. This isn’t a novel, and you only have got an hour or less, so a chunk of exposition here does just fine.

Be Aware of Entitlement

As I learned during my tutor training, there are some who will come to tutoring expecting to be given the answers. Maybe this has something to do with our lecture/notetaking format in classes, but this is not your responsibility as a tutor. Your job isn’t to know and give all the answers, but to show them as a successful student how you find the answers when you need them.

Your training may go differently, but ours focused quite a bit on this – on fighting the attitude of entitlement. I believe it was valuable training, helping put up a wall to prevent you doing things you shouldn’t.

The main problem with this training is although it may be true, and it may be helpful to know that you should “teach them to fish” rather than just giving the answers, it ultimately doesn’t help to approach a student assuming that they’re just here to get test answers from you.

Some students may have an entitlement problem, sure, but it doesn’t help to assume this. This might just be a result of not knowing to expect – especially if they haven’t tutored before, or haven’t had a good one.

It’s best to keep a balance between the two perspectives. On your end, become solid in the idea that you are here to help the students learn how to be successful students, or in other words, learn how to find the answers they need. If you only have them for up to an hour, you can’t fix their grade for them – but you can give them some tools that allow them to do this for themselves. On the other end, the social side where you, as a student, are helping a fellow student – don’t get all defensive if they ask for answers, or sit back in their seat expecting you to move the session forward.

Keep Them Talking

Many if not most students will take on this passive attitude at the beginning of a session, especially if they’re not used to having you as a tutor yet. This may tempt you to talk a lot just to get the ball rolling, but refrain. In order to “teach them to fish”, we need their participation. In fact, if we were to weigh the entire session on a verbal scale, it would probably best if they were talking 90% of the time, with you only making small remarks to direct or advise. At worst, it should be 50/50. The thing to avoid is the opposite, with you talking 90% of the time and the student only speaking the other 10%. This most likely means they aren’t engaged in what’s going on, which means the session is not as effective as it could be (if not completely useless).

Reading Aloud

One of the tricks I would use when tutoring writing was to have the student read the paper out loud. I handed them a pencil (NOT a red one) and encouraged them to make notes of changes as they found things. As they read, I would never interrupt, but simply be marking awkward passages or wording with underlines or circles, just to make note of it for later. This was very important – You’re not making editing marks, showing exactly what’s wrong, but simply highlighting the areas that need attention.

Don’t interrupt. This is important so, DON’T INTERRUPT. Most students will be just a little embarrassed at reading their paper aloud, even in a private setting, so let them work through it. If they are allowed to keep fumbling through reading their paper aloud and eventually realize they aren’t being judged for anything (not the writing, not their articulation, nothing at all), they will relax. They’ll become comfortable with the situation. And best of all, they’ll be talking.

Talking leads to participation. Participation leads to engagement. Engagement leads to LEARNING…


Novel Ninja: Crediting Yourself

picture of my blog about Crediting Yourself at Ali Cross's Website
Ali Cross is a Fantastic Young Adult Author and avid blogger who runs – an online community bent on keeping writers motivated.

Today Ali Cross has been kind enough to feature another blog by yours truly. This one is about Crediting Yourself: an aspect to life that I have found to be crucial for motivation and success. Check out the post at or – and if you’re a writer yourself, consider joining the dojo!

Open Conference Call with David Farland

photo of David Farland
David Farland

Super Author David Farland hosts “Farland’s Authors’ Advisory Conference Calls”. I had the opportunity to attend a few panels with David Farland at this year’s Life, the Universe, and Everything. He has been teaching writers for a long time now, and is full of great advice.

Just a little ethos for you, David Farland used to teach Creative Writing at BYU, and has led many aspiring authors to success. His students include the likes of Dan Wells and Brandon Sanderson.

The next call is tonight, March 30, 2011 at 9:00 pm EDT.  According to the website, anyone is free to log in to the call and to bring questions. Check out their website for more details on how to log into the call;

Farland’s Authors’ Advisory Conference Calls


Writing Career? Certainly.

picture of a marine
The guy I talked to didn't look this cool.

Yesterday I had an awkward experience where a young man done up in his military blues asked me what I’m working on at school. When I told him my major was “Writing”, he looked at me as if I’d said, “I’m going to write my first book and it will sell like Harry Potter”. Come on. I’m ambitious, not delusional.

He also told me, and these are his own words, “You can’t do anything with that.” I’ll admit I was a tad defensive at first. I almost uttered, “excuse me if I don’t consider a brain-washed meat-head to be the expert on what I can or cannot do with an English Degree,” but that would have been rude. Instead I said, “Oh, so how many English Degrees do you have?” which was way less sarcastic. I got over it pretty quickly though.

There are two reasons I took this long to get to school. The first was money, which became more accessible through Financial Aid when I turned 25. The second was that I just couldn’t bring myself to major in anything besides writing. From the year I graduated High School I knew that was what I wanted, but I just didn’t think it was possible to make money as a writer. That was for the lucky ones. The celebrities. I’ve learned since then.

Some people may be getting tired of my Brandon Sanderson story, so I’ll keep it short. I met him at a signing at Barnes and Noble. At that point, I hadn’t really read any of his books. I had heard about him, however, and there wasn’t really a line for him at this signing – he was not as well-sung then. So Ian and I struck up a conversation. This was my first time getting to really chat with someone who made a living as an author, and for fear of misquoting him, I’ll boil down the message he left with us into basic points:

  • You can make a living doing this if you love it.
  • Your first book probably won’t be publishable.
  • You should write that book in order to improve as a writer, then move on and write more books.
  • Writing won’t make you rich.
logo for writing excuses
Writing Excuses, an award-winning podcast for writers.

Since then I’ve read all of Brandon’s published works, and I’m probably his #3,567th fan. While reading his blog later on down the road, I stumbled upon a podcast called “Writing Excuses” that he runs with two of his professional writer friends, Dan Wells and Howard Taylor.  What this podcast did for me was keep writing present in the mind. At the time life was crazy, and it was hard enough to get by on normal things let alone try to tackle all the fears and doubts I had built up for myself about writing professionally. Writing Excuses offered both sound advice and constant reminders of that passion, that goal I had deep inside. With all the experiences and advice related by not just the hosts but a lot of guest authors as well, an idea began to sprout and gain purchase. A dangerous idea, one I had never considered before.

The idea that I could have a career as a writer.

These people are pretty much just like me, except they are further along in the process. They’ve been writing long enough so that they’ve finished a few books. They grew as writers and as business people, and were eventually published (multiple times).

To quote some advice from Barbara Sher, “Write at least thirty minutes every day. If you can’t do that, write at least ten minutes every day. If you can’t do that, write for five. And if you can’t do that, just pick up your manuscript and walk around with it for a little while.” The idea is to keep the thing you are passionate about present in your mind. Don’t let yourself put it aside just because life got crazy. “Isolation is the Dream Killer” (Sher), it will slowly siphon your energy to devote to what you love. And if you love writing, you’ve probably felt this before.

That’s what Writing Excuses helped me to fight – every Sunday night or Monday morning I can load it on my Ipod before I take off to school, and start my week with writing in mind, no matter how crazy life got last week.

So here’s the rub; the goals are Major in Professional Writing, experience in Web Site Design and Intermediate-Level Japanese. Off the top of my head I can already name you a big-name, successful health product company that is located here in Idaho, needs professional writers for content writing on websites and they deal in quite a few languages (And yes, that includes Japanese).

That’s just in this area, and we’re probably going to be willing to move by the time I get out. And that’s off the top of my head, just in local results. What I mean is, if my writing is good enough to speak for itself, there’s no reason I can’t put food on the table with my writing, in a full-time capacity, with health benefits. Yes, I do want to be a novelist, and that is something I won’t stop working on until I get published – but my future family’s well-being comes first… and even if I were single, I would work full-time while writing part-time. It’s just the smart way to go.

It’s not really a problem of whether or not I’ll publish. It’s about what I enjoy doing, and how I want to spend my life. It’s about not expecting my first book to go anywhere, but to be realistic about my goals. It’s about knowing that I will be happier having written 50 books that went nowhere than I would if I never wrote anything and just regretted my inaction.

November Approaches…

A lot has happened to me since Writing for Charity. Somewhere in that time, I got a job, went through midterms, moved, lost my mind, pulled my head out of my butt (no, not literally… that’s disgusting, what’s the matter with you?), exercised, laughed, ate brownies, and did a hell of a lot of homework. Somewhere in all that mess, I didn’t realize that the end of October was approaching. For most people, this means Halloween.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m dressing up, going to a spook alley with Sara, and finding all the excuses I can to utilize the costume that Sara and I have worked so much on. (Okay, it was Sara who worked… I just conceptualized and fretted. For anyone curious, google “Gintoki” and you should find some pictures of who I’ll be.)

But something bigger happens at the end of October; the beginning of November, or to some people, “NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month”.

The basic goal of NaNoWriMo is to write and finish a 50,000 word novel in the course of the month. This goal can, of course, be adapted to your own personal needs. (For example, 50,000 words toward your 200,000 word epic novel, or five poems a week, etc.) The event is supported by a large online community that posts blogs with encouragement from NaNoWriMo representatives as well as acclaimed authors.

Let me continue by saying what NaNoWriMo isn’t. It isn’t a month where you are expected to write a good book. That’s about it. The pressure of writing a good book may kill a participant’s ability to, well, participate. Consider these points;

1. Most published novels are heavily trimmed. Brandon Sanderson often admits that he cuts the first three or so chapters of every novel he writes – and yes, he writes his novels in chronological order. First of all, that doesn’t mean that you have to. All writers are different and different things work for them. The goal here, no matter what “type” of writer you are, is to prove to yourself what you are capable of. That means a lot of what you write may go straight to the crapper in a later revision, or at least need heavy edits.

2. Most authors revise many times. From what we can tell, and I speak alongside many successful writers when I say this, we cannot discover some strange X factor that resides in the genes or brains or mutations of successful authors that enables to write everything perfectly the first time.

3. Writing is like playing piano. It isn’t a one-shot deal. You write, and like playing a song, you learned to use certain notes. Maybe those same notes can be used better, or more smoothly, but you did it, and you gained some experience. Then you play another song, or practice your scales, until you are quicker and more efficient. That is the spirit of NaNoWriMo. Let’s get some practice in.

4. You can’t tell if it’s crap yet. You may reach a point in your writing where you’re telling yourself, “This is crap, this is crap, this is crap”, and you may be right. Especially when you hit that point where those three words are covering the entire page. Yeah, that’ll up your word count, and it’ll probably get cut later… but put it in there if that’s all you can manage right now. Hell, you’re writing. The thing IS, sometimes you come back to it later and realize… “hey, this isn’t as bad as I thought it was, it just needs a small tweak”. You cannot know right away, because you’re looking at it too closely. Paint on some more of the canvas. Let it dry. Let your scent fade from it a bit. Maybe in March you can have a NaNoEdMo and have a looksie on how to make things better.

The obvious truth is that I’m writing this blog as self-encouragement. I’m hyping myself up for the event. The night of the 31st, I intend to stay up after midnight with a VAT of Cherry Coke and get a solid 1800 words in before I go to sleep, in order to get things started off “right”.

If, despite all the crazy-talk, you are interested in the idea of NaNoWriMo, check out the website. Look over the Pep Talks. Google your favorite authors with the term “Pep Talks” or “writing encouragement” or “writer advice” and see what you find. Dare to make this crazy goal. Get yourself pumped. Drink some caffeine and bounce off the walls for a while. Then let me know you’re doing it to so we can share moral support. =)

Writing for Charity 2010

Here’s the pictures I took on the trip. I was shy to get my picture taken after my sickness, since I am very unhappy with my weight gain, but I am very happy to have these pictures nevertheless. And now that my health is really beginning to come back, maybe these pictures will be a good way to track my return to normal health! =D

Writing for Charity has been one of my best experiences in a long time. Despite my horrible morning on the 20th when, to my dismay, my debit card stopped working when I stopped for gas in Sandy on the way to visit my grandparents’ the day before the event. This is one of those things that is kind of comedic to look back on, I’m sure, but the morning was really stressful. Turns out my debit card was shut off temporarily because I had made three online purchases the previous day, and the bank’s system automatically did so in order to prevent identity theft. So a system put into place to protect my money left me stranded without gas at 5am in Sandy, UT. Yeah, that’s never happened.

I ended up in a hotel, spending a mite more money then I had planned in order to do so, but the experience was good. I caught up on some well-needed rest, after that ordeal, and was able to attend Writing for Charity refreshed and excited.

I won’t give you a blow-by-blow, but I will try to give an impression of what the event was about, as well as some personal highlights of the day. Rock Canyon’s Writing for Charity is an event put on in association with the Children’s Literature Association of Utah. They raise money each year with the goal of getting a book for each child in several schools which are not as well-funded. They are also smart about it, meaning many things are donated or sponsored, and they are able to get a book for each child at around $2 each. This means that the $75 registration fee was not only totally worth it as an aspiring author, but that my fee alone got books for an entire classroom of kids.

The event is set up for aspiring authors. A panel of successful local authors donate their time in order to run workshops and Q&As, giving us a chance to really connect with the authors and get advice. Also, it was a great opportunity to just talk to other people who really want to take this seriously. There were so many people to meet and talk to, and I wish I’d been a little more outgoing, but I did get the opportunity to exchange email with quite a few talented writers.

For pre-registering online, I had the priviledge of selecting the author who would critique the first page of my manuscript. I chose Dan Wells, author of “I am Not a Serial Killer”, and “Mr. Monster”. Funny story about the latter, but Sara got it for me for my birthday, and after coming home from school, which I had attended after an all-nighter, I finally got it in the mail a week later. Despite my lack of sleep, I stayed up and read the entire thing in one sitting.

My piece was not ready for workshop. I don’t edit until after I’ve finished the draft, and I have not finished the draft. It’s also really hard for me to tell where to begin my story exactly until after it’s finished. The beginning, especially the first paragraph of a story, is where you make your promise to the reader – and I have a hard time knowing how to make that promise exactly until I’ve finished what I’ll be delivering.

That being said, this was a wonderful opportunity, and not only was Dan himself very helpful, but I had the opportunity to workshop with several bright, positive, talented writers. The best part was that we all had things that were so different, which is awesome because – if we’re all writing the same thing, what’s the point? It was great.

Dan Wells has a great blog, where I found out about this event to begin with, and we talked a bit about his book, Foo Fighters, and Heroscape. Dan, you’re a great guy, even if you come off a little standoffish at first. I don’t care what anyone says. Hahaha. =D

I met J. Scott Savage, who writes in several genres. This was nice for me, since I like such a variety of genres that I have a hard time choosing just one to write in. I know I like middle-grade fantasy more than any other, but that makes it no easier to just choose a single one. Savage had a lot of advice on the subject, and was just a great guy.  He must have talked to me for at least a half hour, or so it seemed to me, because I was just so excited that this guy could be so down to earth and genuinely NICE to me. He was oozing with desire to help people. So many of the authors there were like that, and it’s no wonder that at an event for children’s books, many of these authors have had some experience in education.

Many authors, even those who don’t write things I generally read, were just fun to talk to and had great advice. I particularly liked Sheila A. Nielson, who recently released “Forbidden Sea” (COVER ENVY!!!), and Bree Despain, whose books look really great – although a bit girly and steamy for my taste.

That night at the Evening Extravaganza, we had a Q&A with an “All-Star Writers Panel”, which included James Dashner, author of “The Maze Runner”, which I will be continuing right after I finish “The Hunger Games” (By Suzanne Collins – must read!), Brandon Sanderson, and Brandun Mull – author of Fablehaven. Dashner was fun and easy to talk to, and signed my book readily with the advice, “Write EVERY day!!!”. I also spoke with Brandon Mull, who personalized a book for Sara. Fablehaven has really helped Sara rediscover her love for reading, and has inspired her to begin writing herself.

As always, I bugged Brandon Sanderson, even though he’s signed all the books I own of his to date. He’s been something of a mentor to me, a fatherly figure in the business, since I met him with my writing friend Ian Mayes just two years ago. The event changed my life, and the encouragement and practical advice he gave me is what spurred me on to attend this event tonight. It’s just a wonderful experience to meet authors who write things you like and want to emulate and find that they are such REAL people. Real, and nice. Often they are happy to take a few minutes and talk to you, despite their very busy schedules. Many times they are just as excited about the idea of other writers’ success as their own, if not more, and with Brandon this is most definitely the case.

After sharing a drink with my Camry, I headed home, driving on a cloud. And listening to The Hunger Games.

If you are even considering writing, and want to do so seriously, I highly recommend you find an event like this and attend. There is a free convention called “Life, the Universe, and Everything” which happens each Spring at BYU, and it’s free admission. Get yourself to something like this, and summon up the courage to approach the authors you admire – or even authors you haven’t heard of until now that seem interesting to you. I promise you it will change your entire outlook for the better. Things will open up to you, a world of possibilities where you can keep your Day job and yet, seriously consider writing as a future career.

On Stephen King’s book, “On Writing”

First, I’d like to announce that this is my fourth day in a row waking up before 7am and exercising. Insomnia? Bite me.

As you can probably tell by the title of the blog, I’ve just finished reading (via audiobook) On Writing, by Stephen King. It’s pretty much on my top list of things a writer should expose themselves to if they really want to do this seriously.

There are tons of good messages to be had from the book, but from my own current state of figuring out what to do next, there was only one message for me. I wish I’d received it when I was first graduating High School and was confronted by some unsavory people telling me I’d never succeed at this. The message, themed repeatedly in his book, is this; Write with the door shut, and edit with the door open.

This means you write the first draft for yourself, and nobody else. You write without worrying how it will be received, or how that awesome writer friend of yours, the one who seems to be the epitome of eloquence, will react when they read this part. You write without worrying if this is really representative of the State Police of Pennsylvania, or whether dogs can look up.

During the editing phase, you write with those things in mind, but I’ve never much struggled with editing. The hardest, but also the most exhilarating part of writing, comes when you’re first playing around with your keyboard or pen and paper. You’re having fun with it. You’re telling a story.

There were, of course, other phases to addressing my Writer’s block. A technique I think all writers who write must have mastered, is being able to honestly take a look into yourself and figure out why you aren’t able to write right now. Sometimes it is classic Writer’s Block, one of “I don’t know what comes next”. As often, or more often, you might find that there are things pressing on you to get done, or that you’re simply afraid of something. (My most common fear is that I’ll put so much energy into something that sucks.) Sometimes, you just need to grab some lunch before you can focus.

The trick, I believe, is the honesty. Being able to look inside and ask yourself, “What is it that is keeping me from writing right now? Am I afraid? Is there a more pressing matter that is bothering me?”

To some extent, people have to deal with this kind of honesty if they want to get anything done. When you go to practice your music, art, or to exercise, you might just need to ask yourself the same question. Bullying yourself into the “I must do it anyway!” attitude is very American, but it’s like pushing snow. You push and push and you feel it give for awhile, but eventually the mound of snow you’ve gathered will prove too much, and you’ll collapse.