Monday, August 17, 2020

11 Ways to Do Home, Online Education and Stay Healthy

I'm taking a break from my usual topics to discuss online education because:

I have read a lot of posts at various sites about the problems with online education and home education. As someone who homeschooled two daughters, has used online platforms, and has taught in schools, in a homeschool cooperative, and online, I have some ideas on how to do this well.

First, before I get into the how-to, I have a small note of knowledge I need to share. What is going on right now, with quarantine, and online home education is not actually homeschooling. Homeschooling involves choices made by families for their children and also involves activities outside of the home. When my daughters were homeschooling, they were also involved in dance, sports, choir, two different homeschool cooperatives, church, volunteering at an animal shelter, and community service. We visited zoos, aquariums, science centers, living history museums, museums, art galleries, parks, theaters, and playgrounds. Tuesdays were the only day we didn't go anywhere - and that changed as they got into middle school. Then, we were on the go every single day of the week. 

If you are in quarantine and you haven't seen anyone in more than a week, this is not the same. 

If you are in quarantine and you haven't been outside to get some fresh air (yard, rooftop garden, walk somewhere), this is not healthy. Get outside, somehow.

Okay, onto the positive. Please note: this is written for students as readers. (Parents and educators are welcome, too.)


1. Take breaks every 20-45 minutes. Do not try to do it all in one sitting. You need to stretch, move, breathe fresh air, and give your brain (and eyes) a break. If you are in an online class that goes longer than 45 minutes, at least stand up to stretch after 45 minutes. 

2. Build up your endurance and concentration for homework over time. Most educators start with an "easier" first few weeks. Try to do all of the homework you need to do in 10 minute spurts for the first week. During the second week, do 15-20 minute homework sessions. Build up to 45 minutes. This may seem a little crazy the first week, but it's important to take breaks (see #1) for your health and ability. There have been studies done to show that students really do their best work in shorter clumps of time. 

3. Break up the information into shorter clumps. Research has shown you learn best when you focus on one small area within a larger whole, then take a break, then focus on the next area. While the teacher is talking, organize the information she/he is giving into those short clumps by taking notes in columns under a larger heading. 

4. If you are a struggling with a specific subject area or concept, review it for five minutes (only!) just a half an hour before you go to bed. Do not stress out about it. Just read over your notes, then let it go. It really does help. If you do this and struggle with sleeping, then do your five minute review two hours before going to bed. 

5. Find a way to chat with your friends about what you are learning. Ask them about their studies. Tell them about yours. This is review. (And it's actually social, too). Do this over the phone in real live conversation, or if you must, text. 

6. If you have the capability of using a chat box area in your online class, use it! Converse with your teacher, ask questions, or chat with your peers. Challenge yourself to come up with a question about the material every hour you are in class. 

7. Always, every day, take time to exercise physically. If you can do this outside, go outside! Your brain works best when you have physical exercise. (Again, lots of studies prove this to be true.) Start with twenty minutes of exercise and build to one or two hours. 

8. Get outside! This may be tougher depending on where you live, but fresh air and sunshine/rain really do help you with your thought life and they are healthy for you. Try to get outside and stay out there for a minimum of one hour - two is best. 

9. Make your homework as active as possible. If you are working math tables, spelling words, grammar rules, or anything you have to memorize, make flash cards and create a scavenger hunt with them, or work on them with sidewalk chalk. Find ways to create jumping exercises with your memorization. Reward yourself with movement - five math problems done, run around the living room (mom permitting). If you are reading or doing some other sustained sitting homework, either stretch every 45 minutes, or do yoga while reading. Really, put the book on the floor, and stretch out next to it. You can do this during online classes, too. 

10. Wiggle. If you have the option of turning off your video, wiggle with the video off. This can include: stretching, jiggling your leg, jumping up and down (if you can still listen at the same time), marching in place, tightening your stomach muscles for five seconds at a time (I used to do this in school when I felt like I would fly apart if I had to sit any longer), or tightening other muscles for five seconds at a time. Tapping your pencil or your foot can work, too. Wiggles that usually do not distract strict teachers on full video include: tightening your muscles five seconds at a time x 20, wiggling your toes, and tapping your fingers silently on your desk.

11. Find a way to talk to friends and family members your age. Ask your mom and dad if you can have a Zoom call with just family or friends every week at the same time. Send them text messages or videos. Write a story together or a play. Create goofy collages. Do Zoom Olympics/Gymnastics. Challenge each other to a joke contest over several weeks. If you are a teen, one really fun thing to do is to collect the cheesiest pick-up lines for dating - then create a book of them as co-authors. Create movies together by splicing together scenes you each create. Go on socially distant bike rides or walks, if possible. Create scavenger hunts for each other. Or Home Education Bingo games. Do something to interact. Watch shows together, play video games together, and if you can, go outside together. 

Possible bonus idea: Ask your family if you can have a quarantine buddy family (or two). This buddy family would ideally be your germ bubble buddies until all of the quarantine is over. Also, this family ideally would have a few people of your age in it. If you have a buddy family, you can get together with them for outdoor dinners, soccer, hiking, or other activities. 

Two reasons I wrote this post:
1. I am genuinely concerned about the health of students of all ages - those I tutor online and those I just hear about from other teachers and tutors.

2. I have opened up my online tutoring and teaching for students grades 9-12 at a new website here:
Words Take Flight. I hope that anyone who partakes of these services stays as healthy as possible. 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Against All Odds Blog Tour: 7 Books to Understand Your Character’s Psychology

7 Books to Understand Your Character’s Psychology
By Jacqui Murray

An efriend writer originally published this as a guest post on their blog to help me launch Against All Odds August 2020. In case you missed it there, here are my anecdotal thoughts on how to add drama to your story:
Characters have to be believable. If not, readers put your book down. If your character is a mathematician, he has to think like one, act like one, dress like one. It's not enough to tell us he works for the NSA analyzing data. You have to give him the quirks that make us believe this guy could save the world with his cerebellum.
If you're not that guy, how do you convince readers? Traditional wisdom says two things:
  • interview people
  • watch people
Those are good--especially for your main characters. In fact, you probably can't create a protagonist and antagonist without interviewing those who have walked in their footsteps. But what about the dozens of other characters who wander through a scene, playing bit but important parts in your plot? Here are some great books that will allow you to color them with a consistent brush:
  • Anatomy of Motive: The FBI's Legendary Mindhunter Explores the Key to Understanding and Catching Violent Criminals by John Douglas. If you write mysteries or thrillers, this book will help you explore what makes criminals who they are.
  • Creating Character Emotions by Ann Hood. She explains how to write compelling fresh emotions for your characters. Much of this lies in the showing-not-telling truism; she explains how to show hostility, hate, etc., rather than saying the words. Similar to this one is The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman
  • How Mathematicians Think by William Byers. Hint: They don't think like us. I have a brilliant friend who--I kid you not--hates graphs because they distill the information for him. He'd prefer the raw data so he can see the connections. If you're including someone like that in your plot, this book will make sure you include ambiguity, paradox and their other brilliance in your character's thoughts and actions. Me, I used this book (and my brilliant friend) as a template for the character Eitan in my Rowe-Delamagente series.
  • The Man Who Thought His Wife Was a Hat by Oliver Sachs. Any of his books will give you insight into creative, fascinating psychoses that people live with. In this particular book, a man can't look at a person as a cohesive picture. All he sees are bits of red and pieces of animals--and in the case of his wife, a hat. She does always wears one so that he'll recognize her. A character in the early stages of that psychoses might be a fascinating addition to your story
  • Please Understand Me I and II by David Keirsey. This is a personality style determinant. Very detailed, but highly relevant for analyzing your main characters' temperament, character and intelligence.
  • The Writer's Body Lexicon by Kathy Steinemann. If you want characters' bodies to go beyond appearance to help you build tension, intrigue, and humor, this book tells you how with word choices and phrases for body parts organized under clear categories.
  • Writers Guide to Character Traits by Linda Edelstein. This includes profiles of human behaviors and personality types. That way, you can keep your character within the required parameters.
  • Body language. There are so many great books and websites on this. I have many posts on descriptors and character traits that will get you started (see the right side of this blog). Don't miss this detail. If your character doesn't show those tells that every human on the planet does, s/he won't be believable. No one speaks only with their mouth.
If you have favorite books on this subject, share with us. I'd love to hear about them!
#amwriting #IndieAuthor

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Laws of Nature, Winter 2021. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning 

Other sites for Jacqui Murray:
Amazon Author Page:


Xhosa’s extraordinary prehistoric saga concludes, filled with hardship, courage, survival, and family.

A million years of evolution made Xhosa tough but was it enough? She and her People finally reach their destination—a glorious land of tall grasses, few predators, and an abundance that seems limitless, but an enemy greater than any they have met so far threatens to end their dreams. If Xhosa can’t stop this one, she and her People must again flee.

The Crossroads trilogy is set 850,000 years ago, a time in prehistory when man populated most of Eurasia. He was a violent species, fully capable of addressing the many hardships that threatened his survival except for one: future man, a smarter version of himself, one destined to obliterate all those who came before.

From prehistoric fiction author Jacqui Murray comes the unforgettable saga of a courageous woman who questions assumptions, searches for truth, and does what she must despite daunting opposition. Read the final chapter of her search for freedom, safety, and a new home.

Available digitally (print soon) at: Kindle US   Kindle UK   Kindle CA   Kindle AU

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

IWSG: Unplanned Writing Forms and Keep Writing With Fey


OPTIONAL QUESTION: "Although I have written a short story collection, the form found me and not the other way around. Don't write short stories, novels or poems. Just write your truth and your stories will mold into the shapes they need to be."
Have you ever written a piece that became a form, or even a genre, you hadn't planned on writing in? Or do you choose a form/genre in advance?

Short answer: Yes.

In tenth grade, I wanted to "Be An Author!" (say this in dramatic tones with sweeping arm gestures). 

My tenth grade English teacher wanted us to write poetry. I didn't want to write poetry. I told her I wanted to write fiction, and only fiction. She encouraged me to try poetry. She thought I might like it. I did. It shocked me. I hid my poems from everyone except the teacher, who encouraged me, because I was embarrassed that I liked poetry. Poetry?! Me?! 

I kept writing it secretly. In college, I noticed poetry in the newspaper. The poetry there didn't look much better than mine. In fact, I thought maybe, just maybe, mine was good enough, so I sent some into the college newspaper and waited for a response. They promised a phone call. I didn't get one.

No, they didn't call me like they promised. They just published everything I sent them, so I found out after my first poem was in print when a roommate said to me, "How could you write something like that? I don't know if I can talk to you again."
Wait, what?

My first poem was published and it made Tsunami-level waves in my social life. Some people hated it with a passion and refused to speak to me. I literally lost 20+ college friends/acquaintances. Some people loved it and wanted me to sign their newspapers. Some people sought me out quietly to talk to me about it. I gained a few new friends. :) 

BTW - I have only one copy of that first published poem, and I haven't shared it with anyone in years. One of the people who really "got it" was my dad so he is the reason I have a copy. He actually took it to work with him and showed it around to everyone (and lost a few of his friends and gained different ones - it's really a kick-in-the-gut poem). 

I still wanted to be a - now say this like a blockbuster movie title - "FICTION NOVELIST" But, poetry had worked its way under my skin. I had time for poetry. I could spend fifteen minutes on a poem and feel like I had made progress. When I spent fifteen minutes at fiction, I felt like I could barely get in a rough page that needed hours of work.

I don't like to call myself a poet. I feel like people expect "Great Things" and "Romantic Things" and "Perfect Word Choices" instead of words like "things" from poets. I don't rhyme particularly well. I struggle with iambic pentameter and spondee. I have to revitalize my vocabulary with glimpses at the Thesaurus. But, I still write poetry. The first time I was ever paid as a writer was for a short story, but the next five payments came from poems. Poems don't earn a lot of money, but getting paid for them feels a little extra special since most places don't pay for them at all.

And, I have a tendency to write poetry that isn't kind, sweet, beautiful, or "lovey." I have a tendency to write poetry about the stuff that hurts the most, which brings me to the next topic - an entry for the Keep Writing with Fey Blog Hop.


For the blog hop: Share your story about writer's block, depression, and/or burnout and how you overcame it or what you are currently doing to heal.

I think you can imagine from the above bit that I have definitely struggled with my writing. I love writing. I struggle with writing. I have felt like I have failed at writing at least a hundred times, if not a hundred thousand times. I have been burned out. I have been depressed. I have been so terrified of writing badly that I couldn't seem to get anything on a page. And yet, I really love to write. I do. 

So, how do I overcome the bad days (weeks, months, years)? I give myself permission to not write for whatever project I "should" be working on for the day/week/month/year. This may throw me off course, but then, if I'm really in a bad way due to health issues or any other reason, I'm already drifting at sea with no wind in my sails.

I keep writing by seeking out the joy of words - by listening to poetry I like and writing it down - not plagiarizing, but quoting it in my journal. I write down scripture verses and quotes I like. I've written down lists of words I like to taste when I speak (I used to hate speaking, so these lists used to be small). Have you ever felt the way a word sounds in your mouth like a taste of something delicious? Okay, maybe that's just really odd, but I love words that much. I like to sing, so I write down song lyrics that I know and ones I make up. I write to prompts. I write Nail Polish Stories - which I find unique in the idea of writing a nail polish color as the title of a story that's only 25 words in length. I write snatches of dialogue and phrases I like. I take notes on sermons and books. I write down lists for the day.

When I'm not writing, I walk, I sing, I dance, I ride my bike, I read, I drink tea, I sit with my dog and cat on our back deck in the sunshine or the rain or even snow and breathe in fresh air. I pray. I hope. I ask friends to go walking with me. I ask people to tell me their stories. 

I even had a project stem from asking people for their stories - Walking with Jesus: Stories from One Hope Church.

And, I let myself write angry/sad poetry or prose poetry, if that's what I really need to do. Recent Examples: Tacks Between Us and Sticks and Stones.

I have found through the process I go through, which means this may just be me, that when I can't write, I am often blocking myself. I'm holding something back. That something may not fit within my current WIP, so I need to go release it somewhere - in my journal, a poem, a string of words. Once I get it off my chest and rediscover my love of words and story, I can write again.

If you are depressed, please seek help. It makes a difference to talk to a professional counselor and/or a Pastor who can help you. I really, really means this. I have had friends and family members who have attempted or committed suicide. I have experienced depression due to medical and emotional struggles, but I sought help when I needed it. I think help is incredibly important. There are counselors who can help without high costs associated with them. Seek them out. Ask a Pastor for a referral. If you are really down, get the help you need now, please.

If you are struggling with writing blues or burnout, I recommend Chrys Fey's book. It has some great tips in it!

When Chrys Fey shared her story about depression and burnout, it struck a chord with other writers. That put into perspective for her how desperate writers are to hear they aren’t alone. Many creative types experience these challenges, battling to recover. Let Keep Writing with Fey: Sparks to Defeat Writer's Block, Depression, and Burnout guide you through:

        Writer's block
        Writer's burnout
        What a writer doesn’t need to succeed
        Finding creativity boosts

With these sparks, you can begin your journey of rediscovering your creativity and get back to what you love - writing.


Amazon / Nook / iTunes / Kobo

Again, Chrys Frey's book is great, but if you need help for depression, please find it for the sake of all who love you (and someone does). I can't stress this enough, especially this year. 2020 has been  a bit rough on all of us.

What about you? Have you written a genre or form you didn't expect? Have you struggled with burnout?