Archive for the ‘Writing and Reading’ Category

Food for Thought: Best Approaches to Improving Students Writing

August 7th, 2017 by Terra | No Comments | Filed in Writing and Reading

Recently a friend (whose daughter I am tutoring in creative writing) sent me a link to this article about kids and writing. It’s long, and there’s a lot to ponder, but it inspired me to think about the different ways in which I teach and work with kids, and how to best help them with their writing, wherever they’re at. I never actually learned how to diagram a sentence, but I can certainly break them down and put them back together like a car engine if needed!

What do you think? Which tactic works better for you?

Why Kids Can’t Write



Credit Angela Asemota

On a bright July morning in a windowless conference room in a Manhattan bookstore, several dozen elementary school teachers were learning how to create worksheets that would help children learn to write.

Judith C. Hochman, founder of an organization called the Writing Revolution, displayed examples of student work. A first grader had produced the following phrase: “Plants need water it need sun to” — that is, plants need water and sun, too. If the student didn’t learn how to correct pronoun disagreement and missing conjunctions, by high school he could be writing phrases like this one: “Well Machines are good but they take people jobs like if they don’t know how to use it they get fired.” That was a real submission on the essay section of the ACT.

“It all starts with a sentence,” Dr. Hochman said.

Focusing on the fundamentals of grammar is one approach to teaching writing. But it’s by no means the dominant one. Many educators are concerned less with sentence-level mechanics than with helping students draw inspiration from their own lives and from literature.

Thirty miles away at Nassau Community College, Meredith Wanzer, a high school teacher and instructor with the Long Island Writing Project, was running a weeklong workshop attended by six teenage girls. The goal was to prepare them to write winning college admissions essays — that delicate genre calling for a student to highlight her strengths (without sounding boastful) and tell a vivid personal story (without coming off as self-involved).

Ms. Wanzer led the students in a freewrite, a popular English class strategy of writing without stopping or judging. First, she read aloud from “Bird by Bird,” Anne Lamott’s 1995 classic on how to write with voice. “You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind,” the memoirist writes. “Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.”


Read the whole article.


Summer Writing Camps!

February 20th, 2017 by Terra | No Comments | Filed in Writing and Reading

It was a quiet winter for me, but things are beginning to bloom here in Atlanta, including summer camps I’m doing for tweens, teens, AND adults!


Two Summer Camps with Decatur Writers Studio

Two sessions only, 12 students each

Camp fee: $400


Email for more information.

Tweens Who Write

Rising 6th-8th graders

9 a.m.-4 p.m., June 26-30

Agnes Scott College

This is an all-day summer camp for middle schoolers who love to write (or think they might love to write), and want to throw themselves at words and stories. Campers will learn the basic building blocks of story writing, play with story starting ideas, develop characters, explore setting, build their descriptive muscles, and even dabble in some poetry. Whether you have written tons already, or just have a tiny idea, as long as you are willing to experiment, explore, and share, you are the right camper for this!


Creative Writing for Teens

Rising 9th-11th graders

9 a.m.-4 p.m., July 10-14

Agnes Scott College

Do you have ideas for stories but not the time to work on them? Or ones you’re excited about at first, but can’t keep up the momentum? Want to develop your characters more fully, work on setting and dialogue, strengthen your powers of description and plotting, get feedback on your work, be inspired by other writers like yourself, and in general immerse yourself in a whole week of nothing but writing? Then this summer camp is for you! This camp will be five days of fiction-centric work, though we will touch on elements of poetry to infuse your prose with dynamic language. Open to experienced teen writers and first-timers alike!


Yes, I’m doing Yale Again!

Fiction Writing: Devil in the Details
In her book, Bird by Bird, Ann Lamott stresses the importance of keeping your writing “vivid and continuous” to move the reader smoothly through your story. This clarity and specificity is arguably more important than plot, since, as Eudora Welty once pointed out: “There are two types of stories in the world: someone comes to town, and someone leaves town.” Your challenge as a writer is to keep those stories fresh and memorable, regardless of the genre. This five-day workshop will have in-class lectures and exercises that concentrate on specificity of character, setting, language, and story arc, and the time spent workshopping your pieces will be led with an eye toward keeping it vibrant and distinct.

TWO Writing Workshops this Fall!

August 26th, 2016 by Terra | No Comments | Filed in Uncategorized, Writing and Reading

This kinda says it all about what I’m looking forward to as August is over and September gets going!


Writing Workshop for Teens

Love to write, but never have enough time? Got ideas, but not sure how to see them through? This one-day-a-week-for-six-weeks writing session is for you. A note: this class is limited to those in grades 9-12, or their homeschool equivalent.
Receive writing prompts and tips from local, acclaimed YA author Terra Elan McVoy that help you focus on plot, setting, characters, specificity and a bunch of other fun, helpful things that will spark a fire underneath your writing.  This is a free-form, semi-self-directed class that will give you practical advice and also inspiration for new stories. 

Willingness to write hard and share that writing is expected.

Date(s): September 20, 27 October 4, 11, 24 (Note: we are skipping the week beginning October 17, and meeting on Monday, October 24 the following week) November 1

Class time: 4:30 – 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays



When it comes to writing, we grownups often concentrate on the finished product: winning over an audience, making a point, creating a response. We lose our sense of wonder and play. To help get reacquainted  with the experimental, unselfconscious side of wordsmithing (where usually the best stuff hides), I’m offering a retreat that will provide prompts, word games, literal play time, and collective sharing all designed to tap into younger stories, and delve back into delight.


The Elohee Center at Landsong rests on 220 acres of undeveloped land, and was created to provide a retreat space in Nature to allow for optimum self-exploration, individual growth, and mind/body healing. It is a place for soul-stilling walks through the woods, contemplative waterfall staring, and the lush renewal of pond and fern.