walking as composing

Question: Mom, what do you want to talk about today? – my 8-year-old son


My 8-year-old son attends a school that’s a fair distance from our house. We make a 2 km trek on foot each morning to get him school. According to a study conducted at the University of Illinois, children who walk for at least 20 minutes a day have larger hippocampi– the area of the brain responsible for memory, and larger basal ganglia, the area responsible for focus and attention. That’s good news, because I really appreciate my son’s teacher, and better focus for my son means a better day for her.

But I’ve discovered something else on our morning treks: walking is a terrific composing activity. A friend with boys once said to me: “If you want to know what’s really going on in your son’s life, don’t make eye contact with him after you’ve asked him a weighty question.” Apparently, eye contact can be too intense for boys. I’ve put her advice to the test and discovered that some of the best conversations I’ve had with my son have occurred while lying beside him in the dark, or walking with him to school (he also tends to open up on bike rides, which I find kind of tragic).

Not only do these conversations help me to be “in the know,” they also allow me to discover what my son cares about. And this is important when it comes time to write. According to Ralph Fletcher, author of Boy Writers, in order to turn boys onto writing, they need to be able to write what they care about, and one way to determine what boys care about is to get them talking – not an easy task.

By the time my son arrives at school, he has  germinated the seeds of good writing. I can only hope that he has a place to plant them.

Source: Basal Ganglia Volume is Associated with Aerobic Fitness in Preadolescent Children


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Are you a one-spacer or a two-spacer?

When you write digitally, do you leave one space or two spaces at the end of a sentence? Carla responded to this issue when a reader raised it last February. You can read about her take here.

Today, this issue was hotly debated on Q, a CBC radio show hosted by Jian Gomeshi. The “Great Spaces” debate isn’t over — yet. If you feel strongly either way, you can weigh in here.

Isn’t it funny how a non-entity, a little space (or two), can generate so much discussion?


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“Give unto Caesar…” The IRS and Canadian authors

By guest blogger, Christina Attard

I will begin with one of the scariest words in the English language: taxes.

Ok, it is a word that I enjoy because it signals an oncoming mind puzzle of numbers, but for many writers, math is not a strong suit.

This past week, I received an email from an author friend of mine who, like all good authors, recently moved to a remote writer’s retreat without phone or internet service. (She waits for a weekly trip to the public library to catch up on emails.) I thought that her dilemma might apply to other writers in a similar situation and wanted to share the story.

She received an offer to publish her second book from a small press in the United States. The catch was that they had never worked with a Canadian author. They were hesitant to proceed with a printing contract until an understanding could be reached about how they would report the royalties to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and determine what the reporting responsibilities of the author would be.

My first instinct is to suggest that the accountant managing the affairs of the publisher is in the best position to make recommendations about their responsibilities with respect to US tax legislation. However, I thought it might help my friend if I could find out a bit more about the IRS’ regulations regarding her responsibilities.

To simplify the process, I will lay it out in three steps:

Step 1: Identification

Under normal circumstances, an American author would already have or be eligible to apply for a Social Security number. My Canadian friend is considered ineligible for a Social Security number as a non-resident alien. She will need to identify herself to the IRS using an International Tax Identification Number (ITIN) instead. For this, she will need to complete a W7 form.

My understanding is that the application process can take up to 8-10 weeks and that Canadians should take special note of Exception 1. d) in the instructions.

The instructions are available at: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/iw7.pdf

The form is available at: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw7.pdf

Step 2: Withholding Tax

Ordinarily, when a foreigner receives income from a US source, that income is subject to a 30% withholding tax. Because Canada has a tax treaty with the US, that rate is reduced to 0% for Canadians. It is the responsibility of the author to provide the publisher with documentation showing that he or she is eligible for a reduction in that withholding tax. The necessary form is called a W8 BEN. The form will ask which article of the treaty allows for the exemption and here you will need to fill in Article XII / 12 Royalties.

The instructions are available at: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/iw8ben.pdf

The form is available at: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw8ben.pdf

Step 3: Income Reporting

The publisher should then pay the author accordingly and issue a form confirming earnings for the year with one copy forwarded to the IRS and one copy forwarded to the author. The form is called a 1042-S.

ACanadian author will not be liable for income tax in the United States and is not required to file a return. However, if the 30% withholding tax was applied by the publisher, the author can file a return with the IRS in order to have that tax reimbursed.

The author would then file her taxes with the Canadian Revenue Agency as usual and may be required to declare the American source income for that tax year.

For more information, you can reach the IRS information line at: 1 267 941-1000.

Overview documents are available at:



Disclaimer: This article is not meant as professional tax, legal or financial advice. The information contained herein was gathered from a general information call to the IRS and from online sources. The author assumes no liability for its use or its accuracy. Readers are encouraged to consult with a professional advisor before deciding on a course of action.

About the author: Christina Attard, author of The Do-tique, is an experienced fundraising professional, a writer, researcher, editor, networker and blogger. She loves solving complex problems, helping make acts of transformative philanthropy happen, writing and meeting new people.

She can be reached at chris.attard@hotmail.com

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helping your child write a speech: performing

Question: My eight-year-old son has to write a speech. The teacher has given him a handout with some general guidelines, but he’ll be given no time to work on his speech in class. Writing is the last thing he wants to do after a long day at school. Where do we begin?

Answer, continued….

Once your child has practised his speech and can read it fairly fluently, you can offer him some performance tips. Typically, a speech is delivered standing up, standing still, with your lips and the occasional hand gesture being the only moving parts of your body. For some children, this will be easy. For many boys, this will be excruciatingly difficult. So, if your child happens to be the wiggly sort, know that that’s normal — especially for boys, and yes, for some girls, too. So, how do you begin to help your child stand still and quell his flapping limbs? This is a tricky proposition, but I have a few tips you can try:

  1. Have your child stand on a dot. I got this idea from my son’s martial arts instructor. Affix a couple of pieces of masking tape to the floor and ask your child to stand on them. Remind him gently when he begins to drift.
  2. Encourage your child to keep both hands on the cue cards. They’re there, not just to prompt his memory, but to prevent his fingers from wandering.
  3. Videotape him performing his speech. Let him view his performance and ask him to comment on what he did well. Ask him if he thinks there is anything he can improve. Remind your child that effective public speaking takes years to develop and he’s not expected to get everything right at the beginning (and if you have a son, assure him that some day, he will be able to stand still.)
  4. If the first three suggestions don’t work, ask your child to sit down when he delivers his speech. My son was able to stick to the dot and keep his hands on his cue cards, but he developed an Elvis-like hip swivel that was nothing short of hilarious. Unfortunately, I couldn’t focus on a thing he said. Allowing him to sit down seemed like an act of grace. If your child can do a better job sitting down, ask his teacher if this would be okay. After all, you want your child’s first experience delivering a speech to be encouraging, not humiliating.

Best of luck!

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helping your child write a speech: practising

Question: My eight-year-old son has to write a speech. The teacher has given him a handout with some general guidelines, but he’ll be given no time to work on his speech in class. Writing is the last thing he wants to do after a long day at school. Where do we begin?

Answer, continued….

Cue cards

Your son has written, revised and edited his speech. It’s now time to practise. To make the practise process less daunting, you can make cue cards, with one paragraph printed on each card. In the example above, the font size is increased to 16-point for ease of reading, and each paragraph is pasted to a recycled file folder to give each card stability. Cue cards are numbered and pause points — places where your child will need to pause while reading, like at sentence endings and in the middle of longer sentences — are highlighted using the highlight feature in a word processing program. A highlighter pen will do the same trick. Many eight-year-olds tend to barrel through from once sentence to the next while reading aloud, so visual markers can remind them to pause.

Consider your child’s learning style while he practises his speech. Does he remember things he sees? Reading the speech aloud once or twice a day for several days may be enough to enable him to perform it fluently. If your child tends to remember what he hears, listening to a recorded version of his speech several times can help him to remember it. If your child is a hands-on learner, or needs to move while he learns, you might consider allowing him to pace, just until he ‘s able to deliver the speech fluently. It’s not necessary to memorize every word of a speech — the idea is to learn it well enough so you can engage the audience through eye contact.

You can begin a practice session by reading a paragraph aloud to your son. Discuss with him what you did you to make your reading engaging: read expressively, read slowly, paused for effect, made periodic eye contact, etc. Read the paragraph again, sentence by sentence or phrase by phrase. Encourage your son to imitate you. This technique is called a phrased text lesson — it’s not unlike practicing tricky musical phrases in piano — and it can help your son to read more fluently. It’s especially useful for parts of the speech that he tends to trip over. If, after a bit of practice, there are parts that your son still trips over, don’t be afraid to edit those bits, for the sake of easier reading.


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helping your child write a speech: revising and editing

Question: My eight-year-old son has to write a speech. The teacher has given him a handout with some general guidelines, but he’ll be given no time to work on his speech in class. Writing is the last thing he wants to do after a long day at school. Where do we begin?

Answer, continued….

When he has completed the first draft, have your child read it aloud one paragraph at a time. Pay attention to the spots that are difficult for him to read. Offer suggestions for fixing the bumpy bits and ask him if there are parts that he doesn’t like the sound of. If a sentence might sound better somewhere else in the paragraph, read the paragraph both ways and allow your son to choose what sounds best or what makes the most sense. Move any parts that you need to move. If you’ve keyed the first draft into a word processor, this will be fairly easy to do using your software’s cut and paste features (and your son will likely elevate you to magician status if  you use keyboard shortcuts). If you’ve written his first draft by hand, you can cut apart sentences in each paragraph and re-glue them in the order that suits him. When all of the paragraphs have been revised, check so see that your son is happy with the order of the paragraphs.

Once you’ve made revisions, go back and check for anything that might get in the way of smooth reading, like spelling and punctuation errors. Once this is done, your son is ready to practise his speech.

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helping your child write a speech: drafting

Question: My eight-year-old son has to write a speech. The teacher has given him a handout with some general guidelines, but he’ll be given no time to work on his speech in class. Writing is the last thing he wants to do after a long day at school. Where do we begin?

Answer, continued….

One of the best ways to become a better writer is to collaborate with someone who knows more about the writing process than you do. Learning to write is a kind of apprenticeship. If your child has been assigned a speech to write, your teacher has entrusted the role of “expert” to you. Don’t panic. There is a good chance that you know more about speech writing than your child does. Any information that you can offer your child about the writing process will be helpful.

Begin by asking your child to read a fact or point from his point-form notes and then demonstrate how you would turn the point into a sentence. Key the sentence into the computer and then encourage your child to try turning the next point into a sentence. Have a brief conversation about each point, but do your best to capture your child’s way of saying things. If something is unclear in your child’s attempt to explain a point, you can offer a couple of ways of saying it, and then allow your child to choose what sounds best to him. Remember, this is as much your child’s speech as it is an opportunity for him learn something about the writing process from you.

Try to work on one paragraph per sitting and remember to take a break in between paragraphs. Writing is hard work and frequent breaks can help to lighten the load.

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