How to Effectively Email Parents on Behalf of Your Group

One of the most frustrating things I experience as a parent is when groups and organizations don’t tell us what we need to know when we need to know it.

As a writer, this is in my professional wheelhouse. Driven by frustration more than anything, I’ve volunteered to help with communications for a wide variety of groups over the years, and I’ve learned a lot about how to do it well. I’m not the only one who’s easily frustrated by not having the information I feel I need, but I’ve also learned that effective communication can do so much more than simply keep people in the know. Great emails and newsletters can bring parents and guardians together so they can support each other and form friendships, and they can provide a window into the group that inspires some of them to become volunteers, themselves.

So I just wrote my first proper Twitter thread with some simple ways to effectively communicate with parents and guardians. Then I posted it on Facebook and someone said she’d want it as a pamphlet, so I put it into an infographic format. It seems like it’s striking a chord, so now here it is on my website for easier sharing (see below for the graphic version, and for a downloadable PDF).

If you’re tasked with communicating with parents and guardians on behalf of an organization, club, team or group of any kind, here are some tips for doing it effectively:

  1. Write to a newbie. Write every email as if it’s to a parent/guardian who has never participated in your group before. Experienced recipients will ignore you if they want, and first timers will really appreciate being brought up to speed.

    2. Assume they don’t know. Assume that no one you’re writing to knows what you know. Assume they want and need to know what you know, and tell them.

    3. Be explicit. Lay out time commitments, provide relevant addresses and dates/times of major events, spell out volunteer expectations and demands on their children.

    4. Include the why. Always explain why parent/guardian help is important or even essential to the functioning of your group and to their children’s experience. Including the why makes it easy for parents/guardians to meet the group’s needs. (“Why” does not = simply stating that their help is important. “Why” = actually explaining why and how it is important, even if what’s needed is as simple as making sure kids are dropped off and picked up on time.)

    5. Respect parents’ time. Parents/guardians are juggling their kids’ schedules, their work obligations, their family needs, and more. Give them everything they need so they can make room for your group in their lives, especially if you’ll rely on them to volunteer.

    6. Make it fun. Provide easy opportunities for parents/guardians to connect with each other and you will strengthen your group in all kinds of ways. Happy, engaged parents make your job so much easier.

    7. Assume it’s hard. Write as if all parents/guardians have less time than you, less help than you, more struggles than you.

    8. Say thank you. Finally, thank parents/guardians early, and thank them often. They may be moving mountains without you knowing so they can keep their kids involved with your group.

A friend Andrea added the following two points to my initial list, too:

Consider whether you would accept cash or in-kind donations, because some people have very scarce time and it can be quite privileged to set things up so that they depend on devaluing the time of (often women) volunteers or necessitating a second adult who has time to do all this stuff.

And note that you can work out options for parents of kids with disabilities, single parents and parents with extenuating family situations. A lot of volunteer commitments might sound easy for most people, but a single parent with a child with disabilities may simply not be in a position to wrangle their child and sell hot dogs or raffle tickets at the same time and the meltdown later may be excruciating. Some parents can barely make it to the field or the troop and are already doing a huge amount of invisible labour. Offer other ways of volunteering too.

Andrea Coutu

Download the List

How to Effectively Email Parents on Behalf of Your Group

Welcome, Costco Readers!

Managing a writing project through small steps, by Kim Werker – Costco Connection July-August 2018

I occasionally write a business column for the Canadian edition of the Costco Connection magazine. Looks like the Back to School issue is already out!

Everything I know about managing a big writing project I learned in 7th grade. Read about it right here.

I didn’t have much space in there to explain what it was in 7th grade that made such an impact, though.

That was the year, as I say in the article, that I was assigned my first proper science report (it was about starfish). The kicker was that the report was marked both by my science teacher and by my English teacher. Each student received two grades – one on the science content and one on the writing.

I’m not sure if my teachers’ goal was to make a life-changing impact, but their decision to team up sure conveyed the importance of good writing, no matter the topic. At the age of twelve, I learned very well that writing is not only an English-class thing. Writing is everything.

When I wrote Make It Mighty Ugly, I used colour-coded index cards just like I had for my starfish report when I was a tween. Several times as I was writing the book, I spread the cards out all over the floor and moved them around to get the flow of information just right. And just like when I was in grade 7, I’d then pile them up in order, take one from the top, and write and write and write.

If this is your first time here, hello and welcome! I write about creativity and making things, and it’s my firm belief that using our hands and imagination together is a key to a happy life, whether we make masterpieces or total messes (or both). Subscribe to my newsletter to fuel your creative life no matter what you make (or want to make).

Are you a Cohen or a Dylan?

When you create, do you work quick & dirty or slow and deliberate?

I love this piece about Leonard Cohen (painstakingly slow writer of songs) and Bob Dylan (fast writer).

I’m certainly more a Dylan than a Cohen. If I can’t nail something down quickly, I’m far more likely to drop it than to spend years (or even months) getting it right.

When I started thinking about why I work this way, I recalled that I often say I do my best work when I’m angry.

This is true, but there are variations on the anger that drives me to create things. Often, I’m most motivated by a crushing disappointment that quickly turns into anger over something or another that was done poorly – so I do it better.

But though I often create great work out of anger or frustration, I also create great work out of a kind of hysterical mania. Instead of being driven by an overwhelming negativity, I’ll be driven by an overwhelming need to make something that simply has to exist in the world right this very moment. Though not an angry experience by any stretch, the urgency of it is not unlike the urgency I feel when anger pushes me to lash out.

In any case, I am certainly not a broody creator. I don’t strive for anything I make to be perfect, which is why, I think, I’m far more inclined toward quick-and-dirty. If I overthink anything at all, it’s extremely likely it’ll end up terrible.

I’d never thought about the relationship between my speed of work and the emotions that drive me to make it. I’m glad I came across this piece that led me to the connection.

So, what about you? Are you more a Cohen or a Dylan?

Source: Some People Are Cohens, Some People Are Dylans | Submitted For Your Perusal

How to Write a Crochet Pattern, Part 5: Putting It All Together

This is the 7th post in a 7 part series on how to write an outstanding crochet pattern. The rest of the series can be found here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7. There are five posts from me, and two fabulous guest posts from Kate Atherly. 

Crochet Pattern Pt 7 V1.0

So here we are. Time to wrap this series up!

We’ve covered why the information presented in the front matter of a pattern is so valuable; how and why it’s important to treat numbers and measurements accurately; how technical writing is different from other kinds of writing and why it’s important to focus on the clarity, brevity and accuracy of your pattern; and how images – photos, schematics and charts/diagrams – play an essential role, too. Kate Atherley expanded on the assumptions you make about your reader when you write a pattern, and on the importance of having your pattern professionally edited.

What Your Pattern Must Include

  1. The front matter:
    • Title and your name
    • Introduction
    • Materials list
    • Finished size (including metric and Imperial units of measurement)
    • Gauge
    • Notes (optional)
    • Stitch definitions (optional)
  2. The pattern:
    • It is clear, concise and consistent.
    • The finishing instructions provide all the information your intended crocheter needs.
    • It has been tech edited.
  3. The images:
    • Clear photos showing all technically relevant details
    • Stitch diagram (optional)
    • Schematic (optional)

Here’s my general workflow when I prepare a crochet pattern.

  1. Fiddle with yarn and hook. Take lots of notes.
  2. Settle on a pattern. Write it down as I go.
  3. Transfer pattern notes into instruction format, checking against what I’ve crocheted.
  4. Finish crocheting.
  5. Finish writing instructions.
  6. Add in all the front matter information, with the blocked gauge added last since I usually have the project soaking as I write this section out.
  7. Send the full pattern to the tech editor, and request a stitch diagram if needed.
  8. Photograph finished project.
  9. Receive pattern and stitch diagrams back from tech editor.
  10. Edit photos.
  11. Lay out pattern with images.
  12. Put pattern up for sale.

That’s a lot of steps. Even if you do them in a different order, you can’t really skip any of them.

For the Resa Shawlette, which I began crocheting in early November, the whole process took about six weeks. The actual crocheting took less than one week of that time.

Resa Shawlette crochet pattern, perfect for beginners!

And here she is, out in the world, ready for crocheters everywhere. You can purchase the pattern – which I designed to bring out the best in a high-contast variegated yarn, specifically for first-time shawl crocheters and for people who love a chill, relaxing project – on Ravelry.

I’ll finish up with three things you should do to ensure you write an outstanding crochet pattern (or, really, any craft pattern at all):

  1. Keep your intended audience in mind. If you’re designing for beginners, make it something beginners can make. If you’re designing for people who love bold colour, use bold colour.
  2. Remember that while you know who your intended audience is, they do not know what you know. Be explicit when you write up your pattern. Be concise, consistent, and explicit.
  3. Pay a technical editor.

This has been the 7th (and final) post in a multi-part series on how to write a top-notch crochet pattern. The previous post was a second guest post from Kate Atherley, where she makes an excellent case for hiring a professional editor.

Thank you for sticking around for this whole series! I know I only covered things at a high level; if you have questions about anything at all, don’t hesitate to ask!

How to Write a Crochet Pattern, Part 1: The Front Matter

This is the 1st post in a 7 part series on how to write an outstanding crochet pattern. The rest of the series can be found here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7. There are five posts from me, and two fabulous guest posts from Kate Atherly. 

Crochet Pattern Pt 1 V1.0

Two unexpected and delightful things happened recently, and they’ve combined to finally get me to write up a series of posts I’ve been meaning to write for years. I mean years.

The first thing was that a student in my Next Steps in Crochet class asked me if I had a good resource she could use to learn how to write up an original crochet pattern. And the second is that I wound up a skein of yarn and it shouted in my face that it needed to become a certain kind of shawl, and I’ve been meeting its demands. Which means that just as I’ve had a request for a resource on how to write a crochet pattern, I’ve come up with a pattern to write up. Score.

So here’s the first post of a five-post series outlining, in broad strokes, how to write a solid, accurate crochet pattern that crocheters will enjoy following.

I will be blunt and uncompromising about this. If I say that a certain piece of information is necessary to include, I don’t mean sometimes, I mean every time, no exceptions. Writing a clear, easy-to-follow crochet pattern – even for a complex, complicated project – relies on a set of skills that’s wholly different from the skills required to design a crocheted piece. We’re talking technical writing, here. So if you’ve got the design part nailed but need a hand conveying clear instructions to others, this series is a great place to start.

I’m going to break up the sections and aspects of a pattern and cover them one by one, because each is very important and deserves its due.

Note: I’m writing this series with beginner designers in mind, but this information is as applicable to a seasoned designer’s patterns. I’m focusing on technical information rather than on style or graphic design, because it’s the technical information that’s harder to come by, and unlike with style and design, there’s actually very little wiggle room when it comes to covering the technical stuff.

One more note: I’m writing this with self-publishers in mind, but publications require the same kind of information in their patterns. If you’re going to self-publish your pattern, please have it tech edited after you write it (if you’re writing for a publication, your editor will have the pattern tech edited for you). This is a required step to ensure that your pattern is as clear and accurate as possible. Even the simplest patterns should be tech edited. Before I release the very simple shawl pattern I’ll be using as an example throughout this series, I’ll have it tech edited.

The Elements to Include at the Beginning of Your Patterns

I’m not sure if anyone else calls the beginning bits of a pattern the front matter, but that’s what I call it, probably because that’s what publishing people call the first few pages of a book – the ones containing copyright information, publisher info, title page, table of contents, etc. But unlike the copyright page of a book, which you can totally skip without it affecting your experience of the book in any way, the front matter of a crochet pattern includes information that’s very, very important.

The Intro

The first text you see when you open up a crochet pattern is the description of the project (this is often what designers copy and paste onto sales pages, too). This might seem like inconsequential filler text, but it’s not. The pattern intro is the second place crocheters go for information that will help them decide whether they want to make the pattern or not (the first place, obviously, is the gorgeous photo you’ve taken). So the intro is very, very important.

Write a short paragraph – two to four sentences should do it – about the project. Describe your inspiration or motivation briefly, and be sure to include some information on how it’s constructed.

Go ahead and include flowery (for the love of puppies, not too flowery) marketing copy here, but also include enough plain-language technical information that crocheters can determine if they have the skills and/or curiosity to commit to making it.

Here’s an example:

Named after my paternal grandmother who was, by all accounts, both stylish and of colourful personality, Risa is a triangular shawl designed to showcase high-contrast variegated yarns. The pattern’s two-row repeat makes it very easy to memorize, and the simple stitching is appropriate for beginners ready to experience the wonder of crocheting shawls, and for more experienced crocheters who enjoy a relaxing, rhythmic project.

See what I did there? Not only did I explain why the shawl is named Risa, I also included enough about how the project is made that beginners know they can totally tackle it, and advanced crocheters know there’s something in it for them, too. I also specifically mention that the design is lovely when made in high-contrast variegated yarn, because this kind of yarn can be hard to pair with a great design, since the bold colour changes can drown out details like lace or cables, and colour-pooling drives some crafters nuts. Based on the two sentences of the introduction, crocheters know the shawl is shaped like a triangle, that the pattern is a two-row repeat, and that it’s simple enough for beginners to make. They also know that my grandmother was a character, which isn’t important to the writing of the pattern, but it’s important because it allows crocheters to feel a personal connection with the design.


List all the tools and materials the crocheter will need to complete the project. This section is extremely important, because crocheters must make decisions about the materials they’ll use, and those decisions will directly affect their happiness with their finished item. (We all want our pattern followers to be happy with what they make from our patterns, in case that needs to be said!)


Specify the exact type of yarn – its weight, fiber composition, and quantity – you used to make the sample(s) shown in the photos. You may want to acknowledge that crocheters can easily substitute a different yarn for the one you used. Here are two options for how to list the yarn requirements for the project. Either is good, just choose the one you prefer.

Yarn: SweetGeorgia Yarns Silk Crush (fingering weight; 50% superwash merino, 50% silk; 375 yds per 115 g), 1 skein in Starfish custom colourway. (This colour is not readily available, but any boldly contrasting colourway will look great in this design, and solid colours or low-contrast variegated yarns will look great, too.)


Yarn: 375 yds fingering weight. Shown here in SweetGeorgia Yarns Silk Crush (50% superwash merino, 50% silk; 375 yds per 115 g), in custom colourway Starfish.

Both options tell the crocheter the weight of the yarn required, and how much of it they need.

You must include all of this information: the yarn weight, what the yarn is made of (the composition of the yarn is very important to the overall look, feel and behaviour of the project), and how much the crocheter needs to buy. Unless you have no way of knowing exactly what name the manufacturer calls the colour(s) you used, also be sure to include the colour information so crocheters can buy that exact colour if they want to replicate the design exactly. (In this example, the colour I used for the shawl is not readily available because it was an errant skein the manufacturer had leftover from a colourway she designed for a specific client. That’s not ideal, because crocheters won’t be able to exactly replicate this shawl, but I’m going with it because I want to, so I’m also including information about other colourways people can use.)


Tell the crocheter what size hook they should use. Note that this is always a recommendation, not law, because as we all know there’s quite a lot of variety in people’s tension, so crocheters should also be told to adjust their hook size if needed to obtain the required gauge.

Important note: No matter where you live or how you think of hook sizes in your mind, you must, without exception, include the metric size of listed hook(s). Alphabetic and non-metric number sizes used in the U.S. and elsewhere are not standard from manufacturer to manufacturer or region to region, which means that there can be variation between the actual sizes of hooks bearing the same designation. The metric size of a hook, given in millimetres, is not variable. Ever. So even if you decide to include letter or non-metric number size labels, you must also include the metric size. Otherwise you leave your crocheter to guess. And good instructions never rely on the follower’s guesswork.


List any items the crocheter will need to finish the project, in addition to yarn and hook. If buttons are needed, indicate how many and what size. Same with beads, zippers, etc. If you use stitch markers in the pattern, specify how many. You don’t need to list obvious things like a yarn needle for weaving in ends, or scissors.

Finished Size

List all relevant dimensions of the finished project, as measured after blocking. If the design is flat, as in a scarf, blanket or shawl, list its finished length and width (or wingspan and depth, if you prefer those designations for a shaped shawl). If the design is made in the round, as in a hat or mittens, include the circumference at the most important place, like the brim of a hat or the palm of a mitten. If the design is a garment of any sort, include, at a minimum, the finished bust or chest circumference and the intended ease. (Ease describes the difference between the garment’s finished chest/bust measurement and the wearer’s actual measurement. Ease can be negative for a snug fit, zero for a flush fit, or positive for a loose/relaxed fit.)

If your design is for anything beyond a simple hat, scarf or blanket, consider including a schematic drawing of the finished shape so that you can include as many important measurements as possible. For example, the schematic for a sweater design should indicate not only the chest/bust measurement, but also the length of the sleeves and their circumference, the width of the neck opening, the length from armpit to hem, and, possibly, quite a bit more.

You do not need to create a schematic on your computer if you don’t know how to do that. You can use graph paper and draw it out – just make sure it’s neat, accurate, and very clearly legible.

If your design is written for different sizes, include the finished measurements for every size. For example, if I’m including instructions for a small and large version of the shawl:

Length: 60 (72)” from point to point; depth: 24 (29)”.


Gauge information is crucial to include. Crucial. Even if you don’t think the exact finished size of your design is important, you must include information about gauge.

Determine the project’s gauge by measuring the number of stitches and rows in a 4″ (10 cm) square. For example:

12 stitches and 8 rows = 4″ (10 cm) in dc.

If your design is primarily composed of a stitch pattern, list the gauge in that pattern. Like:

8 v-sts and 7 rows = 4″ (10 cm).


3 shell-st pattern reps and 5 rows = 4″ (10 cm).

Do not list the gauge in a smaller range than 4″ (10 cm) square – it leaves open too much room for variability, and therefore inaccuracy.

Be specific to the half-stitch – if there are actually 12.5 double crochets in 4″, that half a stitch makes a difference, so don’t round.

Gauge is usually measured on blocked fabric. If, however, there’s a good reason to measure the gauge before blocking, specify that the crocheter must measure gauge before blocking, and put in a note about why.

(And yes, as a crocheter, the way to ensure that your project is the same size as the designer’s is to make a gauge swatch before you start, and block it before measuring.)

Special Stitches

If your pattern involves a stitch pattern, define that pattern here. Likewise, if you’re using any uncommon abbreviations, like stitch combinations that go beyond the basic stitches, define those abbreviations here.

For example:

V-st (v-stitch): (Dc, ch 1, dc) in same stitch or space.

Inc-w (increase): (Dc, ch 1, dc, ch 1, dc) in same stitch or space. (Note: I made up this abbreviation because I think it’s the most direct way of easily indicating exactly what I want the crocheter to do. You can totally make things up – but only make them up if you’re solving a problem that hasn’t already been solved in a widely known manner, and only if you very clearly define what your made-up instruction means.)


This final section of the front matter is where you can tell the crocheter important things she needs to know before starting to crochet. Tell her about the way the project is constructed – if, say, the hat is worked from the top-down or the bottom-up – and if there are any potentially unexpected quirks she should know about ahead of time. If there’s lace in the project that needs to be blocked severely in order to look best, say that here.

Stay tuned for the next instalment in the series!

This has been the 1st post in a multi-part series on how to write a top-notch crochet pattern. In the next post we talk about The Numbers & doing the math, you can find that post right here.


To celebrate this long-in-the-making series on writing crochet patterns, here’s my class Next Steps in Crochet! See you there!

Authors Guild, Google Books, and Readers

It’s been a while since I lost my shit about something to do with being a book writer. Leave it to the Authors Guild to get me back to it.

Google has been doing a thing for over a decade now, and that thing is benign at worst and amazeballs at best: they’ve been scanning millions of print books and making them searchable online. You may have heard of this. It’s named in that descriptive way Google names their things. It’s called Google Books.

When you search Google Books, it returns snippets from its scanned books that are relevant to your search. It does not return the entire text of books. It does not return even a huge portion of a book. It returns a snippet. You may be familiar with snippets, because those are what Google returns when you search the web, too.

Google Books will also display quite a sizeable excerpt of a book on the book’s page, along with a link to purchase a digital copy of the book. For example, you can read the introduction and quite a lot of the first part of my most recent book right here. Do I feel threatened that you can read a fair chunk of my book online for free? No, I am not at all threatened. That’s because I think having a chance to read some of my book allows prospective buyers to decide if it’s right for them. If they know it’s right for them, they’ll be far more likely to buy it, and enjoy it. If it’s not right for them, well, then they’ll know that too. That’s not threatening to me. That’s a damned valuable service. I want as many people to read my book as possible, and to enjoy it. So I want people to get to know the book before they buy it, so that if they buy it, they’ll be quite likely to enjoy it. This is a valuable service, you see. A valuable service.

Well, the Authors Guild, grand protectors as they are of rights that are not actually under threat, has been suing Google Books for ages and ages. They assert that Google is infringing on authors’ copyright. Google asserts that their transforming of books into digital snippets is covered under fair use.

The courts have been, thankfully, siding with Google.

When I read this summary of the recent court ruling against the Authors Guild, I did what I usually do when the Authors Guild does dumb things: I took to Twitter. But Twitter isn’t what it used to be when it comes to immediate conversation, and I impressed myself with the soundness of my rant, so I want to put it all here on the blog so you can read it in its entirety and maybe respond as you see fit:

And there you have it. I don’t know why some authors think they need to fight their readers to make a living. I sure prefer celebrating my readers and using every tool available to me to try to grow their ranks.

PS If you’ve read any of my books, thank you. I love you. Please tell your friends and your library and your local book store, and leave a rating on your favourite bookish site so more people can find out about them.