observations and thoughts on the wonder of children as they explore their world

13 Things I’ve Learned About Writing

shelf sampling

shelf sampling

Lucy Calkins has long been a curriculum mentor of mine.  Her writing for teachers expanded from her work at Teachers’ College and  reaches far beyond New York City.  Over the years, I’ve followed her work, wrestled with her curriculum and seen the amazing writing produced by students who are lucky enough to have teachers who guide and listen to them authentically, deeply, intently.  Lucy brings remarkable knowledge and compassion to the writing process for children.  The clarity of  her body of work guides legions of teachers to bring out the best in student writers.  When I first viewed her video Being a Good Writer: Writing tips and strategies from Lucy Calkins, I felt as if she was speaking to me; only in the final seconds was it clear that she was speaking to students.  Then again, writers are all students, walking similar paths, following a similar process with unique challenges and joys.

One year while I was teaching third grade, I put myself to the test.  The writing test, figuratively speaking.  During our daily writing workshop, I committed myself to spending part of each of those 50 minute blocks to my own writing. That brought on it’s own inherent conflict (How will I conference with writers? How will I assess their progress? How will I be able to observe their work to offer reminders and reinforcements?). Eventually, I admitted this was a lofty and unrealistic goal, so I revamped that to spending part of one writers’ workshop writing AND  two personal blocks of writing outside school hours.  It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t always fun. But within a few weeks, was hooked.

Writing became a challenge I looked forward to but yet was still reluctant to share it with others.  I soon decided the only way to get over this fear wasn’t, in the words of Pema Chodron, to “itch it” and let it grow larger, but to be with it and share it with others so I could witness where it would go.  By letting go of my attachment to “it” (i.e., my writing), my blog audience grew and I learned many lessons.

Here are just 13 things I’ve learned from writing like we ask of children:

1. Writing is hard. Really hard sometimes.

2. Writing is messy at first, but then often brings great clarity.

3. Writing can bring up feelings of insecurity and fear, but also pride, joy, satisfaction and relief.

4. Writing can serve the writer, the audience or both.

5. Writing is a process. A time-consuming one. And sometimes an all-consuming one. It needs to be scheduled and that time revered so the process can unfold.

6. Writing can offer quite solitude or feel like solitary confinement.

7. Writing can be enhanced by technology and it can also bring up a whole crop of new, technical issues.

8. Writing needs to be a commitment to be rich and meaningful (See # 5 above).

9. Writing often never feels like it’s over. There is almost always more (Again, see #5 above).

10. Writing offers so many ways to consolidate and synthesize experiences and information, and just as many ways to continue growing.

11. Writing is a goldmine. Keep digging, be persistent, and you’ll be rewarded.

12. Writers – all of  us – need support. Good organization and planning, a cheerleader to keep your spirits up and a mentor to ask you tough questions that move you forward when you’re stuck and validate your hard work.

13. Writing is to be shared. Somehow, someway, even if it’s something you read aloud to yourself and bow to yourself in gratitude and appreciation.

I’m writing a lot these days and I’m reading a lot of other writers.  I look to the work of Lucy Calkins for inspiration, along with other writers and observers of life and learning,  such as Caltha Crow, Chip Wood, Peter Bregman, Jonathan Fields, Jennifer Weinser, Maya Angelou, Malcolm Gladwell, Jonathan Kozol, Anne Lamott, Anna Quindlen and many, many others.

Who do you read for inspiration?

What have you learned from writing?

How have you learned to empathize with child-authors?

I’d love to read about either in the comments…

Comments

  1. I love the way you put this one: “Writing can offer quite solitude or feel like solitary confinement.” The idea of quiet solitude or solitary confinement are words we can use with kids who are reluctant writers/who hate writing so they can know what the other side has the ability to look like.

  2. Lisa, I also love Lucy Calkins. For inspiration I like to read about the work habits of writers, as in the Paris Review. http://grammar.about.com/od/advicefromthepros/a/Writers-At-Work-The-Paris-Review-Interviews.htm

    I work with younger children and take dictation, so the process has a different shape from that for/of the independent writer. My empathy is more about pulling the author away from playing with a friend than other matters. I apologize about that.

    What have I learned? I have much to say! When I write long pieces I require long sessions. I need time to come back to the present if I’ve been writing alone. My head can stay lodged with my characters or issue if I don’t deliberately shake myself back in to the present.

    I love WRITING IS NEVER OVER.

    On a separate note, the little boy in the photo above reminds me of a boy I know–now a high school senior–he likes to wear a hat like that still and writes poetry.

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