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I have been able to attend several writing conferences through my work over the years. One that had profound impact on me was the writers at work hosted by Ruth Culham in Sun Valley Idaho. I did not know the landscape could be so beautiful in a place I associate with potatoes. This education celebrity met with her small circle of authors every year to plan workshops for the year. Then she opened it up to other educators. The travel there had been adventurous for me with a small plane flying through a thunderstorm. It reminded me of the first time I was on a plane when I was 6 years old.
One of the speakers was Ralph Fletcher. He talked about how all teacher needed to be a writer with a lowercase w. The only difference between a writer with a capital and lowercase w is that capital w writers get paid. If you write, you are a writer.
As teachers, we need our students to learn to write in order to express themselves. I have found through my coaching and my own education experience that writing scares the hell out of most people. There is not a lot of instruction in writing in teacher prep courses. Why would you expect your students to do something that you are unwilling to do?
My Action List:
- Bradbury Challenge
- Unpack the Text
- Learn Through Your Ears
- Write in the Edges
- Join a group of creatives or writers
Ray Bradbury said read one poem a night, one short story a night, one essay a night, for the next 1,000 nights.
This is his formula for an MFA. It works.
It is impossible to not be a better writer if you follow this formula. Read what you like from authors you like. It does not have to be any way connected to the grade level you teach.
Essays: Natalie Goldberg, Ray Bradbury, Zadie Smith, David Sedaris, Roxane Gay
Short stories: Nancy Stohlman, Kathy Fish, Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link
Poems: Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Naomi Shihab Nye
Unpack The Text
When you read a piece you particularly write then study it. Ask yourself these questions:
- What works in this piece and how does it make me feel?
- How did the author achieve this feeling in me?
- What are my favorite lines?
- What can I try in my own writing that the author does?
Action: Write something inspired by the text you studied.
Learn Through Your Ears
One of the ways I take advantage of extra time is to listen to podcasts. I love writing podcasts in particular. I listen to podcasts mostly in the car and during workouts. There is a rotation but I always learn something.
- Why is This Good? Naples Writers’ Workshop
- How Do You Write? Rachael Herron
- The Writers Well Podcast J Thorn and Rachael Herron
- How Writers Write
- Stop Writing Alone Nicole Rivera
- Qwerty Marion Roach Smith
- Fierce Womxn Writing
- Good Life Project
- Any podcast with Karissa Kouchis as a guest.
I also like audio courses. I have been listening to Tony Robbins and his Personal Power 30 day program and his Beautiful State training.
Listen to what fuels you and write down the memories and stories that come to mind as you listen. Write about those ideas.
Write in the Edges
I learned a long time ago that if I want to make sure I do something, I have to schedule it.
Write now, open your planner/schedule and plan a 10 minute writing time for the next 7 days.
During that time write:
- A memory
- Whatever comes to mind
- The story about one of your notes
- A reflection of a favorite line from something you read
- A new story based on a title of something you have read
- Morning Pages
- Anything in response to a journal prompt
- How you are feeling in that moment
My advice is also to carry a notebook and write down ideas that strike you, an overhead conversation, an interesting detail, a 5 senses description of where you are throughout the day. I strive for at least 10 snippets a day.
If you don’t like the notebook use a note taking app on your phone. I am partial to Google Keep. It backs itself up (I lost a whole note app full of gems I can never get back – a whole other story.) You can share notes and also easily make it a Google Doc. You can also use voice to text in this app which works for me when walking or driving. If you run and try to talk there are weird connections of words the device will pick up!
Challenges give me a structure and a schedule. There are small challenges and large ones but I gravitate to 30 day or 100 challenges. Some examples are: Storyaday May and September, NANOWRIMO, #the100dayproject, Five Minute Friday (FMF), and Two Writing Teachers blogging.
Storyaday: This challenge is hosted by Julie Duffy and it is just what it sounds like: one story a day for the month of May and/or September. I have challneged my middle school students to do this challenge as well.
NANOWRIMO: National Novel Writing month. This challenge is to write a 50,000 word manuscript in the month of November.
#the100dayproject: A creative challenge that starts at the beginning of April. The artist creates something every day. In 2020, I wrote a random sentence every day and am creating a short story based on these sentences. Some people do post it note drawings, or doodles, or paintings, or 100 word essays, or poems. It is up to you!
FMF: Hosted by Kate Motaung Kate posts a word on Friday with a great visual. You write with this word for five minutes.
Two Writing Teachers Blog: Every Tuesday, teacher writers post on their own blogs and link up on the TWT blog. In March there is a daily blog challenge where there is support and lots of comments.
Join A Group
There are lots of groups to choose from. Lots of time if you take a class or workshop you can find people you want to continue to talk to after the course is over. There are many writing groups online that are more public like Twitter and Instagram.
There are communities you can join such as Storyaday Superstars, Ninja Writers, Sarah Selecky Writing School, Teachwrite, and Jackie Aston. Almost every author you follow has a connection to a community somewhere. I found Storyaday by Googling several years ago. Find your people!
The point is you want to find a group that is nourishing to you. Some are paid, some are free but you may have to try a few before you find the one where you fit.
After you try one or all six of these ideas, your brain will start to make connections to how this translates to your classroom. It can even be one of the things you write about during your scheduled 10 minutes.
If you write, you are a writer.
Your students will listen to you more as a model of being a writer rather than being someone who just talks about writing. There must be action.
Next Right Step
Make a change in your writing life today. Write something. Buy a notebook and a pen you like.
Your students will thank you.