In my professional life, I am an elementary school teacher. I have spent years teaching students the academic writing process of prewrite, draft, revise, edit, and publish. I have even purchased cute posters to hang on the wall carefully delineating the process for all to see.
As I have done more writing outside the world of education, I have discovered that my writing process doesn't necessarily follow this neatly packaged linear format. Prewriting is typically an informal affair done entirely in my head and revision and editing are often interwoven with the drafting stage. Publish isn't necessarily the last step either; I have been known on many occasions to continue to revise and edit even after the publish button has been hit.
What was interesting to me this month was realizing that my process varies according to what I am writing. In spite of the fact that I think of myself as a planner, many of my slices reflected more of a "pantser" approach and were simple, sit-down-at-the-computer-and-write pieces. When I wanted to write a piece responding to social media comments regarding March for Our Lives, however, my process looked much different. There was research and note-taking involved, and I found a need to write things down the old-fashioned way with paper and pencil, as I organized my thoughts. In this case, my process did in fact more closely resemble the writing process I have been teaching all these years. Purpose, then, became a critical factor in deciding process.
Implications as a teacher: Students need to learn that writing is a process, but I think they need to be taught that the process isn't quite so linear and that it isn't static, either. Everyone's process might look a little different and it might vary from one writing experience to another. There is a time and place for planning and focusing on structure, but students need opportunities to write freely as well. I need to respect that every writer is different and not be rigid in my expectations of what their process should look like.
What I became more aware of this year was that some stories demanded to be told in a certain format. Occasionally, I would have an idea about a topic and it would present itself in the form of a poem. It wasn't that I set out to write a poem that day, it just sort of came out that way. Some pieces needed dialogue while others did not. One piece demanded a more expository format in order to be told correctly. Each piece told a story, but there wasn't just one way to tell it. The structure was often dictated a little by purpose and topic and a little by the gentle prodding of an unseen muse.
Implications as a teacher: I used to put my primary focus on structure: how to organize a narrative, how to organize expository. Now, I realize that ideas need to come first, and within the different types of writing, there is a wide variety of structures. There is no one right way to tell a story and no one right way to share information. I need to expose my students to as many different structures as I can to allow them greater flexibility and choice, so that they can find their own unique voice and develop as writers.
When SOLSC began this year, I established a routine of each afternoon identifying what my story for the next day was going to be and doing some composing either in my head or on the computer. I would then finish up the piece and publish bright and early the next morning. It had a nice, easy rhythm to it that made writing daily a simpler task.
Then Spring Break came. I no longer had to be up at 5:00 a.m. and out the door by 7:30. I was free to write at any time of the day. That seems like it should be a good thing, but I lost my rhythm and the writing actually became more difficult. Having a set time and place for writing turned out to be an essential element for me to enter what Donald Graves called a "constant state of composition," thus making daily writing an easier task.
Writing every day also gave me the opportunity to experiment and play with my writing. In addition, it helped me to recognize some bad habits and identify areas that I would like to work on to become a better writer, things I'm sure I miss when I write only sporadically.
Implications as a teacher: Students need time and space to write everyday if they are to grow and to gain a sense of themselves as writers. They need to time to experiment and write a variety of different pieces, more than I could ever possibly grade.
There were days I felt extremely frustrated that very few people were reading my blog and/or commenting. It felt somewhat like putting on a performance for an empty room or, worse, for an audience who came, but then got up and walked out disappointed. It fed my insecurities and at times triggered that annoying little voice in the back of my head telling me to give up. Fortunately, the comments I did receive and the support from my friends and family gave me the encouragement I needed to keep going. Even one comment proved that a connection had been made, and it seems to me that sharing ideas and establishing connections is what writing is all about. When we put our writing out into the world, we send it with the expectation that someone somewhere will read it and understand and appreciate.
Implications as a teacher: When we have our students write for an audience of one (the teacher) we are obfuscating the real purpose and the joy of writing. We need to give kids opportunities to connect with each other, to show that they have stories to tell and that their stories matter.
Unbelievably, we are now at the end of the 2018 March SOLSC. The month went by fast and I am proud to say that I wrote every day. Some days were better than others, true, but there is something to be said about committing oneself to sitting down and composing every day. Due to time constraints, there were many days I felt compelled to hit the publish button before I was ready, and inwardly I cringed knowing that I would be judged by what I regarded as an incomplete work still in need of revision.
At the start of the challenge, there is always a doubt that I will be able to actually do it, that I will be able to find 31 somethings to write about and the time in which to write them. And yet, each March, I find both the time and the topics. If it can happen in March, why not every month? Success in whatever form encourages one to keep striving for more.
Implications as a teacher: Writing in the classroom shouldn't be limited to only pieces submitted for a grade. Equally important, students should not be graded solely on writing to a prompt with a time limit imposed. This type of writing isn't necessarily indicative of their skill level. Students need to be given time to play with their writing, to experiment with new topics and new structures, and to write simply for the sheer joy of it.
The pressure of publishing every day will no longer be there starting tomorrow. Hopefully, though, the habit of writing each morning will stay with me. There is time. March proved that. There are things to say. Once again SOLSC showed that to be true. This month of writing is always a month when I feel renewed and alive as I look at the events of my life a little more closely and find value in even the most mundane of moments. And since I like feeling renewed and alive, this seems like a good habit to cultivate.
Implications as a teacher: Students need to be given multiple opportunities to experiment with writing and to write for an authentic audience, not just for a grade. Their work needs to be appreciated and acknowledged so that they may develop the drive to improve. They need to know that their voice, above all else, matters.
It has been a marvelous month of growth and discovery. Many thanks to those who have joined me on this journey.