Since I started teaching 20 plus years ago, I have been hearing about the writing process. I’ve attended workshops, read books, and made bulletin boards for display in my classroom. But I’ve never really participated in it. It wasn’t until I started my literacy class this fall, and I had to write a blog post every week, did I really begin to understand and internalize the writing process.
One of the most challenging steps in the writing process is finding a topic or idea. I feel pretty skilled at this because I have kept a writers notebook on and off since I became a teacher. Because of my experience, I know exactly what to do. Whenever an idea pops into my head, I write it down. For my class I left my physical notebook and started a running list on my computer. But as an elementary school teacher I am seldom sitting at my desk and an idea may strike anywhere – on the playground, in the library, or at carline. Therefore I also keep a list on my phone.
I have been reading about teaching writing for a long time. I have a brain full of writing suggestions and strategies. Because I have all these ideas, I find myself applying the same strategies I teach my students. For example, one planning lesson encourages students to tell their story to a classmate. This form of practice really helps alleviate the “I don’t know how to start” complaints and I find it helps me get started too.
During the day, I find myself talking to my colleagues, elaborating on an idea and then saying, “Does that make sense?” I also find that I use it by myself. When I am walking the dog, I run the writing through in my head. I try to picture each paragraph. I’ve even talked it into the voice memo app on my phone.
One step in the process that I continue to toy with is drafting. Sometimes I sit down and write, write, write. Other times I use an outline. I can’t really figure out which is better. Here is what I do.
Just get it on the paper.
Sometimes the process of just dumping all my ideas out of my brain and into my computer is really fun and it feels productive. This produces a lot of text, but it is not very intentional. The writing usually lacks focus, coherence and purpose. To make sense of it, I print it out. Then I highlight the good parts, cut out the bad, and adjust it into a purposeful piece. This process is really helpful when I am not really clear on my thesis.
Using an outline
After one of my early grad school meltdowns, my partner kindly suggested, “Why don’t you use an outline?” My response was less than charitable and I responded. “Outlines don’t make any sense to me!” After a gentle discussion, I realized it did not have to be an Outline! I could draw out a thought map, set out some Post-It notes, or just create some thought bubbles in my head.
Working through the process, really does help. It helps you make a structure and once you have a structure you can lean on it. When I first started these weekly blog posts, a post would take me several hours. Now, I feel like my writing is better and I can finish a post in a couple of hours from start to finish.
I think the hardest part is deciding when a piece of writing is good enough. When I get near the end, I am often excited thinking this is really good. Then I go back to read my writing and find that I need to do some revision. Sometimes my revisions make the piece better. Sometimes they run the blog post off the rails and I have to go back to the original. Ultimately, I usually say it is good enough, when I am losing my patience and I don’t want to work on it anymore.
Writing is like basketball. It takes a lot of practice just to play. As a kid my spelling was too rotten to be considered a good writer, but computers have helped me with that element. A few years ago, I worked with a colleague who encouraged my writing and that has built some confidence. Now I don’t think of myself as a writer, but I have practiced enough that I can play.