People write for all sorts of reasons every single day: send a text or email, leave or make a note, finish something for work or school, jot down a recipe, send a letter, balance a checkbook, make a grocery list, etc.
I, too, write America. As a writer and teacher of writing, I’m also excited about the National Day of Writing, which was created by the National Council of Teachers of English and adopted by the Senate every year on October 20th since 2009.
While following #TeachWrite on Twitter for their first Monday of the month chat this week, I saw Margaret Simon’s challenge to share #WhyIWrite.
1. I write because I enjoy it.
I have so many reasons to write, but this is my number one reason: I enjoy writing. Yes, I’m a writing teacher. Yes, I’m in the middle of writing my first book (revising, actually). Yes, I sometimes have to write.
However, I wouldn’t be where I am now if I didn’t truly enjoy writing.
I keep a writer’s notebook, and I fill it with my ideas. I love to write in it, and I love the feeling of needing a new one when I’ve filled the current one up!
I enjoy the feel of a colorful pen in my hand, and the gentle sound it makes when it touches the page.
2. I write because I have ideas.
“Where did that idea come from?”
“What are your sources of inspiration?”
There are countless others that writers are asked, but those are probably the top two. The great thing about writing is that ideas can come from anywhere. You can look at a blank page sometimes and start writing.
The photo below is from a prompt that said to use a song as inspiration. #FlashFicHive is a month-long flash fiction writing workshop hosted by Anjela Curtis on Twitter. I’ve used her prompts to inspire several pieces of flash fiction, and she has an event all this month!
3. I write because I read.
It’s true. Reading and writing go hand-in-hand (ask any writer).
Writing about the books you read often help inspire others to read those books, too. I don’t write book reviews often, but I should! I outline them first in my notebook, which helps me show my process when I’m helping my students.
For the final copy of this outlined review, click the following link: Book Review: Chasing Eveline. Maybe my writing will inspire you to read Leslie’s novel and write a review, too!
4. I write to help and inspire my students.
Speaking of helping my students, I also write with them. We recently worked on a personal narrative, so I wrote one in order to show them how to incorporate the skills we talked about.
As you can see, I purposefully added a lot of “to be” verbs (which is a lot harder than you think) as part of our lesson on incorporating better verbs. Unfortunately, not all of the changes were to stronger verbs, but we’re taking it one step at a time.
Before we wrote our personal narratives, we created a “Treasure Map” of ideas. This map inspired students to try another narrative in their own writer’s notebook using a different “X” event.
Students are more likely to try something new when they have a model to use. They’re especially eager to try it when they see the teacher trying it, too!
5. I write because I can.
What better reason to end this blog post? I write because I can. I am capable of writing, and sometimes it’s pretty good.
I can write stories for fun, narratives with my students, or poems because they help me cope with whatever it is I’m feeling.
We gain freedom when we write, so why wouldn’t we want that?
Why do you write? What is your favorite form of writing? Share with me in the comments!
We all know that goals are important in our lives; they give us a purpose. Students need that, too. They need a purpose in the classroom, one they choose.
I’ve been incorporating writing goals in our class for the last couple years. They have changed significantly from when I started due to student feedback and my growth as an educator.
This year, these writing goals have changed again. This post is dedicated to sharing the beginning of this process, how it’s worked in the past, and how it will change this year.
“A long, long time ago…”
Okay, it wasn’t really a long time ago, but that song popped in my head when I moved on to this section.
What are writing goals? How does they look? Are these questions spinning in your mind right now?
When I first started using writing goals in the classroom, my purpose was to encourage a variety of writing. Students had six different sections on their goal sheet to work through.
The top four sections (which can be modified for students who need modifications), were “free” in the sense that the teacher doesn’t choose the topics. The “Word Collector” part is based on Corbett Harrison’s Vocabulary Workshop.
The bottom two sections were assignments that students worked on in class, and they changed based on the unit we were in. Both of these sections encouraged the the writing process.
Problem 1: As the school year progressed, I encountered the problem of students simply trying to fill up space without any cares toward the content or presentation of their writing. Paragraphs that should have had multiple sentences would be written in large print with only one sentence.
Problem 2: I also noticed that many students would wait until the last week of the grading period to complete their goals, which resulted in Problem 1 above.
Solution: In order to encourage students to take their time on pieces and use the entire grading period, I changed the goals again. Drastically.
“Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes/Turn and face the strange…”
I decided to keep with the musical headings. Music helps me through planning, so it fits, right?
At the end of that school year, I asked for student feedback about the writing goals. I already knew the things I wanted to change, but I wanted their insight, too.
“There were too many entries.”
“I never felt like I had enough time to finish what I started.”
“I didn’t like the limit in how many poems I could write.”
“We should get to choose how many entries we want.”
These insights helped show me how to change their goal sheets. Along with many other comments, students showed me the things that worked and didn’t work from their perspective.
As you can see, the format of the goal sheet completely changed. The calendar at the top served as not only a visual reminder of writing days, but it also served to help students keep track of their stamina over the grading period.
Each section of this new goal sheet was differentiated per each student’s needs and modifications.
Stamina – dedicated to improving handwriting and writing daily (or semi-daily).
Craft – dedicated to improving grammatical errors, which depends on skills each student needs to work on.
Format – dedicated to improvement using the writing process. (The STAAR writing process I teach excludes the 2nd draft.)
Problem 1: Students wrote fewer stories, essays, and longer pieces.
Problem 2: Some students still waited until the last week to complete their goals.
Problem 3: I did not conduct regular student-teacher conferences to address progress in the craft section.
Solution: I again reached out to students, researched better ways to incorporate goals, and looked back at what did and didn’t work from my end. These wonderful goals have once again changed. I changed the goals a few times during the school year, which changed the goal sheet slightly throughout the year.
“I can see clearly now, the rain is gone/I can see all obstacles in my way…”
Okay, maybe I’m having a bit too much fun with the songs in my head… And I definitely can’t see every obstacle I could encounter, but I do know what I hope will happen.
Student feedback at the end of last school year helped me focus on what needed to be better.
“The stamina goal didn’t help me. I felt like I was just writing a sentence sometimes to get my day.”
“I didn’t like doing just one skill for the whole six weeks.”
“I liked the format goal, but some people chose easier ones than I did.”
“The revising and editing on the rubric should be part of the goals.”
I started researching different methods earlier in the year when students first started having issues with their writing goals. During this research, I came across Jeff Goins and his 3-Bucket Writing System.
Each bucket represented a different part of the writing process, and I wanted to see if I could incorporate this into writing goals since students wanted the revising and editing to be a part of their goals.
I added a bucket to his system and created a foldable that will help students identify which step of the writing process they’re on.
front and back
As a writing teacher, I know students are constantly making lists or creating idea banks for when they don’t know what to write. The list above helps students take those ideas and write something with them.
I’ve used a version of this list every year, and students find it quite helpful. In Google Classroom, there is a student-created prompt list to help with generating ideas, too.
What can they do with these buckets, and how do they relate to this year’s writing goals?
I’m not sure why they look like different colors, but this document is front and back (I always use the back for the rubric to encourage responsibility). Click here for a Google Doc Copy of Goal Sheet.
On the front, you can see the incorporation of the bucket system. These sections are differentiated per student by allowing students to choose their own goal. Buckets 1 and 2 allow for us to focus on whichever skills we’re currently learning in class as well as the skills students already know.
There are still lines to fill in, which was a problem the first time around. The difference here is that every single line does not need to be filled.
For example: If a student chooses ‘7’ for their Bucket 1 goal, then they only need to complete seven different planning tasks. I would encourage them to leave the other lines there (instead of marking them out) in case they plan a lot more than expected.
These goals also follow the S.M.A.R.T. Goals format. They are a bit ambiguous when it comes to the ‘what,’ but that is where student choice comes in.
Specific – Who: each student; What: differentiated per student, each section tells what is needed; Where: may work on in or out of class; Why: to improve writing skills; Which: minimum is the set goal, and maximum is more.
Measurable – Students can visually see when they’ve reached their goals, and there is a rubric with it.
Attainable – Each section must be reachable; there is no point setting a goal you’re not ready to reach.
Relevant – All skills are needed for class and writing in the real world.
Timely – Work on throughout the grading period, and due at the end. Students may need to set short-term weekly goals to complete their long-term six weeks goals.
“In the future when all’s well…”
School starts here next Monday (8/28), and we’ll set up our writer’s notebooks before we talk about goals.
The first few weeks — During the first few weeks, we’ll work on different assignments in class that will help students complete items for each bucket. They will learn how to add it to their notebook and their goal sheet.
Student-Teacher Conferences — One of my most successful years of teaching involved one-on-one conferencing. Students have what Corbett Harrison calls Sacred Writing Time. Students will meet with me during that time once or twice every two weeks in order to conference about their writing.
Students should complete pre-conferencing before their day. During pre-conferencing, they will answer a few questions and find examples of each answer in their writer’s notebook.
What are two things I’m doing well?
Where have I worked on my “conference” skill, and how am I progressing with it?
What is one thing that I don’t understand?
Do I have any other questions?
Foreseeable Problems — Not taking time to do the best work possible or waiting until the last week to complete goals.
Possible prevention for those problems — Since we are working on most of these as class assignments this six weeks, students will hopefully feel the need to do their best from the start. This will also keep them from waiting until the last minute. I’ll walk them through setting short-term goals to see how much they need to accomplish each week, which will also help encourage “timely” completion.
All in all, I’m looking forward to this new format, and I’m hoping that it goes well! I’ll definitely post an update sometime next grading period.
What are your tips and tricks for writing goals and writing in the classroom? Which resources do you use? Share with me in the comments.
I’ve already added the links above, but I’ll create a comprehensive list here in case you need it.
Poetry: a mellifluous word all by itself. Does it sound so beautiful the first time it’s written down, though? Or is there a process for writing poetry? That’s a hard question to answer. Some poets will say no. Others will say yes. The answer, however, depends on you and the purpose of your poem.
For me, poetry is a process. I have to have somewhere to start and somewhere to end. I can write a micropoem on Twitter, but it’s not always a quick process. It takes a few drafts before I can make it sound right or fit into the 140-character limit.
How does that transfer to longer poems or poems that follow a specific format? Is the writing process necessary for poetry? For me, the answer is yes. Let’s take a peek into what that process looks like for me with three different poems…
1. I need to research.
The type of research varies depending on the poem I want to write.
Example 1: A poem that doesn’t follow a format
My friend Veronica asked me if I could write her a poem because her current life circumstances were making her feel helpless. I asked her one question: What is your favorite animal?
A hippopotamus. I didn’t know much about hippos, so I searched for information about them through National Geographic. I now had details I could use in my poem.
Example 2: A poem that does follow a format
I like the challenge of learning new poetic formats, so I’ll often learn about different ones. I don’t know how many poetic formats are out there, but there’s such a variety that poets will never lack for challenges.
Two such formats I’ve tried were the Pleiades format and Huitain format. I started by researching how each of these formats worked.
2. I write a rough draft (or two); then, I revised and edit it.
I know this step actually combines several steps of the writing process, but I didn’t think you’d want to see each individual step. I also don’t have pictures for each step, either, so it’s okay. Poetry is shorter, which means you can fix a bit more of it in one step anyway.
The most important thing, though, is getting your idea on paper before adding imagery, figurative language, and other poetic techniques. If you keep a writer’s notebook, then you’ll have a plethora of ideas at your disposal.
Example 1: The hippo poem was a bit easier to start since I already had a topic. However, it took the most drafts. I had to decide which parts of the research to include, what the theme would be, and if I wanted it to rhyme or have a rhythm.
Example 2: Topics for the formatted poems weren’t as easy to discover. The trick with poetry, if you’re interested, is similar to the Robert Frost quote above: use your emotions.
The Pleiades poem was inspired by the emotion I felt for a close family member, one who suffers from mental illness. I chose the letter ‘A’ to use with the format because it worked with the title, which I had first.
Family seems to always play on my emotions because the Huitain poem was inspired by a different member of my family, one who had recently went back to an abusive relationship.
With both of these poems, you can see that the idea, or rough draft, is written before I start changing the rhythm to match the pattern of the format. It’s incredibly hard to count out syllables while you’re writing, so my suggestion is to always write out your idea first — then fix it up how you like.
3. I write the final copy.
This last step can include publishing, too.
Example 1: Since Veronica, who goes by Roni, was going through a hard time, I decided to illustrate her poem. I am not the greatest at drawing, but I can do a decent job if I take my time. After I finished up her poem and drawing, I sent her a copy: published.
Example 2: I chose not to illustrate my other poems. (It truly takes a long time for me, and I almost always have to have a point of reference.) I think it’s important to have a legible final copy for whatever you choose to do with it next (blog post anyone?).
That’s my process when writing a poem, but it’s not everybody’s process. How do you write a poem? Do you plan it out? Do you research? Do you go through a process? Feel free to share with me in the comments.
Too many ideas. A writer’s best friend or worst enemy? We can ask the same thing of a first draft.
Our hearts start racing and our minds start whirring after the first few sentences. We know we’ve got this. When does that feeling end? How many of these first drafts do we have? How many are finished as opposed to the number that are set aside and forgotten?
Why? Why do so many projects remain unfinished? Most of the time the only thing holding us back is the person we see in the mirror. We need to get out of our own way.
What are the fallacies we tell ourselves that keep us from finishing the first draft? How can we overcome them?
Fallacy 1: I don’t have enough time to write, let alone finish, a draft.
No time. It seems we face this problem no matter what our chosen task. We feel the clock ticking and think there are other, possibly more important, things that we could be doing with our time.
I am part of The Mutual Admiration Society, for Writers (thanks to you awesome writers for your input), a group of mostly #TurtleWriters on Facebook. Turtle Writers (hashtag started by Rosetta Yorke, Meka James, and M L Moos on Twitter) are writers who write slower than “normal,” but we still write. And we still struggle.
Victoria Shelley said that her biggest struggle with writing a first draft is “sitting down and finishing” it. There it is again: time.
Why is this a fallacy when everyone seems to wrestle with it? Easy. Who set the rules for when you have to finish? Why are you following someone else’s rules? Here are a few ways that you can start setting your own and finding your own way:
Set aside a specific amount of time to write
K. Grubb says it can be done in just 10 minutes a day!
Set a timer if you want to push yourself through it.
Set weekly goals
You don’t have to write every day – build up to that habit.
Start with a small weekly goal – you have to work your way up to difficult goals.
If you don’t reach your goal, it’s not the end of the world. Reflect on it, and make a new, more attainable one.
Remove the distractions
Make a list of everything that distracts you from your writing – then work toward removing yourself from them for a little while.
Go to the park or library to write. Find your zone.
Maybe waking up early or staying up a little later will work for you.
Find what works for you to finish that first draft. Don’t allow anyone to make you feel guilty for writing, especially when it’s only for a short period of time each day.
Fallacy 2: I ran out of ideas, this plot isn’t working anymore, or I’m not reaching my goals.
We have been alive for years. We have read countless books. We have had a variety of experiences. We have an unlimited bank of ideas bouncing around in our noggin at any given moment.
We truly are our own worst enemies here. Maybe we’re planners, but our characters are no longer working with the plot we created. Maybe we’re pantsers, so we never really knew the direction we would take anyway.
Writing the first draft of my current WIP was a long process, mostly because I’m a planner. The first thing I did was write down my idea – as much of it as I had in my brain. Then, I started planning.
When I started the first draft, I had one major question: Who is the antagonist? I had no idea. The further I dove into the draft, the more confused I got. How was he doing this?
So, I stopped. I was stuck in this fallacy. I thought I was out of ideas. I couldn’t see how my plot was going to progress. I definitely wasn’t reaching any of my arbitrary goals. What now? How will I ever finish this draft?
I ran out of ideas.
Look around you – the world you live in is an idea bank. Make a withdrawal.
Make lists: places, people, actions, decisions, crises, etc.
“Character development” may be holding you back as it does for Michelle Winkler, so give them some more options – use the lists to help them tell the story. If you still need more, worry about it in revisions.
You don’t need to focus on the details right now. Worry about that after you finish this draft. If you want your character to be somewhere, then write it – fix the how and the why in revisions.
I even brainstormed possible storylines for my antagonist. If I could figure out who he was, then I could write again. It doesn’t hurt to plan a little more.
This plot isn’t working anymore.
Then fix it. The writing process is recursive. If you’re a planner, go back to the plan and adjust it. If you’re a pantser, then this is what you’ve been training for!
Make a notation on the draft where things changed, and keep going. The notation will let you know where revising should probably start when the first draft is finished.
Maybe you’re having trouble “coming up with an ending,” a problem Willie Handler has had. It’s okay- sometimes the ending hides itself until you write the rest of the story (sneaky endings).
Do a freewrite to work through your thoughts. Sometimes spending a little time in your brain can help you fix things.
Discuss your plot problems with a sounding board. Working it out alone doesn’t always work, but bouncing ideas off of someone else offers valuable support.
Write from a different point of view for a bit. It’s the first draft – who cares if that’s not the POV you’re going to settle with?
This ultimately helped me. I wrote from my antagonist’s POV, starting at the climax (which I was nowhere near). He wanted to start there, so I let him.
He opened up and told me his story after that.
Write out of order – yes, you read that right. As you can see, sometimes you need to jump around in the plot to figure out where it’s going.
I’m not reaching my goals.
KristaLyn A Vetovich says she’s often “worrying about word counts… but I love the idea that the first draft is you telling yourself the story so you can revise it to tell others.”
If you’re participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this month, then you know all about these worries. However, adjusting your goal is one of the great things about camp. If it’s not working for you, reflect and adjust.
Reflection. If you are setting goals for yourself to finish this draft and not meeting them, have you figured out why? There is no use in setting the same goals over and over and not achieving them. All that will do is set you up for failure.
My biggest success was making sure my goals were attainable. If you can’t reach them, then they need rewritten.
Whatever our case, we can overcome this, too. We have the skills to finish writing our first draft, and we have the support if we need it.
Fallacy 3: I’m terrible at this, so there’s no way anyone will ever want to read it.
Another writer, BillyOwensJr, said the biggest struggle with writing the first draft is “being comfortable with yourself” enough to finish writing it. Self-doubt makes this the worst fallacy out there. We let ourselves down by telling that lovely reflection our writing is terrible or that no one in the world will ever read it.
Guess what? It’s a first draft. No one in the world ever should read it!
The number one way we stumble into this fallacy is by editing or revising as we write. We go back and tell ourselves how awful it is. We try to reason with ourselves, but we only end up explaining that if it’s not perfect, we’ll only make more work in the end. To which we tell ourselves that more work means even less of a chance for someone to read it in the future.
“I hate writing words I know I’m going to delete later because it feels like creating more work. But I have to remind myself that writing anything is creating more work, no matter how pretty the words are.” – M L Moos
You can do this. You can write this first draft. You can write this first draft even if it’s the worst thing you’ve ever written because that’s okay. It is allowed to be the worst thing you’ve ever written. No one ever has to read it.
No one ever read my first draft. I wouldn’t even let my husband read it. It was nowhere near perfect when it was done. But it was done. That’s all a first draft has to be. You’ve got this.
Which fallacies do you struggle with? What holds you back from writing your first draft? Which fallacies have you overcome? Feel free to share with me in the comments!
This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, which is dedicated to helping writers become stronger and more confident in their craft. Click here for more information, to continue hopping through other posts, or to join in!
We’ve all heard of the mysterious writing condition that strikes writer’s at the most in-opportune moments: Writer’s Block. However, not every writer suffers from this epidemic. Some find their way around it before it even starts.
How can they possibly overcome it before it starts? Do these ideas work after it’s started? I am a writer who has never had writer’s block. I do struggle sometimes with plot points (especially in the novel I’m writing), but it’s not a block. I have 4 steps to avoiding it that may help you, too.
1. Set achievable writing goals
What? Writing goals? I briefly mentioned these in The Wonderful World of Writer’s Notebooks. If you have goals, you are more likely to write. This is true even in my classroom – my students have writing goals every grading period, and they work to achieve their goals all six weeks.
I have several long-term goals: write a memoir, keep up with my blog, read 25 books this year, stay in touch with my pen pals, and publish my first novel.
These goals won’t be reached in a single step, so I have to figure out how to get to the end. What I need is a plan. The planner above is where I create weekly goals that will take me one step closer to my ultimate goals. (You can’t see the right-hand side, but it has crochet goals, too.)
The only thing missing above is the actual plan. I don’t set aside specific days, though, because I know that I will miss one or want to work on something else that day. These are achievable weekly goals that I can work on anytime I have the opportunity during the week. My biggest struggle here is making sure not to set too many.
As you can see by this week’s goals, I took out the memoir pages and added revisions for my novel as part of Camp NaNo. We also had family in this week, so I had to make sure that any goals I set could still be achieved this week.
That’s the key: achievable goals. What’s the point of setting goals that can’t be reached? Where will it lead other than downhill? It could even lead to writer’s block, which will not help anything.
2. Open to a blank page and write any words (maybe even draw a picture)
What? What do you mean write any words? What kind of words? Anything! I mean it. Write in any format, too. Here are a few things that may fall out of your pen when you start writing:
Your feelings: It’s okay to vent your frustrations. They may be holding you back from writing.
A poem: It’s okay if that’s not your goal. Anyone can write a poem, and who knows, it may even let off some of your emotional steam.
A list of words: That’s right, make a list of words that you could use for something. Use that dictionary or thesaurus to stretch your vocabulary.
Learn a new word: Speaking of vocabulary, maybe you’ve heard or read a word recently that you didn’t recognize. Let that word fall out of your pen, and then discover it.
A new idea: Yes, even a new idea may form on your no-longer-blank page. It’s okay if it’s not something you’re working on, let it happen anyway (you don’t want to block creativity).
Anything: Simply see where that blank page takes you. (This is where drawing comes in. Even if you’re not an artist, you could still sketch whatever is on your mind.) It is not your enemy.
3. Read something
Is there a book you’ve been wanting to read for a while but haven’t had the time? Pick it up and read. Maybe you have a Goodreads reading goal that needs attention.
How does reading help you avoid writer’s block? It seems like it’s an easy way to avoid writing, doesn’t it? Nope. Reading offers your brain a break from your world while you peruse someone else’s world. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn from other authors:
How are plot issues handled?
What is the MC’s motivation?
How is the setting introduced?
Why are supporting characters in the story?
How is each chapter leading to the central conflict?
How is dialogue used to enhance the story?
Are the characterizations consistent?
Can I learn anything from the grammatical structures used?
Use this brain break to further your knowledge of writing as a reader. After you’re finished with a book, you have another writing opportunity: write a book review. Authors love to hear what you have to say about the books they’ve spent so long writing, so tell them and tell the world.
Reading offers up so many possibilities for you as a writer. Reading in your genre helps you see what’s going on in similar worlds. Reading outside your genre helps you see how other authors create their worlds, characters, plots, etc. compared to what you’re used to. The advice I’ve seen is to try to read from as many genres as you can.
4. Take time for your hobby
As you’ve already seen, my hobby (one of them, anyway) is crocheting. It is often neglected because I’m either reading or writing, though. If you’re experiencing writer’s block, or even just need a brain break before you continue that difficult scene, take some time to work on your hobby.
While you’re invested in your creative task, you may find your brain wandering back to your writing, which could lead you to an epiphany about your plot, character, or any part of it. Let it happen. Let your mind wander. However, if your hobby of choice requires saws or drills or the like, make sure you pay attention to your work while your mind wanders… You may need those fingers to write.
I’ve tried all of that… Now what?
Maybe something is keeping you from writing: stress, work, family, etc. Take some time away from the cause of your writer’s block, and enjoy the free time. You don’t even have to write: bask in the sun, read a book, catch a movie, go fishing. Do something that will help clear your mind and prepare you to write again.
Don’t be afraid of that blank page or that novel that needs revised. You are there to make those pages better. You are there to turn those empty pages into something wonderful. You are there to fill those empty lines with your next big adventure.
After you clear your mind, go back through the list and see what you can achieve. You can overcome this “temporary condition.” You can.
How do you overcome writer’s block or avoid it altogether? Let me know in the comments!