I’m going to point out a nasty, embarrassing truth here: most teachers of writing are not themselves writers. That’s not to imply that all writing teachers must be authors of their own books, or regular contributors to professional journals, or even fillers of countless notebooks year after year; after all, most teachers of science are not themselves scientists…right?
No. But there is something amiss–isn’t there?–when the majority of teachers of a skill or a way of thinking do not (at least somewhat) regularly practice that skill or way of thinking. We don’t all have to be Penny Kittles or Pernille Ripps or Kristine Mraz-es, incredible teachers who continually wow us with their charming, thoughtful, and often witty tweets, blog posts, and books. We don’t all have to be Kate Messners or Seymour Simons, teachers who became full-time authors once their books took off like a zucchini plant in July.
But we can–and truly, for the sake of our students, we must–write.
The idea of writing, though, freaks a lot of teachers out. “I can’t write!” they claim. “I have nothing interesting to say!” they lie. This past year, I offered my colleagues regular time, space, and opportunity to discover that they can write, that they do have interesting things to say. I based these sessions on a wonderful virtual writing camp, Teachers Write!, that is held each summer, and, because of their success, will continue to do so for many years to come. Because those who are tasked with teaching students to write Must. Themselves. Write.
This past March, I shared a list of texts that are guaranteed to inspire teachers (and others) to write on The Nerdy Book Club blog. Some of these are texts that I used during my sessions with colleagues, and some are texts that I plan to use in the future–texts that inspired me to write countless messy, crappy, unfinished entries in my own writer’s notebook. But sometimes just the concept of “writing” as a whole conjures up frightening visions of filled notebook pages, or stacks of finished manuscripts, or hours upon hours of typing on one’s laptop. Writing, and/or nurturing a regular habit of writing, doesn’t have to be that way. There are plenty of short, less-intimidating kinds of writing that teachers–or any inspiring writer–can try. Below are a few of my favorites.
I write a lot of lists. In my last writer’s notebook, I had lists of Things I Wish I Loved but Don’t, Things That Annoy Me to No End, lists of lines from books I love, lists of people I’ve known in my lifetime…. Lists are fast, easy, and can be added to and expanded upon in infinite ways. One of my favorite mentor lists of all time is one I’ve shared with colleagues repeatedly, from Jerry Spinelli’s memoir Knots on a Yo-Yo String called “Thirteen Things I Wished I Could Do.” It’s no coincidence that several of my own blog posts have been written in list form, or that two of the four pieces I’ve written for The Nerdy Book Club have been for their “Top Ten List” posts.
Don’t make that face! I’m serious. If you’ve read Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of An Ordinary Life, you know that personal encyclopedia entries can be incredibly witty, thoughtful, inspiring, short, long…even if you haven’t read it, you will soon find, upon perusing this masterpiece of a memoir, that such entries can take the form of sketches, paragraphs, lists (!), charts, timelines, etc. Read a few of Amy’s entries and try some of your own. You can take a peek at the book here, but be warned that you’ll want to purchase it immediately after reading the sample. It’s one of my most beloved texts that I own.
ONE LONG SENTENCE
This was inspired by Tom Newkirk, who himself was inspired by a piece that he found within Jerome Stern’s collection of Micro Fiction that was written as a “single, 250-word sentence.” I tried my hand at the genre for one of this year’s Teachers Write! prompts, which you can find here. (Be kind; it was my first attempt.) Tom shares his own draft of a short-story-as-single-sentence (as well as a spectacular one that a former student wrote) on pages 31-33 of his book Holding On to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the famous six-word story that most people attribute to Ernest Hemingway:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
While this oft-told legend of the origin of the six-word story has been challenged, the appeal of the six-word story remains true. This past spring, some colleagues and I challenged our outgoing sixth graders to write six-word memoirs to showcase at their 6th grade celebration, and they were an unabashed hit. While it may be true that few of us will ever approach the genius of Hemingway’s (?) example, it’s an accessible-enough genre to convince even the most reluctant writer to try.
There it is: four short, accessible, only mildly intimidating types of writing that you can try. There are countless others, but at least this is a start. So no more excuses; no more lies. Teachers of writing can–and must–write.