Week Twenty - Writing for Children and Teens
From Inspiration to Publication
Observe Life, Write Better
October 18, 2016
My teaching life and my writing life have intersected. This happens occasionally and it’s the best. To have both working lives come together usually makes for less mind block, more writing quantity with better quality, and teaching days that fly by.
In my writing life, I’m working on generating ideas for nonfiction articles to write and get published for children. In my teaching life, I’m showing my students how to write podcasts. They must choose a nonfiction topic that interests them and then research that topic using reliable sources. My awareness of the importance of finding practical, clear instructions for this work is heightened by my ICL coursework. One of the best things about this course is how straightforward and utilitarian the assignments are. As I work to build my students’ understanding of research and writing nonfiction, I am also working hard to find best practices for this learning.
This week, I plan my lessons and consider my available resources. Last year I bought a book called Making Nonfiction From Scratch by Ralph Fletcher who is a fantastic thinker and writer. I knew I’d need it someday. I pull out the book for inspiration. I rarely invent things; I’m more of a reuse and recycler as far as ideas go. In other words, I look at what I’ve already done or what someone else has already done and then I make it my own by tweaking it or using it in a different way. There are so many fantastic resources and thinkers out there, it would be silly for me to generate ideas in a vacuum.
So, as I was saying, I pull Fletcher’s book down and read it in one sitting. It speaks to me as a writer in many ways more than it does as a teacher. I find myself reaching for my notebook to make sure I don’t forget his pearls of writing wisdom. Sure it’s about teaching writing, but it’s also about modeling for your students. George Couros writes in his book, Innovator’s Mindset, “what better way to build credibility with our students than to actually do what we’re teaching them to do.” That’s why ICL teachers are all published writers. A good student knows the difference between someone who has walked a mile in her shoes ... or not.
In case you don’t know Ralph Fletcher (you should), he also wrote a great book called Breathing in, Breathing Out in which he shares the many ways a writing notebook can change you. I used to want to use a writing notebook regularly, but I always found myself putting it down and forgetting about it. I’ve got more ¼ filled notebooks lying around than single socks coming out of the dryer. This course has changed that for me. I’m finally using my writing notebook the way I use my plates––every day. It’s a no brainer for me to pick up a plate and put food on it. It’s now finally just as obvious to me that I must pick up a pencil and my writing notebook when I want to remember something or play with words or sketch an idea out.
One of the most valuable pieces of information I learned from Fletcher’s book is that good nonfiction writing is divergent. It includes nonfiction, yes, but it also has writing from many other genres. Fletcher’s book starts with a parable about Stone Soup, but instead of many villagers bringing food to doctor up the soup, in come Poetry guy, Comedy man, and Mystery woman to share what they have to offer Mr. and Mrs. Nonfiction. The resulting nonfiction soup is perfection. I take this to mean that my nonfiction writing will be better if I make interesting connections, add humor, or consider using literary devices to help my reader understand more about the topic. It is a powerful combination, this writing using different connections that only I can make. I’m learning that I am literally the only person who can tell any story my way. No one else in the world has the same kind of experiences lined up in just the same way. So I must figure out how to tell my stories. I do this by using my writing notebook to play with the many ways my mind connects to the topic.
How does this connect to my ICL course?
First, my one-on-one instructor is always asking me to reach deep into my experiences and skill to write exactly what I mean to say. He tells me to use what I know about literary devices, personal connections, details, and precise words so that my story says exactly what I want it to. He reminds me to get my first draft out quickly after my research is done, so that I can spend lots of time revising and adding until the piece is scrupulously scrubbed of unnecessary words, characters, and events. Each word should tell my story and none should be extraneous. This takes hard work and lots of practice. I now spend my time writing and rewriting work that used to feel more done earlier on. I am beginning to see my work as a reader and as a writer, checking tenses and spelling as closely as I check my facts.
It’s said that structure increases creativity. That’s when a person puts some interesting boundaries around their art, it allows them to focus on creative pursuits. In an article from Wired Magazine, this is explained best.
“Piet Mondrian helped usher in modernism by limiting himself to 90-degree angles and primary colors. Miles Davis conceived Kind of Blue without the use of a single chord. More recently, the very iPhone on which you listen to Davis’ landmark album is a one-buttoned example of restraint in pursuit of an ideal.”
The ICL program helps me put boundaries around what I’m going to write so that I can focus on being as creative as possible. This structure has put wings on my writing because instead of worrying about what it should look like or how many words my article should be, I focus on how I connect to the topic and how many different ways I can shine a light on what I see.
When I work in this way, I remind myself how important this is for the students I teach as well. My teaching life and my writing life have intersected. This makes sense of course because writing and teaching are about thoughts and life––they are inseparable. In fact, I think Fletcher would argue that the more we investigate what we think about what we observe in life, the better we will write.
Kimberley Moran's site
Kimberley Moran is a gifted and talented teacher and freelance writer who lives in Hampden, Maine. She has two children and one very nice husband. Kimberley would like her bio to make her sound brilliant, witty, and kind because she knows that when you write and read you get to be anyone you want to be.