Surprises and still learning

About 15 years ago I started taking writing seriously for myself.  I had been teaching writing to my students – sort of – for a long time.  I assigned and they wrote.   I decided I needed to write if I was going to teach writing. (Duh – good idea you think?)

So I signed up to be a part of the Minnesota Writing project – a three-week experience in writing with other teacher/writers and working with writing groups.

It was great.  I learned and wrote and listened and wrote.   After that I published a couple of articles in educational journals and moved on to writing fiction.   I had a great idea I thought and quickly wrote what I was thinking was an intermediate picture book.   I was so pleased with it and myself.  I was writing and I thought I was good.   I showed it to a few people with little to no comment from them.  A bad sign.  (My writing group had fallen away – well really moved away by then so I was a writer in free fall without a net and no real feedback.)

I let teaching get in the way and for the next few years – well lots of years.  I let this piece and my writing sit.  Always thinking it was a great story.

After working in administration I am now back in the classroom teaching writing and writing again myself.   This summer I pulled out that “wonderful” story and was surprised.   OMG – it was a story but it had no heart, the characters were flat, the beginning did not grab you, I was telling not showing – I won’t go on.  It was bad!  Years of reading and listening to writers taught me something about my writing.

So here is what I learned again that I will take into my teaching this fall and into my own writing practice –

  • Writers need a writers group to help them see what they can not see
  • Writers need a mentor – a writer who knows just a wee bit more or a lot more to guide them to the next step (teachers are needed)
  • Stories are best when set aside for a short time (ok maybe not 10 years) then return to with fresh eyes and new learning
  • Writers need to read, read, read
  • Writers need to write, write, write
  • Writers should hold on to stories no matter how bad – they are great beginnings for new work when we are ready to try again.

I am now re working that funny little story and excited to see where the characters will take me and looking for the heart of the story.  It is there – it needed time to develop and I needed time to grow just like my students.

And I now know and understand I need to give my students time to be real writers as well!     What writing lessons have you learned this summer that you will share with your students?

About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, care for my Grandson and write. Life is good!
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9 Responses to Surprises and still learning

  1. Thanks for sharing your insights. I am a much slower learner than you and just discovered(near the end of my teaching career) how important it is for me to write on a consistent basis. Discovering my voice as a writer has and will continue to inform my teaching in a very powerful way. (This is where I add my own…duh! :))

    • I am not quick to this learning – like you I am near the end of my teaching career but plan to continue to write and hopefully help other teachers teach writing once I am not in the classroom all day every day! Keep writing!

  2. …I too have a similar story and I’m not sure I even have enough nerve to bring my story one of my stories out to even re-read. The mentor part- I’m in total agreement. xo nanc

  3. Bev says:

    What great advice! – for both writers and teachers of writing!
    All the best with your story!

  4. I am nodding my head in agreement to all you have said here. And you should rejoice in this – you have a piece from the past to revisit and revise. I am starting fresh with this writing even though I too am at the end of my career. But I am learning along with you. Thank you for sharing your insight – your words ring so true.

  5. Your bulleted list is awesome. What a fantastic post.

    I’d love to excerpt this or have you write a related guest blog post when we’re back from vacation in August. Sound okay to you? If so, please shoot me an email and lmk.

  6. Pingback: Taking the Art of Reflection Back into the Classroom « TWO WRITING TEACHERS

  7. Wow, I can really relate to your story. Mine is similar in so many ways. I’m so excited that this year I am able to include in a 4th grade writing workshop. I really believe that as writers we need response and that is something that I haven’t sought throughout the years….until Slice! My desire is to help cultivate that culture in this classroom this year…next year, hopefully in another classroom before the final curtain falls. Thank you for the work you do and how you cultivate. Have a great year. XO

  8. I could be you. I, too, thought I was a pretty good writing teacher assigning writing to my kids. About 10 years ago, I learned what I really meant to teach writing. And, I began to write. I think the writing groups for teachers are key. I think that will be my next goal for this year. 🙂 Thank you for the jumpstart!

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