Good writing starts from good conversation--- at least that’s what one group of my peer writing consultants have to say. This small, yet mighty group of students are earning their English 12 credit through working as peer consultants. We do a lot of careful thinking about how to provide meaningful feedback to writers and to each other.
And that’s in part why Verdana, Arial, Roman, Alice and Georgia were so excited to be featured on my blog this week (picking their alias after Google fonts also played a role too).
After listening to an end-of-the card marking reflective discussion on their work as consultants, I was reminded of these ideas to spark thinking for a reluctant writer.
Roman had an incredibly challenging experiences with one of his first consults where the writer he worked with basically came up with any and every diversion to derail the writing conference. We now laugh about the fact that at one point he met my eyes from across the room and mouthed “help me.”
On top of this, the student’s draft was a treasure map of corrections with a numbered key of all the revisions she wanted to make. Both the writer and Roman were talking in circles as they both tried to make sense of things.
Here’s what Roman did: he focused on just one thing. This writer was annoyed that she had to revise an already pretty good piece of writing. And he could tell that. So Roman told her to simply draft a clean copy. And then luckily he was saved by the bell.
The next day, he told us that he kept some distance from her, but discovered that when he walked back over, she was ready to talk to him. Turns out the simple advice of just creating a new clean copy opened up space for the two of them to have a conversation about how she could grow her writing.
Starting with low effort tasks builds momentum for resistant writers. And as the sage advice goes from Anne Lamott: the best way to write is to go “bird by bird.”
Skip the Screen
There’s always at least one writer in the room staring blankly at a computer screen during writing workshop. That’s why Alice and Arial explained how their go-to is to hand-write ideas in a notebook before they jump to creating a document.
Ariel described how handwriting forces her to slow down and to think differently about her writing. And Alice agrees. He says that it changes how he processes ideas.
Arial and Alice didn’t realize this when they brought this up in discussion, but what they are describing is an entire school of thought in composition and brain-based learning theory.
So often writers who don’t like writing want to get their work done at rapid speed. Yet, racing through writing can lead students to avoid carefully thinking about what they are trying to say.
My consultants agreed that thinking too quickly leads writing to feel manufactured, often replete of author voice. When writers are churning out products rather than thinking about the process, voice and purpose get lost. When writers skip thinking about their writing, they begin to “write in circles” according to Ariel.
Share Your Process
Consulting is about building a connection with a writer and not giving them all the “corrections” as Georgia wisely noted. All of my consultants agreed that sharing your process and experiences as a writer can be helpful for students who are stuck.
In fact--- I have to admit, this piece was born from my own frustrations at starting and stopping this post eight times. And I shared this with my students. For me, blogging has been an opportunity to put myself in my students’ shoes. And from my work with the National Writing Project, I’ve seen how my writing instruction has become stronger from being a writer myself.
When teachers write alongside their students, they develop an understanding and empathy of process that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Verdana remarked that students need to understand that there is no one right way. Our role as teachers and consultants is to be a bridge to help a writer discover their process. And the best way to lead students to this discovery is to model our own---to show them many ways to a composition.
Truly, talking about being a writer led me to this piece, and there’s nothing like five teenagers excited about picking alias to force me to stick to it.
“Trust the Process”
The path to a finished product can be a messy process for any writer. When writers are stuck, showing them how to “trust the process” as writing theorist Donald Murray put it best, can help them move beyond their fear that their writing is not enough.
Sometimes, the best ways to move a writer through the process are the simplest. Most of all, writers just need to know that there is a reader waiting for their composition to be born.
Lauren Nizol is a literacy interventionist, writing center director, and National Writing Project Teacher Consultant who loves books and takes too many pictures of trees when heading for the woods with her family.