Monday, May 28, 2007

Lessons That Change Writers

by Nancie Atwell. Heinneman, 2002. I am reading this book as part of my commitment to HipWriterMama's 30 day challenge. She is encouraging us to make a promise to work on developing good habits that will enable us to reach a goal and make our dreams come true. I want to work on learning the craft of writing. I decided to challenge myself to read this book through out the next few weeks and spend time every night writing in a writer's notebook, focusing on learning to write "small moments" of memoirs.

Atwell is a seventh and eighth grade writing teacher in an experimental school she founded in Maine. She has been teaching for over 25 years and has distilled her ideas about what works in teaching kids to write well. She has put together the key principals along with specific lessons in this book Lessons that Change Writers. The teachers at my school use this text as a major influence in our writing program so it is good for me as librarian to know it inside-out in order to be able to support their curriculum. Individually I want to learn these lessons because I want to take my writing to the next level. I haven't had a writing teacher in 20 years and I haven't been in a writer's group for at least 10. I need more structure to support more growth.

In the past week, the first week of the challenge, I have had mixed success meeting my goal. The first few days I didn't manage to borrow the book or write every day. I was reading Fletcher's book, Breathing In, Breathing Out, which helped to inspire me to track down Atwell's book. I borrowed it from the sixth grade teacher at my school and took it home on Thursday. I found a small chunky spiral notebook a student had given me a few years ago and got to work.

Atwell's book starts out telling how she gets her student's started keeping a notebook to record the content of her writing mini-lessons. She presents an idea and then gives them an exercise to do to practice the technique. This is perfect for me; I am reading a chapter that contains one mini-lessons a day and then doing the exercise in my notebook. Putting myself in the eight grader's position is just about ideal for me at the end of a long exhausting day!

This week I have covered:
  1. Reading the introduction, mini-lesson basics, writing workshop rules
  2. Writing territories - listing passions, ideas, obsessions, experiences, itches, aversions, and feelings that might be followed as writing topics
  3. Questions for memoirists - "...big, specific questions that push writers to look at their lives both broadly and deeply, to identify meaningful events and incidents, and to learn about themselves through the art of memoir." Made a list of childhood/young adult memories.
  4. Making a heart map -idea taken from the poet Georgia Heard. Draw a shape of a heart across a clean page. Fill it with all the words and phrases that tell what is in your heart. People, experiences, obsessions, loved objects, places, memory prompts, needs, desires, loves, regrets, longings, aches, events. When you are finished you have a treasury of ideas for poems and stories.
I am really excited about how this book and these exercises are stimulating me to work on my writing and uncover significant topics. This feels deep and serious. I think I've turned a corner.

If you are following this challenge, I look forward to reading how it is going for you. If you are interested in joining, go read HipWriterMama. It's not to late to jump on the bandwagon!


Vivian Mahoney said...

This book sounds wonderful. I like the heart map project. Glad you're making progress on building your new habit!

Vivian Mahoney said...

Tag. You're it! I tagged you for a meme.

Anonymous said...

Cloudscome, I tagged you, too!