Slice of Life: Living the Writerly Life

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hWe have been reflecting on the phrase “living the writerly life” and realize it has never meant as much to us as it does now. In the past year, we have written more and we are thinking about writing more than we ever have before. We have learned so much about what it means to be a writer and to live a life that supports daily writing. When we began our blog last summer we were truly worried that we would not have enough to write about. We literally began by outlining what we would write each month. A year later we have learned to trust the process and now realize that when you commit to writing daily you live differently. We now notice, question, reflect and respond to our lives differently. Everything we experience is now a possible piece of writing.

While we no longer feel the need to plan out every post, we realize that having systems and structures in place to capture and organize our writing has been critical. Here are some ideas that have helped us over the year:

 List of Possible Topics

We keep an ongoing, shared list of topics. Sometimes we generate this list together and other times we add to it separately. If one of us is going to give a topic a go we put our initials next to it. When we have time to write we often begin with this list to get us going. Some ideas have stayed untouched all year while others remain for months and then one day call out to us. We do not commit to writing everything that is on the list.   Sometimes an idea on the list sparks a different idea when we reread the list. We share this list in Evernote and Dropbox so we can both easily access it and update it. Often for us, the hardest part of writing is getting started and facing the blank page. This list has changed the writing process for us. We begin by rereading our list, reflecting, thinking and letting the idea find us. Then we are off and writing.

Stickies

We both have Stickies on our desktop. We use these to capture moments that we might want to write about in the future. We often capture a word, quote, or image. When we use Stickies we are typically still unclear of how what we are capturing will transform into a topic, we just know this moment or idea has struck us and we do not want to lose it. Once it is captured we can go back to it and think about why we felt the need to get it down. These Stickies have inspired some of our best professional conversations. Through talking out these moments, ideas, images or quotes we clarify our beliefs and understandings of teaching and learning. It is so easy to lose these sparks for writing, but having a system to collect them has truly helped us.

Audience

After blogging for about a month we began to truly understand how audience can help you “live the writerly life.” We discovered that many other bloggers “host” topics to write about and this gave us a structure to collect ideas. We joined some of these weekly challenges. This gave us “deadlines,” topic ideas and genres to guide our writing. Here is a rhythm we fell into:

Monday: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

In these posts we share books we are reading and how we might use these books in classrooms.

Tuesday: Slice of Life

In these posts we share moments we have experienced and how they relate to teaching and learning.

Wednesday: Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge:

In these posts we have pushed ourselves to share more informational texts and how we might use them as mentor texts.

Saturday: Celebrate:

In these posts we share the celebrations of our week. We try to tie these posts to the brilliance we see in schools every day.

These weekly writing communities gave us the structure we needed to make our writing life consistent and predictable. We knew the types of things to be looking for in our “writerly life.” We found this incredibly freeing. We still had four days open so we could write about other topics as well. This balance really helped us.

If You Can’t Let It Go – Write About It

Lucy Calkins tells young writers to think about a strong emotion when you are generating topics. We have found that this strategy works well for us too! When we find ourselves experiencing a strong emotion about something that has happened in our lives we stop and think about the experience. When something lingers with us for days, weeks or months we know it is a topic worth exploring in our writing. Writing often becomes the avenue to work through difficult, frustrating or worrisome events in our lives. It is through writing that we make sense of what is happening around us and try to learn from these experiences as well. The response from our readers also helps us understand our strong feelings as our readers share their perspective on our writing. It is through this dialogue that we push ourselves to continue to grow professionally and become better teachers.

We have taught writing for years to elementary students. We have always believed that teachers of writing should write. We have always written for our students in lessons, but we realize now that by writing daily, truly writing for our purpose, we understand the writing process in a way we never did before. If you are thinking of taking on a writing project – do it! You will never believe how you will grow as a writer and a teacher of writing.

We hope our tips help you and we would love to hear about how you structure your writing life.

Teachers Matter, Kids Count! Tammy and Clare

Teachers Matter, Kids Count!
Tammy and Clare

13 Comments

  1. Julieanne August 19, 2014

    This is such a wonderful post to start the year. I love your process of selecting and the stickies for collecting ideas. I don’t write quotes down (a real weakness). Maybe stickies will help!! I’m thinking that would be a great way for my students to pull from their reading without having to pull out their writer’s notebooks.

    Ever since I started writer’s workshop in my classroom, I have tried to teach the writerly life. It wasn’t until I started blogging that I really started to understand what that meant. This year, I’m having my students write daily just for themselves in addition to our Units of Study. I want them to experience the blank page and the re reading of entries and the journey of thought that we have when we write. When we start out thinking one thing and then get to another thought on the way.

    So glad you are back blogging! I get so many ideas to use for myself and my kiddos from you.

    Julieanne

    Reply
    • Clare and Tammy August 19, 2014

      Thanks! We were are glad to be back blogging — we missed the community. Try the electronic stickies we love them!! We even have different stickes for different weekly challenges or purposes. Let us know how it goes.

      Reply
  2. So true that the writing communities provide structure, inspiration, and a rhythm to our writing! It’s amazing how many sub-cultures are out there that are ready and wanting to support writers. I think that it’s important to remember in classrooms how much structure and predictability help all writers, young and old, develop the mindsets that they have ideas that are meaningful and worthy of putting out there in the world.

    Reply
    • Clare and Tammy August 19, 2014

      It is so important to remember how important structure and predictability are for everyone! We can confuse choice for chaos. Our students need to have choice within a structure to be successful. Thanks for reminding us of that!

      Reply
  3. Linda Baie August 19, 2014

    I enjoyed hearing about your collaboration, and like Julianne, about the stickies. I keep an Evernote space for my “stickies”, when I connect with an idea, or something moves me to remember, I write it there. I always enjoy your posts, Claire & Tammy, glad you began this blogging journey! I taught middle school aged students for many years & always wrote with them, didn’t realize it was something I should do. I did it because I love to write. It’s been a challenge to “gently” persuade those I work with now to write with their students. If they haven’t been writers, they are reluctant to put the words down.

    Reply
    • Clare and Tammy August 19, 2014

      Writing is a risk for all of us! We had many supporters encouraging us before we took the plunge! Keep encouraging them. We find it is helpful to point out to people — “You could write about that…” when they share an idea with us.
      Thanks!

      Reply
  4. Terje August 19, 2014

    I can feel the joy that living a writerly life has brought to you. I am glad that you have shared your writing in the blog and believe/hope that some new books are on their way.

    Reply
    • Clare and Tammy August 19, 2014

      It has been joyful! Audience – this amazing community – is a big part of the joy! We learn so much through reading other blogs and responding with other writers. New books…. now that is a different story. We will leave you with maybe….

      Reply
  5. Fran August 19, 2014

    Clare and Tammy,
    I have to tell you that snippets of “Let It Go” have been running through my brain since I read your post this morning. It was an early “distance” start so I thought I will write later, but I have not literally been able to “let it go” and I truly believe that is why there are times when I am “compelled” to write.

    Thanks also for sharing your schedule and how you organize your ideas. I literally kept a “Slice” folder on my desktop (til ye old Dell died) with ideas, quotes, etc. Having a designated location for ideas is helpful for young AND errr…. new and established writers! LOL <3

    Reply
  6. Leigh Anne August 19, 2014

    You both are so lucky you have each other to make this writing duo such a success. To brainstorm, plan, bounce ideas and write together must be a wonderful experience. You are right, when we live this writerly life, we do look at things differently. It has become natural to catch of snippet or see something that sparks an idea. What an inspirational post as we head into another year of teaching and writing.

    Reply
  7. Tara August 20, 2014

    Yes, having a structure to the blogging week really helps. And isn’t it wonderful that each of these blogging events is a community of writers – I so look forward to “seeing” you there!

    Reply
  8. Stacey August 25, 2014

    These are helpful tips to anyone who is trying to create a blogging life (or live a writing life). I love ‘tuning in’ to your blog to see what you’re talking about. I like the rhythm each post has… now I know the secrets behind planning them!

    Reply
    • Clare and Tammy August 25, 2014

      Thanks Stacey — we have learned so much from you and from “slicing!” We love being part of this community.

      Reply

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