Yesterday, Jo Knowles shared a writing warm up as part of the Teachers Write summer writing camp urging writers to “know where you’re going.” She also observed that “most general advice, if you think about it long enough, can be applied to writing.”
Jo’s words were still echoing in my brain as I headed out for my morning walk. When I paused to check the progress of the rebuilding of my neighbor’s stone wall, I thought, “Of course! Writing is like building a wall.” Not advice really, but certainly a useful metaphor.
These talented stone masons have a direction, they know where they’re going. You can’t see them in these photos, but there are two strings precisely positioned on either side of this trench to guide construction. What else can we learn from these stone masons about writing (and teaching writing)?
Notice the huge rocks forming the foundation of the wall. This will stabilize the wall against the forces of weather and time and prevent it from crumbling. Without a strong foundation, our writing often falls apart. More worrisome to me, though, is how writing workshops can crumble if we don’t take the time to establish the rituals and routines that are the bedrock of any successful workshop.
Look how many rocks they have! They will never use them all in this wall. Just as these craftsman need multiple rocks so they can choose exactly the right one for the right spot, writers need to write and write and write. This will ensure they have plenty of material on hand as they craft personal, meaningful writing.
The men building this wall clearly know what they’re doing. They have a valuable skill, honed through years of hard work (see above). We also have skills. One of them is to help students view themselves as writers with stories to tell and ideas to share. Without this vision, writing is just a task to complete (or not). Students have to share our vision of what is possible through writing—or at least see its potential: providing the opportunity to “write something personal and powerful.” (Gallagher & Kittle, 2018, p. XV)
These ideas aren’t new or groundbreaking (pun intended!) But it’s important to revisit them. During these long summer days, when the demands on our time are different, take a few moments to consider the importance of laying down this bedrock, of building this foundation, layer by layer. Reflect on the year that was and use those insights to refine a vision for the coming year. Without it, we won’t know where we’re going.
Thank you to Stacey, Betsy, Beth, Kathleen, Deb, Kelsey, Melanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.