Food for an Eager Writer

gold_foil_metallic_texture_free_creative_commons_69623282891My first year of my second stint of homeschooling, the year I was fourteen, I was given Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones for Christmas. I was also given a huge stack of Enviromints. If you aren’t versed on ’90’s health food store candy, Enviromints were squares of minty chocolate wrapped in gold foil. Each one came with a trading card about an endangered species, hence the name. My sister and I collected the animal cards, and made paper cranes from the foil. We ate the chocolate.

Anyhow, I remember lying on the floor of my room, reading that book and eating that chocolate in treasured solitude, the pleasure of the two things braiding in my mind so that even now, wanting to write about the book I start to think about the chocolate. There was this feeling of immense possibility. I had so many gold foils of chocolate. My time, I was realizing, was my own. And I could write anything.

This is how Writing Down the Bones goes. She is sitting in a cafe in Minneapolis. She is studying Zen in New Mexico. She is watching and being and doing and it gets into her writing, and she writes about it getting into her writing. The book is about writing practice and Zen practice and how life and writing feed each other. I’ve never been drawn to Zen, but this book was a living model for me of what it means to have a writing practice. To trust my mind. To put in the time. To follow crazy threads towards unknown meaning. Mostly, the book did three things for me: it gave me a place to start and prompts to play with, gave me a role model of someone dedicated to the practice of writing as a practice of life, and it encouraged me to let craziness into my writing.

I’ve seen over and over again with my students that permission to write crazy things is permission to write well. To write with their whole lives behind the pencil.

Like Natalie Goldberg, I wrote in spiral notebooks. I wrote unfinished stories, poems, free writes. I spent one day, I remember, writing about velvet macaroni. Whatever that is. At that point, the phrase meant something to me and that is what I cared about. Then I put all of those notebooks in a box and kept writing.

And I’m still writing, and the practice has all the pleasures of discovery and solitude, glints of the infinity inside the human mind, the strange things that well up and turn out to mean something. And I still eat chocolate when I’m writing.

To hear Becca’s ideas on ways to encourage eager writers, come to her talk in the Conference Room of the Redmond Library, Wednesday January 20th at 7 pm.

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Like the blog, but in person

Becca Hall is giving a series of free lectures about teaching writing around the Seattle area. She will cover three topics: Sparking Reluctant Writers, Challenging Your Eager Writer, and Beyond Haiku: Teaching Great Poetry to Children.

Geared for the parents of homeschooled children, these talks are open to anyone interested in working on writing with children. Hope to see you there!

Sparking Reluctant Writers: 

Does your child struggle with writing? Does your child have learning differences that make writing an extra challenge? Is writing a source of conflict between you and your child? Come hear Becca Hall discuss strategies to overcome these difficulties and ideas to spark a love of writing in reluctant writers. FREE

Wednesday, January 13, 7:00 pm, in the meeting room at the Carnation Library, 4804 Tolt Avenue, Carnation, WA, 98014.

Tuesday, January 26, 6:30 pm, in the meeting room at the Montlake Library, 2401 24th Ave. E., Seattle, WA, 98112

Challenging Your Eager Writer:

Where can you go with a child who already loves to write? How can you help your child’s love of writing to develop instead of plateau? How do you encourage enthusiastic writers without pushing them too far?  Come hear Becca Hall talk about directions to go with eager writers, and ways to help their love of writing become a springboard into a wide range of subjects. FREE

Wednesday, January 20, 7 pm in the Conference Room at the Redmond Library, 15990 NE 85th St, Redmond, WA 98052

Beyond Haiku: Teaching Great Poetry to Children

Poetry reading and writing is an excellent entrance into writing and literature.  Yet while poetry delights children, it often confounds adults.  Come learn ways to approach poetry reading and writing with children that encourages delight instead of confusion and uses poetry as a gateway into language skills of many kinds.  FREE

Monday, February 8, 6:30 pm, in the meeting room at the Montlake Library, 2401 24th Ave. E., Seattle, WA, 98112

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Reasons to Teach Revision

Even Jack Kerouac Revised

As a writer, I can say that most of writing is actually revising. As a teacher, I can say that this idea isn’t how most children think about writing. As both a writer and a teacher, I want to argue that we should teach revision as an integral part of writing. I do this in my classroom. Here’s why:

  1. Revision Separates Expression and Mechanics: Children’s writing shouldn’t be confined by what they can spell, or which thoughts they can easily organize on the page. At the same time, they need to learn spelling, organization and all that critical stuff. Revision allows there to be space for a creative draft where they can focus on ideas and a solid finished product.
  2. Revision Separates Creation from Perfection: Having a second chance takes the pressure off without asking kids to lower their standards. This can really help kids, especially perfectionistic ones, move past writer’s block.
  3. Revision Makes Space for More Learning: Revising is a chance to focus on a second set of skills, which makes each writing project serve double educational duty. For instance, students can write a poem playing with alliteration, then revise it to practice spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. Or students can write an essay in which they practice having a thesis and supporting arguments, then revise it to practice using transitional phrases. If this makes writing sound dull, think about it this way — kids can write really fun, creative things, and through revision they can still learn all the mechanics they need to be articulate writers.
  4. Revision Reflects How Writing Really Works: In most real world writing situations, revision is an important part of the writing process. Real world revising might mean giving  incorporating coworkers’ input on a grant, polishing a poem for publication, or giving an online dating profile a good proofread. We can prepare students for this process by using it throughout their whole writing education.
  5. Revision Destroys the Myth that Writing Happens Through Thunderbolts of Genius: Yes, sometimes pieces spring forth as whole as Athena from our foreheads. But more often, writing is more like forging, quilting, chiseling, or extracting teeth. Even Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, famously written in three weeks on one continuous scroll of paper, went through several years of subsequent revisions. So revise: even the Beats did it.
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Writing as Witnessing: writing about the Snoqualmie River salmon run

All writing is about something. When you teach writing, the world just pours in. And in return, writing can influence the world. Experiencing the power of writing as a way of witnessing is very exciting to most of my students. Children are small but feel justice deeply, and writing gives them a powerful way to articulate things.

We just got a chance to experience that in my Carnation class. The Salmon are running in the Snoqualmie River right now, so we went down to look at them. We saw pools of water churning with spawning salmon, huge fish swimming up shallow riffles, and dead and dying salmon on the beach.

What we saw looked a lot like this.

Afterwards, I read them an account of a pre-decline salmon run, where the whole river roiled with thousands of fish. I explained that we only know what those runs were like because people who saw them wrote down what they saw. I told them that these accounts give us a vision of what to work towards as we protect and restore salmon runs today. I said that many people in the Northwest have never seen salmon spawning, but that through our writing we could share that experience with them. I asked them to write about seeing the salmon and to bring their writing home and share it with someone who hadn’t seen salmon running before. Meanwhile, I went around and collected one description from each person to share with you. Please feel free to share this with any salmon-loving, salmon-curious or salmon-deficient people in your lives.

Here goes:

I didn’t know how many fish die on the riverbed.

I like all the colors on their bodies, how there are light and dark, the opposites.

I thought I saw a salmon moving up because I saw the waves and then it stopped and it made me amazed because I thought of how the salmon are so strong.

I was straight by how beautiful salmon are. Even when they are mangled they’re cool.

I liked how all the fins, you couldn’t see them and then they came up. I liked how the water would go around them and they would jump, kind of.

I liked when the salmon splashed and you could just see their backs.

I liked how the salmon was still moving its out even though its eye was popped out, like it was trying to eat some food to live and protect its spawn.

I remember seeing live salmon swimming and it was cool.

I saw a salmon that was dead and was showing its tummy. It was really cool to see because it was showing its fins. There were four of them, and it was all white. I thought there would be black because dead salmon are usually moldy, but it wasn’t and it was cool.

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