Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Writing Workshop Session 9 (Personal Narrative)

Session 9: Using Writer's Notebooks for Mindful, Goal-Driven Work


J.K. Rowling spoke at a graduation ceremony for Harvard Graduates.  This is what she chose to speak about:

On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. 

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned. 

Rowling's Entire Speech

Rowling wanted to teach people that it is best to face hard tasks, not avoid them.

Some people think of work-especially hard work as a negative thing, but we don't have to be those people.

The best writers or runners are not just born with incredible talent.  The people who become pros are people who figure out how to work at it.

"Genius is 1% talent and 99% hard work."
Albert Einstein

*Successful Learners see hard tasks as challenges...
...They see failures as opportunities to learn.

We have started to try techniques from our mentor text author in our own writing - this is a solid first step! 

Now if we really want to make our writing get noticeably better, we need to deliberately practice writing in the ways that you admire.

Today I want to teach you how to use your writer's notebook as a place to deliberately practice the techniques and skills you want to see in your writing.

*Imagine a basketball player practicing layups in a gym, or a ceramic artist practicing his craft at a pottery wheel.  Now, imagine yourself, practicing a writing skill.  Instead of using gym equipment or pottery tools, you use your notebook, and your notebook becomes filled with your efforts to do that one thing better, better, better, over and over.

Let me show you what I mean...

Jim Howe zoomed in on the small but powerful details that really capture big moments and feelings.

"Smoky is inside a big old pretzel can with a hose attached, clawing at the can's sides as my brother pumps in the gas..."

**Teacher's use an example from their own writing or use the example below**

 (Author has climbed a tree in a park even though her mother warned her not to)

"Don't look down, just keep climbing-you're almost to the top," Bobby urged. I swallowed and snuck one quick look.

First attempt:
Lydia was still standing at the bottom of the tree, holding my dark, blue sandals with one hand and shielding her eyes, with the other, as she looked up at me.

These are tiny details, but not something someone would notice who is high stuck up in a tree

Second attempt:
The tree swayed slightly, and I tightened my grasp on the trunk.  A rough piece of bark dug sharply into my forearm, but I didn't dare move.

"I think I need help getting down," I shouted, my voice high and tight.  I thought about my mother's clear warning to stay out of the trees that bordered the playground.  This must be why.

"Hold on, " Bobby called.  He circled slowly around the tree and then walked towards Lydia, talking to her in a low voice.  I couldn't hear him over the rustle of the tree's leaves.  Suddenly he grabbed Lydia's arm and pulled her away from the tree.  "Run!" Bobby commanded, and they made a dash for the gate.

Writers, the author here has really tried Howe's technique of zooming in on the small details.  To do that the author really had to put herself back in the park and replay the scene in her head.

Student *Courtney's* Example:
Courney noticed that Howe does little bits of explaining between the characters talking.  This is called narrating in-between the character's dialogue. Courtney worked on showing more of what she was thinking and how her mom was acting by adding lines.

Active Engagement:
Now it's your turn.  Choose a technique that the mentor author has used that you want to use more in your writing.  Practice that craft in several places in your notebook.  

This is where you will be using the back sides of your old narrative drafts.  Reread and pull out a sentence or two that you'd like to practice improving.  

Practice the strategy you want to try in as many places as possible.

Do it purposefully though! For example, don't just throw any old sensory details into drafts at random  places... add sensory details that make sense to the moment and the narrator's point of view.

Your notebook is now going to be a place to deliberately practice writing strategies and craft, not just a place to collect new drafts.

*Remember, have your narrative checklist close by as well as your mentor text.  These are your tools that will help you practice.  They should be right next to you and easy for you to use.
*Use the charts in the room as well!

Make a new goal for yourself in your notebook.  Write it down and put a box around it.  

Tonight- keep your goal in mind as you work your writing muscles.  You may need to start a new draft, or use your notebook to practice smaller bits of writing.

"Great writers are not born and great writing does not emerge with a magic 'poof'.  Great writers and great writing come from hard work and from the courage to keep trying.  Tonight, write with courage."

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