Teaching and writing complement each other. My students (unintentionally) provide me with plot ideas and character quirks to include in my writing. The things they say to one another help me with authentic dialogue. Their interests give me new ideas. But last night, while watching the Orange Bowl and laughing at my husband’s snoring, I realized that the lessons I teach my students can also be applied to my own writing life. In fact, they need to be!
Lesson #1: Always read and follow directions.
I cannot tell you how many times I have handed a paper back to a student and asked them to do it again because he or she did not follow the directions. Every time, I find myself wondering how they could possibly still not get the fact that directions are important. Last night, I reread the submission guidelines for a poetry contest that entered and groaned. Guideline: Poem must be 2-14 lines. My poem: 16 lines. What was I thinking? This becomes even more important as I research submission guidelines and the proper way to write query letters. I need to follow my own advice!
Lesson #2: When you have a project, you need to manage your time.
In 5th grade, many students still don’t have the concept of time management mastered. If I give them a week to complete a project, some will wait until Thursday night to complete it and end up turning in crap. I tell them to plan out their week so that they can get the project completed a little bit at a time. This is what I’ve started doing with my writing appointments. Unless I have planned the time to write, I will find ways to fall back into my “tomorrow writing” trap and keep putting it off.
Lesson #3: Use tools to keep yourself organized.
At the beginning of the school year, each student gets a portfolio, homework folder, and assignment notebook. These tools (ideally) help the student stay organized, as long as they use them. Instead of relying on the end of my kitchen table as my organization area (comprised of what I thought was a tidy but large stack of papers, books, and articles), I have started using file folders and a portfolio of my own to keep my writing materials organized. Putting everything in its place not only organizes me, but makes me feel like I am in charge (and I can stop setting a third place for dinner).
Lesson #4: Use your resources.
I was reminded once again of this lesson yesterday during a tutoring session. While playing a reading board game with a young lady, she looked up on the classroom wall and copied the word “respectful” onto her paper. “That’s cheating!” I challenged. She responded quickly with a grin, “I’m just using my resources like you tell us to!” I had to admit, she had me there. I tell them that ALL the time. So I’ve started using my resources. Last spring, I joined SCBWI. I have used their publications, website, and my local critique group to further my knowledge of the writing and publishing world. I took the opportunity to chat with the amazing Betty Birney while she was a guest speaker at my mom’s school, gaining insight on agents and a life of writing. I’m using Twitter to learn more about how I can use social networking to my advantage, and what others are writing, with the help of a few favorite tweeps @JillCorcoran, @alicepope, @HeatherMcCorkle, and @Joe_Craig. And I am venturing into the blogosphere by following a select number of blogs (The Creative Penn, Jill Corcoran Books, Heather’s Odyssey) and beginning The Write Timing (this one right here!).
So, the conclusion that I have reached is this: The next time I impart a morsel of knowledge upon my class, or sigh at the choices one of them has made, I need to grab a mirror. Because I probably need to hear it, too.