Before I became a teacher, I was a business major in college, and an actor after college. In short, I’ve always had an interest in both creativity and productivity. Nowhere in the teaching of elementary school students do these two opposing sides create more confusion than in teaching writing. It creates confusion for the teacher, which in turn leads to confusion for the students.
Romanticized, fictional versions of writers often confuse the goal and purpose of writing. Recently, I came across two instances of writers talking about writing: one fictional and one real. Their take on the writing process was quite different.
Fictional Stereotypical Writer
Starting Out In the Evening is a movie about a once successful writer who is also a professor that teaches writing. He routinely explains his process by saying things such as, “I never know what my characters are going to do…” and “I let them go where they want to go and then see what happens.”
It seems the process did work well enough in his early years, but now this writer-professor is in a rut and has been working on his current novel for nearly A DECADE. In the end, the novel goes nowhere and ends up in the trash. It took him a decade to realize that his story had nothing important to say.
Real Life Writer
David Simon is a real life writer and the creator of the television show The Wire. Many consider this show to be one of the greatest television shows ever. Let’s hear how David Simon talks about his process. He says, “We know how it’s supposed to end and we know what happens to every character, and we know the thematic context of what we are trying to say. Then we start to break it down into how the parts are going to play out over 13 episodes.”
Note: I heard about The Wire and became interested in it because its fourth season takes place inside the Baltimore, MD school system. It gives a powerful and realistic portrayal of the challenges many inner-city schools face. Ed Burns, another one of the series creators, is a former schoolteacher in the Baltimore school system, so he knows firsthand.
Writing is a Process, but for Student Writers, it Should be a Process Full of Purpose
Writing is a process, and different writers do have different processes. Academy Award winning screenwriter and director, Paul Haggis, bristles over suggestions that he should go to the Caribbean, sit, and write on a beach when he is struggling with his writing. In a Metro.us interview, he explains his process this way: “That’s not 2 ½ years of going to Tahiti and having an espresso then coming back. It was six days a week, six to eight hours a day, getting it wrong, getting it wrong, getting it wrong, until I let the characters take me where they wanted to go.” It’s interesting to note that he does use the same words as our fictional writer above, except that his words and his process are full of purpose.
Our jobs as writing teachers, first and foremost, should be to create student writers who can successfully and effectively complete their schoolwork. We must not get lost in romanticized versions of what we think it means to be a writer. If you wish to bring about writing success for your elementary school writers or struggling middle school writers, be sure to check out Pattern Based Writing: Quick & Easy Essay on the homepage.