agnestirrito

"Whatever you think you can do, or believe you can do, begin it, because action has magic, grace, and power in it." Goethe


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Well

Some of my readers know that we tore down my childhood home a couple of weeks ago.
There was the surprise of a book found in the remains…and the surprises keep coming.
I asked my husband about the well out back.
Will it go, too?
No, the guy is leaving it, and the pump house.
I was comforted by that in a way I couldn’t explain… until last Friday.
Last Friday, Kimberly Willis Holt gave us a handout with the image of a well.
She talked over and over about writing about what matters: dipping into the well.
I sat in that gray university conference area, but I was home.
I was sitting inside an art studio yet to be built.
I was looking out at jonquils, Grandma’s roses, a late crepe myrtle.
Out to my well.
Intact.
Waiting.
It’s been there forever, literally my forever days.
We used it when I was little, that one and one that was uncovered down the road at a neighbor’s house.
It’s my metaphor now. My waiting place.
It’s filled with all my thoughts and stories and things that matter.
The old house is gone and she left something for me again. The backyard well…waiting.


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Weekly Photo Challenge: Big

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In keeping with this week’s blog posts, my picture selection is based on our “big deal” National Day on Writing project.
My students created these journals to inspire people to write and gave them away throughout the day.
We’ll remember this day of writing and giving for a long time. That’s big.


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From Trees to Topic Lists: Helping Writers Get Started

This quotation about trees is still on my mind from a couple of days ago:

“Scratch the green rind of a sapling, or wantonly twist it in the soil, and a scarred or crooked oak will tell of the act for centuries to come. So it is with the teachings of youth, which make impressions on the mind and heart that are to last forever.  The highest function of the teacher consists not so much in imparting knowledge as in stimulating the pupil in its love and pursuit.  To know how to suggest is the art of teaching.”–Amiel

As a writer and teacher of writers (notice the distinction between teaching writing and teaching writers), I know I’m a lifelong student, just like they are. Writers get better, but we never know all we need to know.

One thing I like to do as a writer is make lists. I’m a big list maker in my every day life. I make lists of things to do for the day, future projects, ideas for gifts, packing lists. There are lists on my phone and more recently, in a rectangular reporter’s notebook I keep in my purse. Lists keep me on track, moving forward. Topic lists do the same. They keep my writing moving ahead. They challenge me.

One of the first writing projects my students and I will begin this year is the creation of our topic lists, which brings me back to the quotation about trees. That quotation brought to mind many tree stories from my life:

the pine trees  my daddy cut for us each Christmas

the cedar trees my family cuts now

the catalpa tree that finally started housing worms again, for fishing

the cypress tree we planted when my father-in-law died

the pecan tree that I bought for my husband one Valentine’s Day, its trunk now two intertwined pieces

the oak tree that stood for centuries but couldn’t make it through last year’s drought

From one quotation about trees, I have all these writing topics: ideas I can return to and turn into poems, letters, non-fiction, memoir–whatever I want them to be.

These topics will lead to still other topics, and as I begin writing and fleshing out the details, other ideas will come.

The same thing will happen with my student writers, but they need to be shown how this happens. We will write together, talk about our ideas, and create our own lists.

To begin, I often start with a general topic list drawn in a writer’s notebook in T chart form. On the left hand side, I list general topics such as Family, Friends, Pets, Food, Places, etc. The students contribute ideas to this general list as well. Then, we begin personalizing with our own favorites on the right.

My family is different from their family, and while we may all have dogs, our dogs have unique stories associated with them. (Trust me, most kids have a great dog story in their memories!) So, we jot down a few key words to remind us and move on.

These lists are better than open-ended prompts because they are based on our own experiences and memories. We always have something to write about, especially on the days when we just aren’t in the mood or think perhaps a case of writer’s block is showing up.

Throughout the year when we have an idea show up (and this happens  frequently during read aloud time or class discussions), we stop and jot our ideas down on our lists so that we can return to them later. Again, modeling is so important. Young writers need every step of the process modeled in context. They will become inspired when they see you act upon your idea by giving it a place in your notebook.

At the beginning of the year, I use the same kind of notebook my students use, either a small spiral or marble composition style. I show them my daily “in progress” notebook, too. I often jot random thoughts in the margins of it. Kids like seeing the variety of notebooks and sooner or later, they find the style that is right for them.

I hope you’ll try out  topic lists as a way to keep your own writing moving forward. Be open to where the words will take you.