If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.
W. C. Fields
Last month I sat in on an amazing discussion between author Jennifer Richard Jacobson and a group of fifth graders. They covered a wide range of topics, from specific character quirks in Jennifer’s latest novel, Paper Things, to writing habits and strategies. At one point, a student asked, “Have you ever abandoned your writing? I know that you must stop and start lots of stories. But have you ever abandoned something big?”
Jennifer paused, and then she explained how a few years ago she’d been working on a novel with magical elements. “It was fun to write, and there were many popular books out for kids with magic in them at the time. I’d done lots of writing on it. But something didn’t feel quite right, and my agent finally told me, ‘This isn’t who you are. Your gift as a writer is to write so well about ordinary children and adults going through hardships or extraordinary circumstances.” So Jennifer abandoned that book, and went on to write Small as an Elephant, about an eleven-year-old boy dealing with the fallout from his mother’s bipolar disorder.
As I listened, I realized I’ve always thought that writers only abandoned writing that wasn’t working. What Jennifer was describing was something different. It wasn’t that the writing wasn’t good (if it came from Jennifer it was likely remarkable). In this case, the writing wasn’t right — her agent explained that it didn’t fit who Jennifer was, and didn’t match her gifts as a storyteller.
Readers of this newsletter do lots of big things, and do them well. The projects we let go of because they aren’t going well can be discouraging, but we know deep down it’s the best choice. Far harder to abandon are the big things that are fun, or needed, or have been an echo of your heart for months or years. Professionally, it might be the splashy fall literacy event that takes up so much of your time in September. Personally, it might be the overseas adoption you’ve already wound your way through months of red tape and research to try to accomplish.
Teachers love summers for many reasons, and one at the top of the list is time for reflection. Is there anything big you should abandon? Do you need to be the friend or colleague who gently asks, “Is this project what you want or need now in your life?” People who leave their mark on the world ultimately know when it’s time to let go of something big, so that they can hold onto something bigger.
This week we look at writer’s craft. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Founder, Choice Literacy
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Shari Frost is Rethinking Mentor Texts, repurposing books in reading strategy bins for writer’s craft instruction:
The “near win” is a kissing cousin of the abandoned big thing. Sarah Lewis explains the power of embracing the near win in this Ted Talk video:
Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan have posted 10 Ideas to Promote Summer Reading at the Nerdy Book Club:
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Ruth Ayres finds it is helpful for teachers and students to sort through different types of writing techniques lessons in planning for instruction and revision:
In this week’s video, author Jennifer Richard Jacobson and a group of fifth graders share strategies and tools for visualizing scenes and characters when they are writing stories:
Carly Ullmer learns a powerful lesson about teaching her middle school students to respond to peer writing in Feed Forward:
Maria Caplin has suggestions for making Transitions to Digital Workshops in reading and writing:
In an encore video, Aimee Buckner gives a minilesson on the Rule of 3 to her fourth graders:
That’s all for this week!