Two statements I’ve heard a lot in my time as a teacher is ‘I don’t know what to write about’ and ‘that student is a reluctant writer’. Both of these comments stem from the same issue – noticing the world, and deciding what interests us enough to explore it more deeply.
If someone sat in front of you and said ‘write a story about anything you want’, you may get straight down to it, or, like a lot of people you might sit there wondering where on earth to start. Equally if someone sat in front of you and said ‘write about your weekend’ you may have a great story to tell, or you may sit there thinking, ‘I don’t want to write about my weekend’.
‘Reluctant writers’ aren’t really reluctant. They’re just not yet practiced in knowing what interests them, or they’re not interested in being told what to write about. I understand that.
Here’s where the writer’s notebook comes in. Having a space where you keep all those beautiful little details you see when you’re out and about, or snippets of conversations you overhear, or information about an incredible gallery you visited, can truly help you to write about what you’re interested in. And if students have their own writer’s notebook to keep track of all their ideas – big and small, then they should always be able to find something to write about as well. Writing at school becomes less prescriptive and more autonomous and engaging. But what is it that we should be noticing?
Take this example; the other night I was out for dinner with four people. All clever and entertaining in their own way. At one particular moment during the evening I looked around the table and noticed that every single person there, bar me, had perfect teeth. Straight and white, like a Colgate commercial. As the thought passed through my brain it awoke a memory from many years ago. A friend of a friend told me that I shouldn’t open my mouth because my teeth would offend people. At the dinner table I instantly put my hand to my mouth to cover my giant laugh and heinous teeth.
Noticing this seemingly small detail at dinner set off a chain reaction in my mind that required me to write it down. Perhaps I’ll never use this tidbit in any writing I do in the future. But perhaps I will. Maybe I’ll create a character who is embarrassed of their teeth. Or maybe a pasty, little, nasty character who spends their time slinging insults at others. Or maybe it was just a reminder for me to go get that voodoo doll of my friend’s friend and twist one of those pins in a little harder?
Who knows? But what I do know is recording any and all of these tiny moments could generate any number of writing opportunities for you and students. The answer to the question then: what should we be noticing? is EVERYTHING.
Whatever catches your attention, takes your fancy, floats your boat. Anything that sets off a spark in you, no matter how small. Anything that makes you FEEL something. Write it down.
I’m going to put the kettle on and then I think I’ll write a poem titled The Man Who Hated My Teeth. Ha! Stay tuned xx