Monday, April 4, 2011

Drop Everything and Write

by Pamela Ehrenberg

I fidget.  Put my feet on a chair.  Cross my legs.  Stretch.  Drink tea.  Realize that I'm slouching.  Fidget more.  And write.

Most of my students don't know this, but one group does: the ones from my "Lunchtime Writing Retreats" workshop.  In this experience, we all--students and instructor alike--commit to five or six one- to two-hour retreats where we spend most of our time working on our own individual writing projects.

What does it look like when a writer writes?  I shift back and forth between laptop, notepad, and printed-out draft.  I tap-tap-tap, word after word after word . . . then I stare at the screen, finding it too great an effort even to change a punctuation mark.

This isn't how I imagine it goes for Anne Tyler, or Bobbie Ann Mason, or Allegra Goodman.  I imagine my favorite writers unlocking their words with a magical key that allows everything to flow effortlessly on the page.  I know better, but I imagine anyway.  How do our students imagine it looks when a writer writes?

For years schools have had success with "Drop Everything and Read"--programs that acknowledge school might be the place in a student' s life that is most conducive to reading.  And reading in the company of other readers--seeing what it looks like when a reader reads--gives students the confidence to realize that maybe however they're going about it is OK after all.

How wonderful when we can make time as well for our students to write in each other's company--and in our company as well, and the company of other adults at school.  Perhaps the principal writes puns or the woman who lovingly serves lunch is also penning a murder mystery.  Maybe the same benefits of dropping everything to read--progress made, intimidation shattered--will hold true for your students as they do for mine.  If nothing else, the experience will shed light on what it looks like when a writer writes.  And I'm guessing that we'll like what we see.

*For more information about upcoming sessions of Lunchtime Writing Retreats in the DC/Baltimore area, visit

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