Friday, February 4, 2011

Where Does Inspiration For Writing Come From?


As students return to classrooms across Australia to commence a new school year, I find myself reflecting upon what it requires to launch an effective writing program. There are a number of vital ingredients, but in those early days of contact with students, we don’t get far without energy, enthusiasm and examples. It’s as if we are standing on a launching pad. This is one rocket, we need to successfully launch!

 How do we create the necessary spark to firstly draw in and then draw out the best in our young writers? How do we set them up to be successful? How do we set ourselves up to teach as successfully as we desire to teach?

During the last two days of professional learning, I have tried to share the irrefutable truth about writing. That is, if you truly wish to develop a great writing program in your classroom, then you have to be prepared to be a writer yourself. Accepting the challenge is the first important step each of us can take. We gain credibility and develop understanding of the challenges writing presents to our students when we make the conscious decision to join them as writers.

But where do we go for inspiration? A great place to start is the existing work of other writers. The words of other writers can inspire us to greater effort.  This is where we practice the critical skill of reading like a writer.

Whenever my reading reveals ‘gems,’ I have developed the habit of writing them into my notebook. I do this in the hope that some of the magic of the language may rub off on me.  It is fascinating see what makes its way onto the pages of my notebook.

The water flows over my outstretched palms, and suddenly I am not sure if the water is flowing out of me or over me.
Small Memories, Jose Saramago

Strong visual images are evoked with these words from Jose Saramago’s memoir.

‘Robert looked extremely embarrassed, but he gave his glasses a firm push with his middle finger and walked to the centre of the room.’
The Perfect Goal, Julia McClelland.
Julia McClelland captures the essential gestures in a small moment. The detail is exact down to the middle finger.

When a writer evokes a genuine sense of place, it assists me to visualise where the characters are acting out their lives on the page.

‘The trees and bushes in the garden were a miserable dark green that seemed to swallow up the light. Buddy noticed that where the branches of one of the tree had leaned against the stone of the house, the leaves had died as though poisoned by touch.
Buddy, Nigel Hinton

Nigel Hinton paints a word scene that creates a sense of foreboding. It raises my concern for the character Buddy. It’s atmospheric writing, and that what makes this a great example to place in my notebook.

The more I read, the more I notice sparkling words to store away in my notebook. I am attracted to words that sparkle and gleam. I gain energy from these collected extracts. I aspire to such word usage, so I try to emulate the powerful use of language demonstrated by my fellow writers.

My own word play is driven by the hope of creating fresh passages of my own:

‘For me, fear lay in dark rooms, anything to do with heights and the wet yourself kind of fear that takes over when a large snarling dog looms into sight, snarling and barking.’

‘Lightning announced itself by scribbling on the sky’

‘ His eyebrows stirred into action at the hint of anything being his fault.’

‘ A voice pierced the silence. The street stood to attention- The houses, trees, every blade of grass, the hair on the back of my neck.’

‘Baz was a pile of clothes in desperate need of ironing.’

‘Unfortunately Julius was afraid of bathing. No one came near him in the same way no one wants to approach a wheelbarrow full of  dead fish.

So this is how we gain inspiration for the writing we do. We read, we record, we mindfullly indulge in word play when we write.

Ralph Fletcher says,
‘While I’m scribbling in my writer’s notebook I sometimes feel like a mad scientist experimenting with words, altering, combining … and hoping nothing blows up.’
Pyrotechnics on The Page –Playful Craft That Sparks Writing.

So your notebook is clearly a place to conduct writing experiments. A place where you, the writer can improvise and play with language spurred on by the inspirational efforts of your fellow writers.

In summary, inspiration can be found when we:

  • Seek out writers known to you and your students and share their words as examples.

  • Share examples of language where writers use words in special ways.

  • Make time for your students to collect and share examples of exceptional language they notice their mentor authors using.

  • Practice writing in the style of mentors we trust and admire. 



2 comments:

  1. Hi - great to see someone encouraging teachers to write alongside their pupils. A teacher who enjoys writing and reading is certainly more likely to pass that enthusiasm to the children.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nigel, I am honoured that you have taken the time to respond. Your comments are most valued. It also drew my attention to a couple of typos that slipped through...
    Many thanks
    Alan

    ReplyDelete