The Influence of other Authors on our Teaching of Writing
Writing Under The Influence
As teachers of writing we frequently gravitate to the words of authors we admire. We then take their observations about the writing process and apply them to our own writing efforts. However, when we find ourselves reading published works- novels, picture books, news articles, or poems the process that has delivered them is largely hidden.
We begin to speculate about what has taken place in order for these profound words to appear before our eyes. We begin to search for answers. We want to empower ourselves in order to be able to empower our student writers. We begin to grow our own understandings in order to develop strategies we can teach our students. This is an exciting development in our teaching.
When we move in this space, our teaching is full of possibility. The writing moves of writers we hold in high regard begin to inform our teaching. We start to consider the impact a particular writing move might make for the development of our students, as writers. The things we notice in the writing of these mentors informs the specifics we teach. When we enter our classrooms to teach writing, we are never alone. We take with us the support of these unwitting collaborators.
We start to think about the impact of such knowledge being shared with our students. What might it mean for my students as writers if they used this craft move in their writing? How would it improve their understanding of writing?
Interestingly, the more we write ourselves, the more we are able to blend the understanding we have garnered from being writers with those of our mentors. We are doubly informed.
At some stage in our writing journey we try on other voices, adopting, then adapting them. Such influences are important to our development as writers. We may find ourselves drawn to the rhythm, description, or structure of the words. This influence on our ears and eyes is inevitable. The more we read as writers, the more we are exposed to the influence of our fellow writers.
I read somewhere, ‘Bad writers borrow, good writers steal.’ When you notice yourself influenced by the words of another writer you need to shape that influence to make it fit your writing intentions and your particular voice. In this space you will find potential for writing curriculum.
I have previously mentioned how I have been informed by the writing of Jerry Spinelli and his influence on my writing, particularly his use of repetition, and short, punchy sentences. Roald Dahl’s wonderful character descriptions are another influential craft consideration I find compelling. At various times, I have been most conscious of writing under their influence.
Writing in the style of another author is something we need to practice as teachers of writing. By experiencing the influence of a mentor on our writing, we are better positioned to ‘show’ our students how this act of writing in the style of another author, can influence writing; nudging it forward.
Some teachers express concern that inviting students to write in the style of an author they admire will result in ‘copying.’
The modelling we do as teachers is a critical element in this aspect of writing. By example we show how we imitate the style, not the content. This type of powerful demonstration is essential. It employs the notion of show, don’t tell to influence change. Our student writers need to see how it is done by a more proficient writer –you, their teacher.