From Territories To Topics

Writing Territories

Nancie Atwell taught me that the broad range of things we do as writers define our writing territories. They include genres in which we write, or would like to write.Genres and modes we would like to try. Subjects we have written about or would like to, and real or potential audiences for our writing.

 Our writing territories should be packed full of ideas, obsessions, experiences, itches, aversions, and feelings. The writing about these territorial issues may take many forms –poems, memoirs, novels, reviews, literary criticisms, essays, articles, letters, speeches, lists. Our writing territories are as vast we allow them to be.

My Personal Territories include:
Social Issues
My Life In Education
Music and Memory
Travel adventures
Childhood adventures
My parents
Being an educator
Misadventures, mistakes and places beginning with “M”
Family matters/history
Learning about myself
Collecting –books, music, photography
Simple pleasures, tranquil places

The writing our territories generate is therefore directed to many different readers: family, friends,self, parents, teachers, the wider community, elected officials. We write to be read. So, from the outset writers need to be aware of  audience. This is an essential message for all young writers to hear from those charged with teaching them how to write effectively. We must assist the inexperienced writer to firstly identify their personal writing territories, then delve deeply into them to find suitable topics and idea for their own writing. The best way to teach this important feature of writing is for teachers to demonstrate their very own territories and potential topics.

Student Notebook- Writing Territories

From Territories to Topics
Our writing territories are different to writing topics. Territories are broad and general. Topics are specific writing ideas that grow from within our writing territories. We must bring them into the spotlight!

Listing Ideas and Topics
A teacher of writing needs to model the way writing ideas are harvested. They need to provide opportunities for student writers to harvest their ideas on an on-going basis.

Making lists helps. It makes the writer notice things and grow their observation skills. Writing emerges from the relationship between a writer's life and the range of experiences taking place. The notion of a list cuts resistance and enables ideas to be recorded quickly. Developing writers need opportunities to generate and share their lists; their drawings -their gathering of ideas. Regular opportunities to indulge in brainstorming and sharing are therefore essential. 

Again. teachers must demonstrate how this important thinking work is undertaken. We must make brainstorming visible and achievable by modelling the process of quickly generating lists of potential writing ideas. How do we expect young writers to 'think quickly' if we don't provide opportunities to practice 'brainstorming?' 

As teachers of writing, we are not aiming to control the writing, we are facilitating and encouraging the recording of ideas.

'A writer with a pen and a sheet of paper but with no ideas is like a king with a crown and a throne but no kingdom. They can’t do a thing.'
Bessie Rawitsch
We need to rant, rave and ruminate! For this reason I frequently compile lists to support the formation of new writing ideas. Let me share some lists retrieved from my writer's notebooks:

Once in my Lifetime…
I have seen fireflies in Brooklyn
Visited Venice
Set an emu on fire –accidentally
Slept on Mt Feathertop
Walked on the Giant’s Causeway
Had a haircut in Mooloolaba
Milked a cow by hand
Wandered through the ruins of Pompei
Played kiss chasey

Memories and Moments
• Shovelling snow for the first time
• Nana’s galah
• Being left handed
• Being paid in raison bread
• The Great Cucumber War
• Picking strawberries for Mr Arrow
• My sister and the Golden books
• Snakes at the end of my bed
• Camping At Yellingbo
• Singing Lessons with Mrs Rich

Childhood Games
• Marbles
• Hopscotch
• British Bulldog
• Giant’s Treasure
• Releaso
• Kick Ball
• Monopoly
• Rounders
• Solitaire
• Four Square
• Brandy

Some Things to Do On A Train
• Read a Book
• Listen to Music
• Stare at reflections in the carriage windows
• Read the advertising signs
• Play spot the famous look alike
• Snooze
• Imagine you are somewhere else
• Listen to conversations
• Wonder where everyone is going

Writing About 'Writing Memories'

  • Janelle Halbert and the pen
  • John finally shared his writing
  • Writers Block –Saved by a six year old!
  • Distancing yourself from the writing –the 12
  • month poem
  • Miss Dungan’s approach to writing
  • What is your oxygen- mine’s poetry!

A List of Wondrous Words…

Essentially Australian Words…
• Ratbag
• Dodgy,
• Blimey
• Hoo-roo
• Crikey
• Prang
• Moo juice

Harvesting Memorable Character Names

  • Casper Van Doren
  • Tillis Palmer
  • Maude Lincoln
  • Angel Fury
  • Clifford Cluff
  • Delroy Hollins
  • Martin Fluendi
  • Venetia Valentine
  • Foley Sims

10-10-1 Listing Strategy
The 10-10-1 strategy is also a great way to identify what it is you want to write about. It challenges the writer to create a list of at least 10 items, then select one item from the list and create another list of 10 thing related to that first item. Finally, the writer selects 1 item from the second list to write about. It provides a great strategy for narrowing the focus of the writing

When writers create lists they stimulate thinking and generate possibilities. Once an idea is identified, more questions arise  -How might I write about that? (genre/mode) How do other writers write about this?

Finally, some more examples of lists.


Popular With Other Visitors

Writing About Reading - Reading Reflection Journals:

Learning How to 'Zoom In' When Writing

Writing Irresistible LEADS with Grade One Students

Writing Opposite Poems

Helping Young Writers Understand The Significance of Details