There is a pond in the woods behind our house where we spent many hours exploring when my boys were growing up. They fished there in the summer and we skated in winter, but I hardly ever go back there anymore.
Sunday was a beautiful winter day here in Connecticut. There wasn’t any wind and the sky was a clear, brilliant blue, so I decided to walk down the hill to say hello to the pond. I quickly discovered that my plan wouldn’t be an easy one to carry out. The path was quite overgrown with pricker bushes that kept catching on my coat and hat. I forged ahead, but came around a bend and saw that a tree had fallen across the trail. Vines had grown up over it, making it look like a trellis or bower guarding a secret garden, a garden that I wasn’t going to be able to enter.
As I trudged back up the hill, I realized the overgrown path was like my writing brain. It’s been mostly ignored and untended for the past six months. Every time I sit down to write I feel like I have to fight my way through an overgrown thicket of brambles.
Over the past couple of weeks, though, I’ve been writing more and more and I’ve noticed that I can actually feel my brain become more flexible and limber when I sit down to write. I’m definitely more responsive to the world around me.
This got me thinking about our students, and what happens when they don’t have opportunities to write every day, or chances to sit and contemplate an idea or an image. In her book Writing Toward Home: Tales and Lessons to Find Your Way (Heinemann, 1995), Georgia Heard recommends writing “ten observational sketches” every day for a week, writing everything you notice and hear. “The more accurately you can observe your world and capture it in words,” Heard writes, “the more concrete your writing will become.” It might be a challenge to get kids to write ten sketches each day, but three or four seems reasonable. Think of the writing stamina they would build!
I’m looking forward to spring and getting that path cleared so I can go check on the pond. After all, as Georgia Heard also so wisely points out, “It is a writer’s job to act as witness to the world, to remind us all to stay awake.”
Thank you to Stacey, Tara, Dana, Betsy, Anna, Beth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.