Slice of Life: Know Where You’re Going

Yesterday, Jo Knowles shared a writing warm up as part of the Teachers Write summer writing camp urging writers to “know where you’re going.” She also observed that “most general advice, if you think about it long enough, can be applied to writing.”

Jo’s words were still echoing in my brain as I headed out for my morning walk. When I paused to check the progress of the rebuilding of my neighbor’s stone wall, I thought, “Of course! Writing is like building a wall.” Not advice really, but certainly a useful metaphor.

These talented stone masons have a direction, they know where they’re going. You can’t see them in these photos, but there are two strings precisely positioned on either side of this trench to guide construction. What else can we learn from these stone masons about writing (and teaching writing)?

Notice the huge rocks forming the foundation of the wall. This will stabilize the wall against the forces of weather and time and prevent it from crumbling. Without a strong foundation, our writing often falls apart. More worrisome to me, though, is how writing workshops can crumble if we don’t take the time to establish the rituals and routines that are the bedrock of any successful workshop.


Look how many rocks they have! They will never use them all in this wall. Just as these craftsman need multiple rocks so they can choose exactly the right one for the right spot, writers need to write and write and write. This will ensure they have plenty of material on hand as they craft personal, meaningful writing.

The men building this wall clearly know what they’re doing. They have a valuable skill, honed through years of hard work (see above). We also have skills. One of them is to help students view themselves as writers with stories to tell and ideas to share. Without this vision, writing is just a task to complete (or not). Students have to share our vision of what is possible through writing—or at least see its potential: providing the opportunity to “write something personal and powerful.” (Gallagher & Kittle, 2018, p. XV)

These ideas aren’t new or groundbreaking (pun intended!) But it’s important to revisit them. During these long summer days, when the demands on our time are different, take a few moments to consider the importance of laying down this bedrock, of building this foundation, layer by layer. Reflect on the year that was and use those insights to refine a vision for the coming year. Without it, we won’t know where we’re going.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDeb, KelseyMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

8 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Know Where You’re Going

  1. I love how you took the prompt from Jo into a new direction, finding another metaphor for writing and writing workshop. Even if I don’t follow the prompt exactly, I can garner wisdom from it. I’m glad we are both doing Teachers Write.


  2. so many things to love here. Metaphor is always good. I’m kicking around the idea of a writing ‘campish’ during the school year just for quick tips and sparks. I love the part about the multiple rocks, I immediately thought of our ideas about what to write about. But then you wrote that we should lay down the bedrock now for what will come in the fall. That’s when you really got me. Thanks for the inspiration.


  3. I love your metaphor for writing and how you bridged that thought to include writer’s workshop in your reflection. Your ending advice is so powerful: “During these long summer days, when the demands on our time are different, take a few moments to consider the importance of laying down this bedrock, of building this foundation, layer by layer.“ Thank you for sharing! I will continue to do just that!


  4. Beautiful metaphor. You have me thinking. What exactly is the bedrock and how do we know it is there for our kiddos. Honoring the process for each writer is one way. Another is offering many ways and times (those many stones?) to create. Thank you for making me think.


  5. Even when you build with bricks, the bricklayer has imperfections to deal with but a wall-builder with rocks of all sizes needs incredibly more skills to have a durable, functional, and attractive wall that literally follows the path from point A to point B! So much to test fit, revise, check and analyze in the building of this wall! Great metaphor!


  6. What a thoughtful and helpful metaphor! Like many others, I really like your emphasis on laying a good foundation, and also on the need for multiple rocks, many of which will never be used. Thanks for sharing your reflections.


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