First Draft Writing

When I was first learning about Writing Workshop, it was difficult for me to wrap my head around the process each student would be going through. I spent a lot of time thinking and re-thinking the writing process and the way it would become individualized. Going from idea to notebook to draft to publication seemed like a long road and I wasn’t quite sure how to navigate it, let alone help my students do so. Here are some of the realizations I’ve come to which help me to provide opportunities for students to find their own personal writing process.

  • Encourage best first draft writing. In some of the initial reading I did about Writing Workshop, I came across the term sloppy copy to refer to first draft writing. At first I thought this term was cute, however, as I watched my students work as writers, I realized they were taking the term to heart. In fact, their writing never seemed to get past sloppy. I soon eradicated the term from my vocabulary. Now I ask students to write their best first draft. (Unfortunately I can’t remember for sure where this term originated, although I think it was from Carl Anderson.)
  • Write more than can possibly be published. It took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to realize students didn’t have to publish every single draft they wrote. Today I encourage students to write many drafts and then to select one worthy of the work to take to publication.
  • Use writers’ notebooks throughout the writing process. Writers’ notebooks may be the piece of Writing Workshop which have evolved the most for me. At first it was a place to collect bits and pieces of life. Today it is that, plus a place to practice writing. I’ve learned how to use it as a tool to become a better writer — throughout the writing process.
  • I trust the writing process more now than before. Personally, there is a definite ebb and flow to my work as a writer. Sometimes the words come like a sprint downhill and other days they stumble along. I’ve learned to see through the process to the other end, knowing that at the deadline there will be something complete. I hope to help my students to understand the organic nature of their own writing process.
  • I listen to students more. I figure out their reasoning and logic rather than judge and redirect. Then I teach into their work, helping them to define themselves as writers.
  • I write. Of all the things on this list, this has made the biggest impact in my teaching. Because I write for all kinds of reasons and all kinds of audiences, I understand how to individualized the writing process.

The more I watch young writers, the more I realize it is a gift to help them find joy in their own unique writing  processes.