Office Work

If you are anything like me, the minute one school year ends you start planning for the next.  One of my goals this summer is to gather resources for a short unit on Office Work to kick off next year’s writing workshop.

In her book, Study Driven, Katie Wood Ray suggests that students engage in a study of “Office Work” early in the year during writing workshop.  Studying Office Work means studying the habits and processes of a multitude of writers.  It means figuring out exactly what it is writers do all day.  Where do writers get their ideas?  Do certain writers draft on computer or on paper?  What is this specific writer’s revision process like?  How do they use a writer’s notebook?  Where do they write?  How often do they write?

I love the idea of spending the first several days of school learning how to be a writer.  By studying other writers’ processes, we can begin to demystify the act of writing. Students will not only feel more confident as they approach their first genre study, but they will also have some writerly tips and tricks in their pockets.   Here are some resources to get you started:

1.  Author’s websites
An author’s website is a wonderful peephole into their writing life.  Many authors share biographical information about their path to becoming a writer.  You will often find YouTube videos of interviews which will contain a wealth of information about a writer’s process from idea to publication.  Kids can begin their study of Office Work by heading to their favorite author’s website.

2. Book Jackets
It can be fun and enlightening to sit with a stack of picture books and peruse the book jackets.  The back flap usually contains a small blurb about the author and illustrator, and you can mine the flaps for tidbits of Office Work.  Looking through this stack of my daughters’ library books, I learned that Guy Francis, illustrator of Clark the Shark, lets his wife and children critique his art work.  I also learned that Johanna Hurwitz, author of Russell’s Secret, has written several other picture books about Russell and his new baby sister.  It seems that Johanna Hurwitz found a topic she loves, and she writes about it in multiple ways.

3.  Author interviews

Do a Google search of your favorite author, and you are sure to find print or video interviews in which they discuss their writing life. Mr. Schu’s website, Watch. Connect. Read., is a great place to start if you are looking for author interviews.   And don’t forget, we frequently interview authors right here on the Two Writing Teachers (click here to read some interviews).

After you have gathered a variety of resources, immerse your students in a study of Office Work.  Let them read and discuss the habits of writers.  Some questions to guide students as they learn:

  • Is there a common thread that seems to run among almost all the writers?  What do they have in common?
  • Are there quirky habits that surprised you?
  • Is there a change you would like to make to your own writing process based on what you’ve learned?

It really is fascinating to get into the minds of other writers.   After a few days of learning, your students will be ready to live like writers.