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Starting with Story

I recently had the pleasure of attending the 25th Annual Comprehensive Literacy and Reading Recovery Conference in Illinois.  One of the sessions I attended was led by the brilliant and endearing Christopher Lehman.  His session centered around using our stories to generate topics for information writing.  It is a unique approach to a genre that can sometimes feel cool and unemotional.

We began by making a list of the things we carry with us: the worries, the celebrations, the experiences, the hopes we carry in our hearts.  These are the things we think about when someone asks, “How are you?”  These are the things we long to say, but don’t.  These are our stories.

My list was:

  • working on my book
  • Jerome
  • starting a new job
  • my relationship with my mom
  • Maddie & Katie, always with me

Next, we chose an item from our list and took several minutes to write a personal story. Christopher reminded us to write a story, not facts or information.  Here is what I wrote:

Story
My notebook

I sit in a darkened coffee shop, but I don’t order coffee.  It’s too late, and I will need to sleep soon.  I wish it were quieter – that the people sitting near me would hush their conversation.  After all, I came to write.

It’s strange how I want to be here and want to be anywhere but here all at once.

As I sip my hot chocolate, I question myself.  Self-doubt settles over my keyboard.

My fingers push through the cloud of doubt and strike thekeys.  My hot chocolate cools. 

After several hours, I head home in the darkness.  The kids are asleep and maybe my husband too.

Next we read through our story, looking for possible writing topics.  The topics could be directly or indirectly related to our story.  Anything that sparked an idea was worth noticing.

Skitch Story

  • I was sitting in a coffee shop (and frequently do)… so maybe I could explore Starbuck’s business model.  I bought one cup of hot chocolate and stayed for hours.  How is that profitable?
  • I didn’t order coffee… so maybe I could explore the effects of caffeine on a person.
  • I wished it were quieter… so maybe I could explore different writing styles and preferences.
  • I didn’t get to see my kids that day (or any Thursday when I’m writing)… so maybe I could write about the different pressures placed on women versus men.

 

From this short exercise, I had generated four possible topics I could explore further in an information piece.  In the past, I have had students generate lists of possible topics, usually by prompting them to think of things they are curious about or by making an ‘expert list.’   Starting with story felt more personal, more intimate.

Most importantly though, this session confirmed for me what I always knew to be true: our stories matter.

Dana Murphy View All

Literacy Coach, Reader, Writer

9 thoughts on “Starting with Story Leave a comment

  1. I really like this idea of finding writing within your writing. I also appreciate seeing how you made the connection to other topics – like the Starbucks model or issue for woman who write and work. This was very helpful. Thanks

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  2. This activity reminds me of what Tim O’Brien says about stories in”The Things They Carried”: “A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.” Ge goes on to say that stories are for getting at the truth.

    For example, only now that Detroit teachers are sharing their stories on social media are the truths they and their students live every day being heard, despite years of mismanagement and neglect. We’ve known the facts. We care about the stories.

    Have you read Tom Newkirk’s book “Munds Made for Stories”? It’s ine of my faves.

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  3. Thanks for taking us through the steps you used to uncover potential topics from the story you wrote. It’s interesting how you were able to mine just one piece of writing for four different informational topics.

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  4. I go to Starbucks to write sometimes. It’s quiet at my house, but oh so easy to get distracted. I order raspberry hot chocolate. This is an interesting approach to finding nonfiction topics – write a personal story and then look for possible writing topics. My easily distracted self loves that the topics can be directly or indirectly related to our story. Thanks for sharing this strategy.

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  5. Dana,
    I use not knowing where to start as a reason NOT to write. And, as I am sure you are aware that is just an excuse. Not an excuse shared by me but by many others I would presume. What I love about your post is you actually showed me how to overcome that excuse in a way that I feel is not threatening and yet is simplistic. I thank you, Dana, for sharing and encouraging me!

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  6. Dana,
    I am intrigued by your story as much as this process for finding topics. I have a little guy who is struggling to generate writing ideas for a personal narrative. He’s sat and thought., he knows writers think a lot, he’s browsed books, because authors read books, but he hasn’t just opened his mind and allowed words to fall onto the page. Because he’s young I am I am thinking I could invite him to just talk about his family, a vacation, pets, activities and I’ll write it all down. When he’s done we can highlight story possibilies. Not only will he have had an opportunity to orally brainstorm, but he can see all this down on paper.

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  7. Dana,
    I am intrigued by your story as much as this process for finding topics. I have a little guy who is struggling to generate writing ideas for a personal narrative. He’s sat and thought., he knows writers think a lot, he’s browsed books, because authors read books, but he hasn’t just opened his mind and allowed words to fall onto the page. Because he’s young I am I am thinking I could invite him to just talk about his family, a vacation, pets, activities and I’ll write it all down. When he’s done we can highlight story possibilies. Not only will he have had an opportunity to orally brainstorm, but he can see all this down on paper.

    Like

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