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How Do We Develop a Writing Identity?

I am a writer.

There was a time in my not-so-distant past when I never would have uttered those words. I didn’t believe them.  After all, I had no published work.  I was not getting paid to write. How could I call myself a writer?

Those two things are still true – I have no published work and I don’t get paid to write. Yet, I do consider myself a writer today.  Why?

I have been grappling with this question for some time now.  Not so much as it applies to me, but rather how it might apply to our students.  I see so many kids who “do” writing workshop.  They are engaged and attentive during instruction. They write every day in accordance with whatever writing unit they are currently studying.  They share during reflection time.  However, they don’t really consider themselves writers the same way they might consider themselves soccer players or ballerinas or video game players.  They don’t talk about themselves as writers.  They have no writing identity.

This is the crux of the matter: how might we help kids build a writing identity?  Where does identity come from anyway?

When I consider my own writing journey, I realize it was when I finally gave myself time and space to write what was in my heart that I began to consider myself a writer.  Specifically, it was when I started blogging and writing stories about my family and my daughters. Once I embraced my own agency as a writer, other factors began to develop as well.  I started to make time for writing.  I found a real audience for my writing.  I started to develop my own writing process.  I started to love writing.  Eventually, writing became a part of who I am.

Writing Identity
Factors Leading to the Development of a Writing Identity (Click to enlarge.)

Reflecting on my own journey makes me wonder how we could help our students develop writing identities as well.  I want our students to leave our classrooms not just with a portfolio of completed writing projects but with the steadfast belief that they are writers with a process, an audience, and a certain agency all their own.  All students, not just those with a fondness or a capacity for writing.

It is a tall order, I know, but I think maybe it all starts with having choice and the space to write what is in our hearts.


I would love to hear your thoughts about the idea of developing writing identities.  Please share in the comments below.

 

Dana Murphy View All

Literacy Coach, Reader, Writer

21 thoughts on “How Do We Develop a Writing Identity? Leave a comment

  1. Dana, this is a wonderful post. I’ve so enjoyed reading the comments and thoughts others have shared. Like Lisa, I’m inspired to have a conversation with my first graders about their writing identities and plan to do so today! One thing that we do in my classroom is to recognize inspiration from other authors, including classmates. It is not uncommon to hear a student say, “Oh, I was inspired by J’s poem.” or “I used repetition just like Kevin Henkes.” We put ourselves in the “author’s club” when we use these phrases. We recognize that authors use craft moves and so do we and we document examples of both on classroom charts. I do whatever I can to highlight connections that link all writers, published inside or outside the classroom. I think this helps students to see themselves as writers, too, but I know there’s more I could do–finding authentic purposes, audiences, etc. Thanks to you and to all the commenters for a thought-provoking discussion!

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  2. This conversation is hitting me right where I am. Even though I have not published, writing workshop has planted the seed for writing in my life. I now am writing two hours daily, 7-9. Blogging was also the game changer for me. I started in 2006. I’m so grateful to hear all these affirming stories about writing. It gives me the motivation and encouragement I need to keep at it.

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  3. The biggest paradigm shift I have made in the area of writing happened as a result of participating in the SOL16 March Challenge. Before that time, I was a teacher of writing. I read about writing. I attended writing classes. I had a writer’s notebook in which a few demonstration seeds had been planted and I tried out a few ideas (also for the purpose of teaching)-that’s it.

    After I participated in the SOL16, I knew what it meant to BE A WRITER! I was on the look-out for writing ideas all throughout my day. My camera was my friend. My notebook was in my purse, awaiting scribbles of ideas. I was thinking about writing almost every minute of the day. And…I wrote each day. (Interestingly enough, these have been mini lesson topics in my class!)

    How do I know I’m a writer? I write. And…I tell everyone about my writing experience. It may sound lame, but I am excited about writing! I have shifted my teaching ideas. I want my students to experience what I did and the transformation it brought. I want my students to know what it is to write like that: to scour their world for ideas, to publish for others, to write for an audience that READS what they write, to be on pins and needles waiting to read others’ comments, etc.

    I think to shift students’ thinking from the task of writing in Writer’s Workshop to the idea of, “I am a writer”, they have to experience what I experienced. To this end, I am working on developing a small “replica” of the SOL challenge. I’ll let you know what students think when they are done.

    P.S. Thanks Two Writing Teachers for transforming me so that I can now say, “I am a writer.”

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    • Your third paragraph totally resonates with me and I love the phrase “to scour their world for ideas.” For me the SOLSC last March (2015) was a huge influence in my writing life. It’s when I recognized the power of daily writing and then the Tuesday slices inspired me to keep going. While I don’t write everyday, I feel better when I do. Thanks Two Writing Teachers!!!

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  4. Brilliant post that really has my head churning! I love how you include writer right next to ballerina, soccer player, or gamer. This really hits home for me as a second grade teacher. Sometimes at this point in the year I fret…will they continue daily writing over the summer? Will they publish books next year even if their classroom doesn’t have writing workshop? Will they grab a pencil or ipad to jot down their wonderings? Yes….yes they will because we ARE writers!

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      • Your post inspired me to have a conversation with my class about writing identity, Dana. While I clearly see the kids as writers, and was hopeful they indeed shared that identity….I thought it would be interesting to hear their thinking. I used your words about how we call ourselves soccer players, dancers, skateboarders, swimmers…how about writers? Many nodded their heads enthusiastically. One student said “we’re good at it and feel comfortable”. In the classroom we can foster developing writing identity:
        *calling students writers-name it
        *modeling and encouraging a variety of genres (lists, charts, poetry, wonderings, fairy tales, letters)
        *writing across the day, in every subject
        *gifting idea notebooks, sticky notes, flair pens (I encourage parents to use as stocking stuffers)
        *collect interesting words from books on a board in classroom
        *host writing celebrations
        *connect book love to our writing (let’s try what Cynthia Rylant did…)-highlight authors as the rock stars they are!
        *develop a class mantra-we have stories to tell, feelings to express, wonderings to ponder, memories to hold, gratitude to give…

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  5. Wonderful post! Definitely food for thought. I think the students in our classrooms have to feel like they have choice, time and ownership of their learning. That is why the workshop model is so helpful for student writers. And when students learn that writing is something they can do beyond school and beyond required writing, they come to recognize themselves as writiers. They begin to build their writer identity. It’s a delicate balance of learning, discovery and joy.

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  6. Choice and space to write what is in our hearts! I’m so fearful that on demand writing with no choice is taking away the voice of our student writers. Would love to hear what teachers are doing to nurture writers over the summer.

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  7. It seems that the first step to finding ways to help our students see themselves as writers is to be writers ourselves. Without that experience, it would be so hard to have this kind of insight. I think that is a huge hurdle- because many who teach writers don’t see themselves as writers. Your post has me thinking. Thank you for these wise words.

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  8. As a student, I had a friend who told me that I had a nice style and that I should be writing. (She would notice that from our school work or our texting 😀 ) The very few times I would write were when I was in a bad emotional state, as a way of letting things out, but it never was and still not my thing. For me,emotions are so hard to deliver through words and I end up throwing what I write thinking it’s too poor to live up to what I really feel.
    Along came my blog’s idea and one day I started writing an article (Nothing personal or sentimental). It worked! Although I haven’t been actively blogging and still a beginner, I can say it worked because I, for the first time, like what I wrote – like it enough to share it.
    I agree with the factors u stated above,Dana, and I’m sharing this to enhance the importance of appreciating one’s own work in developing one’s writing identity.

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    • Blogging was a game-changer for me, too. What is it about the experience of blogging that we can replicate in our classrooms? Is it the audience? The choice? What can we generalize from our experience? These are things I wonder about…

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      • I would say it is fundamentally inspiration and definitely choice. No one is obliged to go online and start a blog. We do it because we are inspired by something, whether it’s our daily life or financial crises through history… Students are supposed to be helped to find inspiration. Tasteless assignments are not expected to bring out much creativity..

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  9. This is such an important post. I’ve been thinking ahead to summer and how to help/inspire my students to write, but I think it all goes back to identifying as a writer. If you are only writing in class and don’t see the purpose outside of the classroom, you aren’t seeing yourself, truly, as a writer. Agency, choice, freedom to share your passions & interests when writing…I think these are all important components of building that identity. I also think that the teacher sharing authentically how he/ she really writes for real world reasons is critical to show students the possibilities. I am looking forward to reading others ideas!

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  10. A few months ago my students took a survey from Ralph Fletcher and he asked the question, “Are you a writer?” The answers were varied but for the most part my students felt like they had to be published to be a writer. One student said yes because she has written 3 books. Perspective is everything.
    I struggle with this identity, too, even though I have a published book and write every day. Why is this label so precious? I have no trouble calling myself a teacher or a reader. In writing project workshops, we would be asked to turn to another and say with conviction, “I am a writer.” Maybe we just need to have this mantra start workshop every day.

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