A Teacher’s Plan to Keep Writing Going in the Summer

Once upon a time, I was a collegiate athlete. For two years I was committed to daily workouts in the weight room and the pool. I got to the pool absurdly early. I swam double sessions throughout the entire month of January so that it felt I was swimming even in my sleep. My senior year, after discovering crew, I drove 20 minutes through the dark every morning to set the boats on the water just as the first rays of light crept above the horizon. I never missed a practice.

When my doctor asked yesterday how often I exercise, I just said, “No.”

I won’t say exactly how long it’s been, but I’ve recently been feeling very far removed from those college days. How, I wonder now, did I ever make it to the field house every day…sometimes twice? What got me out of bed in the dark to be to the lake and back before the early risers even made it to breakfast? I don’t enjoy exercise that much, so it wasn’t the runner’s high.

It was my team.

I made it to the pool simply because my team expected me to be there. I drove in the dark, because half the girls in my boat wouldn’t get to the lake otherwise.

These days, it’s not exercise I’m trying to commit to; it’s a writerly life. Writing is important because I teach and coach it, but also to me personally. I need to feel like a writer feels-the highs and lows. Maybe you can identify.

As a writer, audience matters. We stand up straighter, put our backs into it, and generally rise to the occasion when we know someone will be looking. It really is a blend of identity, effort, and outcome.

As teachers who write, we have one built-in audience for much of the year–our students. For literacy coaches, the audience may be a mix of students and teachers. If we have a digital learning network, we may also have audiences via Twitter or a blog.

Knowing those people will be looking for our writing keeps us going. I can’t NOT have a model piece for the writing lesson tomorrow, so I’ll write today. I can’t NOT write if I’m asking students (or teachers) to, so I’ll write today. The Slice of Life happens Tuesdays; I’ll write. You get the idea.

During the school year our responsibilities and deadlines can act like our crew, expecting us in the parking lot. So we are the responsible coxswain who shows up.

Over the summer…there are no lessons. No alarm clocks even.

What happens to our writerly lives when time flows like sand, sometimes slipping quickly through the beach bag of cerulean sky days, sometimes eddying languidly through muggy August afternoons? Without deadlines and routines we can fall out of the habit.

What’s an aspiring writer to do?

The things that kept me honest in college were audience and schedule. It the same now, though I’d add goals, too. If I want to write, I need them.

Goals: Find Your ‘Why’

Goals could be either process or product related, I suppose. What goals would motivate your writing life?

I’ve set myself the goal of finishing a draft of a book this summer. I’ve never written one, so it’s hard to tell if that goal is realistic or not. But it is motivating to me. And if at the end of the summer I find that I’ve written often but haven’t finished a novel…well, I was writing.

I could also set a goal for myself to find a healthy balance between dialogue and narration.

“Why?” you say.

Because I tend to fall back on narration and inner monologues. I have since at least fifth grade.

How are you trying to grow? Your goal becomes your why.

Audience: Find Your Crew

I have a couple seedling ideas of how to garner an audience this summer. If you’re a teacher, you could try them, too. (We could compare notes and improve the plan together!)

Last summer our school hosted several pop-up reading picnics on the front lawn. A whole school email blast to families on a Sunday invited one and all to an informal gathering. I’d start the picnic by reading aloud a couple of picture books, or a first chapter. For the remainder of the hour, we’d each sprawl under the trees with our own books in progress. Why not read aloud your picture book draft? Or small moment story?

Also, at the annual PTO auction, I offered to host a writer’s club for the winner and friends to meet during August. If I’m going to ask young writers to write over the summer and bring their notebooks to our club, I’d better have some things written. Hadn’t I?

Plus, I’ll still have you to write for.

Like the Slice of Life Story Challenge in March, there are online summer writing groups and challenges, too. Check out Teachers Write founded by author, Kate Messner, and supported by various writer friends.

Schedule: Find Your Sunrise (or Starlight)

Ahh, here might be the trickiest part.

Nothing says vacation like not having a schedule. I adore slow mornings that unfold instead of sprinting ahead purposefully. I also feel most writerly around the edges of the day, in the gloaming. So knowing myself as a writer and vacation spirit, I might treat that morning time as both an indulgence (for me) and as “official business” time (for any family members who might feel I should be more traditionally productive).  I’m imagining a pot of tea set atop the tiny table on the lawn, with soft morning light and dew still glistening on the grass.

Okay, maybe if there’s dew I should avoid the lawn. The point is to know your own natural rhythms and preferences. Work with them instead of against them. Find a pleasant spot. Set aside dedicated time each day. And write.

Find your purpose. Find your crew. Find your sunrise.

Write.

…..

Katie Gordon reads and writes with elementary students and teachers in Southbury, Connecticut. You can find her blogging at Ureadiread and on Twitter @ureadiread.