lucy calkins · personal narrative · Slice of Life Story Challenge

The Difference Between Storytelling and Band-Aids

Are you writing stories, or band-aids?

When I was in graduate school, I was lucky enough to take a lot of classes with Lucy Calkins, who would become my mentor, advisor, boss, and guide for more than a decade of my professional life.

I remember an aha moment during one of my first classes with her when I realized that there was a difference between narrative storytelling–and summarizing. That night, Lucy used the book Shortcut by Donald Crews as an example of a “small moment” that had been told in great detail, stretched out bit by bit. I’ve seen her use a zillion different examples since then, but none sticks in my memory so vividly as Shortcut. I still turn to this book often as a mentor text when I’m teaching narrative writing to any grade level.

Until that night in class I had spent most of my writing career struggling to find my voice. I never liked the way my writing sounded and I could never get a story onto the page very easily. Learning how to “zoom in on one moment” and then stretch it out, telling it bit-by-bit, one tiny microstep at a time was a game-changer for me. It instantly made me a better writer–and a better teacher.

I strongly believe, and have experienced in the many classrooms I work with, that personal narrative writing can also be a game changer for students learning to write. In personal narrative writing:

a) students are writing about what they know best–their own lives

b) they learn that their own lives are worth writing about

c) they learn essentials of writing in detail that are much harder to grasp in other genres

d) narrative writing overlaps with conversation, making it more familiar and a good entry point into all kinds of writing

e) personal narratives, stories, build a writing community

My list could go on.

More than a decade after my first class with Lucy, I joined the Two Writing Teachers team and am now in my sixth year hosting and participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge. The mission of this month long writing challenge is for teachers of writing to write a story every day of the month. It is my favorite part of being a TWT coauthor.

I love reading the stories that teachers share during this challenging. The stories our community shares often make me laugh out loud, move me to tears, provoke deep thinking, and give me the sense that we are all in this together, teaching writing and learning to be better writers ourselves.

But… Some of the posts I read are not always stories. Some of the posts I personally write are not exactly stories either. In a month long challenge, there are bound to be days when we grasp for something, anything to write about. It is inevitable that on any given day, some of us write what I call a “band-aid.”

Band-aids, as I see them, are a way to get some writing on the page when you’ve got writers block. A band-aid is quick fix to a bigger writing problem. There’s nothing wrong at all with a band-aid, as long as it’s temporary, not a long-term solution. Lists and acrostic poems are examples of band-aids. Freewriting (stream-of-consciousness), a summary of my day, sharing a quote– those are also band-aids.

It’s not just during the Slice of Life Story Challenge that some of us resort to band-aids. Sometimes, as a consultant, I visit classrooms where teachers believe that writing stories will be too challenging for their students, so they resort to band-aids in the classroom as well. Instead of giving time and space for their students to draw or write an approximation of a story, they too often ask their students to make acrostics, make lists, or write to prompts.

In March, the real challenge isn’t just to write every day for thirty-one days. The REAL challenge is to write a story every day. If you’ve found yourself relying on band-aids more often than not, here a few strategies to get you back to sharing stories, instead of not-stories.


Remember a time you had a strong feeling, or a very specific problem, and then tell it bit-by-bit. Resist the urge to summarize. Zoom in on the exact moment that something happened, and then replay it in slow motion in your mind. Tell it aloud, and then write it down the way you told it, bit-by-bit.


Using, or at least thinking “First, then, next, last” is a helpful way to steer yourself back to a story instead of summarizing or listing. Even if your final post turns out to jump forward in time, or flash back, starting out by thinking about the exact order that things happened can help you tell a story.


The car and the shower are my two places where I actually get most of my writing done. I think and even talk out loud about what I plan to write, often rehearsing it multiple times before I sit down at the computer. Then, when I go to create my blog post, most of the work is actually already done.


Stories can be told in many forms. They can be told in traditional written form through words. But stories can also take the form of a collection of photos, a poem, a comic, a video, music, and much more. The key is to convey a story–characters, setting, problem, solution (or some variation). This month, I’ve set a goal to create a comic every day. I’m trying (sometimes more successfully than others) to make my comics tell a story–that is, there is still an element of problem and solution, characters, and a setting. I’m new to creating comics, so some days I get there–some days I don’t.

Ultimately, it is the trying that matters. Your own writing, and your students’ writing, might not meet all the criteria or expectations for a great story. But reaching for that goal again and again, instead of resorting day after day to “band-aids” is really what the March Slice of Life Story Challenge is all about. Happy slicing, writing community, we are so glad to be on this adventure with you!

39 thoughts on “The Difference Between Storytelling and Band-Aids

  1. Honestly, I’m a bit torn over this post. On the one hand, I really appreciate the challenges and reminders that the post and the SOLC offers. On the other hand, I do feel guilty for not necessarily even striving for the small moment, bit-by-bit writing. I guess I’m trying, and not feeling too successful in my mind at unfolding my small moments, and probably just need this reminder to not give up and try again. The positive feedback (even if it’s only on what someone might consider a Band-Aid) has given me courage to keep writing. I guess 14 days in, I can push myself to write more narrative-style.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is my first time participating and I’m really enjoying the pressure to write everyday. I’m learning so much about myself as a writer. The world looks different now. I pay so much more attention to detail and listen carefully to the words spoken around me so I can steal a story when I sense one. The best part is how it will help me teach. I have a growing collection of mentor texts, missed opportunities, and mistakes to share with my fellow writers.


  3. I could feel my writing for the monthly challenge being exactly what you described. I thought my writing has been TC (total crap). I decided to discontinue the challenge for this year because I was feeling pressure to fill the pageand not get quality writing. Maybe it’s just where I am right now and I’ll get back to it…thanks for the tips on ways to get going.


  4. Thanks for a thoughtful post and a reminder about what this challenge is really about. And what a challenge it is! You’ve reminded me to really focus on personal narrative and watch my tendency to veer into essay. I really appreciate the feedback–clear, timely and filled with support for improvement.


  5. Wow. I looked at this challenge as a way to write a piece of our lives every day in the form that works for us. Reading this post made me just want to give it up. I challenged myself to do this in the midst of an extremely busy month, but this just made me feel judged for using short forms that make that possible. What a shame.


    1. Many of us feel the way you do about this post. It took the wind right out of my sails. I also saw this as an opportunity to start writing again, to use a variety of forms to show the stories of my life. This post felt like a slap on the hand rather than a nudge. I’m hopeful that wasn’t the intention, but it made it really hard to hit publish and then share my Day 11 post because now I’m worried about doing it all wrong and not meeting community expectations. But it also made me take a step back and think about the timing of and methods I use to deliver feedback, and how I coach my own students so they never feel like some of us felt today. We all receive feedback differently. Some found this really helpful, and there IS helpful information here. But some of us felt like we were being told our work is all wrong. I bet this happens any time any of us gives group feedback in our classrooms. Keep writing. Please. Story takes many forms. Your voice and your stories matter!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you so much for your response. I agree that there is helpful information in the post, but it did feel like a slap on the wrist, which isn’t the kind of feedback that works for me. I will keep writing, however, I don’t think I will continue to share my posts with the Two Writing Teachers community at this point. I also really appreciate your connection to providing feedback to our students- I will be even more aware of how I share feedback moving forward.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi! Don’t give up!! Keep doing what you do and over time, reach for writing a personal narrative when you can! Stories can take so many forms! See the last part of the post: “Let your story take a less traditional form” It’s not about writing a lot, just doing what you can! Good luck, and please don’t give up!


      1. I have decided to no longer participate in this challenge. I have completed the slice of life challenge twice in past years and decided to do it again this year, however, the reason I chose to do it in the past was to challenge myself to write more. The reason I kept doing it was that the community was so supportive, which made me feel comfortable to take the risk to share my writing with a wider audience. This post absolutely took the wind out of my sails. While it was full of great ideas, it felt judgmental to me, and the pride I had in all I had written (in whatever form I decided to share my stories) took a big hit because of it. I have a tremendous amount of respect for you based on what I have read from you in the past, which I think made the tone of your post even more disheartening to me.


  6. This post has me rethinking my participation in the challenge. It’s difficult to find the time to write so I like pushing myself to do this challenge and I love the support of this community. But I don’t always write the small moment pieces. I’m not sure I even like small slice of life stories as a reader or a writer. I write about my life, but I’m not always slicing it. This post has given me some food for thought certainly.


  7. I love this post and the term “band-aid.” Sometimes I take creative license with a personal small moment, and it veers into a fictional story. I’m wondering if that is not a true slice. Thank you for the reminder to slow down a moment and include a story arc.


  8. I love this because it’s a reminder that the lessons we teach in writing are great for any age writer, that’s what makes them so powerful. I’ve been writing a mix…some stories and some essays. I’ve enjoyed reading the essays, or the writing that expounds on an idea too.


  9. Thank you for naming these 2 kinds of writing and for being the cheerleader for writing a story! I plan to bookmark this and reread it often! I also am excited that I”m attending the Comic Institute in April. Then I may make a May Comic Writng Challenge!! Thanks for the inspiration.


  10. Thank you for being our coach and mentor today. I paused to rethink how I would write my post today. Generally I am a story teller, but I’m not always good at the Slice! Good encouragement!


  11. That is a powerful post that lifts the expectations! Your TC training, and the influence of people like Lucy and Kathleen, really shines through in this post. In my mind, that is the highest form of a compliment I could give!!!


  12. Lots to process here. I think of myself as more of an essayist that s storyteller in a traditional sense, but the best essays embody narrative. I looked back at my posts this month to see whether or not I have written some incarnation of “story.” I know I put considerable time, thought, and effort into my posts. I have a name for posts to post: Drive by posting. If I sense a desire to do that, I’ll skip the day. I find those posts insulting. I try to think about audience, and a drive-by post dose not.

    In thinking about stories, there are many I want to tell but don’t want to tell publicly, at least not right now. I have private writing and public writing.


    1. “Drive by” posting is a great name for band-aids also. I don’t find this kind of writing insulting at all – I just see those posts as something other than stories. And stores are what we’re here for. I’m all for anything that keeps people writing daily, even if it means the occasional “band-aid” or “drive-by”

      My guess is that most, if not all, of your writing includes elements of story : )


  13. Beth, I am so glad you wrote this post and reminded all of us what we are aiming for and why. It was just the nudge I needed today to think about the topic, structure and elements for my slice. Thank you.


  14. I enjoyed reading your clear, focused writing and your helpful observations and suggestions. During this challenge, I have hoped to find some gems of insight and eloquence. Even moreso, I have hoped to write them, but now I realize that it is very difficult to craft something worthy of posting every day. Hence, I muddle along, liking a few pieces and wanting to delete others (which I’ll do after the challenge is over). I appreciate that people are writing something daily, endeavoring to complete the challenge, and that they are being so wonderfully supportive and encouraging as readers. Onward!


    1. Thank you for this informative post. I love your description of ‘Zooming In’. I find when I read Slices that used this technique I feel as if I was there alongside the author experiencing the moment.


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