On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

My buddy, Armando, was a great fan of Stephen King in high school.  Uttering the name, Cujo, became a tool to freak each other out walking home from the bus stop late at night or in expansive yards in Kerrisdale during late night parties.  Of course, the movie version of my namesake, Carrie, taught me the power of standing poker straight, the unblinking stare and clearly enunciating “No”.   Even the most drunk frat rat or persistent “bad choice” date responded with the intended outcome. Although my older sister digested horror books en mass, I never did.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this book.

Stephen King is a prolific writer who has been able to translate that to market success. My assumption was that his goal as a writer was mass market success.  His book On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft reveals this is not the case. His writing has been a way to live his life, starting from a very young age.   Life granted him both the ultimate highs and ultimate lows that he negotiated through his writing.  He says that he doesn’t even remember writing Cujo because it was in the midst of a dark time when he was drinking heavily.  Perhaps it was the darkness that made the book so haunting!

His writing has strong voice, a direct style and an honesty and openness that I admire.   His advice to aspiring writers:  Make the time to read widely and write widely.  He reads because he likes to read.  He reads fiction because he likes stories.  The learning comes from both the good and the bad books.  “One learns most clearly what not to do from bad prose… Good writing on the other hand, teaches the learning writer about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creation of believable characters, and truth telling. “(p.146)

King is a disciplined writer and he rarely skips a day.  He is not a believer in mapping out the plot and then developing his story. He begins with the situation and flat, unfeatured characters.  Once that is firmly in his mind, he begins to narrate.  He emphasizes:  “Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story…Reading will help you answer how much and only reams of writing will help you with the how.”(p.173)

His book also includes a few pieces of advice that were given to him along the way.

by John Gould, editor of The Lisbon’s weekly newspaper where he had his first job:  “When you write the story, you’re telling yourself the story. he said.  When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all of the things that are not the story.” (p.57)

in a rejection letter in spring of his Senior high year: machine generated signature of editor  :“Not bad, but PUFFY.  You need to revise for length.  Formula:  2nd draft = 1st draft-10%.  Good luck.”

This book taught me so much that I can use in the teaching of writing and in my own writing.  I’m so glad it fell into my hands.  I highly recommend it.

 

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Readers Who Write

Spanish Banks was my favourite beach to take my kids to because I could actually have some reading time when the tide was way, way out there and I could look down at a book.  My daughter, Larkyn, completed the classic “starting school” assignment as a young scholar: Draw a picture that tells about your family.   Stick mommy has fountains of tears coming out of both sides of her head. Stick Mommy is perched on top of what looks like a big box. The arrow pointing to it says “fat, sad book”.   She nailed it. Rohinton Mistry, A.S. Byatt, Jane Urquhart, Michael Ondaatje, Wayne Johnson and Ann-Marie MacDonald are all near and dear to my heart.  The descriptive language, the character development and the story captivates me.

In a discussion of favourite books and good reads recently, I was surprised that a colleague shares a common all time favourite book, Possession by A.S. Byatt.   We laughed because in many ways we couldn’t be more different. However her observation was “Hhmmm, that’s why you can write.”  Same conversation, David Hutchison, author of The Witches’ Malice was sharing his love for Edgar Allen Poe.    My Dad loves Poe and always highly recommended his books for evening reading at his cabin in the Sierra Nevadas.   I wouldn’t be able to put the book down, read long after everyone was sleeping and terrified myself.  The visual image of the pendulum moving closer and closer still comes to mind when I’m dreading something. The Witches’ Malice, reflects Hutchison’s fascination with building suspense and the macabre imagery of the hand.  The learning from the reading isn’t deliberate but pervasive.

As part of my teaching assignment next year, I am sharing a grade 3/4 classroom with a teaching partner.  I am looking forward to teaching reading and writing with young children again.  However I’m also looking forward to exploring the reading-writing connection with them.  Many of the students in our school have English as a second or third language. Reading becomes mandatory practice rather than something that defines how we communicate.  I’m looking forward to the process of working with eight and nine year olds to discover the possibilities for readers who write.

“Blogging” For Thinking

I have the great pleasure of working with Virginia Bowden at Tecumseh this year.  Through her work with students participating in The District Gifted/Enrichment Seminars and my role as Computer prep teacher with the District MACC students, we have arrived at convergent inquiry interests.  Thanks to the mentoring of Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser – through both Vancouver sessions and their book, Spirals of Inquiry, we are making our way along the path toward framing our inquiry question.  When we first sat down to scan what was going on for our kids and the experiences we were providing, we came up with some similar experiences and perceptions.

Both of us were exploring how technology could be used to not just replicate tasks done offline but help students to apply their background knowledge, make connections and actually deepen student thinking and reflection.  Yes, and spark their interests, passions, and develop writing skills!  Providing the assignment or conveying information through interest focused blogs (ie. http://tecumsehcomputerwhiz.wordpress.com/)  became very teacher focused and invited conversational (chat-like) responses and comments not doing much more than scratching the surface.  Our hunch was that blogging could be a way to allow students to go deeper by pushing their thinking – either in reflective responses or the ability to engage their audience in their writing.  The quest is to discover the route.

I’m wondering about how student choice over the theme of their blog will impact the investment in creating thoughtful blog posts?  Virginia is thinking a lot about how much class time is required for students to be able to reflect on their day in a way that pushes them to use their higher order thinking skills?  Both of us wonder how thoughtful comments from peers can extend thinking?

In order to teach students about blogging in a somewhat protected environment, Virginia started using Kidblog.  We both now have our groups set up in classes so students can write their own blog posts and invited comments from classmates without it having to be moderated by the teacher or necessitate use of pseudonyms.  We’re also exploring the privileges that are extended to parents and guests.  Virginia is focusing on daily reflections of learning throughout the day.  I am focusing on developing student voice and ability to engage their target audience into blogs that reflect their own interests.  We’re both still considering where we are going with our learning and what our students need from us to use technology to extend their thinking in thoughtful ways..