Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

10.01.13You Get What You Pay For: Free Advice on Writing

writers-block-comic“Writing,” Buddha said, “is suffering.”  I mean, he more or less said that.  His point was a little broader, but in the age of the internet you can pretty much find any quote attributed to anyone so I’m going with it on spec.  Anyway, I mention this because I am suffering- greatly and Buddha-like in proportions since I am trying to write two books right now: a massive, shining, completely upgraded and all-but-totally new Teach Like a Champion–“TLaC 2.0”–plus a book on Reading, several years in the works, complex, potentially super cool, co-written with two great colleagues but still onerous to complete and promising only many, many miles of drafting and revising before rest.

As any writer knows the best antidote for having something to write on deadline in to distract yourself by writing something less pressing and therefore easier. Like a blog post, say.  Thus a short meditation here on writing especially for teachers who are thinking about writing a book… because really I wish more practicing teachers wrote books.

So… some methodology notes on writing.

1) Work the wet edge.  When you paint a room in your house you’re supposed to work a wet edge. You paint a block of wall and then, while it’s still wet, start another adjacent section, working the wet paint from the original into the new one for a perfect blend.  When I’m writing and I can’t start, I go back to the last thing that I’ve written and revise the last few paragraphs, immersing myself in my thinking and recapturing the voice I was writing in and making small edits along the way. Then I try to roll that forward, working the wet edge of my old writing into the new part by rolling from one to the other without stopping.

2) Get in shape.  I haven’t done the sort of sustained long-form writing required by a book in some time. It’s a lot like running a marathon and I’m finding I have to get in shape. I have to build my stamina by starting with 20 minute blocks when I don’t let myself stop or check email or go online, then stretching those to 25, then 30, then 35 minutes etc.  To help discipline myself I’m using the stopwatch on my phone…  Close out of email, set watch for the target time, and say “go” to myself.  Write, Doug.  Write, and do not stop.

3) Make a soundtrack.  Writing to music helps drown out distractions.  I tend to have a stack of favorites that I use only (or mostly) for writing.  I hear Arcangelo Correli and I start looking for my notebook or laptop.  Productively Pavlovian.

4) Try hard copy.  This HAS to be a generational thing but it helps me a lot to print it out and mark it up in hard copy.  Or to sometimes change things up by writing in a notebook.  If nothing else, it’s more comfortable from a strictly ergonomic standpoint. I got stuck on a long flight last week and just couldn’t face a flickering screen jammed up under my chin; I dug my notebook out of my bag and wrote 17 (little) pages about Checking for Understanding.  Small victory.

Ok, that’s it.  Letters to a Young Poet it ain’t.  Now, would someone hand me a stopwatch….

One Response to “You Get What You Pay For: Free Advice on Writing”

  1. John Costello
    October 1, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    My writing soundtrack is “Intro” by the XX

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