Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Apple Writing

From the Apple
I guess I've always been a writer, but as a young student I don't ever remember being taught to write or any teacher ever encouraging me to write. I do remember being in middle school and the teacher assigning a creative writing assignment. We had to write about "Red." I don't really remember what I wrote but I do remember the pieces that the teacher read out loud and I remember being blown away because they were so-o-o- good. None of the stuff that they wrote ever popped into MY head! I remember thinking that I could NEVER write like that!

Even as a young child, however, I liked to write. I had a diary. I remember writing long journal entries about everything in my life. I also remember destroying a couple of the diaries because I was afraid my mother would find them! As a young wife I wrote furiously in a journal trying to figure out how to learn to live with another person. I really didn't have a good role model for being a good wife so none of it came naturally for me. My husband used to call it my "hate" journal because I was more likely to be writing when things weren't going well or I was really upset! I still think I do my best writing when I'm fired up about something. It's easy to write with voice - with passion and emotion when I care deeply about an issue.

While I was home on maternity leave with Courtney, my writing took a dramatic turn. I had been leading a mixed group of teachers who had been meeting together once a week for a couple of years to share teaching ideas - I guess I understood collegiality way before it was the newest buzz word - and while I was out with Courtney I decided to finish the document that we had been working on for those two years. It was ideas around teaching a letter of the week to beginning readers. I had been keeping notes on all of our ideas so I decided to complete the research that we never seemed to have time to finish as a gift to the teachers when I returned. It was their idea that I try to have it published after they realized how much additional work I had put into our original ideas. I thought it was lark but decided to send the manuscript off to six publishers. I knew so little about publishing but within two weeks I had a contract for my first book. However, there were many delays and it was not published until five years later in 1991, A is Amazing. I just happened to submit a manuscript that a particular publisher was looking for at that particular time so the contract was immediate, but the publisher was going through some editorial changes that caused many delays and frustrations. Now, of course, the idea of "letter of the week" has fallen out of favor and of course, the book is out of print, but at the time it became a best seller for the company and within 6 months I had a contract for another book and so it went. I published 10 books with that company over the next few years.

In the meantime I had been publishing ideas in The Mailbox and they invited me to a Summer Writing Institute where I joined eight other authors from across the country that were all doing freelance work for the The Education Center which publishes The Mailbox Magazines. I went to Greensboro, NC for two summers to learn to write the "Mailbox" way and it was both intimidating and awesome. At the summer retreat I met three other teacher-writer-moms who lived in different parts of the country. We decided to propose a series of books to The Education Center while we were there and to our surprise, they accepted our proposal. For the next four years the four of us wrote books using e-mail. It was before Google Docs or any of the on-line pieces that make cooperative writing so easy. It was cumbersome but it was the first time The Education Center had a completed manuscript that was done outside of their offices that didn't require major revision. Those three women were funny, creative, and wonderful co-writers and I am richer for having known and worked with each one of them. Just remembering that time in my life puts a smile on my face!

During those ten years I wrote or co-authored 19 books for teachers. When I think about it, I am awed by how prolific I was and I am proud of that accomplishment. I could not have done it if my husband had not been so willing to take up the slack. He learned to wash clothes and dishes during those years as I often wrote through the night to meet a deadline while I taught full time. I tried for my writing not to take time away from my children and so I wrote late at night, very early in the mornings, and while they were away with friends. I loved it, but there came a time when I felt it was taking too much of my time... so before Courtney left home, I decided to put down the pen and spend time with her. It was a good decision.

In the meantime, I joined a new faculty and began a steep learning curve into a new chapter in my life. I haven't really been moved to take on a book project or at least, when I thought maybe I wanted to, things just didn't seem to piece together easily so that I really felt it was what I was suppose to do. I usually get very clear messages about what I am suppose to be doing - nothing like the burning bush, of course, but still pretty clear! Today I write on a more immediate level. I have written about the work I'm doing now in magazines and for some on-line publications, when asked, and I love blogging about my work. I work with incredible teachers. I've written some units for and with the teachers I work with now and then have sent them out to anyone that wanted them. That actually has been very gratifying.

I am not, nor will I ever be, the world's greatest writer. I don't write deep pieces with great thoughts that will change the world. I don't write "funny," because actually I'm not really a very funny person. I just write about the world as I see it and hope that something I say might resonate and make a difference...

I do believe that the varied experiences that I have had have made me a better writing teacher. I think I understand many of the reasons that people write and I realize that children need to learn to write for many different reasons. It is my job to release the inner writer's voice that is in each of my children so that whatever it is that they will need to do, they will be equipped to do it - whether it's texting or therapy or writing the next great novel. Here's to that writer in each of us!

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