Slice of Life: My First Writing Lesson

When I was ten, I was assigned a state report.

I picked the state of Mississippi because I thought that was where my grandmother grew up. My grandma’s family was legendary, mainly because we didn’t discuss the other side. Family stories were my momma and my grandma’s specialty.  So I chose Mississippi for my state report, thinking it would be exciting. Something that would make them all proud of me.

My research began with the Encyclopedia Britannica that my dad bought at the local used bookstore.  Always useful for those assigned reports, I looked up Mississippi and read. Looking back, I suspect I had a slim grasp of the text,  probably just copied it all onto my 3 x 5 notecards., the way the teacher taught us.

A day or two before the report was due; I sat down to write my paper. I had drawn and colored the state flower, the magnolia, I had a stack of notecards. I had a green plastic cover. I was ready for the finishing touches, the report writing.

I sat on my blue and green shag carpet after school, leaning against my double bed, staring at the white lined paper, sifting through my notecards, thinking, “What next?” I hadn’t a clue.

I must have sat there long enough for my momma to come looking. At some point before dinner, I heard a knock and a, “Can I come in?”

Turning the handle, she shoved the door open just missing me on the floor, spread out in my sorry mess.

“How’s it going?” she asked.

I looked up and confessed. I had no idea of how to even try.

I was found out. I wasn’t very smart.

My momma sat beside me and said, “Don’t worry about what you write. Just get it out on the page. Don’t worry about how or even what you say, just get it on the page. Then we’ll go from there.”

At that moment, I was released and supported. Freed, with a safety net, my mom.

Just get it down on the page.

To have the permission to be imperfect.

To not worry about the spelling (I was and still am a terrible speller, which drove my mom nuts) or “run-on” sentences whatever that was.

To just get it down and know my mom had my back.

Thinking back, this was my first and best writing lesson.

To this day as a teacher of writing, this will always be the best first writing lesson.

Just get it on paper; then we’ll go from there.

Can’t say I remember much about the content of that report, beyond the state flower, and that my family wasn’t from Mississippi. It was Missouri.

To Two Writing Teachers Blog, for the place to get just get it down; to the Slice of Life community for being a present day safety net; to my mom, my first and best writing teacher, thank you.

Happy Slice of Life Tuesday read more slices here.

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14 thoughts on “Slice of Life: My First Writing Lesson

  1. Yes I too believe this is the first and most important lesson, sometimes when I do not have anything on the mind to write about I just begin writing on whatever words are floating in my mind and I do manage to put something together.

  2. What a wise mom! I love the details in this post- called to mind my own report-writing days as a grade schooler! (Green report cover, Encyclopedia Britannica,the idea of copying random facts!). Your mom’s advice was perfect. It’s what I still do today when I’m stuck with writing- just get SOMETHING DOWN, then worry about fixit it UP! Like Anne Lamott describes in Bird By Bird. What I’ve noticed with my students, though, is they mostly write something down and never think to fix it up. They think whatever they write means writing is done and not to be looked at again. We are writing literary essays now (not my choice, but a district requirement) and I’m trying to help them understand they need to reread what they wrote to make sure it makes sense and then also to edit for things like punctuation and capital letters. I told them how I always reread my writing out loud to see how it sounds to my ears and a typical piece I write gets revised many,many times. I love this post and the freedom to not worry so much at the start of writing. The part I need to figure out is how to get the students to care about making their pieces better!

  3. Oh Julieanne, what a wise momma!!! Just get it down! YES!!! In school, when I see students struggling to begin, I say out loud, “You have permission…actually, I insist, you write this first draft badly!” They look at me like I’m crazy, but the words magically begin falling out of their pens. Permission. It’s important. We need to remember to give it to ourselves too!

  4. I love this image of little Julianne and her mother figuring out how to write that s**tty first draft. Great advice. I did my 4th grade state report on Maine. Because the capital is Augusta and my birthday is in August. Random, but I still remember it.

  5. Thank you for sharing this!! I may share it with my students’ parent who want to help but aren’t always sure how. You say it so well!! Your mom is still teaching through your story!!

  6. You described what so many of us went through with writing those reports, but not everyone had a mom with wise words. I hope this is no longer the way students learn to write reports. I hope teachers are out there modeling their hearts out. (I know the TWT followers do). I recently found a report on Peru that I did in elementary school. Perhaps a glimpse of it will show up in March. Where in Missouri? Did you tell me this?

  7. You know I’m way older, but I remember writing a state report too. Do they still happen? This is the sweetest post, to your mom, to your own feelings about writing. Michelle H. wrote “everyone has a story”, so I wonder if everyone has a story about writing? Thanks Julieanne!

  8. Just get it down on the page.

    To have the permission to be imperfect.

    Well, there was teaching lesson 101 right there…exactly what you would be doing for your kids in the years to come! What a great story, Julieanne – beautifully crafted, too.

  9. I remember doing a report with the encyclopedia and 3 x 5 note cards, too. BUT, really all I remember is my teacher getting mad at me for copying from the book. No one ever taught me how to read, think about it, and take notes – putting the information into my own words. This has stuck with me and it’s definitely something I work very hard on with my fourth graders. Ah…memories:)

  10. How you captured so much of my early writing experience. Well-meaning teachers assign a report. BUT we still have absolutely no idea how to proceed. Somehow we came through it. Somehow we began to figure it out. How wonderful to have a writer mom who could point you in the WRITE direction.

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