Teacher to Teacher: Work in Progress
By Janice Ewing
I’ve been thinking about the phrase ‘work in progress’ lately, in a couple of ways. Being fortunate to find myself in the company of many teacher writers, through PAWLP, grad classes, and other networks, I often hear people comparing notes on their works in progress, or WIPs. I think it’s a great place to be in one’s writing. After all, it means that you’ve started something, or several somethings, but they’re still in progress, by definition, so there’s no expectation of completeness, perfection, or even ‘done for now.’ Instead, there is possibility – for improvement, expansion, compression, refinement, more or less of whatever is needed. There will be feedback along the way, some helpful, some not so much, triumphs, mistakes, epiphanies, and doubt. At a monthly writing group of PAWLPers, for example, we share children’s books, memoirs, science fiction, realistic fiction, and poetry. We learn so much from each other as we exercise our writing and critiquing muscles.
I have a few works in progress of my own. One is a children’s book, based on my two very playful cats. I really didn’t intend to write in this genre. At our PAWLP Day in March of 2016, we had an author panel and the discussion turned towards their journeys through publishing. We found that many people in attendance were interested in writing and publishing children’s books. For some it was a goal for the future, but many had an actual work in progress! We decided to create a group for those interested in children’s book writing, which would meet before our spring and fall Continuity sessions. PAWLP fellow Dana Kramaroff offered to facilitate the group, and it has been going strong ever since. I attended those meetings out of interest in the process and what others were writing, and found myself getting the bug. I don’t know where it will go, but the experience has been fun and energizing.
During the PAWLP Summer Institute, which I took in the summer of 2004, one of the things I wrote and reflected about was the experience that I had heard so many fiction writers describe, of getting to know their characters as real people. I had never had that experience, and envied it. About a year ago, a character started to come to life in my imagination. I don’t know what sparked it but I grabbed onto the thread and went with it. That character now has a family and co-workers who are taking shape on the page. I’m not sure where this is going either, but that’s okay, it’s a work in progress.
I also do professional writing and editing. That’s ongoing, but it continues to take new turns. Participation on this blog team, as well as co-editing Pennsylvania Reads, the journal of the Keystone State Reading Association, have taught me a lot about the process of curating writing with a strong awareness of audience.
So that brings me to my other interpretation of work in progress. My experience in education has ranged from working with preschoolers to adult learners. My current work, in grad classes, with PAWLP fellows, and with the Philadelphia Reading Council and Keystone State Reading Association, provides me with much food for thought, leading to questions as well as the opportunity to explore those questions more deeply. Recently, I’ve been collaborating with teachers to explore ways to balance scripted programs and test prep curricula with authentic practices, find ways to embed more writing across the curriculum, and advocate for our students and ourselves through a myriad of challenges.
So, my takeaway is that a work in progress is more than a manuscript. To me, it’s a way of being, a way of navigating the world. I have more questions than answers, but my notebook is open. I’m a work in progress.
Do you have works in progress, in a planning, drafting, revising, or getting ready to publish stage? Who do you turn to for sharing and critique?
In what ways are you a work in progress? What questions, goals, inquiries, are driving you? Who are your partners in thinking, questioning, and ongoing learning?