By Lauren Heimlich Foley
The sun’s rays stream through my slider door, painting golden streaks across my floor. Someone’s weed whacker, aggressive and annoying, threatens my concentration. I breathe and return to the world of dystopian YA literature. Twirling my mug of steaming hot tea, I turn the page, hanging on every last word. And, then . . . I read my line of inspiration: a smile and a reunited love interest. Immediately, my mind sparks alive as I quickly swap out my book for a pen and notebook. Furiously, I write, pouring possible leads onto the page. Finally, I realize the boy I mentioned in my prologue—a quick write I wrote more than a year ago with my students—is not my main character’s love interest but the key to taking down the enemy. Just a week ago, I had not the slightest idea of how he would fit into my story and wondered if I even needed him at all.
The summer of 2019 marked two years after taking PAWLP’s Invitational Summer Institute, and I had the itch to create but no plans to write an article. I just so happened to be out with two of my best childhood friends—a kickoff to summer. Mentioning a story that I started writing with my students during quick write time, they asked if I would continue developing it over the summer. The next thing I knew, they were challenging me to continue writing.
Well . . . Challenge accepted. But, I had no routine.
Don Murray’s words of wisdom from “One Writer’s Secrets” kept playing in my mind:
- “Write daily.”
- “Pick the best time for your writing and try to protect that time. Be selfish.”
- “Read widely as well as deeply; read writing as well as writing about writing”
- “Keep a list of questions to which you want to seek answers.”
- “Write for yourself.”
- “Be patient.”
- “Write to discover what you have to say.”
- “Lower your standards.”
- “Write with your ear.”
With Murray’s secrets, I set out to find the time and space for writing that worked best for me. I felt like Goldilocks, trying out the kitchen table, living room, and porch. I experimented with reading and writing during breakfast and after breakfast. Before or after a walk. Read first then write or write first then read.
In my search, a new pattern started to emerge: after reading a YA book, I found some sort of inspiration whether it be the story arc, characters, writing style, word choice, etc. Pausing to recognize this observation and all of my experimentation, I established some consistency:
- Over the day’s first cup of tea, I read a YA novel. Usually a chapter or two.
- As soon as my mind wandered to my own story, or I found a nugget of inspiration, I would switch to writing.
- I established a goal to write at least three composition notebook pages each day.
- But, I also realized that I needed flexibility. Some days I wrote creatively, others professionally. Some days I listed ideas or sketched. Some days I wrote first.
- If the day was going to be a real scorcher, I either woke up earlier or walked first.
- Interestingly, I found that I liked to read and write in all of the places I tried—the kitchen table, living room, and porch. I allowed the day to dictate which worked best for me.
When I was away with my family, this schedule proved more difficult, but I never left home without a book and a smaller bound notebook that my mom gave me. When school started, I kept to this schedule for September and October, but then there was graduate school and daylight savings—which are no excuses—but I found my mornings filled with professional writing and a little bit of extra sleep.
The good news was that I carved out time on the weekends for my routine. I also found time most school days at lunch to read roughly 15 minutes, and I wrote my story each class period during quick writing and self-selected writing. Discovering this time, allowed me to continue being an authentic participant in our workshop. Moreover, I was still finding most of my mini-lesson examples from the YA novels I read, book talking the books I was reading, and sharing my writing with my students.
I am finding it equally challenging to remain on a reading-writing schedule with distance learning. I will admit it: I am staying up late to watch throwback movies with my family, so I am not getting up early enough to read and write before distance learning begins. I do not have the official pause to write with my students each day or a lunch period to read. It is also difficult to turn off the teaching switch once school is ‘done’ because my classroom is my home.
After reading Courtney Knowlton’s piece on priorities, I am striking a balance. I am taking back my mornings and resuming my reading-writing routine. I know this needs to happen—and I know I can do it because the first two weeks of distance learning I stuck to my morning routine. During that time, I revised the below portion of my story—after being inspired by the flowering magnolia trees in my apartment complex. I shared this section as my example for an assignment two weeks ago.
I know I am a better teacher when I am reading and writing for me and can share that experience with my students. In a discussion board conference, one of my students shared how she had writer’s block, and I responded with three possible ways to get out of the funk—three ways that help me. It worked for her, and she recommended those tips to one of her peers during a small-group Teams meeting.
In order to maintain my personal and academic reading-writing life, I need to dedicate the time to read and write creatively and professionally. Reading and writing are some of my most favorite things. I do not want to let anything stand in my way.
So, I challenge you! If you lost your reading-writing routine—for any reason—reclaim it! Take back that sanctified time! Do it. For yourself. For your students. For your profession.