I spent a large part of this weekend reading Jeffrey Eugenides The Marriage Plot. I knew that I should grade papers, plan lessons, write college recommendations. I just couldn’t. The writing was so good, so immensely satisfying that it felt like I was doing something secretive and illegal. Good writing makes us lose track of time, dog-ear pages and double underline meaningful sections. As teachers, good writing is easier to identify than to teach. Students need so much practice and feedback that quite often we find ourselves spent.
Every post this week will focus on how to improve voice in student writing. It seems an appropriate way to celebrate The National Day on Writing this Thursday and a good way to provide some new approaches to teaching voice. Jim Burke posted a tweet this past week that commented, “October is the cruelest month” and he’s not kidding. There is something about October that reminds me just how hard it is to teach writing. They aren’t quite ready to have individual writing breakthroughs, yet, and they are so busy with putting things in the “right” order that voice is an afterthought.
This weekend I was reminded that good writing is voice. It is what makes students “fall in love” with an author, character, story, or setting. It is what makes them take out their books when they finish an assignment early and read quietly. It is what makes me, their teacher, linger over their own writing when they get it right. So this week we’ll start with engaging non-fiction writers with loads of voice (Tan, Sedaris, Dowd, Krauthammer to name a few), work on short exercises that practice that voice, and even talk about collaborative assignments the combine multiple voices into one piece of writing.
Now, back to. . . reading.