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What Do You Need To Write?

posted: 10.23.12 by Traci Gardner

I spent the last three weeks talking about the National Day on Writing, which was last Saturday, October 20. The discussion of #whyiwrite and #whatiwrite led me to a new question: What do I need to write?

I began by brainstorming all the tools I have around me when I write, focusing on tangible things. I came up with this list as a start:

  • blank books
  • small note books (no taller than 6″)
  • medium ball-point pen, ideally Pentel RSVP with purple ink
  • highlighters (at least in yellow, orange, and pink)
  • filled notebooks and journals (my idea stash)
  • diet soda
  • my computer and appropriate software:
    • Dreamweaver for writing Web pages
    • Scrivener for my longer texts (like book manuscripts)
    • MS Word for shorter works (like a newsletter article)
    • Evernote for hoarding URLs and ideas
    • Pinterest for saving inspirational images with links
    • Flickr for collecting thought-provoking images
  • a mouse and full-size keyboard
  • post-it notes and flags
  • Wikipedia (to check general facts quickly)
  • Google (to find models and do research)
  • stickers (to decorate and highlight my notes)
  • my Internet connection and Web server

When I reflected on my list, I thought it seemed fairly boring and general. It probably would not differ from anyone else’s list. Someone else might mention a different type of pen or beverage or software. Some folks might include cigarettes or having the right kind of music. Generally, however, our lists would be similar.

I like assignments and activities that invite people to tell me more about themselves as writers. As I reflected on my list and how poorly it captured what makes me a unique writer, I remembered a post I wrote a couple of years ago that asked students to share A Writer’s Creativity Kit with teachers. My list was a similar idea, but it wasn’t really working. How could I make my interest in explaining exactly what I need to write into a better snapshot of the things that help me be creative?

I realized that snapshots were the solution. I looked for photos of people’s desks on Flickr and found examples:





















What really makes these photos informative are the detailed tags that the first two photographers have added to identify everything on the desk (be sure to click through so you can see them). I don’t see a busy desk of stuff; I see a collection of specifically identified objects that help me learn about the writer who sits at that desk. Imagine how much more informative that last photo would be if the photographer had included tags!

The photo at the beginning of this post, with the Sonic cup of Diet Dr. Pepper, shows a portion of my desk. Most of the things I included in my bulleted list are missing from that photo, but it’s a much better vision of what I need in order to write. Based on my realization, I plan to add photos (or videos) to assignments that ask students to tell me more about themselves as writers.

I want to see photos of their desks, of what it looks like when they study or work on research at the library, of how they work at a computer lab, and of what they bring to their writing center appointments—and I want to see more than one photo, from different points in time as they work in different activities. Just as important, I want them to reflect on the things that appear repeatedly and how different settings and kinds of work change what they need as writers. This activity can help us all grow as writers.

How do you talk with students about what they need to write? I’d love to hear about your assignments, so please leave a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.


[Photo: All photos have a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 2.0) license. Click on the images to see additional credits on the Flickr site.]


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