Joining a Community of Writers: Writer’s Talk

By Jill Eurich

“I think I’ll write a story and put some additional facts about my animal around it in a different print like Nicola Davies does in Bat Loves the Night.”

“Have you seen some of the poems Paul Fleischman does in two voices? Let’s try one of those.”

“You know how we’re learning different things that Ralph Fletcher writes in his notebook like lines he likes and sometimes they give him ideas for stories. I really like this line. I am going to add it to my notebook like Ralph Fletcher would and maybe it will help me think of something.”

“Let’s help each other write every day the way Bruce Coville and Paula Danziger did.”

These students feel connected to writers they admire. Through a 3-5 minute writer’s talk given by their teachers, these students are learning more about the lives of some of their favorite writers, their habits or routines and how they engage in the writing process. As teachers give talks about writers, they help students see ways they can not only learn about the writers’ lives they admire, but also how they can gain advice from authors that will help them in their own writing. Here is an example:

Writer’s Talk – Bruce Coville and Paula Danziger

Have any of you read any books by Bruce Coville? He is the author of over 80 books! One that I have read is Jeremy Thatcher Dragon Hatcher.

Today I’d like to tell you a little bit about him as a writer and his friendship with Paula Danziger, the woman who wrote The Cat Ate My Gym Suit.  They were both having a hard time producing writing and one of the things that both Paula Danziger and Bruce Coville know as writers is that it is important to build stamina to write every day.  Here is how Bruce Coville described what they decided to do to help each other out:

It started as a challenge: both stuck on projects, we made a deal that the next afternoon we would call each other, and whoever did not have three pages to read would suffer unendurable shame. Voila! Suddenly we were each writing again, a two-person writers’ group.

Paula Danziger and Bruce Coville not only motivated each other to write a substantial amount every day but they also read their work to each other so that they had an audience and felt a sense of purpose.  We too have an audience and a sense of purpose when we share our ideas and writing with each other in our writer’s workshop.

Finding information about writers has become easier since most writers have their own website with information about themselves and their writing. Since author talks are supposed to be short and focus on one main idea, you can often gather many ideas about an author as you do your research that can result in several author talks. You can also connect writers’ talks with a particular aspect of writing that your students are engaged in. For instance if many of your students are revising, you may share with them that Katherine Patterson loves revising more than any other aspect of writing. You could even show a page of one of her manuscripts full of revisions, messy with current thinking for how to make changes in her writing that she felt would make it better.

There are many options for what to include in a writer’s talk. It is helpful to share what the author has written so that students who have read some of the books can make that connection to what they are learning about the writer. Here are some other possibilities:

  • Details about the writer’s life
  • Ways in which people, circumstances, or other details in the writer’s life connect to their     books
  • Advice for other writers given by the author
  • Habits or routines that are interesting and could be helpful to fellow writers
  • Ways in which an author has struggled with writing and worked it out

It’s interesting and fun to learn about authors you have read. In making connections between authors’ lives, their advice, habits, routines and their own work and lives as writers, students join a community of writers, learn to take risks and build their writers’ toolbox from writers they admire. It’s a joy to hear a young writer say, “I’m going to be like Cynthia Rylant and find a cool way to show time passing like the grapes ripening in When the Relatives Came.”

What a strong way to build students identities as writers!

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