NVWP Summer Institute – Day 2 pt. 1 – Writing Routines and Processes

July 7, 2015

We start, as we do every day of Summer Institute, with thirty minutes of writing. I have a very anti-prompt approach to morning pages. Although using prompts can be helpful and generative, I prefer a more Spartan approach where the brain’s only recourse to stimulation is what it can come up with on its own. Although I’ve learned to lessen this asceticism with students by incorporating a variety of prompts, I don’t want to give my brain any external guidance.

We begin our demo lesson presentations with Joe.



Using Writing Routines to Help Develop Independent Writers

Joe’s demo lesson speaks to a problem every teacher of writing can relate to, that moment when a student stares at a blank page and entreats, “Ok, well, how should I begin?” So, how can we help students become agents in their own writing practice?

He begins by asking us to reflect on our personal writing rituals. What do we need before we can write? Here’s my quickwrite:

Q1: What is your writing routine? What about your process? Consider all facets.

My writing routine is pretty nonsystematic. Let’s get the basics out of the way. I’ll write anyplace that’s quiet and lacking in stimulation. So, anyplace that’s not outdoors or surrounded by people. No matter what I’m writing, I pretty much follow the same format. It’s a lopsided recursive loop of planning, drafting, and revising. I’ll typically spew out whatever ideas come off the top of my head. If the ideas go together, I’ll include them together. If they’re different, I’ll put a few blank lines in between them. I’ll keep writing on a topic until my brain runs out of juice. At that point, I’ll go back and try to start filling in all of the random dendrites I’ve sent out on the page. Anything I’m unsure of I just group at the bottom of the page, sort of like an idea bank. Then, it’s just a constant back and forth of adding, subtracting, mapping out on a sheet of paper, throwing that sheet out, and writing more. I typically eschew music. My brain is spastic enough without having to divide its attention. Gum and caffeine are my secret weapons. Before I begin writing, I typically make sure I’ve used the bathroom at least twice and surrounded myself with fresh gum and hot coffee.

Others mention swaddling themselves in blankets and clothing. A study burrito, they called it. Sort of straight-jacketing yourself with various textiles. Some need white noise (a dog’s snooze), others require some form of aural chaos. There’s a wide variety here: morning, night, music, silence, aroma therapy, gum, etc. As we discuss our answers, we’re building metacognitive skills by monitoring our own processes and becoming aware of how and why we do the things we do. Some overwrite, some underwrite.

An obvious takeaway here is whether or not we allow our students the ability to approach writing in their own way, much less even providing them an opportunity to develop their own process. Do we scold children when they begin writing without an outline? Do we require a specific amount of drafting before the “real thing”?

This work at becoming a writer takes time and effort and isn’t aided that well by technology and gadgetry (My mini-diatribe aside, another teacher brings up Google’s Read&Write, a program allowing students to hear their own words in a variety of voice playbacks). Its trial and error and messy and metacognition and the ability to enjoy the ride.

We end Joe’s lesson by talking about extensions for this activity.
-Keeping an ongoing process or routine journal
-sharing routines and processes with other students and asking them to emulate others and see what happens
-study the routines and processes of famous writers (this stuff can be found online)

Great job, Joe! Time for a break time.


  1. Katlyn

    Since I have not thought of myself as a writer, I really have no particular writing process. I guess for me it starts with a purpose rather than any tangible routine. I am curious if this will change as I write more this month. I appreciate how you remind us to think about students having their own processes, I often forget this!


  2. Michelle Haseltine

    I love that you included your quick write here. I have a weird question. Are you doing your quick writes on the computer or in a notebook? Just wondering. Love the discussion of process and the thinking around it! Looks like it was a great presentation!


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