How Do I Write? Exploring Your Writing Process – NVWP Summer ISI – Day 2

Welcome to the Northern Virginia Writing Project’s 2016 Invitational Summer Institute! I’ll be blogging the demonstration lessons and the various activities occurring during our four-week duration. Find out more about the NVWP and the National Writing Project.

Sarah Baker, O.F.L., leads us through her demonstration lesson exploring the various ways we write. Community builds confidence. Confidence builds ownership. Ownership builds resilience. Resilience, we hope, will get us to success. Most of her teaching is online. She’s going to have us explore who we are, how we write, and the fruitful connections between.


We begin by writing down three adjectives that describe our attitude toward writing in an academic environment:

Eager – Unworthy – Exhilarating

Others offer adjectives such as: fearful, unwilling, imperfect, familiar, anxious, exhausting, challenging, reflective, emotionless, uninspiring

3 Words

We all have feelings about this stuff. So do our students. That’s the point. This sort of quick exercise helps us take the pulse of the class. This short activity can provide startling windows into each student.

Time for a freewrite: what animal is your writing?

Since this is a free-write I’m trying to write without stopping. So the first thing that pops into my mind is a sort of two steps forward/one step back motion. A recursive process that makes progress only by frequently doubling back on itself. So maybe I should go with a hermit crab. My home is the recursive shell, a cyclical structure suggesting labyrinthine corridors and inward direction. Like hermit crabs my writing often moves slowly. I have a habit of writing multiple sentences about one thing in quick succession. Ok write write write, remember, in a freewrite you don’t stop writing until the time is done.

Our animals/creatures are giraffes, octopi, ladybugs, stingrays, three squirrels, and bats, to name a few. Now apply this to writing. What does your piece of writing want to become? Our writing changes. We change as writers. This is something you can come back to and get different results.

Now let’s take it a step further. Recall Betty Flowers’ influential article on writing roles: architect, madman, carpenter, and judge. Who are the characters in your head when you write? Who’s living up there?

The Judge
The Spaz
The Fiend
The Silencer
The Exhibitionist

Others come up with:

Head Characters

It’s amazing how much stuff we have to say about writing based on such deceptively simple prompts. Although we haven’t produced much in the way of words on the page, our meta-cognition is off the charts. Who gets to drive the process? We have control, but we often forget this when wrapped up in the potentially torturous task of writing.

We next draw our writing process. Here’s mine. You’ll notice themes of recursion, continuity, linearity, and containment.


After hearing a few others share out, I realize I did it wrong. I was meant to do an illustration of my actual writing process. It’s pretty simple: coffee, a fresh pack of gum (I refresh the piece every 5-10 minutes), and complete silence. I sit down and write in shotgun blasts that I then go back and try to make sense of. Connect, delete, edit, revise, etc. And I repeat that until I’m too lazy enough to keep working on it.

Additional Readings:
Wyche–Time Tools Talismans is a fantastic discussion of the importance of understanding our writing process.



  1. Pingback: Thinking Places: A Playful Activity for Personal Narratives – NVWP Summer ISI – Day 2 | Mr. Anderson Reads & Writes
  2. Pingback: Resources and Reflections from the Northern Virginia Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute 2016, Part 2 | The Writing Campus

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