Lots of parents call out morning reminders as their children leave car doors or screen doors slamming behind them. “Pay attention!” they call out. It is the best writing advice there is. “Take notes!” my father would bark as we untangled ourselves and tumbled out of his VW Bug just as the bell was about to ring. It never occurred to me that he was talking about school. And I really don’t think he was. To me he sounded just like Perry White, Lois Lane’s Editor at the Daily Planet. “Take notes and bring back some stories.” I learned that paying attention is a way of harvesting the details of the day into a story that I could unfold and tell later. Details make up the story we see and carefully chosen words make up the story we tell. I teach third graders to look at the world with the eyes of a writer. “Look” is one of the first words we learn to read, but it takes a lifetime of practice to actually do it. This week, we will talk about what it means to look, read, and listen like a writer. We start by paying attention and by willing to be astonished by what we see.
Last summer, at Lake Chautauqua, a friend pressed a scrap of paper into my hands. He had been reading the poems of Mary Oliver and had written down a few of her words for me: “Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.” I love those words and keep them close at hand. They can be summed up simply, “Oh, look!”