Writing is Like That

vermeer_01.LWe walked across Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The bright light of the  November sun brought the yellow leaves that fell around us into brilliant focus.  My sister in law, two cousins, and I entered the park’s wilderness known as The Ramble.  We knew where we were going, but wondered how and if we would come out in the right place.  This required some backtracking, but we got there.

Writing is like that.

My students walk in on Monday mornings full of soccer games, apple orchards, newborn baby cousins, and holidays. And they walk in with the young writer’s lexicon:  Cousin. Friend. Sister. Brother. The stories can’t be told without these words and they can’t be lived without these people.

We walked into the Met and a security guard told us to hand over the mirth.  We laughed and shook our heads.  This is family mirth– ours by marriage and birth.   He saw it and reminded us what it was worth.  Sister in law.  Cousins.  Friends.

We made our way through the classical gallery to the exhibit of Vermeer’s Milkmaid.  I was struck by the play of light and the vivid hues of blue.  I read the text on the wall:

… the picture may resemble a photograph. However, the composition is exquisitely designed, as is evident from several revisions …

Vermeer’s painting captures a moment that has been seen and revised until the light of the ordinary shines through.  I’ve been teaching revision to my third graders.  It’s hard, though celebratory,  work.  Last week, as a first step, they combed through their writing to find the moment in their writing life they want to revise… to live twice.

DegasI continued walking.   A woman was explaining a Degas painting to children: “Notice how the arm of the dancer repeats the shape of the handle of the watering can that is on the floor.  Notice the repetition of pattern.”

Writing is like that.  Patterns emerge in the Writers’ Notebooks week after week.  Children begin to see what they care about.

I moved on to another gallery.  A college student stood in front of a Matisse painting and explained it to his grandmother.  “Look at the fabrics in the painting.  He collected bits of fabric in his travels in Morocco and incorporated their patterns into his paintings.”

Writing is like that.  We collect scraps of experience. We incorporate patterns.  We follow serpentine paths to the words we want to say; then we backtrack and revise those words into love notes to a moment and to the people who live them with us.  We revise until the light of the ordinary shines through.

About Annie Campbell

Annie Campbell is a National Board Certified teacher and loves her work. After a forty year career in the classroom, she continues to support teachers. Annie enjoys cooking for family and friends; she likes to lose herself in a good book; she loves discovering new ideas, restaurants, perfect picnic places, and movies with her husband, Ben.
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12 Responses to Writing is Like That

  1. Ashley says:

    I totally agree, writing is exactly like that. You never know when or how the ideas will come and then even how they will eventually unfold. That’s what motivates me, seeing where the story takes you.

  2. Debele says:

    From our shared experience, four stories that are so different, yet so alike. Like writing. And memories of exquisite moments.
    — The sister in law

  3. parkerspoets says:

    I totally agree. Writing is like creating a mosaic. The parts come from many different places, and can be many shapes and colors. When I begin writing I have an idea what it will look like, but the details change as I go along. I never know what piece will appear or where. The adventure begins when I pick up the pen.

  4. Stacey says:

    You drew some interesting parallels here.

  5. Karren says:

    Beautiful and so true!

  6. Gayle Hefty says:

    You really do need to compile these into a book! Really.

  7. Faithe Mickens says:

    Maybe she’ll listen to you Gayle, I’ve been trying to get at least 3 books out of her.

  8. Julie Crowder says:

    Revision is so important in art, I like to say that all paintings have an “ugly” phase. The “U” word is not one that I allow in my art classes from my students, but its true. If you give up at the ugly stage of a painting, if you let it convince you it will never be anything, then it never will, but every painting has a beautiful phase too. Its final phase. It has a time in it’s life when you have to sit down on the couch and say “wow, I did that, I really did that”. Push through, thats what I say. Keep pushing through.

  9. Catherine Morris says:

    Awesome video! and very touching.

  10. Amanda Blaschick says:

    I cannot explain how WONDERFULLY this entry puts poetry into perspective for me! As a growing writer, I sometimes find it hard to relate poetry and craft to real life. You totally just did this for me! I am so happy that I have a solid example for SO many parts and traits of the writing process- I guarantee I will read this over and over… I’m actually excited to have come across this! Thank you for sharing such an inspiring piece of writing with us!

  11. Gloria Maldonado says:

    I love this entry!!! We are all capable of being good writers however, writing takes time. We need many revisions to have that perfect piece of writing.

  12. Lisa Benson says:

    “find the moment in their writing life they want to revise… to live twice.”

    I really enjoyed this part right here. It’s like saying they have a chance to take another look at that moment in their life and see if maybe they missed some important details or a deeper meaning. I believe that a piece of work can be completed but always revised. My art teacher told me that if she didn’t sell a painting she would keep it. Years later she might look at it with a new perspective and figure out why things seemed askew.

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