Finish Well

If you are a writer, artist, designer, architect, cook, or creative all-purpose person, you know all about process. You know that your process is unique and essential to the creative life.

If you watch reruns, check out Carrie Bradshaw’s writing process.  Seriously.  She ruminates.  She ponders.  She obsesses.  She wonders.  It might be about Mr. Big or shoes or negotiating life and relationships in New York City— but she digs and spins and drills until she hits it: the first sentence.  Then she opens up her laptop and starts to type. The camera zooms in on the screen. Tap. Tap-tap. Tap. Tap-tap.  We watch as the first sentence is crafted, character-by-character and word-by-word. If the sentence turns out to be a false start, we are witness to a swift single revision. We hear Carrie’s voiceover as she writes her life. That’s process.

Carrie Bradshaw and I live in different shoes.  We have different approaches to life, but we each have our own process.  Mine involves Sunday mornings and coffee and headphones and gospel bluegrass in the breaking pink-streaked blue of predawn light. I clean off my desk and make a mess and clean it up again. I write my life in the break of a brand new day and in the twilight of a week just passed.  Process.

If you are a teacher you know all about THE writing process: the march from start to finish –planning, drafting, revising, editing, publishing– no matter how many writers are lost along the way. I am much more interested helping children learn THEIR process than I am in teaching THE process. And I’ve never lost a writer yet.

In September, young third graders are pretty sure they know how to finish the job. They know how to fill a prescribed amount of space, put the pencil down, and announce, “I’m done.”  My first task as teacher is to gently guide the young writer away from the allure of “done!”  Writers need to know how to get ideas and see details.  Writers need to know how to get started and how to stick with it. Writers need to learn to hear cadence in craft.

Writers need to be willing to get lost along the way and learn how to find their way back.

And then, finally, writers need to know how to finish their work. That’s where we are now… we are learning the beauty of finish: we are learning to remove flaws and add detail. Finished work has permanence and integrity. We are honing our revision skills and playing with ways to publish. This week we spent time reading over our notebooks and deciding what to take forward—what we want to finish. I leaned in and listened as young writers talked this part of the process through.

“Oh, I love this one — it has such good words!”

“This brings the feelings back!”

“I think others would like this.”

These are great guidelines for any writer! We’ve learned the secret of getting done.  It is this: just get started. And begin well. Live into your work. And then finish the job. Without finish there is no “done.”

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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14 Responses to Finish Well

  1. Gayle Hefty says:

    A great rule for any writer: “live into your work.” I love it!

  2. Tom Hartman says:

    Individualism isn’t about doing your thing. It is about doing THE thing –our common human thing– your unique way. And, as Annie so beautifully illustrates, bringing out the ME is deeply the task of the WE.

  3. Ashley C. says:

    Now you have me wishing I could use SATC to show my students what the writing process should look like. That would be fun!

  4. blkdrama says:

    I’m with you Annie, in the middle of mine, creating a new digital piece. I love the torture now but I hated it as a student, so I’m wondering too how the process can be seen by kids as a good, fun thing…challenging…
    Can that happen in today’s environment?

  5. Theresa says:

    Annie ~ I love reading your posts about life in your classroom. Your words are wise and true. I can almost hear your kind, patient voice guiding writers along the way. I too like the line “Live into your work.” Thank you ~Theresa

  6. Ruth says:

    Annie —
    As always, a beautifully written slice. I love the paragraph where you describe your writing process. Thanks for the reminder and the inspiration to keep on. 🙂
    Happy writing, Ruth

  7. Pingback: Words that are Speaking to Me « TWO WRITING TEACHERS

  8. Mrs. V says:

    I have always loved the concept of allowing students to get to know themselves as writers and what works best for them, rather than one rigid, lock-step process. Your post captured this well! I loved the Carrie Bradshaw reference as the lead too.

  9. Amanda says:

    Beautiful! Thanks so much for sharing and giving us such a good slice to chew on! 🙂

  10. Jenny says:

    Really loved where you brought your students’ comments into the piece. Their writing language shows what a good writing teacher you are.

  11. Gloria Maldonado says:

    Most of the time it can be hard to begin a piece of writing but once you start telling your story, everything just seems to flow perfectly. It is not so much about knowing the steps for writing; it is about engaging yourself in the writing. Once truly submerged in the writing, the process is simple. I totally agree with you Mrs. Annie.

  12. Lisa Benson says:

    Your view of the writing process, I believe, is more effective than the one commonly practiced. It allows the student more opportunity to get to the heart of their message while putting their own voice into it. Following a well designed plan is easy but like you said, you lose some in the process. I would rather have them all discovering what amazing writers they can be.

  13. Mallory says:

    As a student I thought I was a good writer. Today I am not so confident. I believe because I was never taught to appreciate it. It was an assignment to finish, a task to accomplish. I hope when I become a teacher I can show my students writing can be fun, and not just an assignment to finish.

  14. Lloyd says:

    Writing is a learning experience throughout life. Books, articles, plays, etc. are written everyday, but most of the time, the author isn’t finished with their work. They have to produce something, whether it’s due to a deadline or to get paid or so on. But think of this: If an author never finished a written piece of work, would they ever be published?
    I believe students need to know about the writing process with making revisions to their work and so on, but they also need to know when to end it. Being obsessed about a few written pieces one is writing is one thing, but it shouldn’t always consume you. If it did all the time, no one would ever read your work.

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