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Memoir – heartbreak, sighs, and drafting

October 26, 2010

My kids are breaking my heart with their writing. Don’t they always? I know this about memoir. I know this will happen. And yet, like the first day of school, my heart is surprised by emotion.

Every sigh and heavy exhale  is so helpless. Their worries, wonderings, silenced dreams placed so freely on paper.

The human story doesn’t get old. The inner workings of the heart are precious.


I am honored to be their writing teacher. I am honored to be their reader.


On a practical note, we end our developing tomorrow and we’re on to drafting Thursday.

Last day of developing: Writers dig for the hidden truths within our stories.  We can do this by rereading our writing, highlighting the stuff that just feels so BIG and TRUE. We can ask, “How will I live differently now that I know this truth? If I could go back in time, knowing what I know now, how would I do this moment over again?”

Drafting What I HAD planned was to teach was:

Writers study the structure of memoir.  We name possible ways it might go- highlight where writers stop to “talk” to their reader. Then, we can take out our timeline. Before drafting, we can story tell our moment to our partners (including the post its of what’s happening IN us) and mark the places we will stop and talk to our readers about the truth that our story reveals.

What I WANT to teach NOW is simply: Writers can have magic rub off on them. We can read mentor memoirs and write in the wake of that beauty.     I want to do this because I saw miraculous leaps on the day that we did this lesson in the collecting phase. We read a sample from  Jacqueline Woodson’s The Notebook of Melanin Sun. Afterwards, my kids and I wrote. Yes, in a wake. A wake of magic.   Confession: laughed at Lucy’s words. And now I love them. They are true.  Anyway, I want that wake back and I think drafting is the perfect time to bring it again.

My hypothesis is that if students simply read amazing mentors, they can use their timelines and reflections and “write in the wake of power and beauty.”  It’s hands off. It’s risky. But I’m excited.

Alone by Jacqueline Woodson from The Notebook of Melanin Sun Yay for finding online texts! ignore the notes.

10/20   while sitting with the kids. I couldn’t resist writing alongside them.


Somedays I wear new like shiny white sneakers

So shiny and white– but they stick out

Pretty, but they dont’ fit in. Not like the others, worn in and comfortable.

And it’ll take time before I’ll look like them, at home and free.

Other times I wear new like a turtle, protecting myself from what might happen

Uncertainty, danger, fear, hurt…

I hide beneath my shell, afraid to trust- until it is safe.

Safe to peek out.

But new is also peeking out at the sound of a friendly voice telling me it’s safe. Peeking out to see a new best friend. Peeking out to find that being new is also smiles and friends and kids I love.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2010 10:17 pm

    We’re just beginning the drafting…this is the hard part!

    • October 27, 2010 10:21 pm

      yay! i love hearing from teachers who are on the same unit. it’s so fun knowing we are all in this together.

      i know…drafting IS the hard part, ironically. We did heavy developing via reflection so we have to work hard to teach them how to weave it in as they write their scenes. I’m a little nervous… but excited. any tips?

  2. November 5, 2010 4:36 am

    My kids always tugged at my heartstrings when they wrote memoir. Maybe that’s why it was my favorite unit of the year (to teach).

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