Teaching in the 21st Century

Traci GardnerTraci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.

Create What You Want To!

posted: 6.18.09 by Traci Gardner

Dozens and dozens of ideas float through my head every day. My thoughts are cluttered with them, but they go nowhere. I don’t post them on Twitter. I don’t write them down in my journal. I don’t even scribble them on a Post-It note so I can return to them later. I get so focused on trying to think of perfect ideas that I never write anything down.

I’ve been rethinking that process recently, thanks to photographer friend, Steve Mermelstein (@usrbingeek). Steve recommended Escaping Your Portfolio, from Chase Jarvis. In the entry, Jarvis explains that a photographer’s portfolio of work is typically thought of as a collection of outstanding shots. The problem with that way of thinking, he says, is that the “metaphysical weight alone of the word portfolio can crush the creative spirit rather than enhance it.”

As a writer, I quickly saw that Jarvis was describing the photographic equivalent of my problem. His solution is simple and liberating: “ditch the concept in your mind and wander aimlessly creating things that you want to create.”

Like Jarvis, I’ve been buying the belief that everything I post online has to be a perfect example of my work. Since anyone can read what I write online, everything I post has to be perfect. Why didn’t it ever occur to me to just label some of my writing as drafts or unpolished ideas?

I’m aiming to write more and think less for a while. Rough drafts of all those things I think about have to be better than no drafts at all, right? Don’t wait for the perfect words, the perfect shots, the perfect sounds! Just create your texts. The best ones can always be shifted into a polished collection later.

Beyond teaching me a lesson for my own writing, Jarvis’s blog entry is one that I want to share with students, especially students working on audio and visual compositions. Jarvis has the authority of a working professional who has published some great pictures. Students should easily see the connection to their own work.

After discussing the entry with the class, I’d challenge students to post at least 5–10 new things every day. Their posts might consist of words, photos, videos, or audio files. The important thing is that they don’t need to be perfect or polished. After a week or two, have students review the collections and choose some favorites. As they share their choices with you, ask them to reflect on the process of creating whatever they wanted to and how it might affect other projects that they work on.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Drafting, Planning, Revising, Writing Process
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