What I Know About Writing

What seems like a long time ago, I left the world of business accounting (no great loss) and started working in a public school. I hate to tell you, but this was just about thirty years ago.

I kept a private tax practice going during most of the thirty years, finally stopping six years ago – thank God! Tax accounting crunches a lot of work into a short period from about the end of January until April 15th. I always had a few extensions so the work usually lasted into May. Most of my clients were self-employed loggers, mechanics, farmers, and carpenters. I cannot tell you how many boxes of receipts I went through that were kept on the floor of a pick-up truck all year where they also were joined by old jelly donuts, soda and beer cans, partially eaten sandwiches, and other assorted small forms of wildlife. I was teaching record keeping and the tax code to my clients as much as I was preparing tax returns. Oh well, that was a past life.

I have always enjoyed writing, and of course, reading. Reading and writing are inseparable. In Stephen King’s book, “On Writing,” he gives some good advice to wanna-be writers early on in his book and the advice is to READ, and read everything you can and always be an insatiable reader. I think this is the best advice to aspiring writers.

When I started working in my first public school, Williamstown Middle and High School, in Willamstown, Vermont, I was hired as a para-educator for the middle school, and I was told my size and physical attributes had something to do with my assignment. Someone once told me to shake the hand of every student and give them a good grip, let them feel how strong your grip is. I did this, and I think the advice was good. Rumors circulated among the middle school students that I was a former football player – true, but nothing I had shared. The rumors worked in my favor so I let them live – yeah, I did.

Middle school teaching and program were going through a large re-think at this time (mid to late 1980s and into the 90s. I found the changes happening in middle school education exciting and kind of thrilling to be part of. I would never consider myself a traditional learner, and opening up the learning process to accommodate all kinds of learning styles and different intelligences really resonated with me, and I could see how much this worked well for our students.

I soon found myself inspired to start a Master’s Degree program that would also lead to teacher certification. I focused on what intrigued me, and that was the writing process. I have been especially fascinated by the critical thinking that happens at the point of a pencil, so to speak, and before writing hits the paper. So, there lies my Master’s program with a focus on writing and the middle school curriculum.

At this time, there was an amazing group of teacher/writers coming out of New Hampshire, Maine, and also Vermont. They were finding their way to being published by a great educational publishing house, Heinemann out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I read and studied them all, and still do. I will share some of the names of the teacher/writer/authors here and I think you will recognize many of the names like Nancy Atwell, Lucie Calkins, Regie Routman, Donald Graves, Donald Murray, Ken Macrorie, Toby Fulwiler, Tom Romano, Thomas Newkirk, Janet Emig, and many others, my apologies to any I am missing – you all were my teachers and inspiration. Add in some William Zinsser and Peter Elbow – both contributing some very powerful and helpful books on writing.

So, I had some good teachers, very good. My writing is still a work in process. I enjoy writing and need to dedicate more time to doing writing – end of story. I have written a few unpublished short stories, and when my daughter was in middle school, I was able to entertain some of the village kids with a young adult novel I was writing set in the early 1900’s during the logging boom here in Vermont and New Hampshire with the Connecticut River being where most of the story takes place. I need to get back to this unfinished book as it seemed to past the test of pleasing adolescents. They would come up to the house and ask me to read to them the next chapter. I never should have stopped – I promise myself, now that retirement is looming, to pick up this thread again.

I have had this “WordPress” platform for about a year now. I have written about some things dear to me from my Vermont childhood and family, some politics and history – also passions, and now I want to write about writing and share what I know, and what I don’t know, and hope find as part of my growth as a writer. This will be a welcome respite from politics which I am finding continually depressing and I need to pull away from.

My intention is for this piece to launch me into writing about writing and sharing some of my experiences. I will start with some thoughts about Nancy Atwell and the wonderful books she wrote about writing. She started me to think about writing and writing to learn. This is what I hope to share here and I will try to work my way through the wonderful list of teacher/writer/authors I mentioned earlier in this piece.

So, you have been forewarned, I will be writing about writing and writing to learn here. In this time of the pandemic, hybrid school, home schooling, and de-schooling, it seems like the writing piece as I know it, has a lot to contribute to how we think about learning.

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