Writer’s Block? Find Your Story

For an entire week, I pondered, thought out loud, scribbled notes, scratched my head, abandoned ideas and worried about what I was going to write for this blog post.  When finally I had an hour of quiet in my house, which is rare with 3 young daughters, I knew this was my opportunity.  I hoped the words would just come to me and I would quickly type away.  But that didn’t happen.  I sat for the hour typing and deleting, feeling discouraged and drained. I knew I needed to stop overthinking it.  The hour flew by and I had not one word down on the page.  I had lots of ideas floating around in my head, but I couldn’t figure out how to get started.  So I texted a dear friend and told her I was about to burst from writer’s block.  Simply put- she said, “That’s your story!”

Our students often have to overcome the challenge of writer’s block.  Typically, teachers direct students to look in their notebooks for an idea or think of a personal story.  I had ideas written down, just like the students’ notebooks, but even then I still could not find my story.  After receiving the text from my friend, it became clear to me.  I realized a truth that I had talked about for years, but never REALLY understood: the writing process is not linear.  It’s messy, with twists and turns and roadblocks.

It’s easy to forget how difficult writing can be for students when we aren’t frequently writing ourselves.  I believe that when teachers choose to write, we become part of a writing community and can truly relate to the writing challenges our students face.  If I had not been given this writing opportunity, I would not have considered the teachable moments that lie within those challenges.

I realized some big lessons during my writing process, such as the importance of one’s mindset while writing. I could have easily given up and passed on this opportunity because of my fear of what others might think and my struggle.   I solidified my belief that writing partners can lift each other up and push each other when they are stuck.  Being able to talk to friends and remind myself that I was supported was important.  Getting feedback on my blog post before publishing also helped me grow as a writer.  

It is also important to remember that the writing process will look different for every student.  One student may complete one full story in the time it takes another student to brainstorm ideas in his or her notebook.   Let students find their own pace.

In order to help students gain confidence in their writing teachers need to find a process that provides structure but also choice.  Students often say, “I’m done” during writing workshop because we have structured the workshop to be linear.  They feel like they must simply complete a sequential order of steps.  But there are better ways to set up our workshop and turn our students into powerful writers.

Sara Firestone is an instructional coach at Alton Darby Elementary in Hilliard, Ohio.  This is her 13th year of teaching. Sara is passionate about family, her chocolate lab, professional reading, creativity, problem-solving and iced tea.