A while back I mentioned my self-made textbooks for high school. They’re so fat they’re laughable, being stuffed with quotations and articles. And, ha, cartoons.
So today I’ll give you a look. Yes, that is Wile E. Coyote’s calling card in yellow on the open page. (Click the image if you’d like to enlarge it.) “Have Brain, Will Travel,” it says. Not bad advice for the student writer. Or for me!
I’ve learned that students prefer visuals that the teacher has made herself. I don’t know why, but they shrug off professionally-designed graphics, especially in a Christian setting. They’d rather have my cattywampus chalkboard drawings—produced as I taught Sunday school—showing, say, the lopsided New Jerusalem or bulbous lions surrounding Daniel in their den. We’d laugh, and the students would say that my drawings were great. Why? Because I’d drawn them right then, just for them.
So when I launched my high school fiction writing elective, I knew the textbook had to be something more. More than just pages to be inserted in a three-ring binder and forgotten. Instead, I decided that for each student I’d put together a Treasure Book of Writing.
I broke open my spiral notebooks stuffed with quotations I’d copied out for my own use. I went through bookmarked articles and blog posts. I unearthed funny Internet quips about the English language. And I dug out cartoons I’d saved because they made me smile. All these get taped, week by week, into what used to be regular composition books. As you can see, by this point in the school year they’re becoming freakishly fat.
It helps that I am published. In the students’ eyes, I wear the long cape of the professional author instead of the short cape of the teacher, so it’s like I can do no wrong. When I give them helpful material, I share as a fellow writer. “We all learn writing the same way,” I tell them. “By doing it, lots of it. And I’ve made every one of the mistakes you are making, and many more besides.” And they learn, bless them. As the year progresses, their work improves and their confidence soars.
And it’s gratifying that my students love their books. They refer to them, not only for assignment parameters and deadlines, but also for advice. They eagerly page through to see the new inserts. A few students have taken them along to university. One girl loaned hers to her writing professor!
You can picture my chagrin, for most of this material is swiped from Writer’s Digest and other blogs. All sources are cited, but still. I stretch “for educational purposes only” to its limit. So don’t expect to see these “textbooks” published anytime soon. Because they won’t be, not ever!
Now I have a question for you. Do you have your own Treasure Book of Writing in the works? Do you save advice and articles and clever cartoons that speak to you? And even (gasp) compliments you’ve received for your writing? You should.
Because on dark days of writerly despair, these can be so very encouraging. They help you remember that you are not alone, that even famous authors have struggled. And encouragement is powerful. It helps keep you in the writing game.