“Being creative, the act of creating and making, is actually what it means to be human. Secular philosophers like Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Carl Jung, and Abraham Maslow all came to the conclusion that creative acts are fundamental. Physical making is more personally fulfilling than virtual making. I think this has to do with its tangibility; you can touch it and sometimes smell and taste it. A great sentence or well-written blog is creative and makes you feel good about what you have accomplished, but it is not the same as the satisfaction that comes from the physical labor involved in making something.” Mark Hatch, The Maker Movement Manifesto: Rules for Innovation in the New World of Crafters, Hackers, and Tinkerers
What if we treated writing as a physical endeavor rather than a silent and even tedious activity?
Think about it.
Imagine your classroom as a studio or a workspace where writing was made.
Imagine creating a space where kids could discover their unique writing processes and experiment with tools that helped them discover simple but very powerful things about how they think and plan and write and retool their words best.
We all have students who are calling us to do this.
They’re the ones who won’t write.
Listen to them.
Let them teach you how to become a better teacher.
Meet a Maker
Some of you may remember Luke. I wrote about him years ago on the WNY Young Writer’s Studio blog. Luke first came to Studio as a self-proclaimed hater of writing. In fact, he hated writing so much that he visibly stiffened each time I invited him to put pen to paper. In the early days, the moment we began brainstorming together, his eyes would dart around the room anxiously, in what seemed like a search for viable topics.
Clearly, he thought that the best ideas existed somewhere outside of him and his areas of interest.
He would often ask me to provide him assignments, and reluctantly, I would. But Luke, like many great writers, soon discovered that prescribed topics and forms did not engage him. He had little to say about things he did not know. He didn’t have words for experiences that were not his own.
I knew right away that if I were to help him, I would need to get to know him. Not as a writer. As a person.
During our initial conversation, I learned that Luke’s enthusiasm and stamina for building far outpaced his stamina for writing. And so, it made perfect sense: this would be his natural gateway. When Luke went home that evening, he was eager to play. He dove into his beloved pile of LEGOs and quickly snapped together the beginning of something great. Then, his mother quietly went about the business of placing words on each brick with an erasable marker. Adding bricks meant adding words, and soon, Luke was intrigued. Soon, he was joining in on the process. Later, he began reflecting on their quality, and in the writing sessions that followed, he took complete ownership of his work and his process.
He asked me if he could use the photograph below as his rough draft. I hadn’t thought to do this. He projected it on a white board and stood before his draft and began studying his word choice—one brick at a time. He used sticky notes to capture his revisions—strategically placing them on his projected picture.
Then, he began rebuilding. He tore down walls and shifted bricks: changing the placement of his words and naturally enhancing the fluency of his sentences. I was thrilled to see him having so much fun as a writer, but this wasn’t his greatest accomplishment, and it wasn’t my greatest lesson.
Luke and I discovered something important about who he was and how he needed to write that summer: he was a maker.
You teach makers too.
When Makers Write
Makers create their own processes, strategies, approaches, and prototypes.
They’re imaginative. They construct entire worlds inside of their minds, and they long to bring them to life by creating tangible prototypes and products.
Many are naturally inclined to write about the stuff they make, in order to clarify their thinking or share it with others who might benefit from it. For them, making inspires writing.
Others, like Luke, write with the stuff they make. For them, making is writing.
Future posts will explore this important distinction even further. Teachers support this work best when they’re able to help learners pursue paths that truly inspire them. It can be tempting to simply impose writing experiences on making, but this is a recipe for disaster.
Makers are passionate do-it-yourselfers. They learn by building, they revise bit by bit as they go, and they iterate from failure. In fact, failure is an important phase of any maker’s process, enabling them to uncover bits of trouble that ultimately result in critical learning and improvement. Narrow assignments and prescribed tools and processes ruin all opportunity for this.
This has been one of the greatest lessons of my career: when we encourage learners to write in ways that enrich and extend their making, what happens is often inspired. Others are moved by their works in progress, however messy they may be, and their drafts are typically as influential as whatever final product they create.
Makers are rewarded by the process of making as much as or even more than the creation of the final product itself. They love to tinker, because tinkering helps them discover things that they didn’t expect to. This purposeful play, which differs from revision in critical ways, is what satisfies the maker. It’s what helps their peers and audiences learn from them as well.
This post is part of a how-to series relevant to making and writing. Drop by again tomorrow for the next installation, which is all about creating the time and space for those who make writing to share what they learn.