Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Every Piece Counts

Part of the stated mission of the National Day on Writing is to draw attention to the remarkable variety of writing in which Americans engage as part of their daily lives.

To put this concept in concrete terms, I decided to try an activity I learned about through the NCTE Reading Initiative several years ago—a literacy dig. I looked back at a recent weekday (last Friday to be precise) and compiled a list of all the writing I did:
  • 15 work-related emails to 10 different audiences
  • 8 personal emails (including Facebook messages) to 5 different audiences
  • final edits, including basic HTML coding, to a lesson plan on responding to literature through microblogging and social networking
  • a draft of the INBOX Ideas and ad copy for an upcoming issue of Classroom Notes Plus
  • a personal blog entry on the New York City subway system, including five related images and captions
  • 2 comments on a colleague's blog
  • 3 posts on Twitter
  • 5 updates or links on Facebook and a response to a comment
  • a dozen or so words corresponding to images our son drew on a whiteboard in our living room
  • dozens of text messages
  • marginal notes in a textbook on learning in adulthood
  • online form to add a payee from my checking account
  • multiple IM chats
This list accounts for all the actual composition that occurred, and because I had a record of most of these activities, they were easy to recall. Missing from this list are activities such as the prewriting that occupied my thoughts on the drive back from a visit to a local writing project site. Participants shared videos of their writing processes, and I soon began thinking about how I might use images, sound, and text to capture my own writing process.

Even if the list is incomplete, as I look back on the variety of my writing from last Friday, I can see the value in the National Day on Writing. Some pieces, such as the marginal notes, are meant only for me, and they provide a permanent record of my thoughts at the moment as I read. The words on the whiteboard, in contrast, served to teach our son about the relationship between text and images, and they lasted only as long as it took him to bring the next supervillain to life in full color. Still different is the edited lesson plan, intended for a wide online audience and representing the fruitful collaboration among the author, reviewers, and NCTE staff.

Because each of these pieces reveals something about my identity as a writer, any of them would be an appropriate choice for inclusion in the National Gallery of Writing. Though we're each asked to contribute just one piece to represent ourselves as writers and citizens, the collective gallery has the potential to reveal diversity far greater than what any one of us does in a day, a month, or a year.

The challenge, then, is for each of us to do our part in getting the word out to community and civic organizations, as well as school and workplaces of every variety. The more people from all walks of life who contribute to the gallery, the greater will be its richness and its integrity as a representation of writing in America. If you're so inclined, consider making the extra commitment of establishing a local gallery yourself and serving as the curator.

We won't be able to see all these pieces of writing until the Day on Writing arrives on October 20, 2009. But as we talk to the people with whom we interact on a daily basis—our neighbors, the postal carrier, service staff at a local restaurant or bank—and as they establish galleries within the National Gallery themselves, we'll begin to gain a sense of the diverse and integral roles writing has for American life in the 21st century.


Nan said...

I think I have already figured out what piece of writing I am going to contribute to the National Gallery of Writing. My next step is to recruit more folks from different walks of life to contribute. I think I am going to tap the parents of my students. I think their writing will bring a great deal of variety to different galleries!

Anonymous said...

Scott -- great column!

Bonny said...

As an NCTE employee, I'd been thinking about contributing something work related. Now, however, I'm thinking about recruiting family members for a family gallery since this might make for a more powerful argument to get them to participate.