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  • Writer's pictureandrew jeter

Writing Prompts & Silent Sustained Writing

Writing every day helps to promote a healthy relationship with writing things that you don't have to be married to. Writing every day makes it easier to find your way through writing.

I've discovered over my years of teaching that my students improve their writing stamina if they actually write every day. I tell them—a very dubious and untrusting them at the beginning of the semester—that writing is just like sports. Michael Jordan wouldn't have become the GOAT without practicing every day and the same goes for them. (Yes, I know I will eventually have to use a different athlete as an example, but that would mean learning more about sports...)

To help them in this endeavor, I dedicate the first five minutes of class every day to Silent Sustained Writing. Before the bell rings, I have written the Writing Prompt on the board and in the same format every day. It looks like this WP: Word word word word word.

Here are the rules:

1. You may not speak at all during the Writing Prompt time.

2. You must write from the bell until I tell you to stop. You may not pause to think. You must not erase or cross out if you change your mind. You must fill at least one full page. (Whatever you don't finish in the time provided in class, you have to finish for homework. But make sure you time yourself. You should be able to finish it in five minutes.)

3. No questions! You may not ask any questions about the writing prompt. If you don't understand something, work it out on your own.

The first week is always a little tough for them. They stare off into space, chew their pen, erase, erase, erase. I coach them to get back to writing by calling attention to their avoidance behaviors. Very rarely do I have anyone who is not writing by the second week.

The trick: I make my students keep a composition notebook (College Ruled) into which all writing  prompts must go (and be dated). Then, I collect them every few weeks to check a couple of dates for completion. Only for completion. The trick is that if they can't think of what to write and fill a page up with the word mustard, so be it. I rarely have a student who does this kind of robot writing all of the time. They just get bored with it. Also, I like to give them writing prompts that make them think. Here are a few examples from the past:

WP: How do the different pieces of research I have fit together?

WP: Explain time.

WP: In the story, am I the hero or the sidekick?

WP: Explain why Times New Roman is better for your soul than Arial.

WP: If you forget a memory, how can you remember it?

WP: Explain nothing.

WP: Pickle, pickle.

I'm going to try to post my class writing prompts in this blog, if you'd like to write along... I am, and I don’t know where to start. But I can tell you, for example, how I began to write.
                                                 - Gabriel Garía Márquez

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