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What Can You Learn From Slice of Life Writing?

Ruth Ayres

Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.

Jim Ryun

Writing on a regular basis is a tough habit to develop. There are many things vying for our time, and the act of sitting down and putting words on the page isn't always the most pressing thing we have on our to-do lists. However, it is also said that a habit can be developed in 30 days. When we do something for 30 straight days, in the end, we are left with a new routine. If we want to make writing part of our lives, then one way to do this is to write for a month straight.

This might seem as overwhelming as running a 5K for 30 straight days. But what if it is possible to develop a writing habit? Unlike running for an inexperienced runner, writing isn't something we have to build up to. You can decide to start writing, and there will be no physical pain. Perhaps you will consider the Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOLSC) hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog throughout the month of March.

The word challenge isn't taken lightly. It is difficult to develop a writing habit. The advantage of joining Slice of Life Story Challenge is the community of other slicers who will encourage, inspire, and nudge you to keep going. Not only is it about developing a writing habit, but also honing our craft of teaching writers. When an educator participates in The SOLSC, writing instruction is enriched.

Daily Writing

We ask students to write every day in writing workshop. The SOLSC helps replicate this for adult writers. Part of the challenge is to write daily -- whether we want to or not. Because of the nonnegotiable daily writing part of the challenge, I've gained valuable insight when conferring with student writers.

I understand that sometimes I have nothing to write about. I think of an idea and then a monster in my head says, "You've already written about that." I think of another idea, and the same monster says, "Someone else already wrote about that." Before writing daily, I had the misconception that students were being lazy when they said, "I have nothing to write about." Now I understand when you write daily, there are times when it's going to be hard to find a topic. I'm able to talk with students about the monsters in our minds that try to derail our writing lives. I have experience in overcoming them and pressing on to find a topic since not writing isn't an option. I approach students with compassion instead of annoyance when they don't have a writing topic.

Specific Feedback

Through the SOLSC I have also refined my ability to give specific feedback. The challenge is two-fold: to write and share a slice from your life every day, and to comment on at least three other slices. You'll be amazed at how much the feedback matters. I can't wait to read how my words affect others. I soon learned the more specific the comments, the more the feedback mattered to me. I strive to give specific feedback to as many slicers as possible. This means I've learned to stretch myself and to look at writing through meaning, craft, conventions, and the writer's process. By being intentional about offering specific feedback to slicers, I've gained understanding on how to offer quality comments, leading to much richer conferences with students.

Minilesson Teaching Points

Not only has my conferring improved, but my minilessons have as well. Since I'm working with words daily, I'm gaining insight into craft, conventions, and the writing process. I have my own writing to use in minilessons to make clear and relevant teaching points. Students are able to see first-hand how I revised or how I shifted the structure to make my meaning apparent. Minilessons are more genuine when the teacher is able to speak from experience instead of conjecture about how authors crafted their texts.

Authentic Community

The walls between people disintegrate during the SOLSC. Comments create connections between slicers, and the entire writing community is strengthened. There are many writing challenges you can join via the web, however, what sets SOLSC apart is the writing community that develops. Every year it feels magical to me. The connections and the comments fuel writers.

Meaningful Share Sessions

As a teacher, I learned the value of comments. When quick feedback is coupled with valuable comments, I am empowered as a writer. This impacts the kind of comments I give to students. I realize the importance of getting quick feedback to our work and have adjusted share sessions to include more partner or small group interactions, providing students with opportunities to hear comments about their in-progress writing. I also teach students the power of specific feedback. Using comments from other slicers as mentor texts, we study how to provide specific and useful feedback.

I'm interested, but what's a slice?

A slice is a snippet of your day. We write about the ordinary moments, the daily grind, and the mundane chores. A slice doesn't have to be anything fancy or life altering. In fact, the more commonplace, the better. Slices are also short in nature. There's no need to write a lot of words. Need some topic ideas? Then check out the list: "31 Slices." Want more ideas about slices? See this post: http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/what-is-a-slice-of-life/

What do I need?

In order to join the challenge, you need to have a blog. The most difficult part of starting a blog is deciding on a name. Once you know what you want to call your online writing space, the rest is a few easy steps. Simply go to a host site. I recommend Blogger or Wordpress, and then follow the directions. I promise with a few clicks, you will be the proud owner of a new blog. You write your slice on your blog. Then you copy the unique URL of your post and share it in the comments on the SOLSC post on Two Writing Teachers. For more information, check out this "nuts and bolts" link about the challenge from last year: http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/important-info-if-you-wanna-play-sols-challenge-2011/

You Can Do It!

The challenge is just for a month. You can do anything for a single month. Of course, after the writing bug has bitten, you'll want to continue your newly developed writing habit. You'll have gained some blog followers from the slicer community, so you can continue getting and giving response to posts. You may also want to hop over to Two Writing Teachers every Tuesday for the weekly Slice of Life share throughout the year.

SOLSC began as a way to encourage others to develop a writing habit. I didn't expect it to change me, too. I've fostered connections with others around the globe, making the world seem much smaller. I've gained insight about my teaching and my living through other's perspectives. And I have people who hold me accountable to collect snippets of my life. What more could one writer ask for in a month?


Ruth Ayres

Ruth Ayres is a full-time writing coach for Wawasee School District in northern Indiana. She blogs at Ruth Ayres Writes and is the coauthor of Day by Day and many other books, all available through Stenhouse Publishers.