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Plotting pantser

I most definitely did not set out to write a book. A book. Seriously? Nope.

Except, yep. I’m writing a book. A novel. A middle grade literary novel, actually. My reasoning, tangled in years of teaching little minds, is as complex as I hope the novel to be. Yikes.

You see, years ago I taught a very special group of 2nd graders. These little humans, teeny tiny on the outside with great big hearts on the inside, were primarily reading below the 50th percentile. For many of them, books were associated with failure, which meant avoidance. Novels were a novelty – something to admire but never attempt. Students would want to check out the thickest novel from the library because that’s what they understood – lots of words = tough book, and tough book = cool. They didn’t yet grasp the idea that even the thinnest book could be the deepest, and it is often depth, not width, that makes a book truly special, and it was my job to teach them this. Best. Job. Ever.

We analyzed and dissected our way through 2nd grade alongside wiley wolves, timid lions, sneaky pigs, courageous princesses, and forgiving sisters. By the end of the year, they weren’t simply readers. They were READERS, you know what I mean? They craved the written word, not only because they could finally engage with it, but because they grew to understand its power. It gave them confidence, and that gave them courage.

Two years later, I had the honor of teaching those same little humans as 4th graders. My heart. They had grown as readers. They had grown as learners. They had grown to see themselves differently within their own separate worlds. No longer were they the itty bitty littles that were unable to connect with words in print. Now, they were teeny tiny big people that made dirty jokes, crushed on one another, used sarcasm (WHAT?!), and desperately desired responsibility, freedom, and choice. Oh, MY HEART.

Once upon a time my goals were to grow their confidence, their fluency, and their comprehension (among many other things, of course). Now, my goals shifted to providing new perspectives, strengthening their critical thinking, developing their speaking and listening skills, and engaging them in higher text complexities. Despite the time gap, I knew my kids. I knew their collective love for literature – a love I once helped instill. I knew that one of the best ways to reach them, in multiple facets, was through literature.

Months of reading and dissecting and discussing and debating went by and, by February, I was pregnant with my first little nugget. Maybe it was the hormones, or maybe it was my little Cheesers (as I so affectionately referred to my students), but something sparked in me that never quite died out.

I want to write a book, but not just any book. I want to write a book that I would want to read and analyze with those kids. Relevant and rich with the kind of depth and complexity that both hooks them in and helps shape their growing minds. I know the power that these novels can have in the lives of kids. I want to help harness that power, drawing on my own experiences, to create something special. A passion project, if you will, in honor of my students. All of my students. But then I packed up my classroom, quit my job to be home with my baby, went into labor 9 weeks early, and returned to an entirely different reality.

So, one fall afternoon while my 4 pound little bean napped in her swing, I sat down and cried as a deep longing for my classroom and students swept over me. I looked at her, peacefully rocking back and forth to music that still makes me all gooey inside, and that same little spark shook me back into myself. I not only could do this, I needed to.

Once the researching, brainstorming, color coding, and plotting began, it didn’t stop. Apparently I’m what’s called a “Plotting Pantser”…I like having a rough outline that guides my ideas and ensures I’m hitting my more intentional techniques, but I write by the seat of my pants, never quite sure what my characters will say or do.

Plotting Pantser. Pretty accurate! I have no idea what will come of this novel, but I do know how I want to get there, and more importantly, WHY.



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