Boothbay Literacy Retreat Post #2 – Writers Workshop with Linda Rief

Below is my attempt to reflect on my experiences at this year’s Boothbay Literacy Retreat.  To read from the beginning, click here.

For the three mornings I attended Boothbay Literacy Retreat, I pulled myself out of bed, grabbed some hot tea and my granola bar, and anxiously went down to the banquet room to participate in writers workshop with Linda Rief.  This experience was the most nerve racking, yet rewarding experience of the week.  I am by no means a great writer.  I have always struggled with writing and when doing writers workshop I had to show my vulnerable side.  I had to be willing to open myself up and let others in.  That is scary!  I am so grateful for my tablemates who didn’t judge and gave me honest and encouraging feedback throughout the week.

On the first morning, Linda had us do a few quick write activities to get us thinking.

“Going to Walden” by Mary Oliver – Linda assigned each line of the poem 2-3 letters of the alphabet and then read aloud the poem to us.  Afterwards, she asked us to grab the phrase that is by the letter of our last name and write for 1-2 minutes whatever pops into our minds.  What a simple strategy that can be used with any piece of writing.

“When I Was Young in…” by Cynthia Rylant – Linda shared with us her own version of Cynthia Rylant’s book When I Was Young in the Mountains.  Then all she asked us to do was think of a place we love and write about the sights, sounds, and smells.  We could borrow lines from her poem to help us structure our own.

“Night Fishing” by Peter Sears – After reading the poem, we again “borrowed a line” and wrote.

On Day 2, Linda invited us to draw and paint as a way to spark writing.

“Hands” by Sarah Kay and “The Last Time I Bumped into Don Murray” by Ralph Fletcher – After reading each of these poems, Linda asked us to trace our hand in our writing notebook and write down keywords that trigger stories about our hands or the hands of others.  Then we picked our favorite and wrote. We then partnered up, listened to our partner tell their story (NOT read it) and were asked to retell it back to them.  This strategy allows writers to process their own writing through what others say and also helps them determine what is important to write about.

Shells – For our 2nd quickwrite, we didn’t use a poem for a mentor text.  Instead, we were given a shell and asked to draw it and paint it using watercolors.  Then, we wrote about a memory.  For homework (Yes, we actually had homework.) we were asked to find something in nature, draw it, paint it, and write whatever comes to our mind.

On our final morning of writers workshop, Linda taught us a simple revision lesson.

“Skeleton Lunches Face-First Back into the Winter Games.” by  Rick Bragg – We were asked to read this article and then mark any craft moves that we notice as we read.  Then we shared our thoughts in our groups and then out to the whole group.  In a class environment, Linda would compile the list of craft moves into a “Possible  Revision Choices” document. For us, our assignment was to pick a craft structure we liked in the article and use it to revise any one of our quickwrites from the week.   This activity took us longer – probably 10-15 minutes – but was a nice culmination of our hard work throughout the week.




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