Combining Launch Cycle with the Writing Process

The writing process has always been one of the core elements of my classroom instruction. Whether teaching Regents-level classes or International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement or other college-level courses, using the ideas of Peter Elbow, Lucy Calkins and the writers the the Bard Institute of Writing and Thinking.

In the past year I’ve read A.J. Juliani’s Launch and Empower. Both books have pushed me to consider the connections between the design-thinking cycle and the writing process.

Both have much in common. They each begin in generating ideas, then developing drafts or prototypes, and moving through revision, before ultimately sharing that work with the public.

As contemporary composition research suggests that we should spend more time with students working with real-world audiences, the design thinking process puts an important focus into its process. It asks us to consider what problems we’ll attempt to solve, who we’re solving them for, and how what is being created will address the needs of that group. It’s for this reason that looking at ways we can bring this into the writing process can ultimately benefit students.

Every year, I start my English 101 class with an introductory lesson on the Writing Process. This lesson will get some tweaks by incorporating design-thinking vocabulary that my students and I will use throughout the year.

Below is my preliminary thinking about where the two processes overlap and what writing activities might be part of each part of these processes.

Best of 2012

It is the season for critics to weigh in on the best and worst of everything. Me? Here’s the best of what I read this year. You may see of my stylistic leanings come out. And, this isn’t really books published in here and now, but instead a sampling of what I read this year. Hey, you can’t read everything all at once. We’ve got to keep cycling through old lists. I reread The Omnivores Dilemma for like the twentieth time and Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, which is goddam funny and human that I couldn’t put it down. You’ve just got to go back and reread the stuff from high school, just so you actually understand it.

1. Canada. I came to reading Richard Ford by being given the Sportswriter back when I was teaching English in New Orleans. In my mind, Rock Springs is one of the finest collections of short fiction out there. This is classic Ford. I also love coming of age stories and stories about adolescents.

2. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. This is one of those books that was just mind altering. I say the following in the most positive light–Reading Franzen is like have your brains blown out against the wall. This is the highest compliment I can pay. So, all you Franzen haters out there just need to pick up his books and read them again. Saying you don’t like him is saying that you don’t like The Great Gatsby or The Grapes of Wrath. It makes you look stupid. If that’s the way you feel then go and get yourself some more Maeve Binche to read. This will emerge as an American classic sure to be taught 100 years from now.

3. The Yellow Birds, The Long Walk, and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. The barrels on the guns from Iraq are barely cooling, and already some fine literature about the war is out there to enhance and enlarge our perspectives on what war does to the men who serve. Still, I haven’t read a book that brings out the positive in war. I’m not asking for a “ducle et decorum est,” but if we’re not careful the general public will begin to think that everyone coming back from war is Colonel Kurtz.

4. The Orchardist. Weep because its good. Weep because it tears you’re heart out. This is a book that needs some further attention, but will may go largely unappreciated like another great book from years ago that needs a lift-The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

5. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two other greats that I read last spring. Karen Russel’s Swamplandia! and Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones.



Mine are rattlesnakes. Their yellowish-brown, curling, muscular forms. The image of them rearing to strike. Their sound of dry leaves running over stone. Completely unsettling. A deep fear.

What’s unsettling and fearful for you? When did you confront this? What happened? How did you find equilibrium and safety after?

I thought of rattlesnakes and fears while reading a writing exercise from editor Sherry Ellis’s Now Write! and thought that I might make some suggests that play off of this exercise for your application essay.

The rattlesnake exercise comes to us from writer Michelle Brooks. A friend found a rattlesnake one night in a dresser drawer getting a t-shirt for bed. She attempted to dispatch the snake with a shotgun, missed, destroyed the dresser, and saw the snake slithering off, not to be found. It so unsettled the friend that she had trouble sleeping for the next week wondering where the serpent had got off to.

Brooks suggests that writers think of their own metaphorical rattlesnakes, particular objects that force us to be unsettled. In a narrative, be it fiction or non-fiction, focus the arc of the story around some object that forces the narrator to stop in the tracks and reevaluate his or her situation.

Playing off of yesterday’s blog where I began to discuss the need for finding personal focus, I suggest that you start by making a list of objects and experiences that are unsettling, unnerving, fearful and make you break out in the cold sweat. Then, from the list, think about writing a story of the time that you dealt with this object, and most importantly forced yourself into evaluation of yourself because of it.

Good luck with the snake wrangling!