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SCENES FROM MY LIFE: Autobiographical Anecdotes
Jared Jones


Read River Teeth definition.

Purposes of this unit:
• Work with the rudiments of narrative by writing brief, focused scenes.

• Begin finding material from one's own experience that can be developed and explored in later writings.

• Clarify and internalize expectations for the writing process. Focus on the essential role of rewritingand revising. (We all start with what Ann Lamotte calls "shitty [sorry] first drafts" and work from there.)

Models of anecdotes. Small is beautiful; short can be powerful.

• Headlight monster from An American Childhood by Annie Dillard.

• Bryan's stuff.

Prompts
Our goal is to jog the memory. Almost anything can be a starting point. Smells work well. In fact, the five senses are our best tools. Images often take us further than direct explanations. There are books full of creative prompts and ideas (Writing Without the Muse is just one).

Some ideas for generating prompts:

• Photographs (possessed or only remembered)

• Holidays

• Lists of names (find a name that reminds you of someone and write about that person). Also works with relative titles: grandmother, uncle, sister, neighbor.

• Word associations.

• Pranks, jokes, riddles, and mysteries.

• Others: Infinite variety is possible...

Our first prompt: objects

• List several objects I had as a child.

• Read one or two of my own pieces about them.

• Have students make their own lists.

• Share (to see if you recall anything by telling a partner or hearing about theirs).

• Choose one of these objects and describe it in minute physical detail. Explain as much as you can remember about it. Let your mind wander to any other memories that arise; explore those too. If you run out of thoughts, move on to another object. The only thing you should notdo is stop writing. (20 minutes)

Revision after 4-5 prompts.

Class discussion

Why revise?

• Go the distance between a decent idea (buried somewhere in a "sorry first draft") and a great piece of writing (clear & evocative).

How revise?

• Re-read it. The word "revise" means "to see it again."

• Mark words, images, ideas that stand out. Ask myself:

What do I like about it (or feel about it)?
How can I bring the reader inside my own experience of this?
Can I make this happen by adding, cutting, or changing something?

A model of revision

• Read aloud my piece on returning from Colombia (draft & first revision).

Small groups:

Randomly choose a paragraph from the draft (#1).
Read it aloud.
Discuss what ideas and images are important.

Find where this same basic information appears in the revision (draft #2).

Read it aloud.
Discuss what ideas and images havechanged from #1.
Do these changes work? What else might work?

• Present responses to class: What have you noticed about this revision?

• Discuss how revisions might change a work. The author is in charge: do the changes accomplish her/his purpose?

Begin revising one piece(remainder of class time). Re-read; mark; write about it (what's your purpose? What do you want to emphasize?

The rest of the unit (total 8-10 days of 70-minute class periods)

• More prompts (and reading models).

• More revision time. Emphasize:The revision process doesn't end. They will turn in three or four clean copies out of about ten pieces—and the drafts they turn in are not "final."

• Choose four you like; type them up.

• Share some in small groups. (Work on what groups are, how they function, etc.)

• Peer edit (not the same as revising; look for conventions).

• Choose and polish three or four short pieces (maybe 1-3 pages total) to turn in.