Brainstorm and Freewrite
If your initial plan doesn’t seem to be taking shape, turn away from your draft for a while. Try brainstorming or freewriting in your journal. Don’t concern yourself with spelling and structure; attend to those matters later. The aim of brainstorming and freewriting is to get your ideas on paper as quickly as you can.
For more on brainstorming and freewriting, see A Writer’s Reference (6).
Write Your Uncertainty into Your Story
If you’re unsure of some details, make your uncertainty part of your literacy narrative. Art Spiegelman does just that in the epigraph for Maus when he writes, “I was ten or eleven . . .” (5).
Look to Maus and An American Childhood as Models
Continue to examine Maus as a model. Study how Spiegelman creates tension in the panels of his comic. Also reread the excerpts from Annie Dillard’s memoir, An American Childhood, included in my September 9 blog post (“ENG 111: Of Maus and Memoirs, Part II”). Look to Dillard’s words as models for creating dialogue and shifting back and forth from scene to summary.
Seek More Models
For starters, see the New York Times feature “The 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years.” The description of each memoir in the list includes a short quotation, a sentence or two, from the book. Browse the list, and if you read a line that you find evocative, write it down in your journal. Here’s one that I recorded in my journal:
He [J.M. Coetzee] feels like a crab pulled out of its shell, pink and wounded and obscene” (qtd. Szalai).
Writing of himself in third person, Coetzee vividly depicts the vulnerability that many of us feel when we put ourselves on the page for others to see.
For additional models, I offer the list below, which includes five literacy narratives written by former English 111 students of mine and two written by me.
- “My Spiritual Journey” by Brianna Carter
- “Just a Silly Poem” by Caroline Erkman
- “What Reading is for Me” by Kong Lee
- “The Origins of Learning English” by Luis Millan Lara
- “Childish Books” by Danny Purcell
- “María Gringa” by Jane Lucas
- “‘Twelve Angry Men’: A First Reading and a Second Act” by Jane Lucas
Remember: I’m in the process of writing a literacy narrative along with you, and I’ll share that process with you in class and on my blog.
88 thoughts on “ENG 111: On Drafting, or Feeling Like a Crab Pulled out of its Shell”
Hey, thanks. Yep, writers like to write about process and some of it is useful, like this one. Best, Lenore
Thanks for reading, Lenore! I hope my students find it useful.
Good morning Mrs. Lucas
I did my drafting yesterday and I also wrote my essay. But I don’t think it is as vivid and as good as the example you gave. I choose to talk about my phlebotomy class and when I learn to draw blood. After I read those models I think I need to back and give a much more description of the scene. My question is if we don’t need this week how are you going to revise our draft.
Thank you, Rabila. You can meet with me face to face on Friday, or you can email me a copy of your narrative in progress.
Good morning, Dr. Lucas. First, I love the quote from Coetzee; I never would’ve come up with such a comparison on my own, but it makes perfect sense. As for my narrative, I’ve completed approximately 200 words of it, and I fully intend to finish it by the time our normal class would end today (11:50). When I am done, do I email you the Word document, or post it on WordPress for you to see?
Thank you, Jordan. If you would like for me to review your literacy narrative before you begin revising next week, we can meet face to face Friday morning, or you can email a copy to me.
I’m currently still brainstorming what to write for my story, I’m kind of stuck on what to write about, I cant decide if I should write about a in-class or out of class experience. My question is what are your suggestions to effectively brainstorm? My other question is how are we submitting our drafts, are you going to push back the due date for our revisions.
Thank you, Sean. My recommendation for brainstorming is this: Think about a particular memory of a learning experience, then write down whatever comes to mind about it. Write for five or ten minutes, then turn away from the writing and do something else. Later in the day, look back at your brainstorming with fresh eyes. As far as choosing an in-school or out-of-school learning experience, consider choosing one of the experiences that you’ve thought about the most or that seems to be one of your most significant ones. Your introductory blog post could serve as a starting point; you could write about learning the game of football.
Good afternoon Mrs. lucas I’m completely lost until you post this now i get the idea how i can brainstorm and write an amzing drafting. I’m start working on my drafting. I hope i can done this by the end of this week.🙂
Amana, I’m glad that the post was helpful. I look forward to reading your literacy narrative.
Good evening Dr Lucas I have to say I have felt a bit confused on this assignment I have a couple ideas wrote down on what my literacy narrative is gonna be about. Im confused about if we need to choose an event that happened in school or outside of school, or both? Im working with the idea that I have now but ill be sure to see you on a Friday to talk to you in person about my literacy narrative.
Alonso, your literacy narrrative should focus on one learning experience, one that occurred in school or outside of school, not both. If you haven’t browsed the sample literacy narratives linked to my September 16 blog post, take a look at those. There are five written by former English 111 students of mine and two written by me. I look forward to talking with you on Friday.
Hi, Mrs. Lucas, I am in the process of perfecting my drafting but now I am a bit difficult, my drafting is now very messy and I think I need to go back and describe more about the scene. What is your output to have a good essay or blog?
Henry (Trinh), drafting is often a messy process for me as well. Now that you’ve completed your rough draft, return to it and look for specific lines where you can add detail. Also, if you haven’t browsed the sample literacy narratives linked to my September 16 blog post, take a look at those. They may offer you ideas. If you would like for me to look at your draft, plan to meet with me on Friday morning.
I haven’t started writing my essay yet because I have been brainstorming. I am up at 12:26 in the morning thinking about how to start. Trying to make an outline about the book I wanted to talk about, but I realized that I had a more significant book in mind that will actually have value and meaning and will actually fill up my page, so I will probably start writing tomorrow.
The process you describe is one that I often find myself working through as I write with my students. The literacy narrative I’m working on now was the original subject for an essay that I started writing a year ago. In the process of planning, a different memory kept returning to my mind, and I realized that I needed to write about that one instead.
Dr.Lucas, I am in the process of writing my draft and I plan to have it done soon. It is just taking me some time to think of the experiences that I actually learned something from.
Thank you, Logan. Remember that the learning experience doesn’t have to be one that occurred in the classroom.
Good evening Dr. Lucas, I have started my drafting and I think I am making really good progress on it. I have tried free writing in my journal and that helped me a lot to get started. I usually have trouble starting an essay but once I start it then I am good. I am hoping to be done with the draft by tomorrow afternoon.
Alaina, I’m glad that you’re making progress on your literacy narrative. I look forward to reading it.
Good evening mam, After reading all of the emails and everything on moodle im still confuse about what we have to do. I already choose what I want to write about but I don’t what the next step is. I am just lost on what we have to do by Friday and why do we need the brainstorm for.
David, look back at the assignment file. I sent everyone a copy as an email attachment, and there’s one posted on Moodle as well. Also review all of the blog posts of class notes that I have created for English 111. The September 16 blog post, “ENG 111: On Drafting, or Feeling Like a Crab Pulled from Its Shell,” includes links to seven literacy narratives, five written by former English 111 students of mine and two written by me. All of those are models for you. The blog post I posted earlier this morning is the literacy narrative that I wrote as a model for you and your classmates. After you’ve read that model and the others, please let me know if you still have questions. Brainstorming isn’t a requirement. Some writers find it helpful, some don’t.
Good Evening, I like the phrase (Feeling like a crab). It is a statement that a lot of people can understand or relate to. I haven’t decided how I want to start my paper yet. This is something I have never done before, so I am going to have a completed paper finished by this weekend, at least the draft of the paper. I know I will need help to make a great transformation to my paper.
Patricia, if you aren’t sure what the starting point should be, move on to the middle or the end. I often don’t know where to begin until I’m revising the later paragraphs. That was the case with “A Bridge to Words,” the literacy narrative that I posted this morning. The September 16 blog post, “ENG 111: On Drafting, or Feeling Like a Crab Pulled from Its Shell,” includes links to seven other literacy narratives, five written by former English 111 students of mine and two written by me. All of those are models for you. Reading them may give you some additional ideas for your own.
Hello Dr. Lucus, I have yet not to write my draft yet. I am still trying to brainstorm on what I should write about. I’m asking if you can give me some ideas to think about writing, also I don’t know how you want me to write it; On paper or on Microsoft word.
Evan, everyone will compose a handwritten draft and revise in MS Word to post to Moodle. You will also publish your revision as a blog post. (See the directions in the assignment file that I posted in Moodle and emailed as an attachment.) My September 16 blog post, “ENG 111: On Drafting, or Feeling Like a Crab Pulled from Its Shell,” includes links to seven literacy narratives, five written by former English 111 students of mine and two written by me. All of those are models for you. Reading them may give you some additional ideas for your own.
In all honesty I have not done anything relating to my literacy narrative or this class. Work has had me really caught up this week, and a good amount of car troubles. I am going to be starting on my outline, and entire rough draft over this weekend, so I will have it done before our next class.
Lucas, I hope the problems with your car have been resolved. Check your email, Moodle, and my blog for any updates you may have missed.
Hey Doctor Lucas!
I haven’t started on my literacy narrative yet due to my other homework workload and working. I will be working on my literacy narrative next week while I catch up on schoolwork. I already have part of it written out since we wrote some in our journals the last time we were in class.
Alyssa, I’m glad that your in-class journal writing includes some passages that will find their way into your literacy narrative. I look forward to reading it.
I started out brainstorming trying to think of the perfect topic that I learned about in my high school English classes. After brainstorming them for a while my memory wasn’t as vague as I remember. I started to think about the entire process of learning machining at work and thought it would be the perfect scenario for a narrative story on how I learned to read blueprints and all of the certain sub-assemblies that go alone with a part. It’s also a different type of language used while inputting machine program codes. Although I don’t know much about the code portion I still can write about what I know and what I want to know. Also I was wondering if this topic of machining would be substantial enough for my English narrative?
Yes, Mason, focusing on learning machining work would be an innovative way to approach your literacy narrative. I look forward to reading it.
Good evening Dr. Lucas, this evening I spent the day brainstorming and jotting down ideas. This helped me a lot to get a better idea on how to properly construct my draft for my literacy writing. Tomorrow I plan to start writing out my narrative and to hopefully create a good story.
Jordan, have you settled on one particular memory, or do you still have two or more in mind? Whatever the case, I look forward to reading your literacy narrative.
I’ve been brainstorming about my narrative and have an outline. I’m going to write about the time one of my teachers helped me learn how to think about certain literary devices to help me write, speak, and even read better. Before my teacher helped me I struggled with writing ideas, reading speed, and speaking in front of people. I can’t wait to get the whole story written out and finalize so that you may enjoy yourself a nice read.
Joe, I’m thankful that one of your teachers helped you to develop your reading, writing, and speaking skills. I hope that you will share your literacy narrative with that teacher. I’m sure that he or she would be grateful to know how much his or her instruction has meant to you.
Good morning, i started writing about the first book ive read cover to cover realized I wasn’t going to be able to meet the length requirments. Currently brainstorming but im leaning towards writing about learning to navigate my ship through the sea. Plan to finish draft today.
Dennis, challenging yourself to develop your ideas about the first book that you read cover to cover would be a valuable exercise, and it would demonstrate that you can write five-hundred words or more on that topic. That said, focusing on learning to navigate a ship would be an innovative way to approach your literacy narrative.
Good Morning Professor Lucas, I have started on my assignment for the Literacy Narrative Assignment and my moodle just now started working last night but I would like to know how could I start for my writing of the Literacy narrative. I noticed in the directions it didn’t say how many words but I know where could I start in the beginning but would it be best to start to write about my own life of how I started writing or begin with the story? Also could I write it in Microsoft word or has to be hand written in journal? Also I have read the quote from Coetzee and I have been inspired from that quote, very good talk.
Santino, five-hundred words is the minimum length requirement. (See the Length Requirement heading in my September 9 blog post.) Everyone is required to compose a handwritten draft, and the blog post you will create for your revision will include a photograph that documents part of your writing process away from the screen. You will also post your revision as an MS Word file to Moodle. (See the assignment directions posted in Moodle and sent as an email attachment.)
Good afternoon Miss Lucas. I haven’t quite made a decision about what literary experience to delve into. I’m leaning heavily towards an out of class experience though. I wrote about my love for words, but I should probably have started with who nourished my need for exploration. I remember the very first essay I wrote, it was for a competition. I didn’t have to but I wanted to take part in it. I wasn’t quite 12 then but I remember clearly because my busy dad spent hours with me. He helped me arrange my thoughts on paper and showed me how to find facts to support my reasoning. I can’t recall how many rough drafts I made until he deemed my work as perfect as it could get. I’d like to share my story on how a father’s love and patience opened up a little girl’s mind.
Justina, revisiting that early writing project of yours and depicting your father guiding you through the process sounds promising. I look forward to reading your literacy narrative.
Good morning Doctor Lucas, after reading others comments and your replies, I seem to find myself in an awfully similar situation with one of your students. I am still brainstorming on how to elaborate my idea into a narrative, but I’m coming up short. After reading your post, I think free-writing and brainstorming will definitely help me get past this.
Josh, some writers find brainstorming helpful, some don’t. Have you looked to any sample narratives for ideas and inspiration? My September 16 blog post, “ENG 111: On Drafting, or Feeling Like a Crab Pulled from Its Shell,” includes links to seven literacy narratives, five written by former English 111 students of mine and two written by me. All of those are models for you. Reading them may give you some additional ideas for your own.
Goodmorning Mrs. Lucas while writing my paper I found myself bouncing between two different topics. I found the brain storming part of the writing process to be the most difficult for me because I couldn’t decide which topic would be more meaningful that I felt I had enough information to write about. I managed to complete half of my rough draft and intend to have it fully completed by the end of today. Do you have any tips on how I ensure my literacy narrative is structured well?
Calista, in answer to your question regarding structure, I recommend looking back at the notes on scene and summary in my September 9 blog post. Think of scene and summary as the building blocks for every paragraph of your narrative except the last one. The concluding paragraph should offer some sense of the significance of the learning experience.
Good morning Dr. Lucas, I have started to brainstorm and decide what topic I would like to write about for my literacy narrative. I want to choose what I can write the most from and have a super interesting story. I think I want to write about when I was in Elementary school and got diagnosed with auditory processing disorder and had to go to speech classes to learn how to comprehend texts, spell, write, and speak. I also want to write about my challenges I’ve faced in English classes and how my speech teacher has had a great impact on my reading. I am going to start on my draft and have it completed by Wednesday. I am excited to create a special story that means a lot to me and will keep you on the edge of your seat. Have a great rest of your day!
Kaiya, I recommend recreating the memory you choose in one or two scenes. Your comment indicates that you may have a series of literacy narratives on your mind, rather than just one. Try focusing on the one that’s lingered in your mind more than the others. If you write about your speech teacher, I hope that you will share a copy with him or her. I’m sure that he or she would be grateful to know how much his or her instruction has meant to you.
Good afternoon Mrs. Lucas, I have finally decided upon what to write. Before I was somewhat unclear on whether to elaborate on one event specifically or whether to take a more broad approach about the factors that developed my literacy. You clarified that for me in the last blog-comment and so, I’ve come to the final decision to write about the time when me and my father brainstormed together to create poetry. There’s been progress but it’s not completed yet. My question for you is, is it okay if I send a copy of my literacy during the weekend via email?
Emi, writing about your poetry-brainstorming collaboration with your father sounds promising. You are welcome to send me your work in progress as an email attachment next week.
Hi Dr. Lucas, I have started to draft my literacy narrative on some events in high school mainly my time in Jrotc as the experiences I’ve had were educational and were very molding of who I am today. I do have a question regarding typing and writing, should i type up the literacy narrative first then write it down?
Andrew, begin drafting by putting pen to paper. You will type your revision as an MS Word file to submit to Moodle. You will also post your revision as a blog post, and that post will include an image that documents part of your writing process away from the screen, such as a page of your handwritten draft. (See the directions on the assignment sheet posted in Moodle and sent as an email attachment.)
So far I have the basic outline of my literacy narrative. I ended up staying with my original plan, even though some other great ideas popped into my head when I started drafting. I still have to fully figure out how I want to organize it, but I feel like I have a great base that I can continue to revise and grow.
Logan, if you decide that one of the other ideas seems more promising, you’re welcome to shift the focus of your narrative. My September 16 blog post, “ENG 111: On Drafting, or Feeling Like a Crab Pulled from Its Shell,” includes links to seven literacy narratives, five written by former English 111 students of mine and two written by me. All of those are models for you. Reading them may give you some additional ideas for your own.
Mam, I am Sahira Naz. I did write my literacy narrative on last Monday. But I am not sure whether I did well or not. I just want to give you a simple view of it , so you can check it and give me a guide lines. I started with my introduction, write some points about my English classes in my own country, give a short view that how I started my classes here, how feel first about English over here in USA, how my husband and my teachers help me and encourage me and what was my performance at the end. I also added a lesson at the end which I got from all these struggles.
My question is that is it good and will it full fill the requirements of my writing or do I need to make changes.
Sahira, your outline fulfills all of the assignment’s requirements. What will determine the degree to which the assignment succeeds is (1) how effectively the essay functions as a narrative, and (2) how well you manage to avoid surface-level errors.
I recommend looking back at the notes on scene and summary in my September 9 blog post. Think of scene and summary as the building blocks for every paragraph of your narrative except the last one. The concluding paragraph should offer some sense of the significance of the learning experience. After you’ve focused on the structure, turn to A Writer’s Reference for matters of grammar, punctuation, style, and mechanics.
Apologies for the late reply as I’ve just gotten off work. In terms of where I am on my literacy narrative, I have created an outline but I am still bouncing back on ideas. I want to write about the freedom of writing and where your imagination can take you. But at the same time I would like to incorporate how writing can advance the mind to places it didn’t think it could go.
Brandon, since your essay is a narrative, you won’t be writing about the concept of where your imagination can take you; instead, you’ll be recreating a memory that shows readers where your imagination has taken you–or how writing has contributed to your intellectual development.
Hello Dr.Lucas, I am have almost finished my personal narrative. I am currently adding more to it and making sure to correct any grammatical errors. Although, i am concerned on how we are turning it in. Are we typing it or posting it as a blog or physically writing it? This narrative so far has been fun to develop because i personally enjoy to write and express myself and ideas in writing.
You will continue to work on your handwritten draft in class tomorrow. You will submit your revision as an MS Word file to Moodle and you will also publish it as a post on your WordPress blog. (See the directions on the literacy narrative assignment sheet posted in Moodle and sent as an email attachment.)
I am making a little bit of progress towards my literacy narrative. Right now I’m taking notes of any kind of memories I’ve had with learning how to spell in my early years of school. Once I complete that I will start to structure my outline with ideas and questions I can elaborate on using my memories, and categorize these memories in my outline as necessary.
Josh, it sounds like you’re making good progress. I recommend including one or two scenes that depict you learning to spell particular words.
Good evening, I have not started writing my literacy narrative paper but I been thinking about some ideas for it. I really don’t know how to to start my outline. I’m confused any advice would help. The paper is difficult for me because I have never written a paper like this and I’m not a computer person.
Saul, imagine that you’re writing a letter to a friend. The subject of the letter is a memory of a learning experience. What’s the first thing that you’d tell your friend? That might be the starting point for your literacy narrative. My September 16 blog post, “ENG 111: On Drafting, or Feeling Like a Crab Pulled from Its Shell,” includes links to seven literacy narratives, five written by former English 111 students of mine and two written by me. All of those are models for you. Reading them may give you some additional ideas for your own.
After reading the instructions and the examples I started the Brainstorm. The examples you posted of other students really help me out to get an idea of what I was doing. I’m currently working on my draft and brainstorm.
David, I’m glad that some of sample literacy narratives proved helpful to you.
Hi Mrs. Lucas! So far in composing my literacy narrative I have brainstormed ideas, thought of things I would like to include, and came up with an opening statement. I typically like to start out with a nice opening statement, just so I can know what I would like the paper to be focused around. After doing that however I became stumped with not knowing if what I wanted to share was the right fit for this assignment or not. How would you suggest narrowing down ideas to make sure the topic is appropriate?
Kellyn, I recommend thinking in terms of specific memories rather than concepts. What do you remember about a particular learning experience and how can you recreate that experience in one or two scenes? Limiting the scenes to one or two will ensure that your story’s scope isn’t too broad for a short narrative.
Hello Dr, Lucas
I have began my literacy narrative draft. I understand that work however, the only problem that I have is adding in more detail. I am currently focusing on the detail in between explaining exactly what’s happening. The models of the literacy narrative has really helped me in brainstorming and arranging my paper.
Miayah, I’m grateful that the sample literacy narratives proved helpful to you. Remember: If you can’t recall some details of your memory, that uncertainty can become part of the story. That’s a strategy that I used twice in my literacy narrative “A Bridge to Words,” first in the third paragraph and again in the concluding paragraph.
Good evening Dr. Lucas, I have known what I want to write about for this assignment but at first I was struggling with how I wanted to start. I tried free writing for about five minutes and coming back to it later with a fresh pair of eyes to look at it. It helped a lot and now I feel I have a solid outline to continue off of.
Craig, I’m glad that freewriting proved helpful.
I have been working on rough draft all week and keep getting nowhere. I am trying to find the prefect topic to write about. I tried to do about a book but it did not turn out good. I thinking about writing how my Early Child Hood class was my favorite learning experience
Shelby, you might develop a scene that depicts one particular day in your early childhood education class, one that gave you a sense that you had found your career. Here’s an exercise to try: imagine that you’re writing a letter to a friend. The subject of the letter is a memory of your early childhood education class. What’s the first thing that you’d tell your friend? That might be the starting point for your literacy narrative.
I am so so sorry this is late! I really thought this reply was due before class Monday.
I am almost through with my draft. One of the hardest parts for me was putting in dialogue. Since I am writing about a specific experience with a teacher from the past, sometimes I don’t remember the exact words we exchanged. This class was also a semester long but I’m only writing on the one experience, so I’m trying to pick a few scenes that really illustrate what it meant to me.
Olivia, I recommend focusing on one or two scenes. As the product of memory, the dialogue that we reconstruct in memoir is approximate rather than exact. If you can’t recall some details of a conversation, that uncertainty can become part of the memoir, too. I use that strategy in the third paragraph of “A Bridge to Words.”
Sorry for submitting this so late. I originally started pout by brainstorming different possible essays for each of the different prompts that you had listed and I was able to work my list down to one, with that one being about a a literary task that I found difficult. I thought that prompt would give me plenty of self reflection opportunities and as soon as I read that prompt an idea for what to write about popped into my mind instantly. I already have a basic out line for the essay with the topic being about the English IA I had to write in my IB English 11 class. there were many struggles I had to deal with while writing that essay and I think that looking back and analyzing my approach on how I handled said struggles might even provide insight on how I should handle similar work in the future.
David, by “IA,” do you mean “interpretive analysis”? You might organize your essay as a series of issues or struggles followed by your reflective analysis. Since the essay is a narrative, I recommend presenting at least one of the struggles with the assignment as a scene.
I’m working on my intro right now and its coming along okay. I got a good base of what I want to do. The hardest part is just trying to remember all the key points of the story to right. So far right though, the bases is going pretty good.
Luke, I’m glad it’s going well. If some details of your memory aren’t clear, that uncertainty can become part of the narrative. I use that strategy in the third paragraph of my literacy narrative “A Bridge to Words.”
good afternoon, i have wrote out my essay and have re read it over as a draft to bring to class today. i am curious to see your feedback on my essay look forward to class today.
Ian, I recommend focusing on one or two scenes–perhaps one of you and Mamaw and one of you as an adult. I will have additional notes for you next Monday, September 28.
Sorry for not responding to this sooner, I hadn’t checked my email in a few days. I wrote my draft of the narrative last week and I like the direction that I went with, although I had trouble brainstorming for the prompt but what I chose to write about believe I made my point. Just a day in english class that stood out to me in a way worth retelling.I think that the examples you posted really helped my out. Thanks
John, I’m glad that the sample literacy narratives proved helpful to you.
Dear Mrs. Lucas, I haven’t done a whole lot yet on my narrative. I haven’t had much time yet. However I plan to get it setup this week and get it laid out. My topic is gonna be about what words have taught me. There have been several lessons learned from words.
Will, aim to offer as many concrete details as you can about the experience of reading Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s novel Shiloh. If you don’t have a copy of the book, read about it online to fill in the gaps in your memory.
Mrs. Lucas my draft isn’t what i planned out at first but as soon as i get it back to make adjustments i’ve thought of new ideas i can put in the paper.
Ace, I’m glad that you’ve developed some new ideas for your narrative.