Working on a Novel

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Using manual processes to write in this digital age might appear odd or anachronistic — perhaps even an affectation. But I don’t care. I use what I was taught to use when I was in school. It’s a method that works for me, and I’ll stick with it.

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In the initial stages of writing, I organize a story by plotting it out on my whiteboard, where it looks like an engineer’s left-brained process. I then use a portable manual typewriter (recently a Silver-Reed) and type a quick sketch of each episode on index cards. I choose to use colored index cards in order to break the narrative into the four-month timeframe of the story — a different color for each month. I tacked the index cards to my large corkboard, where the different colors pop out and demand attention. There’s also something aesthetically pleasing about the motley display.

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So far I haven’t used the computer for the planning stages of my current work of fiction. To an outsider, the whiteboard, index cards, corkboard, manual typewriter — it all might seem like something Mr. Keating in “Dead Poets Society” was referring to when he said, “We’re not laying pipe.” And he was right. Writers aren’t laying pipe. But the basic blueprint, the design of the story, must be present before the actual writing begins. Some people make it up as they go along. But for me that isn’t possible. I have to work out the entire story ahead of the actual writing so that when I’m finished with the outline, there are no narrative inconsistencies. The story logic is inviolable. I can then begin writing without asking the unnerving question: What comes next? I know what comes next because I’ve figured it all out ahead of time.

Nothing could be more freeing.

Wednesday Whimsies

Work
  • Hearing tests today – had to check my email to make sure I sent any students on the list. My name wasn’t on the teacher list. I think they’re tired of me failing to send down my students.
  • I gave my juniors a worksheet on Latin roots. It’s part of an entire programmed course from the 1960s. Programmed instruction was pretty effective, albeit fallen into disfavor now. I plan on continuing the course. One of our goals with juniors is to give them a lot of practice with SAT vocabulary words, and toward that end I think this old course is one of the best. No one else would agree with me on this one. But I don’t care.
  • I need to get batteries for an old digital camera I plan on using to take better document photos, etc., at my desktop for uploading to this page.
  • I don’t teach math, but this iOS app is amazing. Simply take a picture of a math problem, and it will solve it for you. It will even show you the steps involved. Pure magic!
  • My Smith-Corona electric typewriter has piqued the curiosity of more than a few students, many of whom have never typed on one. I use the typewriter sometimes to type up lists, sometimes just for fun.

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Other

Publications

  • People are buying Common Core Grammar on Amazon at a fairly decent clip. Ironically, I’ve yet to use the book in my classroom, despite being its author. I intend to correct this sad situation soon.
  • It’s pleasing to know that on Amazon my book is frequently bought together with one of the education books I admire most by James Burke: The Common Core Companion.

Personal

  • Monday my wife, Sandy, and I celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary. I hung the card she gave me next to my desk. Hard to believe it’s been almost twenty years now. Love does indeed get better with age.

Working the Boards

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Keeping students abreast of what’s going on in the classroom is incumbent upon us as teachers. This year I’m trying out two different methods of communication: (1) a color-coded agenda on the small whiteboard behind my desk, and (2) a digital iPhone pix uploaded to this blog. Either way, I should avoid hearing the question “What are we doing today?”

A student expressed surprise that I was the one who actually wrote on the board. She thought it looked too creative . . . well, at least colorful.

The Road Not Taken – a Genuine Masterpiece

A fascinating aspect of the above television commercial is that what is read by a voice-over artist (New Zealander) is the text of “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost — and just the text, nothing else, for there’s an assumption that this one-hundred-year-old poem will be instantly recognizable to a general audience — no need to explain what the poem means or who wrote it — a fact unique to this twentieth-century poem.

I love the video’s interpretation, how we see the young man making the choice of the road “less traveled by” before his possible futures flash before us: walking along a railroad track and along a night road, hitchhiking, wading into the ocean, kissing a beautiful girl, tossing a duffle bag off a fire escape, working a fishing boat, crying, sleeping in a hotel room, sitting in a car with what might be his middle-aged self, laughing in a bus with an old man (his much older self?), eating while walking along another road. The series resolves into a scene with a different young man with his thumb out. A car picks him up, and we realize that the driver is the first man from the crossroads, now accompanied by a woman and small child. He smiles the smile of knowledge and experience. As the car pulls away into a golden landscape, the Ford logo appears on screen and we realize that we’ve been watching a commercial.

The Crucible — Full Audio Recording

The Crucible Box set of LPs
The Crucible Box set of LPs

A full-cast performance by The Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center featuring Robert Foxworth, Pamela Payton-Wright, Stuart Pankin, and Jerome Dempsey and cast. I use this full audio recording of The Crucible in my classroom and intend no copyright infringement. It’s for educational purposes only.

Act One

Act Two

Act Three

Act Four

Also on Facebook and Twitter. All writing on this site is copyrighted © by Thomas Fasano 2015. Any additional copyrighted material is included as “fair use” for critical analysis and classroom use only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

New Classroom Layout

I spent some time the past two days rearranging the room. The new layout is something I’ve been planning to do awhile, but moving the projector and screen required approval from the district and was essential to getting everything angled just right. Now students can see the whiteboards and projector screen without turning or craning their necks.

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A Teacher's View