Bethany Sluiter

LMWP 2012 Invitational Summer Institute

How to Improve

Classroom Changes:

  • quick writes
  • establish writing groups
  • T.A.G. for peer response
  • sacred writing time each day
  • create relevant writing experiences
  • close and critical reading with each unit
  • self-reflection on personal writing
  • DIY study guides
  • literature circles
  • grammar mini-lessons
  • literary magazine at school – after school club
  • post a schedule of weekly writing conferences
  • write alongside students


Personal Changes:

  • write every morning for 10 minutes
  • keep finding and writing down personal “flow” moments
  • keep researching
  • explore my own voice
  • stay in a writing group/community
  • finish a book of poems for Oma
  • publish work: book reviews or poems
  • write to process
  • make goals in the morning, reflect on them in the afternoon
  • write episodic non-fiction
  • poetry, poetry, poetry

Writer’s Reflection

  1. I began this summer institute with more experience as a writer than as a teacher. I have been a student for so long, it seems, that writing was pretty much second nature to me. I am able to crank out what I need in order to succeed in class, so when I began this institute, I had more or less planned on behaving in the same student mode. Now, I’m at a completely different place. I have learned how to write for myself rather than a due date or a professor. I have developed my own voice; I have found my comfortable genre (poetry) and explored my world through that genre. I feel that I am a more mature reader and writer now, and I have developed as a teacher through my own process of learning to be a writer.
  2. I have so many plans for writing the future. I plan to keep writing every morning for at least ten minutes. I also plan to continue reading about writing. I want to create an after school club for creative writing that will be published in a literary magazine. Additionally, I want to continue exploring my own voice through writing about things that matter to me. I want to stay in a safe community of writers, like this one, throughout my life outside of the institute. I also plan on publishing some of my work and/or looking for avenues of expression through freelance writing in local publications.
  3. I have established the practice of “throwing up” all of my thoughts on the page, and then Zinssering them later. I have learned how to set my mind free on the page and then to clean up the mess later, in my own form. I have established the habit of saving proofreading and revision for another time after drafting. Most importantly, I have gotten into the habit of processing my thoughts through the written word on the page, rather than letting them stew in my pressure cooker of a brain all day. Writing has become therapeutic for me.
  4. The most helpful exercise for me as a writer was to free write every morning. It benefitted me greatly to have time to sit and write without expectation, and to see what came out of those times. Sometimes it was good, and sometimes it wasn’t, but the process in itself, the exercise of writing freely, was completely necessary and helpful to me.
  5. I was surprised most by my ability to share such personal thoughts and words with others. I had never talked about my sister’s treatment of me before I wrote down the swing set story, but in sharing that story I was able to grow closer to this group while also learning to understand myself a little better. I feel like I am a more open person now that I feel safe enough to write and read what is important to me. I am so thankful for that unexpected gift.
  6. I think I would like to explore more non-fiction, particularly episodic non-fiction. I would like to write some more about various experiences in my childhood, in a way that does them justice. I feel like I am a bad oral storyteller, but I have important things to share. I want to explore my written storytelling abilities so that I can share them with others and hopefully contribute something meaningful to my community. I would also like to continue pursuing poetry. I have really come to love poetry as an art form and an outlet, and I want to continue that as the summer institute winds down.
  7. My target audience is hard to define because I think it’s always changing. I have a few. One of my audiences is my parents. I write to them about my grandpa and my memories. I write to them in order to honor their presence in my lives, and show them how I see the things we have experienced together. Another audience is my friends. I write to them humorously whenever a strange thought pops up in my head that I think I can turn into a story or an essay. I want to send them the message that I am interesting and creative, that I am a valuable contribution to society. Mostly, though, I think I am my own audience. I write to process and to heal. There are so many things that I have written solely for myself, that I wouldn’t want to share with anyone because I don’t think they would be appreciated or understood the way that I want them to be. It might not be the most accessible audience, but it’s important to me at this point in my life that I make sense of what I know through writing, as Flannery O’Connor would say.
  8. The most important thing I have learned form this summer institute is that every voice is valuable. I have seen and heard so many wonderful stories from so many amazingly talented writers. And we’re all uniquely different. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to share our thoughts. I am in awe of the variety of stories I have heard over the past few weeks. I think this translates very well into my outlook on life; we are all unique, we are all valuable, we all have a voice in life’s conversation.

Seen from Above

Two similar seeds, 

cultivated in sandy soil 

and watered with rich intent, 

have finally found

there’s something else beyond. 


Two miles in inches 

stretched out to new miles

that follow highways south 

and in and up and down 

into a fading valley. 


One sits and writes down thoughts 

the other navigates new roads 

and chases familiar vibrations

on imagination playgrounds 

built from words on words

and foreign footfalls. 


The differences unsaid will grow 

like shadows from the tired sun 

left underneath the moon 

that’s casting waves on silver sand 

and translating tree trunks into fears. 


And Aiken Drum with widened eyes 

will stare at them from up above, 

where both respond by bowing down 

like commas on an endless shore.

WDTB – final reflection

Okay, so in retrospect, I don’t know how much I really learned about writing from Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones.” There were definitely a few “nuggets” (I hate that word) of wisdom to be gleaned from 180-odd pages:

  • “It’s a good idea to have a page in your notebook where you jot down, as they come to you, ideas for topics to write about” (21).
  • “Basically, if you want to become a good writer, you need to do three things. Read a lot, listen well and deeply, and write a lot. And don’t think too much” (59).
  • “Writing is a communal act…We are carried on the backs of all the writers who came before us. We live in the present with all the history, ideas, and soda pop of this time. It all gets mixed up in our writing” (86).
  • “Writing is deeper than therapy. You write through your pain, and even your suffering must be written out and let go of” (123).
  • “That is the challenge: to let writing teach us about life and life about writing. Let it flow back and forth” (143).
  • “It is a good idea to wait awhile before you reread your writing…you can see how your mind works” (172).

BUT it left much more to be desired. So I’ve comprised a list of reasons why this book might still be useful (despite my unfavorable review), mostly for Natalie’s sake and self-esteem.

1. I am a teacher. I did not take many pure writing classes, and I’m not fluent in the language of writers. Perhaps I am overlooking potential wisdom nuggets (chunks?) because I was desperately seeking ways I could relate this to my future classroom. So maybe you’ll dig this book if you’re looking for some wisdom chunks on writing.

Or maybe…

2. I am a writer. And I know contrivance when I see it. There were times her analogies were SO polished, I felt I was sliding around on them. The foundation was so slippery; I couldn’t take off my shoes and get comfortable in the text.

Or maybe…

3. I’m not zen enough. Goldberg frequently quotes old friends and Buddhist spiritual advisors, and while I appreciate her one-ness with the universe, I feel left out. In fact, I began to question my own existence, which I don’t think the author intended to happen.

Or maybe…

4. It’s just not my cup of tea. 

And that’s okay with me, and Natalie too, I’m sure.

Writing Down the Bones – Natalie Goldberg

I really like the ideas outlined in this book, though it’s a bit existential for me. This book is more for writers than it is for educators; it asks readers to express themselves by providing prompts and excited encouragement, but does not offer any additional answers for teaching writing to adolescents. I’d instruct teachers to use this book as an example for modeling writing through the author’s experiences with writing and the teacher’s own experiences with the book. Goldberg views writing as a religion, which I guess it is, in a way. I hadn’t thought about it before, but you really have to commit fully to the writing lifestyle by writing, reading, and thinking about writing every day. It consumes a space in your mind and environment that is analogous to God. Reading this book has actually challenged me quite a bit to think of writing as a religious experience. It’s kind of like prayer; you get your thoughts out of your head and onto the page in order to process and to let go. It’s a way of living that really requires you to live twice, as Goldberg puts it, once in the moment and another time, more slowly, going back over every detail. It’s exhausting and rewarding at the same time. This book offers a lot of advice for budding authors, but she sometimes loses herself in her prose, which is lyrical and peppered with natural and religious images.


From Seed to Sky

You go, grow old

breathing into deepest skin,

collecting and dispensing,

wisp by whistling wisp,

the years below your brow.

Clouds complicate blue mind-sky

and tufts obscure your eyes

with creeping cirrus tendrils slinking

down your breaking back

toward toes wiggling with fear

that clutches at torn heels

and claims with thick and woolly thoughts.

While hate hatches from your own bones

being marrow-marinated

you hide your hurt beneath thin skin

and taste what it has baked.

But we still see

the pain you’ve made will water sour soil

and lie fallow in the field

where, Seed, you were meant to shade so much.

I feel weird having 13 posts, so here’s this. Number 14. From Design*Sponge, I believe.


This place smells like bleach and desperation. As they roll in another set of blue bins for their 45-minute stint, I look around at my competition. So many hungry eyes, all surveying the same prey. The bins are locked in place, in clumps of four, and we descend; a throng of arms claw and wrestle with the clothing, selecting the fortunate few and discarding the stained, the shrunken, the hole-y. Fabric flies through the air and lands in metal carts manned by children and husbands. The industrial detergent smell grips my throat as my eyes dive down, down into the bin. I can feel the stress in Spanish voices, calling to children as hard hands hold old clothes against new baby, checking size and fit. The garment, too small, is thrown back among the flannel and immediately snatched up by another hungry mother.

Influential Teacher Quick Write

Mr. Christian’s class was captivating from the very first day. He started Advanced American Lit with an animated introduction into symbolism, the Civil War and numerology. I was fascinated. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat, struggling to gather ever grain of wisdom he threw at our feet in my spiral-bound notebook. This was the 250 pound man who could bellow across the room as a Puritan minister, and then turn around and become the devilish daughter of Hester Prynne. This was the wrestling coach that would cry reading Cooper’s beautifully romantic prose. This was the father, husband, teacher that inspired us all, laughing and yelling and dancing through hours and hours, pages and pages of old America. He made Steinbeck’s turtle gallop across the page and Gatsby’s parties last all hour. This man was my hero; he was the teacher I will one day be.

We’ve sailed here

We’ve sailed here like old driftwood

colliding on our separate seas.


you and I,

at the only place we know

where we still see ourselves.


We slip from talking tables to shaded spaces

where the swirls of steam between us

cleave our separate souls,

and you tell your ghost stories

of what you’ve seen

and where we’ve been before.


And somewhere in the road

between before and the later now

when your voice can’t hide your heart

as the rise and fall betrays your smooth reflection,

the river will recede and

I’ll see your barren banks.


And as you try to erase the trace

of clotted clouds behind your eyes,

when you look and see me crookedly,

I’ll know it’s got you, too.


I’m really struggling with that bolded line. Any suggestions?