In Which I Juxtapose a Metal Power Ballad and Writing Instruction

Remember the 80s hair band Cinderella? Sure you do. Their lead singer had that awesome screeching voice and everything they did was so marvelously loud. They rocked! And do you also remember when all the metal bands went through the power ballad phase and Cinderella sang that one about writing called, “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)”?

OK, that song wasn’t really about writing. But it could’ve been. Because that’s the song that has been playing on repeat in my head the past few weeks as I search for old copies of Writing! magazine.

Writing! was a Weekly Reader publication that I used in my English classes back in the day. It was genius: every issue had articles about different aspects of writing, and the editors somehow made those topics relevant and even kinda cool to middle school and high school kids. I used to freelance for them on occasion. (Tales of yore say that a then-unknown John Grisham did, too, though I can’t verify that. But I wouldn’t be surprised because the magazine was just that good.)

But like all things that are too awesome for this world, Writing! vanished, leaving a void that no other educational magazine can ever fill.

Recently, I began searching for old copies of Writing! so that I could hoard them up for future instruction. Can’t find them anywhere. Not even on eBay. And that’s saying a lot when you consider that on eBay, you can find almost anything, including this and this.

I resorted to contacting Weekly Reader (no luck) and General Learning Communications, the company that created the magazine (also no luck), and even looking up the former editor-in-chief online. I couldn’t find him (there were a few people with the same name–eventually, I may contact all of them in my quest), so I wound up tracking down another freelancer who had worked regularly for Writing! She promised to send me photocopies of her old stories for them. I am beyond stoked–I’ve checked my mail with great anticipation each day since her email. Still, I wish I could have a complete library of original copies. Why, oh why, didn’t I save them all? (Cue the Cinderella song here.)

Writing! approached the study of literature the way I wish all writing classes could be taught: with an emphasis on HOW the writer does what he/she does, not just the work’s deep hidden meanings. Many lit textbooks are arranged by common themes, but I’ve never been able to get my head around that. I’ve always taught by genre or with an eye toward craft. I think students miss so much when studying, for example, White Fang without an emphasis on the importance of point of view (a wolf as the POV character? who knew that could work?) or say, Holes without dissecting the structure (yes, it’s a good story, but it’s the way the author interweaves the two plots that makes the book genius, in my opinion). It’s not enough to just tell kids that something is a great work of literature…let’s break it down and show the choices the writer made in order to create that great work. Maybe in today’s high stakes testing culture, that’s just not possible anymore. Maybe that’s why Writing! folded. I don’t know, but it makes me sad.

I’d love to hear from teachers who tackle the thematic unit approach to teaching lit. Do you think it accomplishes the same mission, or are there other benefits to this method that I haven’t considered? Please share.

Oh, and if you happen to know where I can get copies of Writing! magazine, please please please please please drop me a line.

 

 

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