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Plank by Plank


Here’s some stuff about building a book Annie Lamott never told us in Bird by Bird, her quickly classic writer's autobiography. Fortunately, I’ve got Andrea from Long Island to help me craft a marketable proposal. Over spring break, I knocked out a chapter outline listing the sections and what I want to put in each one. The organizing device is a metaphor, a suitable approach for a guy like me who has a license plate on his jeep that says METAAAA.

To keep you in suspense, or at least keep you reading this post, I will cagily withhold the controlling image for now. For loyal readers here’s a clue: it has more to do with a river than a mountain, and you can cook blueberry cobbler on it while it’s burning.

As I mentioned last post, the raw material will be furnished by this blog and its predecessor, “Certifiable?”, so I don’t think I’ll be over-exposing to say that Natty Boards figure prominently. (I might never get the sixty grand I set out for in the first place, but one way or the other I’ll get paid for that year’s hard labor.)

As to the proposal itself, there are quite a few other elements beyond a description of what I’ll be writing about; one I’m working on now is my platform. In it, I explain how I can help sell the book. And you’re it, at least a major plank. A few pieces in the Post help, too. (For How-to’ers following along at home, I mapped the yellow brick road from clipless to published most recently when giving the 18-minute talk of my life to some local teacher researchers).

And then there’s my old friend, the writing project. I’ve sung its praises from Capitol Hill to here, most full-throated when I was teaching writing courses for teachers at TJ, in Arlington, and at George Mason. Suffice to say it’s one of my favorite teacher things. Conveniently, it’s also a national network of like-minded teachers to whom to hawk.

I hope other old friends can help, too, like my mentor in education writing, Jay Mathews. We’ve agreed to disagree before over esoteric questions like what’s the best high school in the world, but he’s been a lodestar during my peripatetic journey from public school classroom (one leg of which he wrote about in Supertest, the true story of the IB program at Mount Vernon High School) to private school Dean’s desk. New friends, too, a fresh crop every year, might want to hear my twice-told tales, namely those pounding their heads against National Boards for the first time.

I may mill or salvage a few other planks, but you get the idea. It’s not just what but who you know, not to mention who wants to know what you know. So, after sixteen years of grading papers and writing about it, it's time to take Annie's advice and get to work on that - - itty first draft.


Dear Mr R

Your metaphors are not subtle enough.


PS. Your license plate confuses me.

My good friend and mentor Donald Murray told me, "15 minutes a day and you'll have a book in a year."

Good luck.

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