With the release of his newest book, Write What Matters, this year marks the tenth year I’ve been reading and writing beside the words of Tom Romano. If you’ve not discovered his wisdom on injecting writing voice into student work, his guidance about writing to discover, or his brilliance in coining multigenre…you’re missing out.
This summer, at the UNH Literacy Institutes, Tom Newkirk talked at length about the guts it took for Tom Romano to publish Clearing the Way in 1987–the first “teacher book” of its kind. Guided by the research of Donald Graves and his contemporaries, Romano explains the text’s origins to his reader:
“This book is born out of my own struggles to write well and fourteen years of working hard with teenage writers. Both the writing and the working have been worth it. They are fine passions.“
Thus began my pedagogical education–I read Clearing the Way in my very first English methods course in 2005. Chapters like “The Crucial Role of Conferencing,” “A Creative Current,” and “Literary Warnings” showed me the possibilities if I created a classroom full of passion and verve and real writers.
Next I happened upon Crafting Authentic Voice, in Romano’s own writing methods class at Miami University in 2007. A quote from page five of this book hangs prominently in my classroom to this day: “Voice is the writer’s presence on the page, the writer’s DNA.” I point to those words when I endeavor to help students develop voice. Chapters like “Enter Craft,” “The Five-Paragraph-You-Know-What,” and “Imitation” have guided my teaching of writing, and I see in those topics the work of Katie Wood Ray, Penny Kittle, and Georgia Heard.
Blending Genre, Altering Style I read in my Master’s level writing methods course, again with Romano himself. This book helped me flesh out the nuts and bolts of teaching multigenre, which remains to this day both the most effective, enriching work I do with my students, and their very favorite thing. Reading and writing about chapters like “The Many Ways of Poems,” “Genres Answered,” and the practical “Evaluation and Grading” led me to present with Romano on the many possibilities offered by multigenre at NCTE13.
I’d been teaching five years and was already living in West Virginia when I read Fearless Writing, seeking more guidance about teaching writing. Practical chapters like “Easing into Poetry Through Imitation,” “Crafting Narrative,” and “Self-Assessment: Raising the Blinds” pushed me to take my teaching of many genres to new heights, with wonderful student results.
Last year, thrashing in the throes of a difficult PhD program, I sought wisdom from Romano in Zigzag, where his chapter “Meltdown” showed me empathy, peace, and guidance. “I’d never been more at peace with a big decision,” Romano writes of leaving his own doctoral program. I did the same, and I’m at peace too.
Now, as I prepare to welcome my first child into the world, I’m contemplating where my career will take me. I’ve long known I don’t want to try to sustain my level of involvement with teaching high schoolers while trying to be a mom. But I don’t want to leave the amazing, sustaining, nurturing community of teachers and writers and thinkers I engage with here at TTT, or at NCTE, or on Twitter. I don’t want to leave my tribe, as Penny Kittle says.
And, again, Romano is here to guide me through my next steps–Write What Matters: For Yourself, For Others is lately ordered from Amazon and on its way to me. I know that chapters like “Trust the Gush,” “Risk and All,” and “Who Are You to Presume to Write?” will guide me as I wonder about my future teacher-writer identity. I know that this book is what I need right now:
Many want to write. But sometimes they lose heart. They are cowed in the face of so many fine writers of fiction, memoir, poetry, columns, and creative nonfiction. Their confidence wanes. If you want to write, but are hesitant, let Tom Romano lift your confidence. In Write What Matters you will find discussions of writing processes that make sense, demonstrations of effective strategies to try, advice about developing productive habits to get your writing done, and examples of illuminating writing from fearless writers, both professional and novice. Your voice, your vision, your way with words matter. They are tied to your identity. You know that you are more alive when you put words on paper. Accept that you not only want to write. You need to write. Write What Matters will help you learn to dwell in your written words and craft them into writing worth reading by others.
Pick up Write What Matters, or any of Tom’s many other works of wisdom and power. Let Tom Romano lift your confidence–in your writing, your teaching, and your passion. His words, and he, have been my single most reliable, important mentors as I seek to be a teacher of writing, a teacher-writer, and a plain old Saturday-morning-notebook-storyteller.