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Ralph Fletcher: A Writer’s Mentor 

When I need a little writerly advice, I often turn to Ralph Fletcher. Why? Because I feel like I know him and can trust him. We have never met, but his advice about writing for both students and teachers has stayed with me for the last 20 years. His books strike a chord with me, and every time I read them, I learn something new or take on a deeper understanding. There is no preaching from on high with Ralph Fletcher; he is a straight shooter and a true writing mentor.

Beginnings

My journey with Ralph Fletcher began with What a Writer Needs in 2004. I remember thinking: “What is this magical world of writing that he is talking about?” Up until that point I had only known about the formulaic school enforced writing, with one exception, a creative writing class I took in high school with Ms. Sophie Elwood. At that time, I thought Ms. Elwood was a mystical maverick who encouraged us to have choice and voice in our writing as she continually reminded us to write “outside of the box.” I wish there had been more writing teachers like Sophie Elwood in my life.

As a teacher of writers, Ralph helped me begin to understand the art of writing. He gave me a vision for a writerly life and teaching possibilities beyond my imagination. The first chapter in What a Writer Needs is titled “Mentors” (pp. 9 – 19). Within this chapter Ralph shares that writing mentors:  

  • Have high standards 
  • Build on strengths 
  • Value originality and diversity 
  • Encourage risk taking 
  • Are passionate 
  • Look at the big picture  

Reflections

Yes, this is a lot of information to take in all at once, especially if you are now contemplating your own identity as a writing mentor. You might be asking yourself… Am I comfortable being a teacher of writers? Am I passionate about writing? Do I encourage the writers that I work with to take risks? Do I build on writers’ strengths? Do I value originality and diversity?  

Now, with that in mind, ponder the following from A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You (Fletcher, 2023, p. 150):  

“You can learn a ton by hanging out with someone who’s an expert at what they do. This axiom holds true whether you’re talking about tying a fishing fly, making bread, stringing a lacrosse stick, or photographing wildlife. It certainly holds true for writing. But how do you hang out with skilled writers who may live thousands of miles away . . . or are no longer with us? Answer: by reading their work.” 

Appreciation

Thank you, Ralph, for this sound advice. You never disappoint. As an author of over fifty books, I view Ralph Fletcher as a mentor and an expert when it comes to lending a writerly hand to children and their teachers. I have read and re-read several of his books for educators. My current Ralph Fletcher collection includes: 

  • A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You (1996)
    • A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You (New and Expanded Edition, 2023) 
  • Breathing In, Breathing Out: Keeping a Writer’s Notebook (1996) 
  • Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing (2017)
    • Mentor Author, Mentor Texts: Short Texts, Craft Notes, and Practical Classroom Uses (2011) 
  • What a Writer Needs (1993) 

I also have books that he co-wrote with Joann Portalupi: 

  • Craft Lessons: Teaching Writing K-8 (1998) 
  • Non-fiction Craft Lessons: Teaching Information Writing K-8 (2001) 
  • Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide (2001) 

Writing this list has me thinking that I might be a little Ralph Fletcher obsessed. If not obsessed, a huge fan. No autographed copies yet – but a girl can dream. The truth is, that once you have mentors in your life you return to them repeatedly for advice, wisdom, and inspiration.

Inspiration

Are you a teacher who wants to lend a hand to the writers you work with? Would you like to become more comfortable as a teacher of writers? Do you need a mentor? If you have answered yes to one or more of these questions, then I would like to suggest the following Ralph Fletcher books as must reads:  

Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing (2017) 

Ralph shares in A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You (2023, p. 162) that he authored this book because he noticed that “writing in school seemed to be less about kids expressing their thoughts, and more about getting them ready for the big test”. This book is for anyone who wants to add excitement, enthusiasm, and empowerment into their own writing life and the writing lives of others.  

A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You (New and Expanded Edition, 2023)

Ralph shares in Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing (2017, p. 57) that “the writer’s notebook may not be the writing tool, but it certainly is a writing tool every teacher should consider”. If you have ever considered fostering the use of writer’s notebooks in your classroom, this book is for you. Get one for yourself and your grade level colleagues and then host a book club. This book will not disappoint.

What a Writer Needs (1993) 

Donald Murray shares in the forward of this book that “Fletcher is a writer who writes of writing as a writer, and teachers need to hear someone who writes with wisdom, intimacy, love, and joy of our daily discipline” (p. vii). Do I need to say more? If this book is not in your professional resource collection, the time has come.

Afterword 

Ralph Fletcher, if you are reading this, I would like to thank you for being
one of my writing mentors and when we finally meet,  
I have a few books for you to sign.

Action

Are you interested in learning more about the writing process and the teaching of writing? Would you like to become a writing mentor? Then, one or more of our Center’s professional learning opportunities might be just what you are looking for:

References 

Fletcher, R. (2023) A writer’s notebook: Unlocking the writer within you. Heinemann 

Fletcher, R. (2017) Joy write: Cultivating high-impact, low stakes writing. Heinemann 

Fletcher, R. (1993) What a writer needs. Heinemann. 

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