Writers Have Plans: Using Next Lists to Build Writing Lives

Last night I tossed and turned, hunting for an idea for this week’s post.

This morning at the breakfast table, a steaming cup of coffee beside me, I scan through a Google folder labeled “Blog To Do List.” Rebekah and I created this file months ago, preloading it with ideas for future entries. I feel myself begin to relax as I consider the possibilities. I am grateful for these plans.

Penny Kittle has said that “readers have plans.” Students keep to-read-next lists in their notebooks, recording titles, authors, and genres they want to delve into as soon as they finish their current read. Kittle writes that the next list is a “critical” component in her “teaching and organizing towards independence for students” (64).

I love this concept. It’s simple yet powerful, and it works for writers, too. Encouraging students to make long-term writing plans is one of those things that distinguishes teachers of writing from teachers of writers.

Writers have plans.

Adapting Kittle’s idea for the writing workshop, I recently asked students to respond to three questions that would position them to write:

          1. What’s in the works? What writing have you already begun?

          2. What writing would you like to begin?

          3. What audiences would you like to write to or for?

I drafted a list in front of them first, mumbling about emails I had yet to write, and to-do lists that needed revising, but I ultimately settled on this list:

Then I gave students about ten minutes to record their own plans. Some, who had been in my class the previous semester, were able to look back through their writer’s notebooks for ideas. Others stared at a blank page for a few minutes, glanced up at my list, and were able to brainstorm a few things. Some, who had not taken my class but were homebred writers, had no trouble filling a page.

Then I asked them to highlight priority areas: the writing they wanted to start or pick up immediately. Students shared these plans in writing groups, and some added to their lists after hearing others’ plans.

Through this exercise, students begin to understand that good writing starts with a desire, not an assignment. And when you explain that your job is to create conditions that will help them follow through with their plans and become better writers, they begin to see themselves as writers.

A good complement to this exercise is the check point exercise, in which students reflect on the writing they’ve done over a period of a week and look for “centers of impact”–places in their writing that ignite curiosity and deserve further development. Sometimes I feel like we’re pushing forward at breakneck speed; checkpoints are a great way to slow down, take a moment to appreciate the work they’ve done, and build on plans.

Just like I ask my students to add to their next-to-read lists, I will ask them to update and revise their next-to-write lists as they finish projects, rehearse new ideas, and discover new audiences for which to write.

In the future, I might even have students type their plans into a Google Form, so I can study the patterns and trends and plan craft-based units around student needs and interests.

– Allison

How have you incorporated students’ plans into your writing instruction? Leave a comment or join us on Twitter @allisonmarchett @rebekahodell1.

Works Cited:

Kittle, Penny. Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent      Readers. Portsmouth: Heinneman,  2013. Print.


  1. Love the idea of using a google doc and so agree with the idea that we are, “Teachers of writers not teachers of writing!”

    1. Thank you! I agree this is an important distinction to make. If you try the Google Doc, let me know it goes! I hope it’s useful.

    2. Does anyone know why NPR is totally obsessed with this subject? For example are most of NPR’s staff Jewish or so93;hing?It&#emts most of their contributors: older, affluent Jews.NPR is getting to be the height of unintended self-parody. It's like Manhattan, on the radio; basically a wealthy, liberal Jewish playground.

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