• Annemarie Johnson

How Do Writers Work?

Writing Trait/Strategy: Ideas trait; studying how real authors work

Mentor Text Suggestions:


As Katie Wood Ray says in Wondrous Words, “we don’t have students choose their own topics because it feels good—we have them choose their own topics because it matches what real writers do.” What other decisions do real writers make as they craft their writing? Why do they select a certain genre or text structure? Why do they use the words they do? Where do their ideas come from? Why do they even write in the first place?

An important way to use mentor authors is to study how they do their work and let students in on these authors’ secrets. We can do this in a variety of ways.

Ways to Study an Author’s Work and Processes

1. Attend author talks at conferences and share that information with our students

2. Study professional books about authors’ work and use that information in our mini-l lessons. Some helpful resources include:

3. Read aloud the picture books listed at the top of this page. These books all deal specifically with the act of writing and can be used to help students get inside the minds of writers.

4. Use the internet. There are many websites that provide biographical information about children’s authors, and many of them include advice or tips from the these authors.

Here for a list of helpful sites:





We can use all of this information to help students envision possibilities for their own writing and ask, “I wonder if I could do that?”

Below are some useful questions that can guide our discussions as we teach students to study how writers work:

  • What is there in this author’s process that might work for me as a writer?”

  • Where does this author get ideas? Could I try this too?”

  • How did this author develop this idea before it was drafted? Could I try this too?

  • How is this author already like me? How is he or she different from me as a writer?

  • What authors mentored this writer? Could they be mentors for me as well?

  • What does this author understand about writing that I had never thought about? (Ray, 1999)

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