21 Pages a Day

I can’t remember a time when reading was not an important part of my life. My mom read to my brother and I every night before we went to bed, and as we got older we started rotating who did the reading. I always wanted to read Cat and the Hat; John preferred Bernstein Bears.

Eventually the group reading was replaced by visits to the library, where John and I got to pick out our own books. It was on one of these visits that we discovered the library’s summer reading program. They gave us worksheets with images of open books, and for every page we read, we got to color a page. After you read so many pages, you were eligible for a prize.

I don’t remember what the prize was, but I remember figuring out that I needed to read 21 pages a day to get it. I read every Babysitter’s Club and Nancy Drew book I could get my hands on that summer. The funny thing is I managed to lose the worksheets and never submitted them to the library – I got so involved with the stories that I forgot why I started reading them.

My love affair with reading never ended – to this day I’m guilty of staying up way too late when the plot’s good. The only thing I found to love more than reading was writing. I had a wonderful first-grade teacher, Ms. Frank, who had us write our own books. (I found a few of them when I moved from Texas to California, including, “The Talking Rug” and “When You’re Feeling Lonely Find a B-E-A-R Bear.”) 

Unlike many of my peers, beyond the books in first grade and a couple of poems in high school, my interest in writing was never creative. For me, the thrill has always been in finding the best words to make an idea crystal clear. At heart, I’m an editor, and this has led me to various technical writing and copy editing jobs, as well as a BA and an MA in literature. 

After finishing the MA, I started teaching an online composition course and found a whole new reason to love writing. Today, I’m at UC Davis pursuing my PhD in Education with an emphasis on writing. Specifically, I’m looking at how technology affects the way we teach and learn to write, and at ways to effectively teach writing in online environments. I’m interested in college-level writers and adult learners, and I’m increasingly fascinated with the cognitive processes required for digital literacy.

That said, most days I just feel like a kid who started reading 21 pages a day, got hooked on the story, and can’t put the book down.

8 thoughts on “21 Pages a Day

  1. Mary,

    I love how the external motivation of reaching a goal (21 pages!) quickly dissolved in light of your internal motivation to keep reading. Has digital literacy/digital writing ever been a part of your reading/writing development?

    1. I’m not sure about reading, but my writing development has certainly been affected by digital literacy. Ever since computer class in elementary school, I’ve always loved to type, and I think a lot of why I like to write academic papers is because of the ability to shift things around in a Word document. There’s something about writing on a computer that makes the words and ideas seem very flexible; that doesn’t seem as true when you’re writing with pen and paper.

  2. This post exhibits how you engage with words – how you enjoy the relationship between a text and the reader. As a teacher I would guess you’ve encountered a few students who don’t have that same feel for reading and writing (I know I have). Have you found any technology-based tools that help bridge that divide?

    1. Hi Hogan,

      You ask an interesting question here. I don’t know that I’ve found a tool to bridge the divide, but I’ve noticed that asynchronous discussions in an online course tend to help those students because it gives them a real audience and a clear reason to communicate through text. Almost by necessity, they seem to get better at understanding the relationship between their text and their readers. Have you found other tools that help with this?


  3. “At heart, I’m an editor.” I love that line. I see in it something that captures so much about what folks (including me) hate about writing: getting started. For me, printing out a draft and sitting down to dissect and rebuild it is the great joy of writing. It is the reward I save myself for after I slog through the rough draft.

    It’s interesting to me that literature is what you read, but you like to sink your teeth into the tech or academic stuff when you write. I wonder if the journals and theses also keep you up at night reading. (Even when they are not assigned, that is.)

    1. That’s a really interesting point. I wouldn’t say that journals and theses keep me up at night – I seem to categorize writing and reading academic texts as “work,” which is fulfilling, but gets tiring. The reading that keeps me up at night is rejuvenating.


    2. I too consider myself an editor at heart. What I love most about composing is planning and editing–all of the stuff that comes before and after drafting.

      I have always found the actually writing process to be rather painful; this, I believe, is due to my type-A personality and my need to get the words “right” the first time (even though I know that study after study shows that it’s okay–and, in fact, preferable–to have a draft that represents the complexities and messiness of the thinking process). This is why we have a revision process followed by an editing process.

      Composing technologies have not made drafting any easier for me; to overcome my drafting anxieties, I have adopted the habit of over-planning, sometimes filling up 80+ pages with notes (well organized notes) that are intended to aid my writing process. The problem with this approach is that I end up writing a 60-page paper instead of the 30-page paper that a journal requires. I also end up taking three times as long to write the paper than I should have taken.

      The copy-paste function of word processing software has forever altered my writing process. Technology and writing are, as Christina Haas so articulately shows, inextricably linked.

      I often wonder if word processing software has made the writing process more or less natural for writers. Thoughts?

    3. Hi Rebekka,

      It sounds like we have pretty similar personalities! I, too, create gigantic documents of notes that I turn into very long papers. I always struggled with cutting those down to the appropriate size, but then I worked as a copywriter for a year, where word counts are paramount. I’ve actually learned to love that revision process as much as I love the planning and organizing – it’s like a game to see how I can shorten a sentence or a paragraph, and then see how doing that repeatedly makes the whole paper more efficient.


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