By Barbara Allen, Contributing Writer
Irene Hannigan has a confession: “For most of my adult life, I’ve been masquerading as a writer.”
For the Lexington resident, whose personal and professional life has incorporated the roles of teacher, staff developer, curriculum specialist, parent and elementary school principal, writing has always played a significant part in helping her capture important moments along the way.
Although Hannigan has three books to her credit and has published numerous articles in educational journals and teaching magazines, publication has not been the goal for her writing.
“I’m someone who likes to write,” she said.
She finds that recording her observations, making notations in her ever-present notebook, calms her. She recalled how, during her busy life as a principal, each Saturday morning she would head to her favorite local coffeeshop, take out her notebook and, through her writing, process her week. She only wrote for the length of time that it took her to finish a small coffee but, acknowledges Hannigan, “It was my lifeline.”
Her third and newest book, “Write On! How to Make Writing a Pleasurable Pastime,” was created with writers like herself in mind – those who want to make writing an enjoyable part of their daily routine. The book is packed with tips on everything from selecting the right notebook to starting a writers’ group.
“I wanted a book that was for regular people, who want to get pleasure from writing,” explained Hannigan, “not necessarily [wanting something] about crafting a finished product. It is not a book of writing prompts.”
“People are rich with ideas,” she added, “especially older people.”
“Write On!” recommends several ways, other than prompts, for writers to express those ideas as well as establish and maintain a productive writing routine.
As basic as it may sound, selecting the proper notebook is crucial to the establishment of that routine. Hannigan cautioned that it shouldn’t be too fancy or precious. In the section of her book entitled “Starting a Writer’s Notebook,” she explains why:
“You want a notebook you don’t mind messing up. If it looks too precious, you might have a tendency to censor your efforts. Remember that you are just collecting ideas.”
The concept of “free writing,” which Hannigan credits to author Peter Elbow, from his book “Writing with Power,” is a technique which she mentions in her book as a way to help writers abandon the idea that each writing session needs to produce a finished product.
“Free-writing,” simply put, is the process of unloading on paper, letting ideas flow, without waiting for inspiration or a deadline.
Another technique, developed by Hannigan herself, is one which she refers to as “Word Photos.” Each day she pretends to take a “photo” of something that has caught her attention. She dates the entry and writes a one-line caption which provides a brief description of her observation. In her book, she gives an example of how a “Word Photo” might look:
“January 15 ‘Apple Tree outside My Kitchen Window.’”
Later in the day, Hannigan will add a few sentences that will embellish that snippet of writing.
“’Word Photos’ are a great way of building a routine,” she said.
Using these techniques, “one can accumulate a fair amount of work that can often be later used as part of a finished piece,” Hannigan noted. And, although publication is not the reason she writes, she added: “All my [published] articles have started out as random jottings.”
Hannigan’s book, “Write On! How to Make Writing a Pleasurable Pastime” is available on Amazon. She is also the author of “A Principal’s Journey: The School as My Classroom,” and “Off to School: A Parent’s-Eye View of the Kindergarten Year.”