Originally written in 2006 but recently revised for this publication.
As a writer, I epitomize exactly what I don’t want to see in my students. Sometimes, I hate to write. For me, writing is this intricate love/hate relationship. I can write about history or philosophy. I can write about the political platforms of some obscure 19th century American political parties. I could even write about the benefits of luggage. What I can not do is just write. When people ask for a writing sample I have a small panic attack and then freeze. I have to have something contextual to write about. So for me, jealousy is quietly attached to the concept of “good writers.” For instance, in the movie Finding Forester the main character, based loosely on JD Salinger and John Kennedy Toole, says “You just write and the thinking comes later.” I still wonder about how that happens for gifted writers.
Brenda Ueland, an accomplished writer and one of my inspirations, says that writing daily will unlock the muse. However, I am a product of the system, a complete automaton chained to the preverbal, “Ok, class this is what we will write about today.” I do what people ask, but when it comes to Just Write, I get lost in the murky bywaters of my mind. Writing without the muse is something so difficult that I loathe to ask my students to do it. I want my writing to be guided and squared off for me. I so desperately wanted this, that I went looking for one delving through the definition of genres and grappling for an idea that will wow the doors off of someone who can write better than I. When I began writing this piece, I wondered if I am I completely lacking individuality because I cannot write without inspiration, so according to the idea of good writing, I am not a good writer.
Good writers demand writing from themselves. They pull the words from the saturated context of life and simply create. However they have obtained this wondrous ability by practice and dedication to the art. We have simply given into the idea that those who are prolific, Stephen King, Dr. Seuss, Emily Dickenson, and Danielle Steel, have an unobtainable magic, but I emphatically deny this assertion. People (yes, teachers and students) have the ability to become writers. Some hold within them the material for a lifetime of novellas or novels but are never coaxed forward. Others hold back that one good book for fear of rejection. Yet, we can obtain this ability if we only continue to write
We must dedicate ourselves to the craft and become writers. Then, we can direct our students to the craft as well. Wholesale their talents to create and function as writers. Pour into their daily lives the prompts and challenges of writing for themselves and each other. One day they will be their own generation of readers and writers and we must invite their apatite to explore and create.
Students are challenged by the concept of writing outside of a classroom because they do not see it as writing intense. Thus, we as teachers must integrate methods that support the open exchange of ideas through the medium of the written word. Drawing back on my youth, I remember the birth of my writing was brought about by the required journaling of my student exchange program to Australia. During my six weeks, we had to record the daily activities we experienced. I began with a small spiral notebook that soon ballooned into a multi-year +1000 page journal covering almost all of my teenage years and time in college. This is what I remember of writing before I became a writing teacher and it was time I lost as my life became one on the real world and not the growing-up world. Now that I am writing again, I can truly begin to think clearly and reflect better. Creative demand is pushing me to be what I want so badly to say, every person is a writer just waiting to happen.
Times when I use to journal everyday and put down the amazing mediocrity of my life, my writing was the glue that held me together for a long time. I was a loner and never wanted to depend on the emotional “crutch” of others. I could just put it all on the page and give it up, my personal prayer of supplication to being alone and not wanting anybody to be in on the secrets of who I truly am. I was just a boisterous lively attitude and personality hiding the scared little boy who is afraid to be rejected, but we could get into all of this and write forever. Now that I am writing again my muse has come back in the form of a need to replace the dribblings of my youth. I was inspired back then, now I need to find what inspires me again.
Students ponder deeply, as I did, about their own lives, constantly wondering if they are doing things the right way. In reality, this self-deprecation can be transformed into a positive and simple reflection within the classroom. Sharing with students, that as a writer I struggle to develop my writing and often just need to “write it out,” can develop in them the idea that “good writers” also must struggle to develop. This in turn will become a way to underpin how students can daily reflect on what is around them. Students struggle in writing because often they are still searching for their own voice and wanting to create a perfect piece on the first try. Reading/Writing notebooks, journaling, and blogs create new ways to develop writing. Students can simply put down the fledgling beginnings of a space opera after they have just read RAMA or they can simply state how a personal diary shows that others have the same relationships that they have. Everything can be about writing even when it is as simple as just telling them “just write.”
This simple transition from content oriented classrooms to a student oriented writing classroom is truly a benefit for the students and for my teaching. I have found that the connections between personal ideas and content are made by the students and they are completely willing to show their teachers, like that of The Freedom Writers If the stigma of assessment is not attached to the activity, students will provide simply for the fact that they can and that they have a genuine audience. Engaging students in a student centered writing is that simple and lets them response in their own terms while producing writing on all levels. Challenging students with deep concepts about society and asking them questions about their lives can make writing even more worthy of being read by those outside of the classroom.
A student’s writing may not save the world or become a best seller but it may help save them from being blind to the details of the world around them. It can become a springboard for them to find, as I did, an inner voice and the strength to use it.