Sunday, August 4, 2013

Developing a Writer's Heart

I wrote this last Tuesday during my Choice Literacy writing retreat. I was struggling a bit writing that day and decided to journal my way out of it. Looking over the entry, I thought there were some insights into writing in our classrooms and decided to share it here. Hope it helps you see what might be going on in some of your writers brains. J

I started writing in “public” two years ago. Beginning a blog was the first step, writing for Choice Literacy the next. Friends had told me I would see a payoff in my teaching students about writing. I didn’t see how. I’m not sure why – I certainly see how being a voracious reader benefits my students. Beyond the compulsion to buy books every single day, I know what it’s like to be a reader. I know how there are days that even I have no desire to read. I know what it feels like to begin a book, then abandon it. To be so lost in a story that it is hard to come up for air. To be so completely engrossed that you can’t imagine doing anything but reading that book. I know this, because I read.

When I began writing and those friends said it would spill over into my teaching, I thought they might be referring to the actual mechanics of writing. Maybe I would finally know for certain how to decide where commas and semicolons go. Maybe I would figure out sentence structure. Could this mean I could finally diagram some sentences that left me feeling frustrated from high school? What I now realize is that before I was a writer, I didn’t see the beauty of writing.

Sure I appreciated a beautifully written piece. I taught writing in the workshop model, we looked for moves we thought the author made that we could replicate, and I listened for beautiful language. But I didn’t live like a writer. I didn’t have the heart of a writer. Without that, I don’t know how to get students to love writing like I can help them love reading.

These past few days I have been at a writing retreat for Choice Literacy. What I have known about myself as a writer is constantly evolving. That inner critic that is often present still resides. A kinder voice is trying to join in, though. I’m choosing to listen to that one. As I have spent time at the retreat, we have been looking at habits. What habits we have, how are they conditioned, and how can we change our habits to accomplish what we want.

I’ve also been looking at conditions. What conditions do I need in place to make it so that I can write? Monday I wrote for two and
½ hours straight in the morning, and probably another two-three hours in chunks in the afternoon. I felt decent about what I wrote and was happy at the end of the day. Today, two hours in, I’ve written about 1500 words – one finished piece. I have several others started, but I’m not in the same zone. Instead of getting frustrated about it, like I was, I’m choosing to examine it and list out why I’m feeling this way – wondering how can this help me with my own writers.

·      Noise/ comfort level – where I first started writing today wasn’t working for me. It wasn’t quiet and I wasn’t comfortable how I was sitting. I focused on those items instead of my writing. I was also craving a soda.
·      Distracting thoughts – after being away from home for three days, I miss my kids. Calling home this morning I discovered my oldest is struggling a bit in a new sport and isn’t happy. Talking to him on the phone, he didn’t mention any of it, but I heard it in everything he didn’t say. The message of needing his mom came through loud and clear. My mind keeps jumping back to him when I try to turn to write.
·      Frustration with a piece – When focusing on one specific piece, I cannot gain any momentum. I keep opening up new documents and starting other articles and posts because when I return to that one, I hit a wall.
·      Confidence – reading through some of my open documents, I am unsure. Are they saying what I want them to say? Should I continue to try and work on these or are they better left for later?

These are just a few items swirling around in my brain. As I stared out the window at a beautiful fountain thinking through these issues, I paused – are my students grappling with issues such as these? If so, I’m sure that impacts their writing. How can I help them?

The beauty of this is that I know I can help them. I can share at the start of the year my experiences as a writer. I can tell them how hard it was for me to write when I wasn’t in a spot that worked for me. I can share that when something was on my mind, I had to pause and think about it. And I can tell them that one strategy I have is that when one piece isn’t working, I start another and take a break from that first writing. I can offer these suggestions because I lived them. Have the heart of a writer allows me to connect to their writing hearts. Now that I’m a writer I know that the most important parts of teaching writing aren’t necessarily focused on mechanics – but getting the students to the point of living the writer life. The mechanics can be taught, but the writer’s heart? You have to experience it.