Posted on : 20-08-2011 | By : rmmadden | In : Uncategorized
And that brings me to the fickle nature of writing and what it means for us, as teachers, and for our students. Who are our students writing for? Are we teaching them how to write or are we teaching them how to be writers? Or, instead of teaching them, should we simply allow them to be writers? This last question in particular strikes a chord with me. At no point during that three week stretch did I ever doubt that I would get back to writing for this blog. Granted, some of the reason for the three week stretch was because life, particularly the beginning of the school year, has gotten in the way. But a significant part of it was “recovery” from having written what I think is the best piece I’ve ever written. Not that I write these posts to be great pieces of literature, by any stretch of the imagination, but that previous post was, in my opinion, the best piece of writing I’ve put up on this site and probably the best piece of story-telling I’ve ever written. How does one follow that exactly?
But what if one of our students went through a three week stretch without writing? Would we allow that? Granted, I have built up a store of credit and established myself as a somewhat prolific writer by churning out a new blog post once a day for weeks at a time. And I get that one has to write to get better at writing. But too often we hear that thought expressed as “The only way to get better at writing is to keep writing.” That thought is so pervasive that it took me two minutes to figure out exactly how to word it otherwise. There is a difference a mile wide between those two ways of looking at writing instruction. Yes, you get better at writing by writing, but it is not the only way. Nor is it always productive to keep writing. To me, the only way to get better at writing is to keep living.
Writing, like destiny in the first quote at the top of this page, is fickle. Inspiration comes and goes at a whim. How to express an idea with the written word can elude you for minutes, hours, days, or even longer. And like the second quote at the top of the page, we are asking our students to grasp this fickle discipline and try to embrace it every day. Oftentimes we do so by giving them a set topic or confine them with a range of topics or a genre of writing. I am reminded of Princess Leia’s quote from Star Wars about the Empire, “The more you tighten your grip…the more [they] will slip through your fingers.” The more we tighten our grip and try to control our students’ writing, the more likely the point of writing and what it means to be a writer will elude them.
I am not advocating the dissolution of all structure when it comes to writing instruction. I am simply asking for us, as teachers, to recognize the fickle nature of writing and allow our students some leeway. Maybe what they need is the chance to literally stop and smell the roses. And, yes, occasionally they will need prodding. One of the central themes of my previous post was the “gentle” nudge given to me by Beth. And while this post had been percolating in my head for the last week or so, it wasn’t until Jayme Johnson suggested the idea on Twitter that finally coaxed me to put fingers to keyboard. Certainly, there is a place for teachers in the writing lives of their students. But I think there is also a place for writing in the writing lives of our students and for each student it will be a different place at different times. We, as teachers and writers, need to recognize that.