Thursday, June 7, 2012

Teachers Write: Friday Happy Hour and Wrap-Up

On Monday, I joined Kate Messner and a group of fabulous authors and teachers for Kate's online writing workshop #TeachersWrite.

This is the culmination of my writing thus far. I've completed more creative writing this week than in any other week in recent memory. As you may know, I've been posting my responses to the prompts her on my blog and via links to various Google docs, which I set up to allow for comments.

I appreciate the responses I've had both on my blog, on the docs, on Kate's blog, and via the Facebook group. I have also tried to post comments on as many of the participants' blogs and posts as possible.

I'm setting up a post where I'll update my writing progress for #TeachersWrite throughout the week/summer. I'm not sure yet, but I though it might be better to group my responses rather than post a separate blog entry for each. I'll put the most recent first.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The prompt: A student walks into the library...provided by author Margo Sorenson is here.

My response "Super Senior" is here.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Prompt: Describe a kitchen
Response: Standing of Stools 

My blog about writing fears is here. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Prompt: Describe a place
Response: Cast-Iron Cavern

Monday, June 4, 2012

Prompt: Make a writing plan for the summer and school year.
My response: Making Time to Write

I welcome your thoughts, comments, critiques. If you find the piece boring, tell me. Don't hold back. I can take it and NEED your honest input.

Thanks for writing and reading with me.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Teachers Write: Facing Fears and Fiercely Writing

"You have words of your own....I want you to trust your own words."
                                                    ---Allie Condie in Matched (81) 

To write from a place of honesty and vulnerability takes courage and faith in oneself, faith in one's choice and use of words. As others in the Teachers Write group have articulated, we ask our students to face their fears daily.

As a speech communication teacher, I expect students to publicly make themselves vulnerable to the judgments of their classmates. There's no escaping the awkward moments that result from a poorly prepared speech or a lapse in memory or a mispronounced word. A trusting, caring community isn't a luxury but a necessity when students lay bare their values and beliefs in a speech.

Writing, on the other hand, can remain hidden from public scrutiny--except when one enters a social contract such as the one inherent in the Teachers Write workshop. We professional teachers are stripping away our protective, professional layers and exposing ourselves to one another and to the professional writers we admire and critique on our blogs and in our classrooms. We have relinquished the game of teacher hide and seek when we post the products of our "write what you know" selves.

I've been thinking about these risks since learning about Teachers Write, especially since I'm not particularly fearful of writing, per se. Others, however, have acknowledged their fears, which prompted Kate Messner to pen "Writing Fear: An Open Letter to the #TeachersWrite Community" in which she identifies two types of fear:
  • The fear that "keeps you safe from things that might cause you real and imminent harm" and
  • The fear "that we feel when we’re about to exceed the artificial limits we’ve set for ourselves. When we’re about to step outside of our cozy little boxes and try something new. Something that’s scary because we might fail. And what will people think?"
Jo Knowles, guest author and source of Monday morning writing prompts, offers helpful advice to those facing their writing fears:  

"When you are starting out, write for yourself. Write for the joy of putting words to paper/keyboard. Write for the thrill of finding the perfect phrase to convey an emotion, or a tense scene, or a quiet exchange of love. Let go of the negative self-talk we so often use about ourselves when it comes to wanting to try something new but being afraid we'll fail. Here's something I already know about you: No one can write like you. Your job is to find out what that means. (Hint: Embrace your own unique voice, and let it shine!)"

"No one can write like you." What a fabulous sentiment. Just as we each have our own unique finger prints, retina scans, personalities, so too do we have our own unique ways of writing. I remember a novel that illustrates this very point. Primary Colors was published under the name "Anonymous," but soon Joe Klein, at the time a correspondent for Newsweek, was eventually identified as the author based on an analysis of his writing style.

After reading author Jeannine Atkins' blog post "Writing from a Vulnerable Place" and her reminder that tears often accompany writing, whether we're writing a funny story or one that "feels as if it’s been sitting inside you too long" I began considering my third fear: fear of the emotions that accompany writing.

The academic and essay writing with which I am most comfortable springs from authoritative me, but as Jeannine says, "as creative writers, we want to connect more than instruct." That requires an emotional fierceness different from and, perhaps, more vulnerable and risky than blogging about pedagogy or analyzing window images in Virginia Wolf. Such creative writing "can ruffle us up. We’re going to look ridiculous and leave messes." 

For me creative writing requires a peeling of skin like peeling an onion; both open my tear ducts. On Jeannine's blog I responded to her ideas about being vulnerable:

"You touch on something so important to my own writing phobias. It’s not writing that scares me. It’s the “dark place” I find myself entering when composing something “creative” in the traditional sense. Today while writing in response to Jo Knowles’s prompt, I cried a littel. [sic] This happens with both humor and anquished prose. It occurred to me that I experience something similar to what a method actor does using the Stanislavsky method. I haven’t gone to the scary place in a long time as I don’t like it much. I like being happy. So, is there a writing method one can practice that detaches one from the dark recesses of one’s mind?"

I know that actors employ different tools to create characters for the screen and stage, but I don't know what methods writers use to avoid the equivalent of method acting as they put thoughts to paper.

I've long suspected that for me the truth about creative writing, whether poetry, creative nonfiction, or fictional prose, resides in Jeannine's response to my query, which reads in part:

"Sadly, I think you for the answer may be that there’s not a method that keeps you from the dark recesses. What you may have to remember is that they’re there, but you have the power to leave them. The tears may come, but you may feel better for having them come, then drying them, than you would in trying to keep away from that part of your mind."

In her post "Writing and Tears" Jeannine suggests that a writing method that avoids the emotional angst may not be particularly desirable. That's certainly something cry babies like me will have to think about and weigh in the balance. I do know, however, that the little creative writing I've done in the past and that I paid for with the price of a box of tissue and blood-shot eyes feels personally valuable and worthwhile.

Today, Kate Messner posted a prompt asking #TeachersWrite participants to write about a specific place. For years I've feared the gym, although it's a daily destination for me. Facing the fear of both the place and the prompt, I wrote about one area of the gym I affectionately call the  Testosterone Pit. This is the result of my vulnerability today, Tuesday, June 5, 2012. Feel free to offer truthful suggestions and comments as I set the doc up that way.

Thank you for reading, for writing, for community, for collegiality. I trust your words and plan to continue to use my own.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Teachers Write: Making Time to Write: My Plan

Along with hundreds of teachers and librarians, I have joined Kate Messner's summer writing camp, Teachers Write.  

Lesson #1 "Making Time" "Make a writing plan for your summer and for your school year"

Kate's Quesions:
  1. What you found that you might be able to cut out of your schedule or cut back on to make time to write.
  2. When you’ll be writing each day & for how long. Remember to be realistic. 15 minutes is fine to start.
  3. Where you’ll usually write.  This can be different places on different days, depending on your schedule.
  4. Who you told about your plans. Remember, sharing your writing plans with the people in your life helps to make them real and reminds your family & friends to give you that space for writing.

My Response:

  • Even making time to make time invited an intrusion: Microsoft Word prompted me to install an update just as I was fixing to jot my thoughts about making time to write.The ever intrusive Microsoft Word is a fitting metaphor for the problem of finding time to write. Something nudges the writing time to another time.
  • In truth, I have plenty of time to write—usually. My children are grown, so the nest is empty. Typically, I find time to write on my blog, but I need to make time to write for journals and to write fiction. This summer my granddaughter will be spending some time with me. She’s seven, and after one week, I’m exhausted and have only read half a book (I am keeping up w/ my magazines). How will I steal writing time when a rousing game of Words with Friends beckons? 
  • Summer plan: Write in the morning between the time my husband leaves for work and the time Kayla gets up. The house silently awaits our awakening, except for the occasional barking dog, generally my own Snug. At this hour, it’s impossible to recognize the child-filled neighborhood in the hushed, dewy a.m.
  • During the School Year: That’s difficult to say. If I go to the gym in the morning, I’ll write in the evening. I think between 8:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. will work best. If I go to the gym in the evening, I’ll write of a morning before school. I generally awaken around 5:00 a.m., so I’ll just need to make my cells rise from the bed. Whatever I do, I’ll need to hide from my husband who values but doesn’t get the writing solitude thing.
  • Where I’ll Write: I have a home office, but my husband has camped out on the desk, so I’m going to reorganize my sewing room, which typically functions more as an ironing room, and use the desk in there. It’s a sunny, bright room w/ a shabby chic vibe that should create a pleasant writing atmosphere. Right now I’m on the couch w/ my laptop., which is typically the perch from where I blog. I think I need a set place that will press the right buttons for the writing I fear: fiction. 
  • Whom I told: I told my husband and a couple of colleagues. I told my neighbor, whose daughter was a student the past two years. I told some folks I know through the Early College Program, some facebook folks, and, of course, twitter tweeters. However, I’m not so convinced that telling is a good idea. I recently read a study that says keeping one’s goals to oneself offers more of a guarantee that one will reach them than does sharing them w/ lots of other folks.Yet here I am, announcing those who stumble upon this post by design or accident, that this summer I will write.