July 21st, 2010


Living a Writerly Life

This summer I've been thinking quite a bit about my own writing (or lack of it).  Every summer I tell myself that this is the summer I'm going to become a writer.  This is the summer I will commit to writing each and every day about things that matter to me.  This is the summer where I will do those things that I ask my students to do so that when I go back into my classroom in late August I can speak with authority about seeing myself as a writer.

Guess what?  It didn't happen again this summer, or at least not yet. There is hope, however, since I have just over a month before school starts.  I can get that writing notebook out and start looking at my world through a writer's eyes.

It's not as if I don't have time.  I spend plenty of time each day on Facebook and Twitter, I have about fifteen different blogs I follow, I knit, I read, heck, I even play with my kids.  What I don't do is allow myself the time and space to sit down with my thoughts and see what I have to discover.

It's not as if I don't enjoy writing.  I do.  When I do write, whether it is something for school or a letter to a friend or even this blog, I find that the act of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) helps me crystallize my thoughts and get to the very heart of the issue I'm thinking about.  I walk away from the writing feeling lighter and sometimes even smarter.

So why don't I become that writer that I know is hiding there?  Am I afraid of what I might uncover if I let myself explore some of those hidden corners of my mind?  I'm not sure.  I think, perhaps, this is the summer I need to find out.

In her book Writing Workshop:  Working Through The Hard Parts (And They're all Hard Parts) (NCTE, 2001), Katie Wood Ray and co-author Lester Laminack discuss the question of whether teachers of writing need to be writers themselves. Once upon a time, I would have said no.  That was back in the day when I was giving the kids writing assignments ("Imagine you are a shoe.  Write about a day in your life.") that each child would dutifully write (kind of) and turn in (most of the time) and which I would slog through, marking with notes like "frag" and "awk" just like my English teachers had marked my papers about the life of a shoe.  As I've grown up as a teacher, though, and read and learned and thought about my practice, I've come to believe strongly that kids need to write about things that are important to them and that I need to teach the writers, not the writing.  I need to show kids how writing is important in their lives, not just so they can write a decent cover letter and get a job, but also so that they can work through tough times and celebrate joyous ones.  I need to help my students lead writerly lives.

And more and more I'm convinced I need to live a writerly life myself.  I need to be able to open my notebook and say to a student, "Look! I was trying that exact same thing this morning.  Here's what I discovered."  I need to do this hard, messy, sometimes painful work right next to them so they see that I know what I'm talking about.

In that same book, Ray says, "Writing is something you DO, not something you know."

So I guess I'd better go DO.