Monday, June 13, 2011

Writing Every Day

I have always, for as long as I can remember, wanted to be the kind of person who wrote every day. As a child and into my teen years, I filled notebook after notebook with journal entries, but many of these outpourings begin with, "It's been a long time since I've written." I wanted to write every day, and felt guilty when I didn't, but somehow I never got into that habit.

After the earthquake, I started writing much more, back to the compulsive way I used to write when I was younger. I blogged endlessly. I wrote essays and emails and speeches. I've always written poetry, off and on. I started writing more of it, and that has continued through the past year and a half as I have worked through intense emotion.

Since school got out just over two weeks ago, I have been writing a poem every day. I've mentioned this before on this blog, and talked about how much I'm enjoying it, but I wanted to post a bit more about the experience.

I keep several lists of ideas on my desktop and I jot things down as they come to mind. Two of them are connected with teaching. Nancie Atwell suggests using the concept of "Writing Territories" with middle school writers; students make a list of their territories, the things they know about or are interested in, to help them find ideas for their writing. When I first taught this lesson I made my own list and ever since, I have added ideas to it and removed others once they have found their way into my writing. Nancie Atwell also has a lesson called "Where Poetry Hides," based on a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye (this one). Atwell asks students to walk through their homes and write down a list of objects that could contain poems, like the skunks in Nye's piece. When I first taught that lesson I made my own list, and that, too, is still on my desktop. (I've made no secret of how much I love Nancie Atwell's writing and how much I want to be just like her when I grow up. I gush on and on about her here, among other places.) Then I have a less formal TextEdit file just called "Ideas," and that's where I save passing thoughts that I don't want to forget. I do this on paper, too, on little scraps and in a notebook.

All of this is to say that I have lots of ideas to write about. But you'd think that writing every day would deplete the lists, that eventually you'd run out. But my experience is the opposite. The more I'm writing, the more I'm generating ideas, so that I often find myself choosing among five or six ideas begging to be written about because I don't have time to deal with all of them. I'm constantly noticing, constantly scribbling notes to myself. It's as though I'm in a more receptive mode than usual.

I also find that when I'm writing more, my attitude about what I am writing is playful, and I put less pressure on myself. If a piece doesn't work out, I don't beat myself up as much or tell myself that I have no writing ability whatsoever. (What, am I the only person that does that?) Tomorrow's piece will be better, I think instead. I'm a writer, I think instead. How much healthier than feeling every time you write as though it has to be a masterpiece, and then being frustrated every single time because it never is. (I think graduate school really ruined me as a writer, at least for lots of years, because of the pressure I put on myself, but that's another post.)

For several years I have been sharing my writing with my students, as recommended by lots of the education writers I read. The Kelly Gallagher book I finished last week (review in this post) talks about the "Grecian Urn syndrome." Gallagher says that when he first started sharing his writing with his students, he would write it and revise it and polish it, and when he eventually showed it to them, it would be like a Grecian urn, shiny and beautiful, but not really attainable for the kids. They didn't see how he got there, but were confirmed in their view that good writing "just happens." When I'm writing all the time, I am much more in touch with the process, much more aware that it doesn't "just happen." I have more pieces to share with my kids (though of course I choose very carefully which ones), but I can also show them how it came about. So all this writing makes me a better teacher.

I've already said how much I'm enjoying writing, but I want to say it again, because it's just a revelation to me. Writing is a joy again, as it hasn't been since I was a child and wrote stories without worrying about whether they were good or bad, but just because I loved to write them. That was before grades and essay contests and writing seminars and workshops - and there's nothing wrong with any of those things. But I write now because I love to write. It almost doesn't matter if anyone reads it. (I say "almost" because of course there are a few people who read almost everything I write, once I'm ready to share it.)

I started this post by saying that I've always wanted to be a person who writes every day. Now I am. I don't know if this will last into the school year, but I'm betting it will. I love exercising regularly, and when I miss it, I feel not guilty but just less well, less alive. Writing is the same way. It makes me feel alive and happy. I'm not doing it because I feel guilty if I don't. I'm doing it because I love it. I'm a writer. I write.


Janet said...

Amen to that.

This was so great to read!

"of course there are a few people who read almost everything I write, once I'm ready to share it"
What a blessing that must be...

I haven't written a thing but blog posts since 2007. I'm not sure what happened, except that that's when we left our old church, and I seem to have clammed up in several ways I can't get pried back open again. Hopefully it won't take such a shattering experience as you've lived through to do it.

T & T Livesay said...

Love this Ruth. Writing every day does seem to give you more things to write about. :) Hope you are having a really great start to your summer. I also hope you are not missing that purse because I let our broken down truck go be fixed with it inside. Gah!


Jessica said...

I really enjoyed reading about your writing process! More, please :-)

Tricia said...

It made me smile to read this. :^)