Slice #21: Why do I Write?

Johannes Vermeer, Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid

It’s a rare Saturday. Urgencies quiet, I treat myself to a slow start, waking only when my eyes decide to open – a luxury. Following my second cup of tea, a lovely breakfast and meaningful conversation, I settle down to write today’s post.  Suddenly, my slow start speeds up as I begin wondering, mixed with slight panic, about what to write today.

Writing every day is challenging. Writing every day publicly, is nearly insurmountable. Throughout the Slice of Life challenge, I have lamented, with those willing to listen, about my struggles over coming up with a topic that is worthy of reading. During a conversation the other day with a good friend and colleague, bemoaning the fact that 98% of my posts aren’t even read, she asked me two simple, but very provocative questions.

“Why do you write?”

“Do you write to be read, or do you write because the process is gratifying?”

And so the ruminations began rumbling…

I am not a writer.

A writer is someone that shares his/her talents with a broad audience – understanding that once their words are released, they belong to the reader. Days are spent observing life – pondering its significance; searching for stories that lurk in the every day and sharing their discoveries in words.

And although writers write for themselves, they do have aspirations of becoming published – their message, hopes, and dreams for the world sent out through their fingertips. They want their words read and considered.

I am a teacher of writing.

Each day, I share my passion of words and what little I know about the craft of writing with the young minds that sit before me. I am happy to stumble around with the students working out how to best plan for and tackle a piece of writing – how to persevere through the messiness and challenges of revision – how to maintain confidence throughout the process of writing.

I read to appreciate the art of writing – admiring an author’s ability to capture the nuances of life in words. My appreciation evident in the comments and dog-eared pages that litter my books. I read to learn the craft of writing – the “how tos” from the greats to help me improve my own writing and that of the students. I read to appreciate the simple beauty of words – singular or paired.

So why do I write? I write to celebrate the craft. I write to learn. I write to reflect. Hopefully, I write to share my passion.

 

Slice #12: Armed with a Machete

Daily writing is a Herculean task. My mind has not rested since March 1st when the Two Writing Teachers set the Slice of Life Writing Challenge in motion. I spend my days rummaging about for a worthy topic – readying myself to receive inspiration from even the most inconspicuous moments of my day. Before drifting off to sleep, I search the corners of my mind for tiny morsels that may have been overlooked. Still nothing, I wake up wondering, and the cycle repeats.

Empty-headed, yet determined to uncover a topic, I combed through a multitude of books on the craft of writing at the bookstore. An hour or two elapsed as I stood on tired feet leafing through hundreds of pages – skimming content for answers. Instead of finding answers, I found others, well-known others, that understand my pain.

When flicking through Bird by Bird, I discovered Anne Lamott feels the same way I do about writing. It was if she crawled inside my thoughts and took up residence,

“Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve thought that there was something noble and mysterious about writing, about people who could do it well, who could create a world as if they were little gods or sorcerers. All my life I’ve felt that there was something magical about people who could get into other people’s minds and skin, who could take people like me out of ourselves and then back to ourselves.”

I read on. Lamott talks about writers carrying around wonderful ideas, but when “they sit down and write one sentence and see with horror that it is a bad one…every major form of mental illness from which they suffer surfaces, leaping out of the water like trout – the delusions, hypochondria, the grandiosity, the self-loathing, the inability to track one thought to completion…” I can relate to this. I believe Lamott and I are going to become good friends. She is one I can commiserate with.

Before I decide to surrender, giving in to the insecurities writing evokes, Lamott consoles me by telling me all good writing starts bad. Right. I have that step down.

She also stresses that despite your disdain over the outcome of your attempts, you MUST keep writing. Every day. Every day at the same time to train your subconscious to produce. Lamott warns that this routine isn’t without its challenges. She even goes as far as to suggest arming yourself with a machete to hack away all the negative voices that will crowd your mind preventing you from producing beautiful prose.

Others shared their war stories with writing with me and offered sage advice…

Bonnie Friedman, Writing Past Dark

Rebecca McClanahan, Word Painting: The Fine Art of Writing Descriptively

Siri Husvedt, Living Thinking, Looking

Phillip Lopate, To Show and To Tell

Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

I didn’t find a list of topics, but I did find kindred spirits and new beginnings. I packed their suitcases and took them home with me.

Here’s to developing daily writing rituals armed with a machete.

 

Slice #3: Journal and Journeys, an Ode

“20th century Spanish abstract art painter Joan Miro’s masterpiece with blue backgorund and minimalist black line and red dot abstract shapes.”

 

My children are growing up. My eldest daughter is graduating from college, joining the education realm. My son is graduating from high school, taking his first solo step into the “real world” while we live a half world away, and my youngest continues navigating her way through the ambiguity of middle school.

With moments of their childhood still fresh, I worry about and admire the journeys that lay ahead of them.

Journey and journal come from the same root, Latin dies, meaning “day.” The days of my children have left indelible impressions on my heart. Leafing through the pages of their days, reminiscing, I realize a new beginning is about to start…

Ode to Journals

My shelf

occupied with journals,

mid-way,

half-point,

life is

filled

like

a

journal,

its pages

cradling

the stories within.

 

In March,

with reckless abandon

the journal

near full,

taunts me…

in mirrors,

in an emptying home,

with fading memories.

It consumes

my thoughts with

lost opportunities and regrets.

 

Urgently, I must

begin again:

the pen

permeates

the page

inky,

breathless,

a new

story,

heartfelt,

infinite,

takes up residence

in the emptiness

of life.

 

And, on

the shelf, at the precipice

of life,

the journal,

caretaker of history,

displays

its dreams,

its faith,

its hope,

and endless possibilities

no fear,

no hesitations,

no questions or regrets

the journal bestows

its beauty

of life

and the human condition.

 

Today’s inspiration springs from the famous Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda’s, odes.

Slice #2: The Tiny Stories of Our Day

Today, we celebrated the minutiae of life. Observing the tiny details that surround us, we uncovered the tiny stories within our day.

THE TINY BOOK of tiny stories, compiled by hitRecord’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt and underground artist, Wirrow, defines a tiny story as,

“as long as a piece of string. A really tiny piece of string that can stretch out from your pillow to [a] forest, weaving through mountains on the way and birds perch on it and sing.”

This morning I noticed the tiny beginnings of mangoes on the trees in my garden. I wondered what their story was…

  

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Torn from the safety of his family,

his dream of growing old,

came to a tragic end.

Slice #1: Depending on When You Met Me…

SOLSC Image

“To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.”  

          ~Truman Capote

Today is the day we begin the Student Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOLSC)!

What does this mean?

  1. It means you will be writing EVERY DAY in March. Yep, even on the weekends!
  2. It means you will be commenting on other student blogs (minimum of 3) around the world EVERY DAY.

What is a “slice of life?”

A slice of life is a description of the ordinary details of real life.

What should you write about?

Anything and everything! Think of the challenge as an opportunity to journal the exciting as well as the mundane aspects of your life.

Other Thoughts:

  • Write a snapshot, drabble (exactly 100 words), dribble (exactly 50 words) or a tiny story of an observation you made on the way to or from school (a stray dog, monkeys raiding your mango tree, the roti motorbike).
  • Sit quietly in a place for 10 minutes. Notice everything around you – what do you see that you have never noticed before? Write a poem or description of your new observation.
  • Listen to the conversations that go on around you. Take a snippet of the conversation and turn it into a drabble (100 words).
  • Write your opinion about something that is happening in the news.
  • Write a photo essay. Using photos you have taken, post them on your blog and write creative captions underneath each photo that reveal the story behind the lens.
  • Write about a pet peeve.
  • Write about an act of kindness you noted that day.
  • Quote wise words you overheard and explain their wisdom.
  • Write about an embarrassing moment.
  • Write about a proud moment.
  • Write an Ode to an ordinary object. Use Pablo Neruda’s poetry for inspiration. Read Ode to My Socks to jumpstart your thinking.
  • Write about something you wish you could ‘do over’.
  • Write about something that is troubling you.
  • Personify the sun, describe a sunset or sunrise.
  • Personify a storm, describing its actions.
  • Speak to a quote that you find meaningful. Explain what it means and why you find it meaningful.
  • Critique a book or movie.
  • And so on, and so forth…

Our first slice serves as an introduction, inspired by one of the contributing authors of Soul Pancake’s: Chew on Life’s Big Questions, Devon Gundry.

“Depending On When You Met Me” by Devon Gundry

Depending on when you met me, I might have been: a checker’s champion, the kid who squirted Super Glue in his eye, a competitive Ping-Pong player, Tweedle Dum, a high school valedictorian, a fake blond, 1/12 of an all-male a capella group, a graduate of the Vanderbilt School of Engineering, a nomad, a street musician, or a pigeon assassin.

“Depending On When You Met Me” by Mrs. Peters

Depending on when you met me, I might have been: a high jumper, the innocent young girl who believed she was Mary Poppins one windy day, someone who attempted EVERY sport yet mastered NONE, a follower, a high school wallflower, a mentor of young minds, a book nerd, a closet writer, a visionary without a plan or the courage to LEAP!

Please read the comments below to view 6C’s individual introductions…

SOLSC #20: A Person’s a Person

I find writing daily, extremely challenging. Writing daily and publishing my thoughts publicly is terrifying. Since entering the Slice of Life challenge posed by the Two Writing Teachers, my mind has not rested.

I look at the world through a new lens. I listen to conversations hoping to overhear a snippet that triggers a topic. I scrutinize my surroundings, noticing details typically ignored and try to twist them into some metaphorical aspect of my life. I pour through books, excavating quotes I might make a connection to. I peruse world events looking to what I might want to speak up about. I reminisce, wondering if my past is worth writing about. Thoughts of possibilities clutter my thinking and stir up anxieties.

In the vast universe of the Net, my post is but one speck of dust floating around waiting for someone to notice it. Each post blowing past through the air with a “yelp”. I reassure myself that if the first person doesn’t notice my “yelp,” perhaps a second or third person will.

I realize that worrying about whether my writing gets noticed or not isn’t why I joined the challenge. I joined to push myself to write daily. I joined to do something WAY outside my comfort zone. I joined to send the message to my students that writing is a form of expression worth toiling over as language is beautiful and powerful. I joined because I enjoy the challenge of writing.

Maybe only a few notice my “yelps”, but inconspicuousness is okay. Because really, I only need one Horton to believe in me.

“After all a person’s a person. No matter how small.”

Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss. Published in 1954.

SOLSC #15: Feeding Imagination

Marc Chagall “The Blue Circus”, 1950

Today’s slice is more of a musing that began niggling away at me this morning after reading the introduction of Jane Yolen’s, Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfastand wouldn’t quiet until I purged my wonderings. When Jane Yolen speaks, I sit up and listen. One does not ignore the advice of such an esteemed author.

In her introduction, Yolen advocates for fantasy stating it is a genre in which,

“…you [write] about the real world and real emotions, the right-here and the right-now. [Fantasies] are a way of looking at what worries both writer and reader by glancing out of the corner of one’s eye.”

Fantasies provide realms that allow us to shed our fears, don our courage and fight off the many monsters that plague our days. Good triumphs over evil. Fantasy requires imagination.

Yolen moves on to confess that her imagination had all but dwindled by the time she hit seventh grade, “…books of fantasy and fairy tales I read were all that was left of my White Queening.” Yolen’s allusion to the conversation between Alice and the Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, in which the Queen expresses her dismay over Alices’s lack of imagination set me thinking.

“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.

“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: Draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast…”

Why do games involving imagination become taboo as one gets older? Why do older children suddenly box up their imagination and hide it in the corners of their room – opening it up and playing with its contents only when they think no one else is watching? Why does it suddenly become ‘silly’ to believe in the impossible?

Yolen further states, “The reading of fantasy and the writing of it take…practice…It all comes easier the younger one is.” Imagination is the elixir of problem solving, it fuels our determination.

Does education encourage our youth to believe in “six impossible things before breakfast?”

Children are dreamy idealists eager to take on the challenges thrust at them. They are simply better equipped to tackle impossibilities as they are not bogged down with the “what ifs” and the “cannots.” Educators need to prevent the boxing up of imagination and instead nurture curiosity, feed imagination and encourage seedlings of hope that the impossible is possible.

With vorpal blade in hand, I shall fight the Jabberwock of anti-play in my classroom.

SOLSC #10: One Day

The idea of journaling both intrigues and taunts me.

Whether I am in a bookstore, stationary shop or gift store, journals of all designs, sizes and colors lure me in with their enchanting promises of inspirational stories and provocative thoughts.

Enthralled, I make my way over to the shelves of journals. Handling each with care, I admire the texture and design of the cover and inspect the quality of the paper tucked within. I listen to its whispered promises.

Unable to resist, I am taken with one or two muses and make my way to the register, excited at the prospect of filling the pages with fodder for thought.

This journal is special,” I believe. “This journal will travel with me. This journal will inspire…”

“…it  rides all day in a raincoat pocket,/ready to admit any droplet of thought,/nut of maxim,/narrowest squint of an observation.” (Journal, Billy Collins)

Sadly, this is where my tale ends. My ship, lured in by the Sirens, crashes into the rocks, as yet another journal graces my shelves collecting dust and the growing mold of false promises.

Now and again, as I pass by, I can hear their music taunting me once more…

“…there is room in the margins/for the pencil to go lazy and daydream/in circles and figure eights,/or produce some illustrations,/like Leonardo in his famous codex -/room for a flying machine,/the action of a funnel,/a nest of pulleys,/and a device that is turned by water…” (Journal, Billy Collins)

“One day,” I whisper back. “One day.”

SOLSC #6: Power of Words

IMG_2046

Oh my goodness, I don’t know where to begin…today, the sixth grade Humanities classes had the opportunity to work more closely with Newbery Award winning author, Jack Gantos.

A plethora of writing advice was shared with the overarching message that we are all writers “full of really good stories.” For too long, Gantos believed writing had to be profound and found himself paralyzed trying to write something of significance.

This confession resonated with me personally as I am often plagued with the notion that my writing needs to be worthy of attention, thus I fret over every word and question my choices, often getting nowhere.

Self-doubt,
Whispers in my ear
Shrouded in insecurity 
Trampling my confidence and obstructing forward progress.

Gantos impressed upon the students that they can battle such insecurities with good writing practices:

  • Buy and keep a journal. This is your narcissistic tool as it wields the power of YOU. YOU are the main character. YOU are the hero. YOU win all the arguments. It is all about YOU!
  • Create a MAP. This map should reflect your house or neighborhood and the surrounding perimeter. The drawing causes the stories to float around in your mind, nourishing ideas.
  • Engage in DISCIPLINED WRITING. Write every day for 10-15 minutes. Write to capture the story – a little blast every day. Don’t worry about getting messy at this stage. Gantos reassures us it is a good mess.
  • Engage in FOCUSED REWRITES. This is where you, the writer, focus on making a good story, better.
    • Reread your story and add a layer of EMOTION.
    • Reread your story and make sure all the ELEMENTS OF WRITING have been included:
      • CHARACTERS: Add dialogue to bring the characters center stage. Be sure the main character changes from beginning to end.
      • SETTING: Bring the place the story happens to life. Help the reader visualize the where.
      • PROBLEM/SITUATION: Be sure you have stated the problem.
      • ACTION/PLOT: Start with the smallest problem and build to the largest issue. Think of your plot as a set of stairs.
      • CRISIS: Magnify this moment – slow it down and expand it. Let the reader experience the crisis alongside the character.
      • RESOLUTION: How was the problem solved?
      • PHYSICAL & EMOTIONAL END: What happened and what was the lesson learned?
    • TIGHTEN LANGUAGE: Focus on strong verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Your language needs to be precise and evoke emotion.

Gantos’ final gift to his young audience…

“Good writing practices lead to good writing. Good writing leads to confidence, and confidence feeds motivation.”

A small confession…

At the end of the lesson, I asked Mr. Gantos’ permission to take a photo of his journal. As I snapped the photos, I found myself overwhelmed with awe. Writing is so powerful. Words have the ability to change lives, and here I was intruding on the words of a Newbery Award winning author.

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As I grappled with my emotions, the school librarian asked if I would like my photo taken with Mr. Jack Gantos. I readily accepted (this is atypical, as I usually dodge photos at all costs) and was overcome with the opportunity to share a moment with an honored author.  I was indeed starstruck. 

What a fabulous day! I look forward to watching my students become authors.

Brace yourself kids, I am excited, and you know what that means!

SOLSC #4: Dear Students

Jack Gantos

Dearest Students,

This morning a generous gift was presented to you. Newbery Award winning author, Jack Gantos, spoke to you about the power of language.

As budding authors, my hope is that you received this gift with gentle hands and gratitude and will handle it with care – appreciating its value until it is worn well with love and care.

Please allow me to open your gift and reveal the splendor of the wise words (paraphrased to a degree) of Jack Gantos…

“READ! As a reader you become 50% of the text. You become the fabric of the book.”

“Reading creates flexibility – you become elastic as you experience the text alongside the characters – it readies you for writing.”

“Language is elastic, manipulate it, twist and stretch it, use it like a yo-yo.”

“You know how you become tired of your writing after 3-4 drafts? Forget about a few drafts, you’re going to revise over a 100 times (This is my personal favorite.)!”

“Focus on the rewrites, they are one of the great joys of writing. You should be able to close your eyes and see the entire story play out in your mind.”

“There are only three things you need to know about writing: content, structure and rewrites. What are you writing about? How are you going to organize your thoughts? How can you make it better?”

“Use dialogue to bring your characters center stage. Dialogue gives your story a 3D effect.”

Accept Mr. Gantos’s gift of wisdom and use it wisely in your writing. I look forward to enveloping myself in the fabric of your writing.

Yours in words,

Mrs. P 🙂