Monday, October 20, 2008

Dangerous Extremes

Last week, I was given a little momento from my summer writing experience. A nice purse/pocket sized copy of The Writer's Life: Insights from the Right to Write by Julia Cameron. I've decided to randomly open to a page and read when I am feeling like a little inspiration. And today, I opened to this:

"Writing is communication, yes, but that communication begins internally. The Self communicates to the writer and the writer communicates to the Self. The gist of that communication is what the writer communicates to the world. When the world is allowed to interrupt too early, the Self withdraws. Showing our writing to hostile or undiscerning readers is like lending money to people with terrible fiscal pasts. We will not be repaid as we wish. Our work will not be valued. They will respond in dangerous extremes, "brilliant" or "awful." (Long experience teaches that extremes of any kind, high or low, are dangerous to the writing process because they create self-consciousness.)"

This really hit home after a discussion this afternoon in our regional ELA forum around editing and revision strategies. The teachers were great to share ideas and questions but it made me think a great deal about when in the process we start asking students to edit or revise their work. Are we sometimes in a rush to get a "finished product" that we don't allow ideas to linger, the words to ferment and really come of age? Do we ask students to do peer editing without really having them understand what they are looking for in someone's piece of writing? Do we focus on too much when we review student writing - rather than narrowing in on one or two elements that their skills and egos can handle?

I also started thinking about how often we share our own writing with students. Not just the finished, polished piece but the evidence of our own struggle with the writing process. The notebook full of crossed-out words, arrows, and frustrated scratch-outs so deep they wear a hole in the paper. Do we share on a regular basis that writing is hard? Do we let them edit our work or suggest revisions?

I wish that I could say I was better at this - at showing that I struggle with it just as much as they do. But somehow, when I am invited into classrooms or work with teachers I am considered the expert. I need to be better at sharing my writer's notebooks and rough drafts - at saving the drafts and modeling the reflection that went into each revision. And most importantly, I need to show how we can avoid the dangerous extremes of "awful" and "brilliant" in order to really value writing.

1 comment:

Mrs. Kondrick said...

I shared with a few people at the ELA Forum how I now share my writing with my students. After participating in the Western New York Writing Project I implemented a reading response time in my 7th & 8th grade ELA Prep class. I read to the students (poetry, a chapter of a fiction book, a picture book) and give them 10 minutes to respond, I push them to respond for the whole time (this includes processing time). Most importantly, I also write. This writing is very raw, I bracket words I don't want to use, so I can keep the writing juices flowing, I cross out, they see me "miming" words I am trying to think of, it is truly messy!. I then share my writing while they share theirs.

One of my student said to me last Friday "Mrs. Kondrick, you should be the summer enrichment writing teacher, I go to this program every year, and last year our teacher told us how to write, but never wrote herself (and admitted it)you really inspire me to write!" It made me feel great.

After today, it dawned on me that I explain this is a rough draft, my thoughts pouring out on paper, but I haven't shown them my edited, revised 2nd, 3rd, or 4th copies.

I think I will work on one of my pieces this week.

Writing is hard, but can be ohhh sooo beautiful!