Only 8 years ago, I was a writing teacher. Now I am unsure about the idea of anyone teaching”writing” to anyone.
I remember that by the time I started formally learning how to write, I thought I knew everything. I had a writing “habit” without much structure to it, first fueled by reading poetry, later encouraged by Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and other how-to-be-a-writer books.
Automatic writing worked for me. A love for the Beats and the Surrealists was working for me. . .as did the prompts assigned by inspiring and caring high school English teachers. Until I decided to enroll in the Creative Writing/Poetry program at UCSC.
I remember the first time my professor-to-be reviewed my portfolio. A cinder fell from his cigarette, which burned into one of the pages. He told me that I was going to change my writing, break it apart, turn it inside out, make it something different. Internally I scoffed.
Over a period of two rigorous years, (thanks to ongoing direct feedback from professors and peers) my writing style did evolve. My thesis/chapbook was a lyric work, centered on the natural world, including a serial poem that focused on (abstracted) childhood events. Honors in the major. Done.
But then what? And so what? If I had the drive and maturity at the time, perhaps I would have continued. But. Having a fixed mindset in regards to writing ability (“you either have it or you don’t”; supposedly I “had it”, thus I shouldn’t need to try), I didn’t try. And thus, stopped writing.
Though I loved teaching, I never continued much of my own work to the revision stage. Thus followed a few timid attempts including readings at local coffee shops. And a total lack of understanding of what I really wanted to do with my writing. I collected books on writing; I gathered writing prompts around me like pieces of a nest. A protective nest.
I think when teaching “writing” we teach something else. Perhaps a road map for learning how to find our own voice, how to become a Writer. But it’s one road map of many possible, and the budding writer may take twenty years to figure out that it’s the writing, not the peripheral stuff that is the real work.
Originally I started this post as a way to share some insight about writing, knowing that we all need support or encouragement. I suppose what I can offer now is a reminder I wish I understood earlier in life–to put in the work no matter what is going on in your life, and you can never go wrong.
Beware a sugar-rush dependence on writing prompts, a dependence on teachers, or positive feedback. Do learn from your teachers; they’ve been writing longer than you have.
Remember to be patient with yourself; be kind. You are not supposed to be perfect, whatever that means, and your words do matter in the world.
Try not to spend too long fluffing your nest or feeling accomplished, because the nest and the accomplishments (perceived or real) are probably a distraction from the real reason you are writing.
I write to understand and revel in the world I take in through my senses, to revel in the ideas that I read. I write to connect with the quiet in my life, and for the pure enjoyment of words which I see as ever changing and alive.
Why are you writing?