Learn Something New Every Day!

“The spirit of the road beckoned, and I could do no work at all.” Basho

Writing is a process. I know that. After all, I taught freshmen composition for over 20 years. My goal with the student writers was to help them master academic writing, so they could reach their educational goals. These young writers needed to master three things: fluency, confidence, and a sense of audience. With those skills, they could then produce essays and research projects—and then start worrying about punctuation, sentence structure, paragraphing, all that. They initially did not believe me that boring, cookie cutter prose was not good writing, even if all the words were spelled correctly and there were no comma errors in sight.

Fluency was the easiest quality to develop—if they would follow directions. They needed to write, write, write. Then write some more. To fill the page. To not see putting pen to paper—or fingers to keyboard—as a bothersome chore to get through. Writing could help them learn, organize ideas, just see what they were thinking. Get them thinking. One technique was to freewrite—just write and see what comes out! Don’t stop, don’t edit, just keep the pen moving. Keep a journal. Jot down ideas. For some students I would recommend Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones in an effort to nudge them into free flowing creativity.

Confidence was more intimidating for the students. Most of them did not trust that they had anything to say. Even the loud class clowns or defiant questioners often mumbled on the page. Addressing a blank sheet of paper (or screen) with determination and courage to get the words out there is daunting, especially if you do not yet trust your own voice. The nudge of assignments and grades can get them moving, but success comes when they take pride of ownership and care about being understood. Not all students get this far—but most do at least enough to address assigned topics and move on to the next class.

The transition from student writer into just a novice writer usually surfaced when a sense of audience became more automatic vs. an afterthought. First drafts are often for the writer herself, figuring out what needs to be said. When your awareness of your writing shifts to the start of a conversation, to a concern about whether the ideas make sense to someone else, you are a writer. Revision helps. But this transition requires the development of a new sensibility: the awareness that the communication is incomplete without sharing and connecting with someone else through the words, whether you can literally see that other person or not.

I enjoyed that part of my academic life, especially when I could witness a student blossom into a writer. The other part of my academic life—as a professor and an administrator—also involves writing. Writing is not the whole job, of course. As a dean, for example, I solve problems, plan budgets, attend meetings, keep others motivated and learning. But a lot of what I do involves writing: daily communications, evaluations, reports, grants, surveys, proposals, to name a few of the end products. I actually enjoy helping produce a grant proposal or writing an accreditation report. Professionally, I have always seen myself as a writer.

I share this preamble about my long term, professional immersion in writing to help clarify how surprised I was the other day. AHA: In my own personal writing I was still a student writer! I lacked the confidence to put my work out there for an audience to read. I doubted my voice. Would my musings really be of interest to others? This realization came when a trusted friend asked me to read a draft of her novel. She too has been a writer for years, mostly of historical documents and newspaper columns. The novel was her first venture into a new genre—and she had not shared it with others yet. But she had the guts to send it out there for me to read. I was honored—and it was great!

Her bravery got me thinking. What am I waiting for? Why am I not producing more personal writings to share with others? How could I share my writings? Right then and there, I decided I would start a blog. I did not really know what that meant. Blogs, Facebook, Tweets were all foreign to me—unknown territory. But I bolstered my confidence, found a voice—timid as it was—and started the blog. I knew I needed deadlines in order to produce, so I set the goal of publishing every couple of days.

I have been blogging for about a week now. So far, so good.

My blog is more a monolog than a dialog thus far, but I am writing. Sharing this realization has helped bolster my confidence even further. Plus, sharing a goal publically gives me something to be held accountable to. With some more practice and increased fluency, I am now more productive. My voice is getting stronger. And I am seeing my writing more and more as an adventure than as work that needs finishing.

I like the path I am on—and I will keep wandering. Maybe others will keep reading.

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