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Inspiring and Being Inspired

While I usually rehearse my own writing and purposefully quick write to find inspiration, I have taken on a different role with my mentee this year. She is a talented teacher and writer; she reminds me a lot of myself when I was a first-year teacher. I remember influential teachers and mentors in my life who encouraged me to start presenting and publishing and so this past week I passed the torch. Today, she published her first blog for the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project (PAWLP) blog.

As we discussed her blog post last week, we rehearsed her writing piece, talking through how she might open her piece, organize it, present student examples, and wrap it up. I called to mind the various ideas she had been mentioning about distance learning since its onset. All along, I had been cataloging them and saving them for this moment. It was amazing to see how she developed those ideas and created a polished piece.

When we celebrated her publication today, she thanked me for the ideas, and I was able to reply back that they were all hers: I simply regurgitated them back to her.

In working with her, I was reminded at how important it is for me to record my thoughts, whether in a notebook, my phone, or a computer. So often thoughts pass me by like dreams. Unless I write them down, I can’t remember them in a few minutes let alone a few weeks. Keeping track of those inspirational tidbits helps me to have a bag of ideas when I need to return to them.

Freedom Without the 3 Rs

It is liberating to compose without deliberate rehearsing, ferocious revision, and continuous rereading. As someone who struggled with spelling all of their life and never read carefully enough to catch her own grammar mistakes until college, I have felt the need as an adult, writer, and teacher to spend much time on these three areas. It is also best practice as outlined in Penny Kittle’s book, Write Beside Them, who suggests this trifecta. rehearsing, revising, and rereading is an important practice and necessary to employ in more formal writing pieces.

My professor this Spring 2020 semester recommended that I write more freely, To not spend so much time perfecting the language of each blog post but instead focuses on the authentic ideas I rapidly generate. Perhaps shorter and more direct are more appealing and inviting when blogging. I have to re-consider my composing process for a new and different audience and writing purpose.

So, here is my first blog post that I barely revised and only edited for blatant grammar mistakes and typos. And, there was no rehearsing here.There was no preparing for what I would say in the blog post, jotting notes down in a notebook or on my phone, or letting the ideas marinate before writing. Instead, as soon as I thought the ideas, I spoke them into my phone and then transferred it to my computer. I did add the following few sentences here and tweaked the next paragraph’s last sentence before completing the blog post. On different occasions, I speak into my phone right away but still spend time between my phone notes and computer rehearsing my ideas. And even then, I take three or four passes at a final draft before submitting it.

Looking to the future, I might try this style more often. It felt really good to share my thoughts in a quicker way without self-monitoring my language so carefully. While I feel like all of my writing is authentic, I am curious to see if this blog post reads or feels different from my previous blogs here and the posts I write for the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature blog.

Composing Pure Action

Zumba is a big part of my life. 2 to 3 times a week I take classes whether at the gym or right now digitally through Zoom. It always amazes how my body is able to follow my dance teacher’s movements. I don’t consciously think about the moves, but somewhere in my brain it processes the information and directs my body to move. I never thought of this as a form of composing until last fall.

For my Fall 2018 grad class, I choreographed my own dance to better understand my students writing process. This took me out of my comfort zone while composing. I wanted to better understand what it feels like to take “writing risks” when you are not 100% confident with the material.

Now, with social distancing, I have been finding that I improvise with my songs more during the cool down. “Despacito” is probably one of my favorite songs, yet we don’t have a choreographed dance to it. The last two weeks I’ve been moving to that song and using the dance steps that I know from other choreographed pieces. Instead of copying the movement “word for word” or rather move for move, I am mixing the steps together to create my own piece. I am putting them together in a unique way much the way writers use various craft techniques.

As I’m finishing my class right now, I’m actually speaking this into my phone because I don;t want to forget my thoughts. I’m realizing that the way I am putting these dance moves together replicates in a different way the composing that we do with language. There is this moment before my body moves to the step that my mind has envisioned it. I must compose that dance move as a vision in my mind and bring it forth from my consciousness.

It’s interesting to think about how we compose not just in writing and thought but also in movement and action of the body. I am going to notice the other ways that I compose in my daily life, and I invite you to do the same thing. I will be interested to see how and if this impacts my writing process.

I Dare You

So, one of my best friends–I have known her since Kindergarden–started her own 21 Day Abundance Challenge inspired by Deepak Chopra. We have been through tough and triumphant times. We have grown up together and grown into our adult selves. When she asked me to join, I initially wanted to say no. I have my own reading and writing routine, and have a lot on my plate with distance learning and graduate school. I was hesitant to take on another requirement. But, I am always open to new things, and she gave me a “get out of jail free card.” She said, if you don’t like it, then you can leave the group after the first day.

What I am shocked by is how it enhanced my writing routine. There is some sort of guided meditation and reflective writing prompt each day. I did this writing with my cup of tea before I wrote creatively and professionally. After the first and second day, I texted my friend thanking her. The combination of music and journaling set my mind in a place where I was ready to explore my creative writing and dive into my professional writing. I was grateful that I did give in to the uneasiness of trying something new and taking on a new writing and personal routine.

Had this not been a positive addition, then I would not stick with it. However, trying out experiences that push me out of my comfort zone often inspire me in ways I would never think imaginable. Now that I signed up for this group of like-minded thinkers, I am again thinking about joining or forming a writing group of my own.

I am also curious to see if when this abundance challenge is over, if I will dare myself to explore new avenues in my writing to push my limits and hone my craft.

Share and Get Feedback

As of right now in my drafting process, I share my ideas as they develop with my family, friends, and students, but I have not joined an official writing circle. I would eventually like to do that.

Feedback is such an important part of my students’ writing process. Now, I am not talking about editing. I am talking about big idea brainstorming and craft feedback. Just today I worked with a group of three students via Teams. They each shared a passage from their Self-Selected Writing Piece (If you would like to know more about this writing assignment, visit my scholarly works page). One wanted feedback on her revised ending: she decided to include dialogue in the piece and wanted to confirm that the conversation enhanced the overall mood of the piece. Another student had writer’s block and didn’t know where to go in her piece. The last has been working on his own sci-fi novel (I swear he is going to be the next Christopher Paolini) and wanted to confirm his revised prologue set up the story better.

We bounced ideas off of each other and built on those various ideas. By the end of the call, the first student felt confident in her ending and was ready to start thinking about her next piece. The second student had a plethora of ideas that she would explore and had a plan of where she would take her story next. The last student had four paragraphs to play with in order to build more suspense and have a final epic reveal in the last paragraph of his prologue before he continued drafting.

Seeing how the collaboration supports my students makes me realize that I should join my own group. Perhaps next week I will bring my drafting to our Teams meeting and ask my kiddos for their advice.

Writer’s Block: Building Blocks

Very rarely am I at a loss for words whether speaking or writing. Yet, now that I am writing a longer piece–my first attempt at a ya book. Wow I haven’t said that before, I am facing writing hurdles that I have not faced before and am challenging myself in ways I have never been challenged.

With teaching middle grade students, I have asked for their feedback and advice: I take their feedback very seriously since they are my target audience and they give good feedback. As we are conducting our Teams meeting, I have started to recognize the advice they give each other. The questions they ask and the suggestions they offer sound oddly familiar. I realized today I know where I heard those before: me.

My writing is an open canvas for my students. I model my process and invite them in to my pieces: the triumphs and the struggles. Together we learn and grow. I have to remember to take my own advice to help me with my own writer’s block. Here are some of my favorites. I hope they help you too!

  • When a student shares they have writer’s block, I make it a positive, a fork in the road with endless possibilities.
  • To work past this, I encourage them to read their book and lift one or more words, lines, sentences, or passages and write off of it for at least three minutes with no expectation of what you will write, draw, or list. Keep doing this each day until you find an idea that you like to develop further.
  • Make a list of things that are inspiring you or that you want to figure out.
  • Write off your book title.
  • Browse pictures for inspiration
  • If in the middle of a piece, jumping around helped me tremendously. Free yourself from moving in sequential order. Consider what might happen at the end of your piece. Consider twists or surprises you might want to include. Problematize your character. Generate ideas of what could happen next. Pretend you are the reader of your own piece, what would you want to see happen, what would you hate to see happen, and what do you imagine might happen.
  • Definitely get insight from other writers and readers.

Slow Down, Pay Attention

It is not always easy to follow this advice, but since I started yoga, walking with a mantra, taking Zumba classes, and trying to live a more awake life, I have found it is easier to pay attention and slow down during my life and my writing. Sometimes my life even inspires my writing.

I always love the spring because of the flowering trees. With distance learning, I have been able to capitalize on walking around and taking in nature. For the first time ever, I feel like I have been able to watch the buds appear on the leaves and see the world transform.

I do enjoy spending a little extra time observing the flowering trees. Magnolias and Cherry Blossoms are my favorite. This one afternoon, it was particularly windy. My hair was flying all in my face and I almost opted not to continue my walk. But, I pulled my hair tight in a clip and pressed on. When I reached the Magnolia, the tree swayed, the branches waved, and the petals danced. Inspired, I starred as if in a trance. Paying attention and slowing down.

As I let me mind empty and peace fill in the space. My mind became open to creativity. The more I stood observing those trees, the more I wanted to include them in the story I have been working on. Twirling wisps of consciousness started to form: Ideas began to take shape. I let that openness linger in me and walked to my car. There I sat with the sun pouring in and recorded a few lines onto my phone. I didn’t want to forget my thoughts. I spoke, “The wind whipped her face: her googles protected her eyes” and “At the horizon pink and white flowering trees swayed in the churning wind. The branches waved, speaking to Techa of a lost time, of a last person: her father.”

The Right Utensils for Writing your Best

I know for myself that there is not a “right” writing utensil, but
I do recognize my patterns and what works best for me in different situations.
Different genres beg me to use certain instruments: a pen/pencil and notebook,
the notes in my phone, and my computer. I am in no way rigid when it comes to
selecting what I use to compose, but depending on the day, the time, my mood,
and my purpose, I do gravitate towards one of the three. I use my writing
intuition, so to speak, to direct me to select which utensil will work best for
me.

When I write in the morning (whether creatively or professionally) over a cup
of tea, I use my notebook–just a Dollar Store notebook. I do like the fun
patterns with elephants and geometric shapes, but a green or black marble more
classic look will also do. I am not too picky with the pen that I use. There
are times when I want to write with green: my favorite color. Sometimes I want
to feel a pencil’s graphite scratch along the page. But most times, I grab the
first pen I can find in my apartment. There is this perfect synergistic energy
that happens for me early in the morning when my pen/pencil connects to paper.

After a school day or after my creative time on the weekend or summer
weekday, I move into professional writing: blog posts, grad work, or article
drafting. This almost always happens on my computer. However, I spend time
rehearsing–composing in my mind–before I sit down at the blank screen. By the
time I begin any writing piece I know where I want to start, what journey I
want to take, and where I hope to end up. What is interesting, though, is that
I spent time one morning writing this post in my creative notebook because it
was on my mind, and I had not started it. I revisited those pages three times
more, adding other blog ideas before I crafted them in a Word document and then
transferred them over to this website. I guess patterns and rules are made for
breaking in order to find the right writing utensil.

Lastly, much of my rehearsing turns into a note in my phone before I move to
Word. More formal assignments and essays for my graduate classes, longer blog
posts for Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project (PAWLP), presentation
outlines, and journal articles move from a script in my mind to notes. I do not
type this on my phone but rather speak them. I find that my sub-conscious
thoughts flow freely if I speak them. There is something different that happens
between speaking and recording your ideas and typing to record your ideas. I
also use my phone to collect writing inspirations that I do not want to forget.

I hope you have found a system that works for you. If you are still
searching, consider one of these ideas to play with. Remember to listen to that
inner voice—not only for your words and thoughts, but also for the instruments
to enable you to commit your ideas to paper or the screen.

Listening to Your Genius

I heard a writer speak about the idea of genius. How genius enters our minds and gifts us with creative expression. We—as subjects—do not control genius. Yet, in today’s society, when we are not filled with ideas, sometimes we can feel negative towards ourselves or our craft. But instead, this writer encouraged her audience to push forward, to not give up, and to find new inspiration.

It can be difficult sometimes to let a project go or to realize that we are no longer feeling inspired to pursue that original idea. This happened to me after writing “Pulled.” While I intended this project to be a stand-alone story, my family, friends, colleagues, students, and professors encouraged me to develop the storyline further. I entertained this idea and wrote an additional two chapters and mapped out possible plot lines; however, continuing with the writing process felt forced. I was no longer interested and no longer wanted to write.

It took me a few months to finally come to terms with my writer’s block and decision to abandon the piece for the foreseeable future.

Finally, I felt free. For the next several months, I quick wrote with my students and free wrote at home. I devoured science fiction, fantasy, and dystopian young adult novels and again began to feel inspired by a new character, Techa, and her quest to destroy the microgrogs. The last two years have been devoted to exploring this creative story.

Committing to Your Routine

Although sometimes it is difficult to carve out daily time to write, I have to commit to intentional creative writing time. The majority of my rehearsing—the composing that takes place in my mind as I drive, brush my teeth, cook, etc.—relates to professional writing whether for teaching, grad school, blogging, or articles. Very rarely do I think up an idea for the creative piece I am currently working on. I established a routine that works for me. In the morning, with a cup of tea, I read a few pages of a young adult novel. Just enough to get inspired for my own story. Then my goal is to write at least three pages in a composition journal. I still prefer my drafting to be with a pen or pencil and a notebook. Occasionally, when time doesn’t allow, I might write a page or even just one line. As Don Murray reminds us: “Nulla dies sine linea” [Never a day without a line].

Note: This post inspired a more developed blog post for distance learning feature on the PAWLP blog. To read more about writing routines visit Write.Share.Connet to read “Rediscovering Routines.”