Monday, January 10, 2011

New Year's Resolutions -- Only 9 Days Late.

I love the written word. I collect words and phrases like some people collect coins - saving them, re-visiting them often, polishing them to a brilliant shine. Only unlike a rare coin, their value does not intensify by keeping them locked away; their true worth is only measured once spent.

At no point in my life do I remember being unable to read, and my appetite for books has never ceased. In as much as I enjoy the plot or the characters as I read, I am also studying and judging the construction. The beauty of the precise word. The power of a single image. There are lines, even mere words, in literature which rob me of my breath and leave me numb. Rolling around in my head for days, I study them from different angles, searching for the author's true intent. I did not understand, however, that this was abnormal. I simply assumed everyone read books this same way.

Writing is a passion for me. It provides a mixture of challenge and frustration like no other portion of my life, but in truth, it has never frightened me. If anything, it calms my nerves. Slows my thoughts. Clarifies the world spinning past. Writing is my therapy. It is my way out of the darkness or confusion. It lets me find the words that I am unable to speak aloud. It marks moments, both joyous and despairing, I never want to forget. When confronted with that blank page or screen, never in my life has it gone unfilled. I may not adore what it says. I will most likely search for improvements until it is ripped from my hands. But somehow, the words flow forth, and before I realized what's occurred, they've arranged themselves into an order and rhythm like a flashmob in the street - startling and strangely beautiful in their sudden appearance. And everywhere there are opportunities to create -- a birthday card, an email, a facebook status. A chance to bring a smile, a laugh, a tear, a connection. This is why I write, not to make money but rather to feel alive and connected to the world around me.

Stephen King holds the belief, like many others, that writers - true writers - are born and not created. It always seemed so pompous when I read that line, but as I've begun to scrutinize the actual art of writing, to break it down and study its parts, I find myself agreeing with him. They all speak of their writing, from the earliest memory, as an ever-present need to fill the page, scavenge the perfect word, or create an indelible image.

So the thought of trying to teach someone how to write overwhelms me. It always has, and the frustration of seeing my students ignore, even detest, something I love so immensely, devastates me. I feel the same way every time a student claims to hate reading. Yet, in all my eleven years of teaching, I never realized that no one ever taught me how to teach someone else to write. Truthfully, even as an education major, I only took one class which was supposed to teach me how to teach someone else to improve their reading skills. It is no wonder that I feel as though I've floundered about with a thousand different teenagers who could care less about comma placement, metaphors, or mood. In that thousand, there are still only a handful who I sincerely felt enjoyed themselves when they wrote. Only a few who considered themselves to be writers. And even those I'm not sure I ever pushed far enough.

In December, I went to an incredible training for teaching writers. Even now, I get a little fluttery thinking of how much easier I am hoping this will make things. So, here's my New Year's Resolution. (I know, I know... it's January 10th, but in my world, that's actually right on schedule.) I am going to have a better attitude about my struggling readers and writers. I am going to put effort into adapting what has worked before with what I believe will work now. Today, 3 different kids asked when we'd start back up with our Writers' Notebooks. All 3 expressed a real excitement to put pen to paper, and that's 3 more than I've heard in a long, long time.

Stephen King, watch your back. We're gonna put your theories to the test.

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