Officially, we are in our Teachers Write weekend, but this year, we decided to share some not-quite-lessons on these days. It’s always worth taking a little time to reflect, so today, guest author Kristen Kittscher joins us for just that.
Kristen is a former 7th grade English teacher and the author of the middle grade mystery The Wig in the Window and its forthcoming sequel, The Tiara on the Terrace (Harper Children’s, January 5, 2016). The 2014 James Thurber House Children’s Writer-in-Residence, Kristen loves teaching writing workshops for kids of all ages and visiting schools. Today, Kristen shares a bit about her own journey as a teacher-writer…
For many years, I was an English teacher who didn’t write. At least, that’s how I saw it. In truth, I was writing all the time: with my seventh grade students, in my journal, to fun writing prompts, in rambling emails that I sent to entertain family and friends. I dismissed all of it. Though I yearned to tell my own stories, in my mind “real” writing was done by geniuses endowed with magical talents I didn’t possess. And finishing a novel? That was for rock star authors, not mere mortals.
How did I stand there all that time, urging my students to silence their inner critics and make glorious messes in their drafts, yet never show myself even an iota of the same compassion? It still amazes me. Worse yet, I beat myself up for not walking the walk. Or the talk, I suppose I should say. Because, boy, I did a lot of talking.
Does any of this sound familiar? I hope not. I hope you’re looking at me like I’m a curious alien creature. That—unlike me—you’ve been gentle with that dreamy, writing self and let her meander along river banks and roll in grass and stare up at trees and waste reams of paper on words no one ever sees. That you’ve never told her to hurry up because you had more pressing matters to attend to—then left her behind when she didn’t obey. Or worse: berated her until she ran away and hid altogether.
Though it’s too long of a story to tell here, eventually I learned to stop abusing the writer in me. I finally let go and played, and one day even finished my first long writing project, the manuscript that would become my debut, The Wig in the Window. (No surprise it turned out to be about two seventh graders uncovering a hypocritical teacher’s dark secret, is it?).
If you’ve made it here to Teachers Write, you’re already miles beyond where I started—and chances are, you’re much kinder to your creative self, too. Hopefully you already realize that you are a “real” writer, if you write at all—that you can and will finish the projects you hope to share, or develop a regular writing practice that brings you joy, if that’s your goal.
But if as you absorb all the fantastic craft lessons Kate has gathered here, you find yourself feeling fearful or frustrated—if you’re tempted to give up and take care one of the thousand seemingly more urgent tasks on your to-do list—I hope you’ll stop for a moment and double-check that you’ve filled yourself with the key ingredients first: compassion for—and trust in—yourself.
In his brilliant book on creating, Writing the Australian Crawl, the poet William Stafford likened writing to swimming. Water slips right through our fingers. How can it possibly hold a person up? And yet if swimmers relax into the water—if they make “little strokes with the material nearest them,” they not only stay afloat, they propel themselves forward.
It’s summer. A perfect time for a swim, don’t you think? Dive in that lake! Move your hands through the cool, fresh ideas nearest you. The water will hold you. I promise. It doesn’t matter if your strokes aren’t graceful. You’ll glide ahead, little by little. And pretty soon you’ll find that you—a mere mortal!—will have traveled farther than you ever could have imagined.
Take your time, and let’s meet up on the opposite shore, okay? I’ll be the one out of breath but still cheering.