Good morning, everyone! We’re down to the last two weeks of Teachers Write, and I know we’ve lost some folks to school already. But I hope those of you who are still here will hang in there and keep sharing your amazing work.
Our guest author today is Lynda Mullaly Hunt, the author of middle-grade novel, ONE FOR THE MURPHYS (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin), winner of The Tassy Walden Award: New Voices in Children’s Literature, an ABA New Voices Pick, and an Editor’s Choice Book with Scholastic Book Clubs. Lynda has also directed the SCBWI-NE Whispering Pines Retreat for eight years and is a former teacher and Scenario Writing coach. Her second novel, ALPHABET SOUP, will be released in spring, 2015. Lynda lives with her husband, two kids, impetuous beagle and beagle-loathing cat. Today, Lynda’s discussing…
The Courage to Model Courage
As a writer, I learn things about myself that I didn’t know as I create stories. Something will leak from my fingers onto the keyboard and I’ll pause and think, I know where that comes from. These connections can create a myriad of emotions.
As writers, we are vulnerable. We have to be. Like the way a swimmer must get wet. But, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we only mine from the saddest facets of ourselves. It may mean that we are trying to be funny while wondering if our readers will laugh or scrunch their eyebrows up in confusion. It may mean that we are writing a mystery and working to get authentic red herrings in place. It may mean that we struggle for word choice, trying to drill into a universal human experience so that our readers feel emotion.
The thing is, no matter what the challenge, it’s often hard to be judged and writing for others is an open invitation to just that.
I’ve recently asked a few teacher friends if they’d share their own writing with students and most looked at me like I’d stuck them with a pin. But, I understand. It’s scary.
So, as teachers and writers and humans, how do we get past this? How do we help ourselves—and our students—move past the fear of asking the world, “What do you think?” and being ready for the answer.
As a third grade teacher prepping kids for the writing sample of The Fourth Grade Mastery Test, we did a lot of writing. A lot.
And I saw this fear and worry around writing every year. Here are some things I did to try to help my students learn to let go and write without worry. Without fear. Because this is when a writer often discovers her own voice.
- I told my students that something “set in paper” is not “set in stone.” Not everything you write will be great – and that’s okay. Even as a published author, I will often write pages of stuff I know I won’t keep in order to get that one sentence that ends up being the seed for a chapter of its own. So, just write! Push through the times you feel your writing is not quite what you’d hope for. Believe in your ability to shock and surprise yourself.
- During writing times, I’d sit at a student desk (I had an extra for this purpose) and write with the kids. I never forced anyone to share but I always did and they looked forward to it. Do you know why? Because I was NOT a good writer at that time. Seriously. I really wasn’t. But do you know what kids admire even more than good writing?
Honesty and bravery.
- I’d buy notebooks and/or journals (dollar store has them) and give them to the kids with a message: “These are for you. They are for fun to just write whatever you like. I will never correct them. I will never grade them. If you turn them in to share your writing with me, I will only tell you about the things I love about it.”
The kids wrote in these during that getting ready morning time (I’d have a suggested topic on the board each morning but the kids could write about anything they chose). They were also free to write in them when their work was done. Sometimes, I would converse with kids through them; a lot of great things came out of these journals besides just writing. Removing the fear of negative judgment really opened the kids up, so the amount of writing in them steadily grew throughout the year. And why not? How many of us would like a deal like this?
- I would often go home at night and write terrible stories. Deadly boring. Off topic. Illogically ordered. If it wasn’t truly bad, I’d start again. I’d make a point to make the same kinds of mistakes that I knew the class needed to recognize in their own writing. Then I’d give out copies to my students along with red pens and say, “Fail me if you’d like, but you better explain why.” Even I was shocked at how deep these kids dug to fail the teacher – a lot of kids dream of this, don’t they?
It got to a point I would show up, warm copies in hand, and tell them, “Okay. This is it. Today I’ve got it. This is going to be the one that convinces you that I’m a fantastic writer.” Of course it was terrible – because it was meant to be. And they would let me know with arms flailing, faces on desks, and sympathetic shakes of their heads. We all had good laughs over it. They learned a lot about critiquing on these writing adventures but no doubt that they learned that feedback on writing is not personal. Not something to be afraid of. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough.
- Finally, my message for them—and my message for you—is that you should not compare your writing to anyone else’s. You can’t write what they write and they can’t write what you write. A voice is like a fingerprint and unique to each person. As teachers, we must teach the hows of writing. The nuts and bolts. This way, our kids have the tools to tackle the task. But the actual writing? That is about having something to say. It’s about the being human part.
And the being human part – well, I’ve always felt like that’s the very best part of teaching as well.
Today’s assignment: Reflect on Lynda’s thoughts as they relate to your teaching life, and/or head on over to Jo’s blog to participate in the Monday Morning Warm-Up! Share your thoughts in the comments if you’d like – let us know you’re still here!