How To Write Around It

Yesterday in class, my student Mike had clearly lost faith.

I didn’t know why. But I could see that he was lost. I had asked the entire class to write for a page in response to the question: “Who are you in a group?” followed by “What do you fear about working in  groups?”

They didn’t have to show it to anyone. They just had to write. For a page.

But Mike wouldn’t. He just didn’t. He wrote 2 or 3 bullet points (I could see his paper), and sat with his hands folded while the other were lost in thought and writing.

What Writing Isn’t

Writing is not the solution to our problems. It is not the answer. It is not cash in our bank accounts, or even a calling. Writing is not who we are and it is not a place. Writing is not an art form.

What Writing Is

When my other students — reticent at they were — picked up their pens and started answering the questions I gave them, they answered what writing is.

Writing is pounded dirt road. It is the means. It is a periscope and a doorway.

Or rather, writing is an piece of glass on the road. You can pick it up and look through it.

The tree is still the tree. But the glass you look through changes how you see the tree.

Writing is a tool.

Today it might be a hammer. Tomorrow it might be a loud, whining drill, poking holes in everything.

Poets keep their Swiss-made hand chisels sharp, using them on hard woods and at fine angles.

Beginning writers bludgeon the paper with chain saws while wearing blindfolds. It’s no wonder they often come into class limping and whimpering. Arms tired and faces scratched and bloody.

Don’t Fear the Chainsaw

It’s no wonder Mike refused to even write around the question. A question on fear, when he was already terrified and sure of the end result.

After, Mike came to talk to me for an hour. After we talked, he wrote a full page, non-stop, in 10 minutes. I glanced at it and handed back to him without comment.

Because it wasn’t mine. It was his.

Writing is yours. It is not for the teacher or even for the audience.

Yes, we have thoughts FOR the audience when we write. Yes, in certain circumstances there are expectations and consequences.

We manifest through our tools, whether we use them or not.

Writing — whether greasy and spent on the page or dusty and capped inside the pen — exists.

And so do you.

*****

From my “For Writers, By Writers” Series

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Elizabeth Howard

Elizabeth writes literary non-fiction, haiku, cultural rants, and Demand Poetry in order to forward the cause of beautiful writing. She teaches and speaks about the rhetorical impact of beautiful writing. A recent transplant to Connecticut, she calls London, Kansas City, and Iowa home. 

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  8 comments for “How To Write Around It

  1. Val
    April 7, 2011 at 8:15 am

    Great blog! I had my students write a first draft on a topic yesterday, and I can’t tell you how many asked me how I wanted them to respond. They were so scared to put their own original thoughts on paper for fear of saying the wrong thing. I told them it wasn’t up to me. When you write, you can’t have fear of what other people will think. That’s not the point of writing, or at least it shouldn’t be.

  2. April 7, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Incredible post! I have struggled with what it means to be a writer since starting to blog actively. I have felt a need to justify myself since I am not a “real” writer. I am realizing that I write because it is a tool. A tool for self exploration, unraveling ideas and exploring questions. Thanks for expalining thsi so beautifully!

  3. April 7, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Ooops I hit post before correcting typos. I can’t type either 🙂

    • April 7, 2011 at 11:39 am

      Gwyn, thanks for the feedback. I had no idea what I was going to write when I posted that today. It just came out! And the typos are a way of the writer’s world. If you squint, you hardly see them! 😉

  4. April 7, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    This sums up so much of what has been going through my mind lately about what exactly writing is. It boils down to a means to an end, essentially.

    It’s also like muscle, it gets better/easier with more use.

  5. April 7, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    How To Write Around It http://tinyurl.com/3gtw486 <<<This was a good reminder.

  6. jeff law
    April 7, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    i love your writing! you are amazing, and i bet a great teacher.
    my mom and dad were both teachers. Peace & Love

  7. April 7, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    This is right on. There are so many times that the fear hold students back – not just students, all of us really. I often think of writing through it, especially when I am most terrified by that blank page. But I like the idea of writing around it too because it means you can just leave “it” where it is and move on your way. 🙂

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