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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