I am a writer and a teacher of writing. This year, I helped ten students write and publish their own novels, a feat I am extremely proud of, but I have a confession to make, I failed to write even a simple journal entry. Don’t get me wrong, I wrote a lot. Emails, feedback on students’ writing, proposals, requests, job applications, more feedback on students’ writing. And it’s not that I think that kind of writing doesn’t count because it does. In the right context, that kind of writing can be essential, transformative and impactful, but it is not the only kind of writing that I want to do. My ten young writers searched for content within, and then used their imaginations and intellect to weave those ideas into stories. The writing they did was driven by passion.
My students inspired me to sign up for a week-long writing workshop organized by the Greater Madison Writing Project. My hope was that by participating in the workshop at the beginning of the summer, it would be just the push I needed to put the content within me on paper. I also wanted to learn how to become a better teacher of writing, but my motivation for attending extended beyond my classroom. Ironically, through the course of the week, I was reminded that my personal and professional writing goals are not conflicting. Rather, they go hand in hand. I have a tendency to complicate things sometimes by overthinking. In this case, it boiled down simply to this core belief; I become a better teacher of writing by writing. And by sharing my writing with others, conferencing, receiving feedback etc.,…but it starts by simply writing.
The concept is simple, but the application is hard. I look back on this past school year, and the fact that I failed to do any writing haunts me. To be fair, I returned to work full-time at a new job, teaching several subjects and age groups which I had previously never taught before at two different schools, while raising two kids in a new city. I had a lot of material at my fingertips, but I never transferred it to the page.
I have watched my friends find and nurture their passions over the years. Ali is a dear friend of mine who I met when our kids attended a cooperative nursery school together. In my son’s second year at the school, we started meeting weekly for crafting playdates. Our three- year-olds played while Andrea, another pre-school mom, taught us how to sew. I learned a few sewing basics, but to be honest, after our sessions, I still couldn’t thread a bobbin. Ali, on the other hand, bought a sewing machine and started following design blogs and visiting second hand shops picking up pieces she thought had potential. She created her own design blog, and somehow in her world of parenting two kids, and homeschooling one, she finds time to make posts, and the posts are good.
When my family and I moved to Madison, Wisconsin, I discovered that our house was sandwiched in between the houses of two crafty and talented women who enjoy making things with their hands. Once again, I found such pleasure in gathering with these women, not so much because I have a passion or latent talent for sewing, but because I found it life-giving to be surrounded by women exploring their interests, taking time to work on something that they love and learning from each other.
Last week’s writing workshop, just like my crafting circles, was also life-giving. I once again found myself surrounded by inspiring people exploring their passions and learning from each other. For me, it held particular importance because it was a conscious choice to prioritize what I am passionate about and potentially have some talent for over learning something new from someone else’s talent. Don’t get me wrong, I hope I continue to learn new things from highly motivated and passionate people until I die. I still haven’t given up hope that I might learn to ski one day, but there’s a subtle difference between pursuing the creative desires on your heart and being in the company of others while they pursue theirs. Every day since last week’s conference, I have woken up with a new energy in my life and a renewed sense of purpose and meaning. I think I know how Ali felt when she bought her first sewing machine. I think the reason she can blog in the midst of all the other things she has to do, the reason why she still finds time to turn a tossed out piece of furniture into a masterpiece is because it is her passion. For a long time, I think I have known that writing is mine, but I’ve never made my passion a priority.
Last week, I engaged in daily, active, fresh writing with a passionate, dedicated, supportive group of colleagues. I shared my writing with these colleagues, and they told me I should start a blog, that if I put my writing on display for the world, they would read it. I was excited and inspired and a little intimidated. I didn’t share with them that I don’t even have a Facebook page. I don’t know what will come of my daily writing. The idea of putting something raw and incomplete before the world, like planting a seed without being sure of what will grow, is a little scary, but I’m going to try. I tell my students that writing leads to self-discovery if they are willing to make themselves vulnerable. How can I ask them to do this if I am unwilling to do the same?
The concept is simple, but the application is hard.
Maybe, I need to simplify the application. Maybe, I need to do what I do for my struggling students. I need to set a reasonable goal and provide scaffolds to make it attainable. I can’t attend a writing workshop every week. With two elementary-age kids and a full time job, I can’t set aside entire mornings in a coffee shop and just write. But, I think I can write for 15 minutes every day. I can allow myself the same grace that I offer to my students, which is the reminder that writing does not always have to be good. Sometimes, it will feel quite messy. Perhaps, if I do that, maybe those 15 minutes will turn into something more. I imagine, though, that somedays it will be a struggle just to piece together those 15 minutes. My hope is that the more I practice, the more routine it will become.
I may not write a novel, but maybe I can create a pocketful of prose.
What are your passions? How do you make them a priority?