And just like that, the month of March has passed on by. It doesn't seem that long ago that I was nervously embarking on this adventure called the Slice of Life Story Challenge. I didn't really know what to expect or if I would be able to write everyday. It appeared to be such a daunting task. Now here I am writing my 31st blog post in as many days. Along the way, I have learned a few things about writing and the teaching of writing and about myself. Many thanks to Stacey, Dana, Tara, Betsy, Beth, and Anna of Two Writing Teachers for making it all possible.
So, here are the top 13 things I have learned from SOLSC:
1. I have something to say.
Sometimes quite a lot, actually. In the beginning my biggest worry was that I would be unable to think of something to write each and every day. I don't have any stories! I am by nature a quiet person and tend to do more listening than talking. It was amazing to discover that even quiet lives are actually filled with important stories that translate into deeper meanings. Those kiddos in our classrooms? They have stories to tell, too. The trick is to give them the opportunity and the freedom to share them.
2. It takes a bit of courage to put your writing out into the world.
I once described sharing my writing with an audience as something akin to standing naked on a street corner. (Not that I have any experience standing naked on street corners, mind you.) The similarity, of course, is the vulnerability you feel. When I write, I expose parts of myself that I normally hold back. When one opens oneself up that way there is the very real possibility of being rejected. And that's scary. This experience has made me realize that every time I ask my students to write, I am asking them to share a piece of themselves, to open themselves up to that same vulnerability. That vulnerability needs to be acknowledged and honored. These little acts of courage should be treated with the gentleness and respect they deserve.
3. Praise builds confidence.
Positive comments make a world of difference. They not only make you feel good about what you have accomplished so far, but they encourage you to try even harder the next time. I am ashamed to say that when I began teaching I took my cue from teachers I had as a kid and spent the majority of my time marking up my students' papers, pointing out every little thing they did wrong. Now, I focus more on what they are doing right, and surprise, surprise, I no longer have a classroom full of students who hate to write.
4. Writers need to feel comfortable to take risks.
The heaping of praise on a writer has an added bonus. When students know they are not going to be skewered for every misstep they might make, they are more willing to take risks in their writing. At least that is the conclusion I have reached after trying out various writing styles, even going so far as to share poetry. I have never shared my poetry with the world at large before, but the supportive community made me feel comfortable enough to take a chance. As I have learned, some risks pay off, others do not. A writer needs to be okay with that and having a supportive community helps.
5. With confidence comes the desire to improve.
One of the most surprising things I discovered was that as my confidence grew, so did my desire to improve. I read other bloggers and wondered, How did they do that? I found myself reading comments and wanting to ask, But what could I do to make it better? Likewise, what I am starting to see with my students is that the more confident they are in themselves as writers, the more accepting they are of my gentle nudges toward improvement. Now I tell my students, "This is really good! I think if you try. . .it will be even more amazing!" This seems to yield better results than the aforementioned strategy of marking up their writing with the dreaded red pen.
6. Critique needs to come from someone you trust.
In the beginning of the challenge, every time I saw I had a comment, the first thought that popped into my head was I hope it's nice. I have no idea why I thought that. Maybe just a little leftover paranoia from my days as a student. That thought, though, pointed out that while I wanted some constructive criticism, it couldn't come from just anybody. Critique needs to come from someone you trust and respect as a person and as a writer. As a teacher, this means that building a supportive and respectful classroom culture is crucial. Students need to know that the one giving them feedback has their best interests at heart.
7. Writers need to believe in what they are writing.
The fact is, not everyone is going to love what you write. Some days, no one will. That is why it is so important to engage in writing that you honestly believe in. There have been days that my blog hasn't seen much traffic or has failed to receive one comment. That's okay, because at the end of the day what really matters is that I found something I wanted to write and I said what I needed to say. One of the parts of teaching I used to dislike the most was grading student writing. It was awful! I realize now, of course, part of the reason for awful writing was the lack of author buy-in. Most often they were simply completing an assignment, not writing about a topic that had significance to them. If the writer doesn't buy it, chances are no one else will either. If I want my students to produce inspired writing, I need to let them choose topics that inspire them.
8. Embrace your moodiness!
I've always known I can be a pretty moody person. I found my writing during the month to be equally moody: one day sad, the next contemplative, and the following wryly amused. Each mood had its own voice and I didn't always know which one was going to come out when I sat down to write. I didn't try to fight it, though; I just let it lead me whichever direction it decided to take.
9. Writing can be liberating.
As I mentioned previously, I tend to be a pretty quiet person (well, for the most part). Writing every day gave me a chance to tell the stories I usually keep to myself. It allowed me to find a voice that perhaps has been too quiet for too long. It felt good to sit down each day and write out what I thought about a myriad of topics. Writing can be equally liberating for the children in our classrooms, allowing them to try out different voices and find the one that is uniquely their own.
10. I need to read my writing out loud.
This was another surprise. I simply cannot revise without reading my piece of writing out loud. And not just once. Over and over and over again. Each time I change little things here and there, occasionally adding or taking out entire sections. Whenever I watch American Idol and they start talking about pitch and staying in key, I have no idea what they are talking about. All I know is if it sounded good to me or not. When it comes to writing, I discovered it isn't just about the words and the ideas. I listen closely to the flow of the words and arrange and rearrange until just the right rhythm emerges. It has made me realize that I don't do enough of this with my students. I need to show them what I listen for and give them multiple opportunities to listen to the music their own writing makes.
11. I write pretty slowly.
One short blog post shouldn't take that long, right? For me, it could take hours. Just getting the ideas down can be time-consuming, but then there's all the revision to get it just right. Finally, there's the constant rereading to catch any mistakes. (Usually, I still find something to edit even after I have published my post.) Hopefully, acknowledging this about myself will translate into increased patience in the classroom when that one student still isn't finished with her piece of writing.
12. I am hooked!
I awoke this morning feeling a little sad, knowing that today was the last day of the challenge. For me it has been like having a personal trainer in writing, someone to keep me accountable and force me to show up for my workout each day. I loved having a reason to write. Even though my blog posts may be a little less frequent from this point forward, I plan to continue writing on a daily basis.
13. I am a writer.
A month ago, I would not have dared to assign myself that title. Today, I claim it and wear it proudly. Many thanks to those who encouraged me throughout this journey, thereby giving me the confidence to say at last, "I am a writer."