Saturday, June 11, 2011

Teacher, Practice What You Preach!

Among other things, I teach writing. I teach my students about the writing process, including all the things writers sometimes do on the way to a finished product. These can include reading, thinking, discussing ideas with others, brainstorming, freewriting, jotting down notes, outlining, drafting, getting feedback on early drafts from others, redrafting, and more. I firmly believe in this process, yet when I am doing my own writing projects, I sometimes have to remind myself to “practice what I preach,” or in this case, “practice what I teach.” I have recently been stuck on getting started on a certain piece that I have committed to write, casting about for how to focus the piece. A few days ago I decided to try the exercise of freewriting, which involves simply writing freely about a topic, without thinking too much, without worrying about logic or felicity, and most of all, without stopping. As I say to my students, “Just keep that pen moving!” It is a kind of priming of the pump; the idea is that the very act of writing freely and without prior plan or structure will bring ideas to the surface that one can then mine for use in the writing project. Although I often have my students do this exercise, I almost never do it myself. Well, sure enough, as I was writing away, letting words flow onto the page in an unregulated stream, my ideas started to take shape, and I began to see a way out of my tangle and block. And then as my focus became clearer, I started to get excited about the potential of the piece. When I finally stopped and read over what I had written, I could focus and organize the ideas I found there. I am still a long, long way from a finished piece, but now I know where I am going with it, and more or less how I will get there, which makes all the difference. I am happy about this, of course, and also slightly sheepish about the fact that I had forgotten or neglected this useful strategy that I blithely teach my students but tend to ignore in my own writing; I should listen to myself more often!

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