I've been given the rare opportunity in this life to tell people--to teach people--what I know about writing. The bad news is that I seem to have missed a few boats on the writing bandwagon, which is a huge wagon these days with tons of people on it, some of whom don't actually write.
The other day, a colleague at my college told me that when responding to students' work, I should give them a compliment sandwich. I thought, Wow, I think I want to eat that.
Eventually, I realized what he meant was a tactic I already know--say something nice, say something true and likely devastating about the entire structure of the essay/story/poem, and then say something nice.
A few years back, another colleague liked to talk about scaffolding, which made me want to climb buildings. Lately, this whole idea of threading is in vogue, and that word makes me want to stitch up a hole in my sweater. Of course, building a solid structural base for an argument and employing transitions are great. But why all the metaphors?
Bottom line is that writing is hard and teaching it is hard. I know some people who really believe they know the best, true way to teach writing, and I can honestly tell you that I don't. I have some really good ideas and a lot of exercises that will sort of push a student around a bit and get the writing into shape, enough to: pass the class, get into a four-year university, not embarrass him or her on email.
But the rule about writing that is old and true and real is also boring, with no sandwich or sweater holes. It's about sitting down and writing. And writing. And then sharing it with someone who will tell you a few things, reactions mostly, because no one really knows what is good and lord knows, opinion out there isn't consistent. But then you go home and cry and then you write some more. Rinse and repeat.
The person you share with matters, though. I'm a good person to read to, I think, because I don't lie, but I'm not mean. I do not blow smoke up anyone's anything because that is actually mean. Letting someone walk out of my office with a false sense of security about a piece of writing is cruel. Telling someone her poem is good when it truly sucks doesn't help her, especially if she later reads it to her boyfriend who laughs. Out loud.
Yet we are hurt when we write because we don't say it the way we want to at first. that first bit is as ugly as my attempts at drawing a horse. I've never gotten better at that--my horses slumpy dog creatures--but my writing over the years has changed and morphed. And I do that very thing we know we have to do but wish we didn't--I sit down and write. For whom? I'm not sure. I just know I have to.
Causes Jessica Inclan Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org