I used to try to teach people how to write...well they were high school students who most of the time didn't act like "people" but needless to say it paid the bills...at first...and then it became more. Trying to keep the attention of a room crammed full of teenagers while you discuss the finer points of essay writing is a challenge at best...impossible more often than not...and for the classes right before lunch...forget it.
But my task that year was to get these kids to write well enough to pass some sort of competency exam and never one to run away from a challenge I thought back to my own early days of writing...in a diary. Maybe if these kids could write unfettered by the rules of construction they would learn to enjoy it and then move on to mastering the rules necessary to prove to the school they were ready to graduate. I asked each student to get a notebook of any type they chose and to write in it about what they wanted...what they knew...what was important to them. Initially this assignment met with blank stares....seems they had never had the chance to write without restrictions except for the notes that I was expert at confiscatng and they were skeptical of any freedom to scribble their innermost thoughts and so they began timidly. I had few rules for them...nothing illegal...nothing profane...be yourself. And for me...I'd never read any of their entries to the class without the writer's permission.
Kids who couldn't grasp the construction of a topic sentence...who were lost oganizing a composition...who could not for the life of them write about how a work of literature applied to their lives began writing...and writing with passion. On the pages of these very different notebooks they came to life and their worlds were recreated for me to enter on page after page. I experienced their fears...hopes...dissapointments...their lives. By coming to know them better...I became a better teacher...a better person.
We began each day with writing in the notebooks that soon became tatterred and bulging. I invited them to write a topic on the board to spark ideas and was pleased day after day as anonymous writing appeared on the chalkboard (I date myself!) that was inspiring and thought provoking...and even humorous. None of the censorship rules were breached...this was writing they could relate to. Used to complaints about their behavior when I needed to be absent and they had a substitute I was cheered on when they complained to me about a substitute...she hadn not let them write in their journals and they were indignant!
Every Friday the students placed the notebooks in a cardboard box as they left the classroom. A student in the last class of the day was eager to carry the box to my car for me to read over the weekend. I drove to our weekend home every Friday with the journals in the trunk and I read them on Saturday and Sunday. No longer a "teacher chore" ...reading the journals was a pleasure as I watched their writing go from awakard and hesitant to confident and it became clearly evident that this had ceased to be an assngment for them...it was passion.
Fast forward many years and what did I write my first book about? Something I knew...something I was passionate about...the transformation of my life by a little adopted dog who on the luckiest day of my life agreed to be my dog. I think back to the diaries I received as a girl each Christmas...with lock and key where I recorded my girlhood in secret ...now my writing lives in the larger world...a dream realized to be a published author. Sadie my constant and loyal friend, companion, and muse continues to inspire me every day. I read e-mails to her that readers send...sharing our world...getting what we are about. Its priceless. Write about what you know...words are a way to make memories last forever.
Causes Patti Lawson Supports
All causes that are kind to people and animals.
Pets of the Homeless