Learning to write

Slice of Life logoThe clock said 4:12 – that is 4:12 in the morning. The dark was still upon us, the cold still outside, my husband sound asleep and I should be sleeping but my mind was spinning about how I am learning to write. How in my aging years I am really learning to write. Maybe we are always learning to write.

Here is what my clouded early morning brain reflected on and realized:

When little I told stories all the time. Who knows if they were good stories I just like to talk and I like to create stories. I know my mother said many times: write them down (most likely to get me to shut up but still). I thought: Wow, she said I should be a writer. I melted at the thought. Me a writer? Please!

I would wonder off to write my stories and reality set in. I could not write. I could not spell. The letters went never got onto the paper in the right order. The words were there in my head but I had no clue how to write them. So the great descriptors were dropped. The power of language lost. The sentence – I raced down Mississippi road on my scarlet Schwinn Starlet – turned into I rode my bike. It was clear to me I was no writer and never would be.

Next step was Junior high – reading, writing and acting for a year or two with supportive teachers. Maybe I could do this thing call writing but spelling still created a wall every time I thought beyond a simple sentence.

High school, college and life continued on. The idea of writing got put away with a large old Merriam-Webster dictionary. Until somewhere in my years of teaching I found myself writing with my students. I found myself part of the Minnesota Writing Project. I found myself writing with a couple published articles to my name. I found myself with a computer with spell check and a on-line resource of words.

I discovered that I couldn’t write fiction stories right then but was writing about my students. Non-fiction, observation writing came easier to me.

Currently I am beginning to write about myself, my experiences and my thinking. This is new to me. I have never been able to write personal journals or personal stories but now they are floating to the surface of my thinking and spilling onto the page. The ease of technology has allowed me to step past the spelling struggles. (The cute little red line that lets me know my letters are in the wrong order is a dream. The on-line dictionary and research is a marvel.  All those wondrous words are there for the looking.)

This process of writing for me has been slow, and fraught with self doubt. My spelling is terrible and my sentence structure often flips from the standard flow of things but the ideas are there, the content is there and the stories are building again in my minds eye.

All this early morning thinking has led me to wonder about our students. We ask them to write what they know. “Write about your life” and often they still don’t write.

I love that teachers today are stopping to watch their students. Stopping to ask why a student is not writing –

  • is it hard to write a personal story
  • is easier to write about something you have observed around you
  • is it that you need to begin by writing fiction
  • do we need to enrich the reading life of a writer
  • is writing hard because of conventions – spelling, sentence structure, grammar
  • is it the use of a pencil/pen – does a computer make a difference
  • is our young writer being supported for their ideas and content – we can edit later

Writers come to the process in so many different ways and with so many different experiences. Some of those experiences help us and others create walls that block our expression.

Being a writer ourself helps us know what it takes to teach writing. It helps to see where our students are succeeding and where they are running into walls.

Thanks writing teachers for being writers yourself and not just handing out that piece of paper and saying write.





About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, help in schools and write. Life is good!
This entry was posted in Reflection, writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Learning to write

  1. arjeha says:

    Wow! No wonder you were awake so early whit these thoughts swimming around in your head. I remember that as a boy I enjoyed writing, strange I know. Somewhere in high school something happened that totally turned me away from writing. It was years until I got back to it. It wasn’t until I connected with out local Writing Project and went through the Summer Invitational that I thought of myself as a writer.

    • Yeah for Writing Projects around the country! The summer program is the best and I know so many people who have returned to writing because of this experience. Glad you are writing!

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