Day 9 – Slice of Life Challenge -Writing Badly with Ralph

imgres-3.jpgNietzche once wrote: “Much dung must be spread so that a single flower can grow.”

Reading from Ralph Fletcher’s Breathing In, Breathing Out this morning I choose the chapter called A Place to Write Badly. I loved  this thought. It made me relax into my writing. It made me not ashamed of my writing notebooks that are messy and crazy looking.

Fletcher commented that ” the notebook is where I spread my manure—I lay it on thick and moist. I figure I’m fertilizing the soil from which all my future writing will flower.”

Being a gardener I love this. I love the thought of ideas growing from my crazy notebooks. I love the thought that writing notebooks are the place to fail, the place to write badly. My notebooks have so much junk in them – stuff that I often think should be thrown away.  Just rip those pages out. I have learned not to do this.

I find instead if I can just let this junk sit for awhile (sometimes a long while – think compost bin) then when I return I can find the core of a good idea. I find rich soil ready to use. There is something there that needs to be tended and it can grow into a beautiful piece if I let it.

Like our students I often think the first thing I write should be great. I think that every thing we write will make sense. I know for a fact that this is just not true. We need to play with our writing, make mistake and try again.

If this is the case – we also need to remember to return to those old notebooks to find the hidden gems. This is something I don’t do as much as I should. It is also something I would forget to model with my students.

Showing our messy work is hard but it is valuable for students to see where we as writers fall short and how we return to our writing to look for places we can learn from, improve and develop.

It is a skill to develop with ourselves and our students – how to find parts of our old work to rewrite and improve. It is deeper than content editing. It is a bit different than going back and editing our work.

This is about taking a kernel of an idea and writing a whole new piece. I compare it to transplanting. When my little seeds are growing they often need a larger pot and transplanting.JPGdifferent soil to really develop into the beautiful plant I was hoping for. My ideas often need this transplanting as well.

So today I will take time to go back into my journals stuffed on my shelf and see what might be worth transplanting?

Do you review your journals for seeds of new writing? Do you teach this to your students?  Would love to know what you think.

Breathing In and Breathing Out: Keeping a Writer’s Notebook by Ralph Flectcher (1996)

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About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, help in schools and write. Life is good!
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6 Responses to Day 9 – Slice of Life Challenge -Writing Badly with Ralph

  1. arjeha says:

    Love this analogy. A notebook where words and ideas are nurtured and cultivated into a piece of writing.

  2. Love this analogy of composting, transplanting. I do this in a cursory way with my students – they have writing territories and other idea sections of their notebooks that I have them come back to, but this is a great reminder to be more intentional.

  3. This is maybe my favorite of Ralph Fletcher’s books, though it’s hard to pick just one! The transplanting metaphor is a gorgeous one for this work of revisiting the notebook, finding that kernel of an idea, and then working up a new piece. Glad to have discovered your blog today!

  4. Embekka says:

    What a great analogy to gardening! I have recently started keeping my notebooks, but I have not taken the extra step of looking back and choosing an idea. Thank you for sharing. It is something that I will try.

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