Sunday, February 06, 2005

Writer, know thyself

In my other online life (where I teach writing and help moms teach writing here), I am experiencing a tidal wave of input about the process of writing and teaching that helps me to stay connected to what writing is like for most mortals.

I remember when I began writing for the outside world (not just school papers, but for magazines and newsletters, as a ghost writer and editor, in my attempts to publish a children's book that I wrote with all of my heart), I called on my mother's robust talent and optimism. As a published author (of some 50+ books now) and writing instructor for more than thirty years, I trusted her and knew she'd have writing resources for me to use as I honed my raw skills. She was my first writing teacher, after all, and remains my best.

The first two books she suggested:
    Writing with Power by Peter Elbow
    Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

I had a similar reaction to both—hey, they write the way I write! I had no idea that writers might have similar experiences of the writing process. It was not only a relief (don't we all want validation that how we do things is "normal"?) but it was also empowering. I felt like I had joined a vast current of written self-expression and that I belonged. I didn't need to "get published" as much as I needed to keep writing.

Just this week, one of my student moms wrote that her college writing class had used Writing with Power as their primary college writing text. She shared how freewriting, positive feedback and no grading had given her the courage to explore writing on another level—the level of writer's voice.

Then she wrote the following sentence that knocked my socks off:
When this teacher helped me find my voice, he helped me find me.

Only a grim administrator would roll her eyes worried that the "objectives for a writing class had not been met."

What is it about the educational environment that causes us to distrust our voices, that urges us to shed ourselves in favor of "objectivity" and "rules based writing" that are as unattainable as being made prom queen at forty? Wouldn't it be glorious to find out that through writing, we could know ourselves, we might awaken to who we are at a more profound level? That's education worth paying for!

I couldn't help but think about the relationship between writing, knowing self and religion. Insofar as faith leads people to a deeper, more honest self-knowledge, I applaud it. But so often, it mimicks bad writing classes—filled with rules, impossible-to-achieve results, criticism by "experts" and a denial of the self that the religious community invited to join to begin with.

I wonder if we can find our "spiritual" voices through free-faith, positive feedback and no grading of our sins? What if we were encouraged to shed our beliefs for awhile and focus on what's true? What if our very lives became freewrites wherein we helped each other find our voices, and thus find our selves?


australisa said...

The last paragraph sounds postively lovely.

But it would be labeled as d-a-n-g-e-r-o-u-s by those who think that being caught dead at the "wrong" point in free faith would result in eternal damnation.

Eternal destiny is the trump card. It comes before everything, even sanity.

WordyKaren said...

Loved this blog, Julie, and thanks for the gracious comment about me, your first writing teacher!

I have always contended that when we find our voice we find ourselves--though I never phrased as your student did. What a wonderful acknowledgment of you.

Love, Mom