- Books, Literature, and Writing
Proven Teaching Techniques to Improve in Writing Skills
Identity: Are You a Writer?
Being a writer is not just something you do, it’s a part of who you are, woven into your physical self by your DNA. I remember how easy it used to be, what a necessity it was to write down all my observations, from the time I can remember. Indeed, I cannot remember notknowing how to write. I remember how all my creations came tumbling out, fully formed. All right, many were not beautiful; many were lame. Some, a small percentage, came out perfect. I loved them all, though. In fact, I remember, as a teen, writing in my journal about that very fact – loving all my poems, no matter how deformed they were, because they sprang from love: love of humanity, of human endeavors, but, mostly, love of the word, of language. I never revised. They each were what they were, what they were supposed to be. I did, though, revisit themes and birthed new, usually better, poems on them.
So, when did writing become so difficult? In thinking about this now, in my more mature form, I realize that it seemed easy because I dedicated time to writing. As I wrote above, creating was the strongest, most primal of urges. I put everything aside when an idea came to me and wrote that idea down, nursed it until it was grown. I didn’t need to revise because every new journal entry, no matter how short, every new writing assignment, led to a new, complete essay, short story or poem. In a certain sense, everything I wrote was a revision, an edit of a previous piece. Who I was (a writer) and what I did (writing, creating) were united and, most significantly, they were both important to me and this led to the one thing that makes writing not only easy, but good (and, ultimately, maybe even great): practice.
Practice Makes Perfect: Nurture Your Talent
In order to do anything well talent alone is never enough. You need to nurture, feed that talent. In other words, you need to practice. But, how? After all, our lives are so crazy busy; if you’re anything like me, you probably feel you’re running all the time and the last thing you have the energy to do at the end of your day is to think, or worse, to think and then write it down. What you have to do is create the space in your life for writing. Here are three pointers for creating that space to nurture your talent and your craft:
1. Keep a journal or writer’s notebook.
“A writer’s notebook is like that ditch [that the author dug when he was a child and where he noticed various small creatures had been caught] – an empty space you dig in your busy life, a space that will fill up with all sorts of fascinating little creatures. If you dig it, they will come. You’ll be amazed by what you catch there.” (Ralph Fletcher in A Writer’s Notebook/Unlocking the Writer within You)
Notebooks Catch Your Ideas
Personally, I keep a very small notebook in my pocketbook and another in my teaching bag. These notebooks are my catch-alls for random thoughts and brainstorming, from the mundane (e.g., “remember to buy milk today”) to ideas for stories or articles or lines to work into a poem. I stopped buying pretty, hardbound journals because I feel the pressure to live up to their artistic quality is just too much; I never wind up writing in them! Instead, I pick up plain, college-ruled notebooks during the back to school sales or at the dollar store and this frees me up simply to write, without caring very much whether it becomes a great article or remains schlock.
iPods Make Great Electronic Notebooks!
However, if your inspiration comes while you’re driving or washing dishes, perhaps a physical writer’s notebook is not for you. How about recording your thought on your phone or your MP3 player? That way you can still capture the inspiration while it’s fresh and transfer it to a notebook or your computer later. Whatever you do, don’t turn your writer’s journal, notebook, or MP3 recorder into a diary! According to Ralph Fletcher, in A Writer’s Notebook/Unlocking the Writer within You, a writer’s notebook “gives you a place to write down [your reactions]…to live like a writer…wherever you are, at any time of day.” [italics are Ralph Fletcher’s]
2. Dedicate a specific time and place for writing.
Buddhists call our busy, everyday minds “monkey mind.” It means the distracted state we are usually in, focusing on our mental To Do lists. In order to practice writing, you need to find a quiet place and time so that you can focus. For me, it’s usually very early in the morning, before anyone else in the house is awake and before I have to start getting myself (and everyone else) ready for the day. When my life is organized and going well, this means 4 a.m., when I can dedicate two full hours to simply being, without feeling exhausted or rushed. When my life is a bit chaotic, it’s more like 1 a.m., after an unplanned catnap (i.e., after I’ve fallen asleep with my daughter, while scratching her back and singing or talking her to sleep). Whenever works for you, make sure that it’s a time and place that won’t make you think about all the things you’ve left undone. And, whatever you do: don’t turn on the TV or radio!
3. Find your writer’s community.
The last ingredient for nurturing your talent and craft as a writer is community. Whether you find an online community like Cultural Book (www.culturalbook.com) or HubPages (www.hubpages.com) or a local writer’s group (Grub Street is a great place to take writing classes and to meet other writers – www.grubstreet.org – or else, how about creating your own group?), a community of fellow writers will give you a sense of purpose, help you renew your dedication to carving space in your life for your writing, and, perhaps most importantly, give you feedback and positive constructive criticism to help you improve your writing.
If you’re still not sure that you can commit to a regular practice of writing, think about it this way: you go to the gym (or do some other regular activity), don’t you? Creating these three spaces in your life – a writer’s notebook, a specific time and place, and joining (or starting!) a writer’s community – is giving your craft a workout, whether you do it for 15 minutes a week or 3 hours a day, just as going to the gym gives your body a workout or going to church once a week keeps your spirit in tune. Best of all, it reaffirms your love for your whole self, whether you write because it’s in your DNA, for yourself, or because it’s your job, to support yourself and your family.