For those of you who don't already know, authors Kate Messner and Gae Polisner along with Jen Vincent from the blog Teach Mentor Texts are hosting a virtual writing workshop called "Teachers Write!" I love the concept of this workshop because it reminds us of the need to model a writing life for our students, not just teach it.
I have always wanted to write a novel so I had planned to participate in this workshop, but last week I started a two-week graduate course called "Teacher as Writer" that, given the title, basically utilizes the same concept as "Teachers Write!" And let me just tell you, this is the most liberating class I've ever taken in my life. I will be sad when it's over on Friday. We basically get credit for showing up and writing, every day, 9-3. And we get to choose our own writing projects. At first this was a bit unsettling because as the ever dutiful student, I wanted a syllabus, a calendar of due dates, and a rubric detailing how we would be graded... all the things students expect in college.
Instead, we come to class, start with a writing prompt that everyone signs up for one day to lead, and then spend the rest of the day writing and meeting with critique groups.
One of my classmates in my critique group, Zahra, wrote this piece that I'm posting here called "Why I Won't Write" and in addition to being absolutely brilliant, it will also induce tear-stained laughter. As she shared this piece with our critique group, we were roaring with laughter the entire time. She explained that her inspiration for the piece was because about 20 minutes into the first day of class, writing for such a sustained period of time became a kind of slow and unending torture. I figured most of us could relate and would appreciate the sentiment.
Why I Won't Write by Zahra Seyam
I must be the biggest fraud. An English “teacher” and lover of books, has trouble writing for a sustained period of time. I am a smiling Judas to my writing. I confess that at times, I wonder if I am committing the ultimate betrayal. I just never have the patience to sit and write. Procrastination becomes the drug of choice - “Surely, now is the time to check Wikipedia about the French revolution, or I wonder how I could create the largest vegan tarts? Hmm I’ll need to learn the chemistry RIGHT NOW.”
It’s not until the last minute that I scourge for moment to find a computer and frantically write. I’ve come to regard writing as a chore most like exercise: sporadically accomplished, problematically regulated.
Writing is like a muscle. It is the tendon that connects to nerves and pain through thought and expression. It has places of particular soreness whether insecurities of my sentence structures or word snafus.
Its proximity to pain and empathy renders it like the nerves and tissues that rupture and tear. And because I don’t practice it regularly or in moderation, easing into it is taxing and daunting. Monday’s class proved one thing - this writing muscle is a sloppy, cottage cheese ridden hot mess. Yes, I know the benefits of this exercise, and I’ve hypocritically shelled out all the advice to everyone, “Walter Mosby says he needs to write every day to stay sharp.” “Writing and reading go hand in hand.”
So what is the problem? Why won’t I write? Freud wrote that the subconscious minds reveals the trauma and desires that won’t be expressed. His seminal work recognized that the psyche itself was a text that manifested itself through our phobias, repetitions, fetishes, and bizarre behaviors. So why am I self-sabotaging? Am I scared of what I can become? Perhaps worries that I do not have the witty repertoires and anything worthy to say. There must be a fear of failure or worse, what if I work so hard and still fall short into mediocrity. The old adages of “there are no losers because at least you tried” are apparently too trite for my ego. Instead I succumb to the debilitating comfort of laziness.
“I would go to Pilates but I’m just so busy” (As I post this on tumbr).
“I should totally get around to writing that novel - and I totally could if I wanted - but I’m ever so busy experimenting with pastry dough and re-watching Game of Thrones.”
Why push yourself? Why can’t I just bloody do it?! The fear of putting ideas into writing is too official, too real, too naked, and too much work. I can distinctly recall a once frequently visited Jillian Michael’s DVD where she ominously barked at me,
“ 30 minute workout means no rest. Take a second if you need - but ONLY a second. No breaks, we want to put pressure on your body to force it to change. It’s going to hurt. It’s going to suck, but it takes 30 days to build a habit and by then it’s won’t be so bad.”
Yes, all right I understand the truth. One cannot help but notice the parallels of truth spouting from a TV trainer in spandex. Trying to control the monkey mind and harbor him on paper can become mind numbingly painful. The agony of control takes over. Suddenly, the wrist becomes unbearably sore. The keyboard is a bed of daggers. The chair sits ready to hold you down for shock treatment. And my eyes become soooo heavy. SO. DRY. They burn like Odysseus after gouging his own eyes after recognizing the product of his truth. The fear of failure rings menacingly like an unsuspecting threat sitting and waiting to pull you back. Where is the runner’s high for writers? No, we only have revisions, editing, and consumption. We only have an emblem of a moment or thought that can look repulsive tomorrow. I am too scared to become as Dr. Frankenstein-tied to a horrific vision of myself-signified by my monster and haunted by my creation. So what can be done?
This muscle is lazy. This muscle needs to sweat. This muscle writes like it is chubby and easily out of breath. It needs no fad diet, no shake weight or Ab flex machine.
Vladimir Nabokov placed note cards near his pillow at night where he took down notes whenever inspiration hit. His nightmares, visions, his fantasies could not wait for the right time or place. They couldn’t wait for the right excuse. No waiting for a laptop, a better pen, or the morning light. He is my daily affirmation; he is my writing fitspiration.