Sunday, June 3, 2007

A Shallow Pool

I love to read, always have. I learned to read at an early age, and I read quickly and efficiently. I'll read almost anything -- novels, self-help books, childrens' books, chick lit, the backs of cereal boxes... I saw another blogger once refer to this as a "print slut," (I can't remember which blogger -- if this was you, let me know, and I promise I'll give you credit!) and that term definitely fits. I don't discriminate at all.

Writing, well, that doesn't come quite as easily. I was an English minor in college, but my courses mostly included reading requirements, not writing. I never really had the opportunity to hone my craft.

I took a poetry class in my senior year of college. One of the syllabus requirements was to keep a reflection journal based on the poems we read. Basically, the professor would assign a few poems, and we would have to read them, reflect, and write in the journal. The professor would collect them every three weeks or so to read our reflections. She met with each student mid-semester to discuss our reflections in the journal. I don't remember anything positive about this meeting. I only remember her criticisms; she didn't think my reflections were "deep" enough. Ouch. "What if that's as deep as I go?" I asked. She gave me a C on the journal.

This conversation has sat with me since our meeting, over ten years ago. It's present in my mind whenever I write something that I know others will read. In fact, it's on my mind even when I don't think others will read what I'm writing. I wonder if I'm writing "deep," and if anyone will care what I have to say. Maybe there's nothing "deeper" to me. It's hard to write with that in the back of your mind, because you are always holding back, wondering if what you're saying is worthwhile.

I read many other blogs. Really, you should check some of them out. I admire Bub and Pie's command of the English language, how every post sounds like poetry. Stacie from The Twinkies writes with such humor and honesty, I can't get enough of it. And Emmie's blog, Better Make it A Double, reads like a novel and is so interesting and informed. It's what got me interested in blogging in the first place.

Three summers ago, I became a fellow of the National Writing Project. One of the things we studied was how to "read like a writer." This was an important lesson for me. Here's the gist: whenever you read something, read it for content, of course, but step back from it and take a look at how the author crafted the piece. What makes it so good? How does the author use language to draw you in? If you learn some of the author's crafts, you can begin using them in your own writing. Once you learn to read in this way, you can't stop. Even when I'm reading books for my Book Club or on the beach, I'm noticing the way the author plays with language and how they paint images in my head. I remember it, and try it out myself. I read the other blogs in this manner, too.

My third grade students are required to keep a Writer's Notebook. They write in it almost every day, about all kinds of things. I tell them that they can write about whatever they want, and that these entries might someday be the seeds for their stories. They love it. I also tell them that becoming a good writer takes daily practice. Just like good piano players and good baseball players practice every day, so must a good writer. It's the only way to get better. But the truth is, I don't practice what I preach. I pretend I write every day for their sake, but I really don't.

So, I'm going to take my own advice and try to blog as often as I can. I'll hone my craft and learn to reflect. Maybe I'll find this pool goes deeper than I thought.

1 comment:

  1. I just bought a book about reading like a writer (I can't remember the author).

    In some ways, I think I'm TOO aware of the building blocks. I find it difficult to produce creative writing because I can't turn the analytical part of my brain off long enough. (I think I'd make a pretty good editor, though.)


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