2011/365/058: Write Anything

Today marks my first post on Write Anything, an international website by writers, for writers helping people from all over the world and of all ages to, well, write anything. I’m honored to be a contributing writer, and I’ll be encouraging writers of all ability and experience levels to delve into the genre of creative nonfiction (personal essay, memoir specifically) and, as a result, live more authentically in everything else they do.

The first thing I encourage writers to do in my opening post is to write first for themselves. Because so much emphasis in our society has been placed on the final product (and then on what you did wrong in that final product), we’re taught to shy away from any type of writing in fear of judgment, failure, and all-out ridicule.

The truth is, though, that for most people who write, they share maybe 10% to 15% of what they write with a larger audience, if that. Yep– 85% to 90% of what we write never makes it to an audience bigger than one.

That’s not the way writing is taught in school, though. Nearly every writing assignment we offer our students is product-based with a pending evaluation. Although there is sound reasoning for assessment on some pieces, I think schools have really missed the opportunity to allow our children to embrace writing as a tool for discovery, exploration, risk-taking, and decision-making.

Instead, we send our young learners the message that writing is–and will always be–an evaluative reflection of yourself. There is no room for “shitty first drafts” as Anne Lamott calls them in her book Bird By Bird. There’s not even room for raw writing, brain drains, freewrites, or reflections that are just between the writer and the page. Everything, it seems, has to be evaluated.

Therein lies the inherent flaw, ladies and gentlemen. If everything we write faces evaluation, we will always consider writing as a tool by which others will judge us. We will not take risks. We will not challenge conventions. We will not write outside the lines. We need better-than good grades nowadays for colleges to even consider keeping our applications in the Maybe We’ll Consider You pile. There’s no time to be ourselves; it’s all about going through the hoops and generating the generically approved product that demonstrates little more than our ability to follow instructions and play nicely with others.

Writing is so much more than that. As individuals, as human beings for goodness sake, we need to get out of the ruts of manufactured writing and blaze a new path that embraces writing as a genuine tool for growth, understanding, and authentic living.

I hope you follow me and the other writers at Write Anything. This site is for all of us who still have the courage to pick up a pen and spend a few minutes scribbling on some parchment. And don’t worry. We don’t track you, follow you, or have any expectations except one: that you will write, and that you will trust yourself as the sole owner of those words.

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7 thoughts on “2011/365/058: Write Anything

  1. Bravo!
    My college freshmen journal “NWP-style”. They understand that my goal is to get them comfortable with words. That’s it. They quickly find out that they have great thoughts that come with it. Most of my students are fearful of words beyond ones that they have used in a text or email. Where else can they try out some words and not worry about the RED PEN?! ISI- all the way!; can you tell?
    My question: What do you say, do, or hint, to those profs that grade and change wording on journal pages? (I know the thought is like hearing fingernails scraping a chalkboard, while already nauseated.) But, I know some that do. What do you say? What do you do? (I’ve thought about crying in front of them.) Any help here? These are English Profs that feel they are only helping a student along the way (sad *sigh). It negates the ‘write for yourselves’ concept that you, Rus taught and tell so well.
    CIndy

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  2. Last summer, I reached out to Ed White, long-time national writing guru of assigning and responding to writing (buy his books!). Well, as I see it, the school-type of writing is, as we all know, a rhetorical form that all students need to help them analyze not only writing but create inquiry questions and answers (themes) about any type of art or intellectual body of work. White, though, says that twenty percent (who’s counting) of school writing should be ungraded and unscrupulized. In terms of grading, he stresses a 1-6 system and portfolios, of course.

    Eamon, my son, is pulling on my leg to go out in the snow, so gotta run.

    E

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  3. Thank you Russ for the reminder that writing is so much more than a 5 paragrpah essay. It is because of my Maryland Writing Project experience of daily writing and journaling that I am now an avid day book “facilitator” for my students. We are just moving to class blogs as I humbly usher students into 21st century writing skills. I further appreciate the invitation for me to remember to write for myself and a space for that to happen – Write Anything. I am excited and encouraged for myself and for my students and our mutual prospects.

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  4. Working with schools and with corporate/governmental/association institutions, I have been concerned with how to position writing tasks to today’s K-12 learners. Intrestingly, they believe the press about themselves — multitaskers, electronic, non-hierarchical associationistic thinkers. Much of this is true, but brings both blessings and curses. Of late I have been counseling teachers to teach (real) business writing in content areas other than English (and even there). Reports, proposals, press releases, laboratory notes, letters of reference, complaints and so on. My graduate employed marketing students have provided a list of the work they are required to write, and it includes these things. Schema- and metacognitive-based writing requirements comprise much of real business writing, so teaching the K-12s the “bones,” structure or headings of the required products may have payoff in both the short and long run. This shift in emphasis may well produce a better response to creative writing, and we need that badly — literature, poetry, criticism and their cousins may again gain some visibility and attention by the public. Perhaps it’s worth a try.

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  5. As a reading teacher of grades 2-12, I find that students really enjoy free-writing once they get beyond their initial mistrust of teachers. I have read some absolutely beautiful writings from my students when they have written fearlessly. My own children are ages 43, 42, and 32 and they amaze me because each of them is currently writing something (Write anything!)–a memoir, a children’s book, and musical lyrics. I have always told my own children and my students to just put the pen on the paper an start writing. I works! I am encouraged to pick up that memoir I started 7 or 8 years ago and let it flow.

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  6. Thanks, all, for chiming in on this all-important topic.
    Cindy: I actually have a situation like this happening right now. The best thing you can do is argue passionately about the time and place for such grading. Don’t make it personal; make it all about the need for our writers to have a place to go without that judgment. Convince them that, in your professional training and experience (put on your T-C hat here), when teachers encourage this type of writing, it makes the students appreciate more the assignments that will be evaluated for content and conventions…
    Ed: Good thoughts…We encourage our students to add “raw” or personal writing to their portfolios, comprising up to 25% of the contents. This also puts evaluation in the hands of the students as well, giving them a greater sense of the process of writing.
    Pam: That’s awesome that you will be doing blogs in the classroom! We did this a few years ago with our photo II students, and we just made sure that the network was closed to avoid outside idiots from commenting on the student work…
    Jack: Putting “real” content writing in the hands of the content areas is the way to go. Let them guide the students into real-world writing applications where they have an authentic audience that requires they communicate effectively. Love it.
    Linda: Great advice for all of us, and I am thrilled that you are picking up your Memoir! Enjoy writing, and when you want to share, know that there’s an audience waiting whenever you are ready!

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  7. Young writers’ ideas esxplode when given non-threatening, conducive environments to put their thoughts in written form.

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