Slice of Life: Writing Discomfort

“But I like my beginning,” he said. “Do I have to revise?”

“I felt the same way when I looked at the beginning of my essay. I liked it. But I tried out other ideas, knowing if I didn’t want a revised version, I could keep the old. Just try it, see what happens,” I told him.

As I plan tomorrow’s lesson on elaboration, I keep this conversation in mind.

Writers… help readers envision by telling the story bit by bit. I avoid this type of writing,  leaning toward images and ideas.  But tomorrow’s lesson wouldn’t let me get away with this choice.

How could this strategy possibly work for me in my draft? In a moment of desperation, I considered writing a new essay to fit this lesson.  Crazy talk.  Miserable and resistant as I was to this idea, I knew this was the time take my own advice: try it, and see what happens.

I dug in looking for a moment that was clear in my mind but not on the page. One that might benefit from a storyteller’s voice. I doubted it existed until this line popped out.

Standing in line he was ready for school, but when his mother left he transformed into a caged animal.

Had I not been scouring for this opportunity I would have left this line alone, but tonight in the spirit of trying it, I pull out my yellow drafting paper. And even though I don’t want to, I struggle through.

The boy’s eyes widened when his mother kneeled down. His lips trembled with her hug. His shoulders raised with her kiss and the teacher reached for his hand. Enraged, he bent back the fingers attached to that hand and ran toward his mother who had left the room. Down the hall, he ran until a chainlink fence trapped him inside. 

Hmm. Tomorrow’s lesson on elaboration is tonight’s lesson in writing discomfort. Writers learn while writing things that feel wrong; things that seem unnecessary.; things that are deleted. Tonight I value the process over product. Believing that builds the writer.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.



15 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Writing Discomfort

  1. It does seem so many lessons have to do with letting go, whether it’s words, ideas, or expectations. This was a lovely reminder of that.

  2. While I feel like being a writer makes me a better teacher of writing, I also feel that being a teacher of writing can make me a better writer–if I’m willing to dig in and overcome the resistance you mention. Thanks for reminding me of the power of “walking the walk” along with our students!

  3. Process not product – yes! – that’s the key to great writing. Your struggle with writing will validate your students’. I believe it was Kelly Gallagher who said that the students need to see us struggle, that there’s more value in that for their growth than anything else. They need to know writing doesn’t come easy or spill out in final, polished form for us, either. One of the hardest things for a writer is trying to reread one’s one work for clarity so that the reader isn’t confused or lost somewhere between point A and point B – finding those “holes.” Your focus on changing that line also made me think of the quote “You must kill all your darlings” (attributed to William Faulkner, not that I’d say this exactly to students, depending on their ages) about striking lines that we’ve written and are attached to, but that aren’t really helping the piece move along. Again, so hard to do. What a valuable experience to share with your students – here’s to your lesson today!

  4. These words resonated with me, “Miserable and resistant as I was to this idea, I knew this was the time take my own advice: try it, and see what happens.” Yes. It’s time. I love how you documented your struggle with this process and how it taught you, again, to value the process. What a teacher! What a writer!

  5. I always like your stories that make me feel like I am a fly on the wall. Today’s story allowed me to be a fly on the wall of your planning mind. So grateful for your honest sharing. I learn so much by “watching” you as you share your stories.So inspired.So glad you write and share!

  6. Writing teacher. Teacher writer. Teacher of writers. Teacher writing. Revising writing. Revising thinking. Revising teaching. Learning all the time. I wonder where your story will take the upset boy, or the boy will take your story.

  7. I love this, because I have learned it is about the process not the product of writing. I struggle with this myself and could connect to this in a similar way.

  8. Love this — it is so important to take our own advice. I know I am a better writing from having taught writing to kids. The strategies we teach them are just plain good — they work for all writers. This is a great example of process over product– can’t wait to read how the lesson went!! Thank you!

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