There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. ~Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith
"I don't know what to write about," is a common complaint of a student writer before being a student in my class.
After only a few days in my classroom, my students can now complete that sentence with a yet.
"Just take what you want to say and write it down," I tell my students.
They are more than eager to share the load in my ear but I shake my discerning head and close my eyes and point. To the page.
They would rather tell me. It's quicker and easier. I feel it more now, after having taught a class of 20 students last year, there are now ten more young people vying for my ears in the same 4 x 4 space.
I continue to shake my head from left to right. I tap my finger on the blank page. Their eyes are as glazed as the reflection of light on the white page with faint blue lines.
"There are two methods you need to use when you write," I say, as I hold up two fingers for my visual learners. The two fingers not only stand for the two methods I'm about to share but also to symbolize "peace." Writing does not have to be so painful.
I inform them of these methods with a lower pitch of my voice and the most serious teacher's face I can muster.
"Would you like to know about these two methods that will make your life as a writer much easier?" I egg them on and borrow acting basics from my brother who spent at least two decades as "Jake" from the soap opera "Another World."
I have their interest as they shout "yes" in unison.
I answer quite briefly. The "POP" method and the "BIC" method. I finally have some of the most discerning students' attention. Many have eyebrows raised in confusion.
Various students begin to shout their best acrostic guesses. "Perfection, Opinion, Precise." Good, but not even close. "Better Informed Creativity?" another student guesses.
"I like the acronym, but no."
My students try with a few more of the most dazzling answers until I simply say, POP, "pencil or pen on paper" and "BIC," bottom in chair, or for the more mature adult reader, butt in chair.
Note: the POP method can quickly be translated for us 21st century learners to the FOK method, Fingers On Keys.
Chins drop. Sighs released. They are not at all impressed.
Yet, those methods are the passport to writing.
I don't yet mention the revision and editing process as they will eventually travel to that least desired locale. But if they don't have anything on the paper to revise and edit, the whole writing period is as successful as sitting in an airport for endless hours watching planes take off, without a boarding pass.
So, each day, I write something on the board to jump-start my students' writing. A favorite place to go? Or the prompt to tell me about a time they stuck up for someone. Sometimes it's just a word, like "bridge." Or a quote I want them to dissect. And sometimes more, a doodle they can turn into a picture and write about.
One of the things that irks me most about teaching is the number of children that come into my class stating they hate to write. We have made writing such a laborious process, focusing so much on conventions and strategies (and trust me, I know we need to know this stuff but once again, strategies and conventions are more difficult to teach with no writing on a page) that it parallels as much enjoyment as having a tooth pulled.
Yes, I know firsthand that not all of what we learn in school should be fun and games. "Students need to be disciplined. They need to learn that school is a vehicle to which they will succeed. School is their job." Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know, I know!
But I am their teacher this year. And I want them to not only have the essential tools to write, the "writing process," but the ability to understand that what they have to say is worth listening to, or reading.
No, the creative approach to writing is not the only way. And it may not necessarily create future Steinbecks. But maybe it will.
What it can do is turn kids on to the process of writing. The opportunity to share what's inside and to value what they have to say—long after we require it within the confines of a classroom.
Writing gives my students an opportunity to say what's on their mind and express how they feel about being in our world, their world. For some, the shield of white paper takes away their vulnerability, which allows me, the reader, their teacher, to have a better understanding of what really makes this kid tick.
I'm also inspired by other teachers who share their enthusiasm for writing. People like Erin Gruwell who was played by Hilary Swank in the movie "Freedom Writers."
As a new teacher, Gruwell is quickly challenged by "at-risk" students, known as "unteachables." She not only meets opposition from her students, but also has a hard time convincing her department head to let her teach students with books—in case they get damaged and lost. She's told to focus on teaching them discipline and obedience.
So instead, she has them write. And the segregation and fights amongst them dissipate as each is given the opportunity to tell their story. To be heard.
The common thread between Gruwell's students and mine is the hope of what an empty composition book promises. Full of possibilities, the stories of their lives unfold. Worth reading.