Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers
Vita’s desk in the Writing Room in the Tower at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, near Cranbrook, Kent. Vita Sackville-West used this room to write her books, poetry and gardening articles.
That’s Vita Sackville West’s writing desk at Sissinghurst, and the building in which it sits overlooking the gardens of Sissinghurst Castle. This, to me, is the ideal writing spot, and I have always believed that I would be a much better writer had I a place like this to write every day.
I don’t, of course, but I found this summer to have been a rather wonderful writing summer anyway – I learned a lot about myself as a writer, and I found myself writing in new and unexpected ways. Some of what I learned works just for me as a writer, but I have a feeling my lessons could have implications for my classroom, as well.
Setting a specific time frame: I found it helpful to set aside a particular time stretch in which I knew I was free to write; there would be no interruptions either planned (they would always be set at another point in the day) or unplanned (I would work on having the discipline to ignore the phone, and turn off every single notification on my laptop). I started small (a half hour) and worked towards big (three hours – which is “big” for me!). Knowing that I had carved aside this time had an interesting effect, in that it allowed me to enjoy my non writing time without feeling guilty about gardening instead of writing, for instance. My writing time is very early in the morning, it’s when my writing brain seems to want to function in best. Even though this will have to change once school begins and I am on my way to work before 7 a.m., knowing this makes me want to reserve some time in my first prep period of the day for my own writing.
I think it would be helpful for my students to practice this at home with their Slice of Life writing. Perhaps by sharing my summer experience, and giving them a specific aspect of their writing life to think about, I can start them on the journey I’ve only just learned how to give timed structure to.
Looking for inspiration: As a pretty voracious reader, I tend to think of going to other writers for inspiration. Sometimes, though, picking up a book you love and re-reading a favorite passage tends to stifle my own urge to write and makes me feel self conscious about what I write – how am I ever going to write as well as Arundhati Roy? does the piece I’m working now sound too much like Arundhati Roy? This summer, I discovered that Instagram can be a fabulous source for writing ideas – many a friend’s glorious pictures of travel, food, and nature inspired me to imagine and then have a story to tell, or something to describe. Bodega Cats of Instagram, which I find hilarious, became a surprising source for storytelling ideas, for instance. I also discovered that podcasts were an excellent place in which to find essay topics. The thoughtful, history oriented Back Story, my podcast discovery of the summer, jump started essay pieces on everything from summer travels to the history of fake news (yes, we have suffered through this, too, before).
I want to get my students thinking more about where they could turn for inspiration, to look at their own forays into multimedia and social media and think (as even old I did) about how these might be reservoirs for writing ideas.
Experimenting: I had fun experimenting this summer. For a few weeks, I experimented writing a haiga every morning as a “flex your writing muscles” enterprise. Sometimes I shared these efforts on Instagram, most often I did not. I liked the fact that it was a task I set for myself for a short period of time, rather than some must do that would soon become tiresome…and therefore not done, which would cause writer’s guilt, which would (you get the picture). The only point of experimenting was to give myself a stress free way to try something new for a short period of time, and I loved it.
I need to think about how much space I give my own students to experiment this way. Again, I want to share my summer experiments with my kids and encourage them to find their own avenues to explore.
Giving my “lost voice” time to regroup: I had completely lost my teacher writing voice – the ability to write a cogent and organized piece for a site like Choice Literacy (which I write for). After many false starts and stops, I gave myself permission to give this voice a rest and allow it some time off. Last week, when my friend Kimberley Moran asked me to write a couple of pieces about things we had been discussing all summer, I hesitated at first. It had been a while, would I be able to write something good enough? I don’t know how good those pieces were, but I found that the writing muscle for this kind of writing had returned. It had needed some time off.
This is another point to discuss with my students in September. What kinds of writing do they feel they need to set aside for a bit to regroup, and to find pleasure in again?
Two weeks from today, I will be packing up all my notebooks and getting ready to head back to New Jersey and my teaching life. It has been a glorious summer, tailor made for me. I will have many lovely summer memories to hold onto in the whirlwind busyness of the school year, but I think I will hold on to what I learned about my writing life this summer for a long, long time.