Aiding in the Flow

As I’ve been writing my memoir, I’ve been slowly learning to flow more, rather than just struggling to produce something  that’s halfway decent as I complain that I can’t do it. A recent comment on one of my blog posts told me that listening to one song over and over again can sometimes help get the ideas flowing. This lead to me searching other tips to help me

over come writers block, as i suffer from it horribly. Much of what it offers are general tips: go for a walk, read a book, take a break. If you’re anything like me, the last thing you think about as being helpful is just shoving off the responsibility to do something else, especially if you’re working against a deadline.

One of the tips I thought was really helpful was to write for about 15-30 minutes before bed to get the idea into your subconscious. I practiced this, and when I woke, I did find that I had new ideas to bring into my memoir the following day which has been helpful to my process.

Beyond that, I also attempted to follow the one song on repeat tip, and I did find it useful if I dedicated myself to a collection of songs within one genre like classical, etc. Just listening to one song over and over lead to me singing along rather than having the repetition melt into the background. One playlist in particular that helped me can be found here:Classical Music Playlist. Really, all of these things are just brief ways to help get me on the process of really working on my Unfamiliar genre project, they aren’t sure-fire methods to make me write. I know that all comes down to my own motivation and desire to write. This project will get done, it’s a matter of really digging into the flesh oft his project and make sure I finish it all off strong. If all goes to plan, I’ll push through my writers block, in the humorous spirit of Calvin and Hobbs, this memoir is going to get written, and I am going to have one hell of a project to present in about a week. This is, if all goes to plan…

It’s almost to the end of this project anyhow; off to finish this  with my new artillery of tools and techniques in hand and before I know it, I’m going to be done with all of this. Here we go…

Rules to Flow as a Writer; Morning Pages: 2/23

Oh man, how do I even begin to try and explain my rules for working toward ‘flow’ as a writer? You may think: Well Alex, just write them out. It can’t be that difficult for you. I can tell you that you are terrifically wrong. Why? Because I don’t have rules. At least not ones that are set in stone. That would entail that I’m super proactive about writing, and while I enjoy it immensely, that would be a lie.

Really I follow the phrase: “Shut up and get on with it” more than having a set of rules to get me started. Much of the time, I get hit with the desire to write above all else, or I’m walking around outside and I imagine my characters walking beside me. When I begin to think of how they would react in my own personal situations, that is usually when I am struck with the desire to write. This is problematic because it doesn’t happen all the time, and when it does, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to make me write, or produce good writing. I suppose if I’m going to make myself want to write, more for a scholarly purpose than anything, I like to give myself a quiet space to work, generally my bedroom. I’ll make sure I have music on in the background and that the only light in my room is either natural daylight or soft Christmas lights. It is much more about my environment than it is about the drive to write, really. Once I’m in the right place to start writing it usually comes naturally, but it does determine how easy or difficult it is to write depending on the content I am writing about.

Once I begin to write, I really try and focus on producing my best work, depending on what it is I am meant to be working on. It may be difficult, but I constantly remind myself that I can produce something good. I suppose if I’m attempting to define a rule that I use to help myself flow as a writer, it would be that—constant encouragement. I have to remind myself that while it may  not be the best work I can produce, it’s better than not writing at all. That’s what editing is for, right?

Writing isn’t easy, and it is especially difficult when I struggle to feel confident in my work, but it’s a continual journey rather than a final polished piece. I don’t have rules, and I wouldn’t expect other writers to have them either. Writing is too much of a free idea to have rules. Why should I try and confine it?

 

Another Update on Progress

I’ve actually started writing (can you image?) and I thought I’d take to my blog and work toward my 1000 word quota for this week. So as I have talked about my struggles and desperate hopes when it came to this project, I figured that I should talk about what this has taught me as far as my position as a future teacher.

More than anything, I’ve learned to be empathetic of the struggle writing in a genre that is new to you, or one that you may not understand as well, during this project. I cannot express how eye opening this was for me. Being a writer, I often struggle to understand why people hate writing or why they struggle to get into the process of it. God, to I feel stupid looking back on that kind of thinking. I should have already understood this, knowing how I feel when  someone tries to force me into writing poetry, but I hadn’t thought about it much before now. Now, looking back at the struggles I have faced as a writer during this point in my process, I will never again wonder why my future students struggle with writing. In fact, I am going to work my hardest to clarify what is expected of my students and do my best to help them through their struggles. While it is going to be expected that they write and complete their projects, I can work with them to better understand why they’re writing—that was always a large issue for me when I was in high school.

I especially want to utilize the discussion based techniques that are mentioned in Comfort Zone in my own classroom if I use this classroom. Since much of this project is centered around student discovery, the discussion of different genres seems to central and important to the project. I know how much discussion helps me and it reminds the students that the learning they are coming onto is all from their own processes. I would act as a resource to my students rather than an “all-knowing” type of figure, there when they need me, but not to lecture at them. I want my students to understand that I am a human too and that I can struggle just as much as they may when I’m facing a new form/genre of writing. This is why wobbling with my students will be just as important as focusing on the discussion of their discovery. Perhaps, as they discuss I can bring in examples of my own writing in a new genre to aid them in more realistic examples rather than expecting them to go out and find examples in random texts.

Really my biggest interest would be how I would modify the project to mean the needs of a ninth grade class, as that is the youngest I would like to teach in the future. The technology piece may be interesting to incorporate into the classroom, as it’s becoming increasingly more present nowadays, but I wouldn’t expect them to write nearly as much, though I would want them journaling daily. I would still want them to use most aspects of this projects as outlined in Comfort Zone, but I would focus on making it less complex or having so many pieces to the project.

Really, the project is applicable to all ages, and I plan on using my experience with it in my future classroom with my students, regardless of their age. There is a lot to be learned from this project in general and I see it as highly applicable to kids in high school.

A Letter to Me; Morning Pages 2/21

Dear me,

I want to mention that you’re really stuck right now. Like REALLY stuck. I mean you’re stuck to the point that you feel like your feet are in concrete and there is no way to move forward. But that’s okay. I think it’s part of the process (or at least I genuinely hope that it is). Maybe I should focus on what I’m writing right now, as far as this project goes, instead of focusing on how stuck you are. Really you haven’t started writing anything down, but you have been brainstorming, jotting little notes on scraps of paper when you can find them or when you actually feel a progression of ideas. That may not seem like much, but it is something. That’s how the writing process has always worked for you, so it’s obvious that you  aren’t doing nothing.

So you’re at the start of your process and I know you may be throwing you hands up in the air, or pulling at your own hair screaming, “WHEN WILL I GET THIS DONE???”, but that isn’t what’s important. What’s important is knowing that you’ve begun and that you aren’t sitting around doing absolutely nothing, though I’m sure it feels that way. You’re lacking motivation to actually write this stuff down. On a computer. Beyond those basic scraps of paper. I think your biggest problem is that you need help in starting. This doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s how you have always been when it comes to writing anything—even the stuff you do during your free time—the stuff you do for fun. So of course a school project is going to make you feel like you’re in an immovable pile of sludge. Overcoming your own wariness to write is the biggest step in this progress. This has always been your biggest problem and this project is no different. I know once you start there will be no stopping you from moving forward and getting through the rest of this project.

Hell, think of it more as a fun piece you’re writing rather than a school project, because really, it is much better than any school project that you’ve had to do in the past. This kills those dumb five paragraph essays you had to write in high school up to now. Yeah, you may not know how to do it as well as those, but I can say that you will be able to produce something good. You always do. You know you’re a good writer (you kind of need to be with the major you’ve chosen, right?).

Don’t doubt yourself so much  and just start writing.

Sincerely,

The only positive side of you 😉

Brain Block in Writing

I’m sure I’m not alone in my struggle, but it always feels strange knowing that I need help. It’s made worse when I’m not sure what I’m struggling with either. I have my genre chosen. I have found different examples of said genre (that being memoirs). I have examined them and figured out what makes them a genre on their own. I have done all that seems necessary to understand what makes them tick, what makes them memoirs, and yet I’m still stuck, not sure what I’m even meant to write about, beyond the overarching questions given to guide this project, of course. Who am I meant to ask? Since I have chosen a genre that seems so focused on the personal, it doesn’t seem easy to ask someone else for guidance. It isn’t my memoir if someone else’s opinions have changed my own, is it?

I should mention stopping points, or focus more on what I am struggling with. Over everything else, I’m struggling with how I’m meant to show rather than tell, as that is one of the key parts of a memoir. It is easy to write down your opinion, much like I’m doing at this point, but its another thing entirely to expand beyond that. To bring the reader into the situation I’m writing about. More than that, I have to work on focusing on an expansive period of time in my memoir, without any of it seeming rushed or overlooked. Because my memoir will focus on all of my experiences during school, I am struggling to focus on each point. That and I have to try and remember the events in great enough detail to convey them to my readers; they need to be brought into that present moment so they can better understand my perspective. I’ve also got to work on creating myself as a character. This adds to the showing rather than telling aspect that all memoirs. This piece is difficult for me as well, considering the fact that I want my memoir to jump across a large span of time. I need to focus on what I was like as a young child, possibly as young as nine years old, when I was first entering high school and experiencing honors level classes, and myself as a second year college student. I’m struggling with how I am meant to  change the voice of my memoir that many times.

This struggle results in a lot of frustration on my own part. Mostly because my identity as a writer is being challenged with this project. It isn’t often I don’t feel confident in what I’m writing and this project is constantly challenging that (see the long winded paragraph above for more on this thought…). The problem with this, it that being frustrated going into writing, or anything in your life for that matter, never produces the best work I know that I can produce. Even as I’m writing this blog post, I’m frustrated at the thought of making sure I’m hitting my weekly word count as well as trying to express what happens to my other writing. Just look back at this entire post to get a good idea of what happens when you try and write while you’re frustrated… Aside from my blog post of frustration, the same thing is happening as I write for my unfamiliar genre project. I’m not sure of myself, I’m not pleased with what I’m creating because I know it’s work coming from frustration rather than inspired desire to put my thoughts onto paper, and I know that it’s simply not my best work.

Beyond having work that simply isn’t very good, the frustration that I am experiencing makes me not want to work on my writing in general, be that blog posts, the unfamiliar genre project, or my own personal writing projects. This lack of interest in writing is disappointing to me, as I often pride myself as being someone that has always loved to write. I know the purpose of this project is for kids to wobble, but that only works so much for me. I want there to be more of a balance between being frustrated and struggling and having more guidance from an outside voice through things like a rubric or more focused guidelines. I want to become better at a new genre, while also understanding more o what is expected of me. Grades aren’t the central focus of this project, or this class really, but they always seem to offer more of a path/direction for me to follow.

Enough of the negative… I can move beyond all of this, and focus more on what I should be doing to move beyond this frustration and writers block. Instead of just complaining, I have to think of what I can do to get beyond all of this. To focus on one of my biggest issues, the shift in voices, I could write each of the moments in my memoir on a different time or on different days. This would allow me to really focus on the each period in my life. If I tried to write the voices in one day, I may run into a problem of differentiating the voices. Additionally, if I’m choosing to write each setting on a different day, I can fully immerse myself into the setting of each period in my life. This gradual build up of my memoir will allow me to see how I want the story to link together as well as how to make the story flow more smoothly. Already, I’m feeling myself move past the previous frustrations as I think about the project in a more free-flowing situation.

Overall, there’s a lot I’ve discussed in this incredibly long winded blog post, and I apologize to my poor writing group members (forgive me s^3) that have to read this, but I do feel like this has helped me get through some of the biggest issues I’ve been having. Sometimes ranting is the only way to get through life.

Immersion: Similarities and Differences

Memoirs are a diverse type of genre, focusing on extremely personal experiences of the authors. Regardless of the differing topics, there are several similarities among the different examples. The three examples I chose to focus on are: A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, The Diary of Anne Frank , and A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah.

I have found that memoirs generally target an audience that wishes to be brought into the shoes of the author. This audience can differ in ages often, depending on the topic of the memoir, but all want to understand the authors experiences. The authors infer that the audience needs to be shown how they felt as they experienced what they write about. The author understands that the audience also believes the memoir to be a recounting of true experiences and information. If this is trust between the author and reader is broken, it often ruins the memoir for both parties. Authors that write memoirs use techniques like focusing in on detail and paying attention to the little things to bring the reader directly into their situation. They want others to see them as  a truthful voice, reflecting on their past.

The three examples I chose to focus on all differ from one another, based upon topic, all share the notion that they are tales of true experiences of the author. All of them share the personal thoughts, feelings, and opinions of the author as they recount their personal experience. All are distinctly personal. Often times, these memoirs tell difficult stories and have an intense impact on the reader.

I infer similar things about my audience as the authors of published memoirs assume about their own audience. My readers will want truth, though my memoir won’t be one of a harrowing journey. They will expect that I have enough grounding in the topic I write about—they will expect authenticity. They will expect my opinions. I will make sure I focus on detail in my memoir. These are important to bring my reader to the setting in which I formed my thoughts surrounding education. Ultimately, I want people to see me as knowledgeable and trustworthy. My genre will be stating only opinions, not fact. I want my opinions to be respected and understood by my readers. That is what is the most important to me.

The Unfamiliar Genre Project Proposal

  1. Which genre would you like to read and write in for your Unfamiliar Genre Project?
  2. What experiences, if any do you have with reading or writing in this genre?
  3. What do you already know about this genre?
  4. Why are you choosing this genre?
  5. What would you like to learn by studying this project?

1.) I would like to focus on Memoirs for my Unfamiliar Genre Project. I feel since this project is directed by several opinion based questions surrounding education, that a memoir of my own personal experiences as a students and the opinions I have developed thus far encompassing education, would be best suited by this format.

2.) I have attempted to write a memoir only once, for a current class of mine; I can’t say that it went smoothly. As far as reading goes, I have read a few memoirs in the past such as, A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, The Diary of Anne Frank, and A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah.

3.) I know this genre is focused around personal accounts. This causes the topics memoirs are written about to be very diverse (as it is often focused around previous events in an authors life).

4.) I am choosing this genre because it seems the most fitting genre to help me answer the questions that guide this project. (See the answer to question 1 for more).

5.) I would like to learn how to write a memoir without sounding pretentious or self absorbed. Also, I want to better learn how to show rather than tell in my writing—how to bring my reader right into the moment I was when my opinions formed. I want them to feel how I felt in my own experiences.

Morning Pages, 2/9; Not Yet

The power of “not yet” has been shown to aid students in progress and effort rather than assigning a big, ugly ‘F’ to their work if it doesn’t meet standards. The same can be said about who I am as a teacher-writer. I have often struggled with new areas and genres of writing because I know that what I start with isn’t my best work and it often doesn’t receive the grades I hold myself to. That’s the problem—I’m trying to get an ‘A’ rather than attempting to open my mind and understand that what I do won’t be perfect the first time. I find myself often attempting to master a genre overnight, and when I can’t, I feel myself shutting down.

The terms “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset” are deeply rooted in my history as a writer as well. In the writing I do outside of an academic setting, much of it is similar, generally in style and genre, instead of new and challenging. It is my fixed mindset that keeps me within these constraints, as I rarely go outside of my comfort zone in the fear and frustration that I may fail. Unless I am pushed by a class to embrace something new, I remain in my comfortable bubble of what is familiar to me and what I am able to do well. Even when I am pushed into something new, I often forget to take on a growth mindset and I find myself frustrated and struggling to improve myself. It is my focus on the grade that holds me back from the potential to grow and prove to myself that I can embrace something that was once foreign to me.

However, as important as it is to encourage children to grow and understand that it is okay to be in a place that hasn’t fully encapsulated what is necessary to pass, I don’t think that we should be completely throwing grades and scores into the wind. Yes, we must encourage students to embrace a problem and understand that what we do isn’t always going to come to us naturally at first, but grades do matter. It is our way of assessing a students progress and ultimately, assessment matters.

Overall, it is important to balance encouragement with assessment, and understanding how intertwined they really are.

The Unfamiliar Genre Project: Where to Begin

The Unfamiliar Genre Project focuses on what the name suggests: an unfamiliar genre. As a writer of fiction, I was terrified at the thought of having to reach into genres I’m uncomfortable with, such as poetry and it’s many sub-genres. I wasn’t aware of the amount of genres that are available for me to study. My mind had always been narrowed at the prospect of genres, limited to the general ones people think of when asked what the word “genre” means: romance, sci-fi, fantasy, non-fiction, poetry, etc. All of them are things I have grown to understand more as I’ve grown. Yet there are genres available to me I had never thought of, such as a photo-essay, a market report, a monologue, etc.

While I have heard of the more general genres before, I am interested in ones that I have never attempted to write such as science fiction or fantasy. Along with those, I am interested in writing memoirs considering the personal aspect that this project is very focused on my own personal opinions and beliefs. All three of those genres are completely outside of our comfort zones as I have almost zero practice with any of them. Much of the experiences I have had with these genres are through my own personal readings or readings assigned for school. Still, the interactions I have had with these genres are shallow at best. I have never given much thought as to what composes science fiction or fantasy as a genre. Nor have I thought about what makes them different from one another, as they are often lumped together. But there is a difference. Just as there is a difference between a true memoir and that of a work of fiction. Each of these genres demands something of the author creating them, and each are different.

The biggest part of this project surrounds the challenges I will face as I attempt to tackle a genre entirely new to me. When thinking of something being entirely new, the thought looms over me like a big scary beast. New means that I don’t have any knowledge—I feel vulnerable and alone. More importantly I don’t feel confident in my abilities as a writer. While I may feel comfortable writing about apocalyptic situations, I have no grounding in how to write a space battle, or how to create new and inventive species, or how to write about my own personal experiences without sounding pretentious. This project is going to challenge me to reach out and ask for help. It will challenge me to trust in my new works and understand that it isn’t the best work that I can put out. It will challenge me to take risks and understand that I am not always going to be comfortable, no matter how long I have been a writer.

This project is going to challenge me to reconstruct my own writing identity.

I will make sure I focus on my touchstone moment that is grounded in my childhood and the experiences within my favorite English classroom in high school. Those moments will allow me to remember that school is there to inspire children while also teaching them valuable life skills. This project will be my own discover of what I will be able to do to create a classroom that I would want to learn in. Specifically pulling from my touchstone moment that came from Mrs. Hall’s classroom in high school.

Overall, this project is going to help me expand my writing identity as well as bringing to light my own thoughts and ideas on what my responsibility will be as a future teacher. Hopefully, I will learn new things about myself and about the genre I chose to focus in on.

Morning Pages, 2/7; First Readers

What is a trusted “first reader”? The term seems to vague and flexible; every persons writing style varies and therefore requires a different kind of “first reader”. For me, I need a person that is open to various genres, topics, and writing styles, but will challenge me, offer me new ideas, and insist that I put my best work forward. While criticism may be tough to take at some points during the writing process, when coming from the right person it can be extremely beneficial for me as a writer and for my readers. I want to be putting out my best work and I’m able to achieve this through the right kind of “first reader.”

If I’m trying to pin down one person to fulfill this role, it would be another person my age, as I am often writing to an audience of my own peers, specifically when I am in the academic setting. I have a specific friend that helps me with my longer stories I write outside of my classes. She acts as an outside reader who can point out areas that are unnecessary for the piece or areas that I could focus more on to improve the point I am trying to get across or strengthen an image of a certain character in my work. Even if I am writing to a younger audience of readers, someone my age can point to areas that need less detail to keep my readers engaged and offer up suggestions to make sure my piece flows well without large interruptions or awkward pauses. Even though I don’t have a specific name for this someone, the characteristics I have listed above would give me what I seek in a “first reader.”

If I am to fulfill this role for others, my biggest goal would be to keep an open mind and to understand exactly who the author is writing to so I can rework my goals for criticism and suggestions. Ideally, I have to be attentive and flexible to the needs of other writers just as I need others to be understanding of my own needs.

We are all different and this leaves us with varying writing styles, topics, and ideas. A “first reader” will keep an open mind about what their corresponding authors need from them. They will strive to meet these needs and expect the same out of their own “first readers.”