A space to reflect on my readings and musings, scattered and rescattered


Shitty First Drafts

Thursday I walked into one of my afternoon classes--the class that collectively hates to write the most--and realized that none of my students were prepared for the peer review workshop I had planned. I asked them do a bit of silent reading while I regrouped and then I headed to the back of the classroom and picked up the copy of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird that I had eyed. I opened to a chapter I'd read with my creative writing students last year--a chapter I love called "Shitty First Drafts." In it Lamott details the gory, self-loathing, not at all glamorous fits-and-starts writing life of most writers--the anxiety of getting started and verbal garbage that too often flows from our pens on the first try until we somehow begin writing the really good stuff, the stuff someone else might actually want to read.

I read aloud to students and watched as they giggled when I read "shitty," shocking their little 15-year old minds that their teacher would read profanity at the front of the room. (Nevermind, I'm regularly asking many of them to reduce the number of F bombs they drop in my room.) Regardless, they seemed kind of into it. Shock value helps. But you never really know when you're reading aloud whether they're paying attention or daydreaming or, more likely, a little of both. However, when I finished reading, I said, okay, start writing. And you know what, they did. They just wrote--they decided to trust the process. Somehow hearing in beautiful detail that they didn't have to (and probably weren't going to) create stunning prose the first time, they just went with it.

One student quickly filled a page with a mess or words and then handed it to me and said, "Here read this. It's terrible but read it." As I read through his rapid, hurried, at times nonsensical prose, I found bits and pieces of greatness. I said, "Wow, I like this part. And this inspires me too. And oh wow, yep, this part totally represents you." I walked away saying, "Why don't you do the same thing on the other half of the page focusing on one of these parts that sings?" He gave me the "but I already..." look and then he started to write. And you know what, the second page was even better. Two whole pages from a kid who barely writes two sentences on the regular. Even more, the words had more heart and soul than most student writing I read. It was a good day--better even than if they'd actually been prepared.

Yet the story gets more exciting. This morning I opened my inbox to an email with the following subject line: "My Shitty Draft........ Tell Me More About What I Need To Do ....." It was from another kiddo who more or less abhors writing. His story was a brilliant recounting of learning to cook at age 9 or 10 by boiling hot dogs with hot sauce and spices in the water. His kicky, smart prose had nodes of self-deprecation and gave way to a rather funny story of family love ad frozen entrees. I haven't responded to his email because I don't know what to tell him to do next except dig down somewhere deep and find more of the same honest, lively stories to spill onto the page. His writing was real and unselfconscious and moving.

Teachers don't always have days like this.


At 10:03 PM, Blogger Adam Collado said...

This reminds me of the movie "Finding Forrester" when Sean Connery's character is speaking to his young protege, who is the middle of writers block, and basically tells him to stop mumbling around about what to write and just write. Actually, now that I think about it, that's a movie you might want to consider showing to your kiddies :P


Post a Comment

<< Home