We’ve all taught it. Essay writing. The process. The portfolio. From heuristics to logistics, from pre-writing to proof-reading. We turn writing basically into an assembly line job. And we wonder why students dread these classes. Okay, one reason is that we force students to take them. The other reason is, we are teaching composition without the joy of writing.
What if we taught writing as a lifestyle?
I’m not saying we should turn all our students into bitter alcoholics who shrink from all compliments yet ever tortured by a feeling of insignificance.
I mean the life. La vie d’écrivain… (hopefully, that was French.)
The other day I said to the students in my advanced writing class: Okay, if you want to write these blog posts, don’t write them an hour before they are due. (Typical dad-ly advice. Enter ear, exit ear. But then I said something I hadn’t said before…)
Try writing them the way a writer would. Sit down on a day when you have nothing else going on. Like a Saturday or Sunday morning. Get your favorite morning drink: tea, mineral water, coffee, whatever. Park yourself some place really comfy. Put on some cozy socks. Find a window. Gaze out… Now, don’t think about your grade. Don’t think about the judgment to come. Don’t think about every writing teacher you’ve ever had or that 4th grade grammar nazi or your parents’ disappointment. Just write whatever comes.
In other words, what if we taught students not to enter into the drudgery of writing by making it full of drudgy drudging? But instead to enjoy it.
I commonly take out my journal and say, here:
The difference between a writer and not a writer is that a writer stops and takes notes — a writer honors their inspiration in the middle of doing something else, a writer is always putting something into the compost heap. A writer treasures their thoughts, shelters the fledglings, believes ideas lead to more ideas.
What would a writing lifestyle class look like?
I think it would look very different from most college composition courses. It might look more like an outdoor yoga course. Or perhaps like a bunch of people sitting around on vacation. Or on a retreat. In meditation. Perhaps off in their own little corners. I suspect this little getaway wouldn’t have the internet either, unless it were an online course, and then, well, I’m not really thinking about that.
What if instead of teaching how to write, we taught a writerly way of life.
Class session 1: Go to the beach (or the lake or the forest or a park) Sit down. Get comfy. Take out a notebook. See what happens.
Class session 2: Grab a book you love. Read it. Luxuriate in it. Really, don’t worry about taking notes. Just enjoy each sentence, each passage. Read some aloud to your lover or to your neighbor or just to the wind.
Class session 3: Go have drinks or coffee or Redbull or smokes or walking with your favorite conversant. Listen to them. Coast on the flow of the back and forth. This is language creation at its most authentic.
Class session 4: Sit down in a coffee shop. Order something decadent. Take out a notebook. Periodically gaze at the people around you — not in a creepy way. Make notes for characters in that novel you’ll one day write.
Class session 5: Go to a museum or a gallery. Look at all the pieces intently. An artist made this. You are an artist.
Class session 6: Write something or don’t.
Class session 7: Share what you wrote with your best friend in the world.
Class session 8: Take a nap, and while you sleep let your mind do its best creative work.
Class session 9: Take a shower. Cuz, it’s been a couple of days now. Although baths are really more writerly. Especially with dark chocolate.
Class session 10: Eat a tasty dessert from your childhood. (Remember, Proust started his recherche this way.)
Class session 11: Read something your friend wrote. Draw them some smiley faces and send that to them.
(Break) Listen to music. Your inspiration lies within its harmonies and counterpoints, its modulations.
Class session 12: Look at what you wrote a few days ago. See if you feel inspired to reshape it. Or maybe it’s time to throw it out and start something new.
Class session 13: Go to an old book store. Look what happens to books as they grow old. Be kind to them. Don’t kiss them. That’s not really all that good for them.
And check out folks who inspire others, like these poets:
Class session 14: Take a nap. Dwell in a bit of mushy self-doubt or regret.
Class session 15: Start an entirely different project, like a poem, for no real reason.
Class session 16: Smell some things. Not necessarily flowers. Maybe old flannel. Or your grandfather’s cardigan. Or cinnamon.
Class session 17: Do a little dance, alone or with friends or pets. Or build a birdhouse. Or crochet. I.e., do something that is NOT writing.
Class session 18: Cook something new, eat it. Follow a recipe or don’t. This is also a form of writing and reading.
Class session 19: Sit and write some more.
These are just provisional notes, but I think it could really revolutionize college composition courses. I haven’t come up with a rubric or assignment sequence for this because, well, that wasn’t the point.
But I do like the sound of this. I’m going to go take a nap.
(BTW, One of my famous writers on this topic is Jack Rawlins author of The Writer’s Way. I have borrowed from that liberally, as writers do.)
If you teach the joy of writing (esp. in a mandatory composition class), post some tips down below.