Thursday, June 24, 2010

Spilling Ink: Section 21

The writing process.  In Section 21 of Spilling Ink, Anne Mazer tells young writers not to let it scare them away from writing.  She says she feels sorry for today's kids, who have to brainstorm, pre-write, outline, story map, draft, edit, revise, give and receive critiques, and sometimes even "publish."  (Her quotes, not mine.) She wonders how kids have any fun at all when they have to deal with so many steps, rules, and procedures.  She says that she imagines it feeling like they are lugging around a "three-hundred-pound-draft" on their backs.

She says that "real writers" don't care necessarily care about the writing process.  All they care about is writing a good story.  Period. 

If we want our students to look at the world through writer's eyes, then maybe we need to think twice about how we set up our writing time.  We sometimes push the writing process because it's what we know.  It feels safe.  On Monday, we pre-write, Tuesday, we draft, Wednesday we revise, Thursday is editing day, and Friday is publishing day.  We know that's not how "real writers" roll. 

We need to give kids a little leeway.  We need to let them write about what they are interested in.  Ms. Mazer looks at her writing "process" like a cave and a flashlight.  The cave is the idea, and the flashlight is the flashlight.  The more interested in the idea she is, the brighter the flashlight becomes.  We need to hand over control of  the flashlight to our students and let them explore lots of caves on their own.  We can be their tour guide, keeping them safe, while still allowing them to go around the corner without us, take a few detours, and feel the adrenaline rush when they discover something new. 

In the field of psychology, there is something called flow.  Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.  You have experienced flow at some time in your life if you have been totally immersed in a hobby or task and all of a sudden you realize three hours have gone by.  Your butt is asleep, you haven't eaten lunch, and you have got to go to the bathroom.  Right now.  Flow happens under the following conditions:

Clear goals
Concentration--(a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness
Direct and immediate feedback
Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.

If we want our students eating out of the palms of our hands, if we want them to groan when it's time to stop writing instead of groaning when it's time to begin writing, we have to set our classes up so that they will have more of a chance of experiencing flow.  We can begin by being flexible when it comes to the writing process.  We can be mindful that not every writer's creative process is the same.  Our students have enough on their minds.  They don't need to be hauling around that "three-hundred-pound-draft" on top of everything else.  We can give them permission to put it down and walk through those caves unfettered, flashlight in hand, enjoying the view and the journey.

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