I firmly believe that fear keeps people from living their life to the fullest, from accomplishing great things. My personal vendetta against it is that if fear is my only reason for not trying something, that’s not good enough and by gosh, hold onto your coattails fear ‘cuz I’m kicking you aside and doin’ it. I have voiced this opinion vociferously to those close to me. However, as I prepared to go to the Ozarks Writing Project writing retreat, I perused the schedule and fear crept up, latched on and got me by the throat. Ten hours of writing! Share with the group! For publication in a professional journal! Yikes, what have I done?
I am a former freelance writer, paid for my writing in a former life, and yet these thoughts are going through my mind. What must it be like for my students when I assign a writing project? I can see the reason behind their constant rhymes that annoy me: How long should it be? Do we have to read it in front of the class? Will anyone else read it? What do I write about?
I can feel the insecurity creeping back in even now as I am writing this at the retreat. Why don’t I stop and put the laptop away and quit? Can’t. Must have a draft to share with my group in four hours. Hmmm, pressure is good? Perhaps! I fling assignments out to the students at school and sometimes give a nebulous one or two-week window. I bet many of them are like me and would benefit from pressure to get something on paper, a number of words or pages... a start.
Now, I’m stuck. Writer’s blockage, a seemingly immovable barrier I can’t get past. What do I tell students at this point? “Just get some words on the paper and then we will have something to work with. At this point, don’t worry, just write.” Now I know why they stare me down, with incredulous expressions. What the heck was I saying, just write? Write what? If I weren’t writing a stream of consciousness right now I would have no clue what to put here. Hmmm, teach students to go to a stream of consciousness when they are stuck? A proven technique for getting unstuck that I forgot about. I still feel dumb and unsure about what I’m writing, but I can tell the fear mongers are stepping back a few steps anyway.
Here is where I differ from most of my students… I love to revise, to slash and burn and pillage my writing. Delete this sentence, change that word, rewrite that paragraph and try to make my meaning clear. Even with my love of revision, I was scared to look at the first draft and possibly find nothing of value to keep. I did… I think?
I made it. I’m still writing. It was good to experience the fear… on this side of it anyway! I can be more empathetic with my students when they write.
I know I will re-experience the fear and conquer it again. I plan to arm myself with ways to lead my students through their writing battles to create, to write, continuing the fight against the ever-present fear. Its tones have been conquered and muted for now, but I can hear them in the distance waiting for me.
(Published in the Missouri State Teachers Association magazine, Connection Spring 2010)