Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Writing Something For Yourself
So, how in the world does anyone teach writing as a skill that can be transferred to innumerable situations over the course of a lifetime? They don't -- the writing resource person merely offers methods and simplifies practical access to the process. The writing process is the relentless, grinding machine that fuses conscious and unconscious thought to forge a strong product. It is perpetual, never stopping, never ending. In the end, only the writer decides when his paper has precisely expressed his message, yet the finished product is still a draft, no matter how many times he or someone else reads it and revises it anew. In this respect, writing improvement is like breathing: no one can draw fresh, life-giving oxygen to excess.
Once the brain has sorted and filed the lesson, the students must use and reuse the concept with practical application. To skip this important industry is to invite lack of purpose and open doors of forgetfulness. Writing, as a complex activity, involves many skills of creation, organization, illustration, revision, and style. Many high school students prefer to approach the process without applying sufficient techniques to mature composition. Instead, these older students produce stagnant, often elementary production. Unfortunately, such writers stubbornly maintain a constant self-taught misconception that "good writers are born, not made." Nothing could be further from the truth.
But, once the purpose and the application gel, students may confidently discover a joy and appreciation of their own unlimited potentials. I can see no purpose in teaching writing unless the students learn to practice excellence and use their achievement. No high school athlete in his right mind would drag himself to practice day after day hoping to merely leave the skills on the practice field. To crack the lineup, the athlete must prove his worth to the team in actual game situations by using his skills under critical and demanding pressure.
To witness the advancement of students who use a teacher's small gift to perfect their own writing is breathtaking. And, the beauty of the entire learning process is revealed because those students manage to capture a seed or two of understanding that grows and germinates new worlds of understanding. So, the teacher, at best, unlocks this vessel for self-discovery so his students may voyage to new worlds, confident and courageous of purpose, and enjoy their lifelong wanderlust.
A discovery made long ago proves true over and over again: students with open minds are the only asset of a teacher. Good students are not measured by grades, not measured by good behavior, or not even measured by leadership. Some good students mature very early, some mature right on schedule, and some mature well past their high school days. Good students can be angelic, cooperative, disinterested, or downright surly. But, the one thing all good students have in common is that "they know." Many accept the obligation right away and many wait for years to make the transition, but all good students eventually find out that not the teacher, but they, "know."
If the opening paragraph sounds like a contradiction of thought, allow an old teacher to explain. Those who wish to produce "profound" writing usually fail with the "Big Idea." Association is usually self-initiated out of a common bond or experience, not out of a begging proposal. People who pound heads with morals and constant platitudes often do not dent the skull. But, to introduce the concept of producing truth, both of the inner self and of the outer world, to writers and to allow them to explore that double truth with words until it becomes a revelation, is golden reading for all. The simple clarity "becomes" a living extension of a life. I, myself, have read hundreds, no thousands, of examples of such profundity.