Monday, May 6, 2013


Writing sometimes takes us where we do not want to go.

Writing sometimes drags us kicking and screaming to the recesses of our mind, to the bottom of our own secret well, to the hidden places in our lives.

Ralph Fletcher, in his new edition of What a Writer Needs, tells the story of a little girl watching a scultptor working with a large block of wood. At the end of his day of work, she could see a lion emerging from the block.  Her question to him was how he knew the lion was inside the wood. We smile with recognition at the delight of a surprising discovery.

He discusses how writing is like this:
Everything changes when you allow your writing to be influenced and shaped by discoveries made during the process of writing.... you discover that your topic has a
hidden trapdoor leading down into a dusty underbarn you would have preferred to stay out of.
According to Fletcher, writers must find a creative tension between the original vision for the writing, free writing that meanders, and how the piece actually turns out.

I believe there is value in the meandering, in the risk-taking of following your pen, your heart, and the words tumbling out of you to see where they lead.   I believe that some of our best ideas arise as we engage in this type of writing.

In My Name is Mina by David Almond, Mina demonstrates this meandering, as she reflects about what she will write in her new
journal. See pages 11-12  to read her complete journal entry which begins as follows: 

Then what shall I write? I can't just write that this happened then this happened then this happened to boring infinitum.  I'll let my journal grow just like the mind does, just like a tree or a beast does, just like life does. Why should a book tell a tale in a dull straight line?
Words should wander and meander...

For me the key to deeper writing as described in my book is this:

...exploring ourselves and our memories, emotions and thoughts that we usually ignore or let lie dormant....Deeper writing digs beneath the surface and peels back the layers of ordinary understandings and topics in order to look at the underside--discovering truths, revealing an essence, or considering an alternative or multiple perspectives.  It is reflecting with the pen and tackling the hard stuff--thinking  and writing critically, pushing metaphors to the limit--searching for relationship and relevance where they are not easily detected.  

Deeper writing, in other words,  is meadering  and wandering into the creation of a rich text, leaving you, the writer, as surprised as your readers to see where the writing has lead.

In a recent writing session with friends from the Columbus Area Writing Project, we all meandered with ideas that were resting in the back of our minds, producing texts that varied in mood and style, tone and length, genre and purpose.

Our rich texts variously explored the changing cycles of marriage--cruel endings and magical renewals, end-of-the-year scheduling and other teacher worries, aging as examined from the inside out, and the wonders of the first few puke-filled months of pregnancy.

We all began with the same prompt (the same one offered for you today) with no particular direction and intention, but allowed our writing to follow an idea--to meander and wander/wonder-- to its surprising end.  

From these beginning ramblings written in 7 minutes, we each  produced a piece which can be further explored....or abandoned.

But we went there.
Writing sometime takes us to places we need to go.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Begin with an idea about which you have been thinking this week--  a concept, a person, a relationship, an issue, a situation, or event in your personal life (or your teaching life, your work life, your student life).

Begin by simply identifying this idea and then meander with it allowing yourself to do what musicians call noodling, or playing around with  the idea--see where the writing leads you.

Meander, wander, and wonder with the idea, taking some risks, and write what you may have been thinking, but didn't plan on saying out loud to anyone, not even yourself.

Where will you end up?

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