Monday, October 14, 2013


            Following formulas and dictates to create writing just doesn’t sit well with me. I probably incorporate practically every “Avoid This” or “Don’t Do That” dictated by well-meaning advisors of writing techniques. I don’t own any books on how to write and spend no time on “craft” articles suggested by friends and colleagues.
            When forced to write research papers in high school and college, I'd decide upon my topic within a few days of receiving the assignment. In my favorite nook of the library, I would pile books and periodicals a foot high, reading and documenting carefully. I’d sift through everything I could get my hands on within the first seventy-two hours.
            And then I’d think.
            And think some more.
            Mentally, I’d shift around my ideas. On the bus or in the car, I’d write and rewrite my drafts. In internal conversations, I’d revise and edit. Then I’d take one afternoon, and notes in hand, write my entire paper from beginning to end.
            All of this would be done before the due date of the first incremental stack of notecards and without an outline. Forced by my professors to follow their formulaic writing, I’d scribe neat notecards from my little scraps of paper. I’d construct an outline following the final draft that sat completed on my desk. Whatever hoops I needed to jump through to get the step-by-step grade, I did after I’d written the entire paper.
            For me, small sequential steps still don’t natural. I have this gestalt approach to everything. I survived by doing my own emersion into the paper, and then creating what the teacher or professor demanded for their grades or evaluation.
            As a teacher of writing, I allowed my students the freedom I never had as a student of writing. I didn’t require them to start at the beginning because sometimes that’s just not where a thought leads you. I had success in taking students who insisted they couldn’t write and turning them into outstanding writers.
With almost every assignment, the first two or three nights, the homework assignment would be—THINK. I’d instruct my students to think about their stories on the bus, during dinner, or on the toilet (seventh grade boy humor).
My formula driven kids longed to begin planning, so I’d let them scribble down ideas, make their graphic organizers. But that wasn’t required from every writer. Every year, I’d have a couple of students in each class who jumped into writing the way I did—feet first and fully emerged. They’d float down in the depths of their imaginations during all of that “think time” without penning a single word. Then on the days when they were told to grab paper, pencils and pillows, these previous non-writers would stretch out under a desk and write, write, write, write and write all of their thoughts.
         Sometimes, I miss watching those moments when students discovered their ability to think, create and write. But then . . . 
I realize that I get to  take on wonderful adventures because I have endless hours to simply, and enjoyably—THINK.
Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

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