Over at Bump on a Blog–which I’m now reading via Google Reader…I gave up bloglines–Brian writes the following:
The current “5 Things You Didn’t Know About Me” meme that has been making its way around lately has inspired me to begin a new meme that focuses on our processes as a bloggers. I truly believe that this can serve as a way for us all to reflect upon and improve our writing processes. The basic idea here is to write a short post that speaks to how you go about developing posts for your blog, then tag four or five other people you’d like to learn from. I suppose we could call this the “How Do You Write?” meme. So, if you’re up to it, then I would love to hear from some of my favorite edubloggers…Miguel, Wes, Doug, Vicki, and Jeff.
Hmm…this is a tough one, Brian. I’ll share this entry with you, but I think what might be useful is to reflect during the week as I write and post those one by one each day. What do you think? In the meantime, here’s what I first came up with:
While I’ve certainly written about WHY I blog, and write, I haven’t reflected on how I go about developing posts for my blog. This kind of question reminds me of William Zinsser’s book, On Writing Well. I remember laughing like heck when I was in my sophmore year in college (when I first read this passage). Here’s what caught my eye:
About ten years ago a school in Connecticut held “a day devoted to the arts,” and I was asked if I would come and talk about writing as a vocation. When I arrived I found that a second speaker had been invited–Dr. Brock (as I’ll call him), a surgeon who had recently begun to write and sold some stories to national magazines. He was going to talka bout writing as an avocation. That made us a panel, and we sat down to face a crowd…and the first question went to him. What was it like to be a writer? He said it was tremendous fun. Coming home from an arduous day at the hospital, he would go straight to his yellow pad and write his tensions away. The words just flowed. It was easy.
I then said that writing wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fun. It was hard and lonely, and the worlds seldom just flowed. Next Dr. Brock was asked if it was important to rewrite. Absolutely not, he said, “Let is all hang out,” and whatever form the sentences take will reflect the writer at his most natural. I then said that rewriting is the essence of writing.
If you want to know the rest of the story, you’ll have to read Zinsser’s On Writing Well. But in short, I tell you that for some, writing is easy, and for others, it’s hard as heck. Until I began my doctoral work, I didn’t realize how hard writing could be. Honestly, I had never encountered writing that challenged me, that forced me to “write outside my comfort zone,” and I failed…failed miserably at that kind of writing. I failed because I was miserable about lots of things, but mostly, about having to force my writing in a direction that just wasn’t me.
1) Writing flows from a moment captured by the voyager; I am he. Nanci Atwell shares that every experience in our lives is worth writing about. Everything. Even James Joyce found going poop (or “#2” as it goes in my house) something worth writing about in Ulysses, and he gave it epic proportions (personally, I hated everything Joyce wrote after The Portrait of An Artist as a Young Man). Once I begin to write, I’m caught up in a moment. I wrote about this before, about being in the Zone.
If you’re a writer, you know what I mean. You slip into the Zone, and hours can go by, and they pass unnoticed. You are so enraptured by the experience of writing that nothing else matters (ahh, if only exercising could be like that). I LOVE being in the Zone and when I’m there, writing isn’t difficult, hard, miserable or anything. It’s like tapping into a power source. I hate interruptions (“Dad, would you feed me now?”; “Honey, would you do something?”) when I’m in the Zone. I’m considering flicking a switch that turns on a red, flashing light. Another neat thing about being in the Zone is that I’m not hungry when I’m there…or thirsty or anything. All there is…is the Zone. If blogging isn’t good for anything else, or anyone else, it’s good for getting me in the Zone. It’s darn addictive.
That moment lasts forever. But what I haven’t told you is that the Zone is what determines what I write. What’s in the Zone is what makes me excited. Plop me in front of fancy artwork, I just don’t care. Show me architecture that’s stood for centuries, who cares? But tell me a story about those who fought, died, were murdered in the Colisseum, then I’m interested.
Jerome Bruner wrote something that has always stuck with me, and I think is so true of blogging:
Selfhood derives from the sense that one can initiate and carry out activities on one’s own. Even the simplest narratives are built around an agent-self as a protagonist. Any system of education or theory of pedagogy that diminishes the school’s role in nurturing its pupils’ self-esteem fails at one of its primary functions. Personhood implicates narrative.
For me, I am a hero, flawed, imperfect. You are reading the The Odyssey of MGuhlin, a voyager making his way in the world, learning, not from the multitude, but the ones I encounter. How can I not share that story when i write? Sometimes it is about living with my fear, sometimes about realizing the power, sometimes it is about hypocrisy, and sometimes it’s about surviving day to day. But that is MY narrative, and as a person, I definitely believe that I can initiate and carry out activities on my own. That is why I am a leader–I don’t wait for others. I begin moving, I commit, and then what happens….
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy…The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves, too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events raising in one’s favor…unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
–W.H. Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition.
Who would have thought when I began writing that 300+ people would be reading those chronicles a few months later?
2) I write to transform my experiences. When I was in the teacher education program, a speaker said, “What story you tell yourself about a situation will determine what you feel. You control the stress.” These were powerful words. On the one hand, we are carried along the current, like a bark of wood, but if we say we are voyagers bound for an unseen shore, this bark our life, our sustenance and our health, then it’s different, isn’t it?
The act of creation embodied in this blog, in everything I write, are powerful antidotes to the poison I encounter in the wilderness of despair, of fear, and hypocrisy. The act of creation does not negate my own acts of despair, fear, and hypocrisy. Rather, it allows me to transform them, like the dragon in my favorite story of St. George and The Quest for the Holy Grail. (Click on the link, read the story…ok, here it is:
From my position high on the dragon’s back, I noticed that the dragon’s body was covered with old wounds. WHenever the dragon breathed forth fire to light the path in front of us, I noticed that the wounds glowed golden-red in the dark. When I asked about them, the dragon replied, “Oh, my friend, I have been slain a thousand times, but I have always arisen again. These old wounds are the source of my power and my insight. Our greatest and worst enemies are not the monsters who roam the forest or even wicked witches or evil wizards. No, it is our scars, our wounds, and old injuries that we must fear. As we journey through life we have all been injured–hurt by parents, brothers or sister, schoolmates, strangers, lovers, teachers. Each wound has the power to talk to us, you know. They speak, however, with crooked voices because of the scars.
All of us have wounds–old ones and new ones–and whenever the monster appears, when hell breaks loose, we know that our old wounds are talking guiding us. It is these wounds that must be confronted (Hays, 1986).)
Often I sit down at a computer and, unbidden, like a spring flowing, the words begin to come. In fact, that is the mental image I have of writing–a flowing spring, a well in the desert. Sometimes, that well is empty and dry, but the waters of the spring lurk beneath the sand and grit of everyday, endure beneath the searing sun.
I’m doing it now, the writing flowing from a spring. Do I know where? No, only that I derive peace from the act, a way of transforming the worst in me. The act of writing is an action, it is saying that I do not despair, that I do not fear, that I will be true to the Word. I seek to transform my life through my writing. That others read it, it is like a candle burning. I may expire, and if a little light should illuminate another’s path, then wonderful! But the fact is, the candle burns because it has been lit, not to banish the darkness.
3) Dare to contribute for you are beautiful as well. I often think that many of us are like the peacock in this story, but unlike the peacock in the story, we are afraid to speak up. Last month, a new blogger asked me–though not in so many words–how to get to be a successful blogger. The answer is simple, but the person wouldn’t have liked it. Maybe a story is in order. When I was in college studying the poetry of Alexander Pope, of Shellye, I felt a tremendous oppression.
The oppression was my own doing, of course. As I read the beautiful poetry, the prose of renown writers, slowly the fire inside me began to diminish. I asked myself, “How can anyone born today write as well as those people who lived so long ago?” This was my senior year of English. I set aside my poetry, and instead, began to find expression in strict formulaic writing. While I could never be like those writers, perhaps, I could enjoy myself within existing forms (e.g. reports, memos, letters). For me, I would ever be an amateur, writing for personal fun, never serious writing like the classical writers of the past.
Then, as I wrote with my students, writing poetry and prose, I realized that something wasn’t right. Sitting in a portable building, I began to write about them, about the work they were doing. Oh, it was a powerful experience. My first 3 pieces of writing were immediately picked up by editors and published. I awakened to the defiant power of writing for fun, even though I couldn’t write like Pope or Keats, I could put a few words together that would be of use, of interest to others.
I dared to contribute then, defiantly. I still encounter that feeling of despondency, of writing in spite of great thinkers. “Yes, I recognize your greatness,” my writing proclaims, “but while your song may be beautiful, so is mine…because it is I who sing it.” So, to be a successful blogger, you have to tap into who you are, and mean or nice, share who you are. That’s why when I write, you’ll find I’m in the story. When I see something, take Podnova for Linux, I am any one of the following: 1) An ignorant newbie to linux writing about how he solved a problem, recording it for the future so I won’t forget what I’ve learned along the way; 2) A bridge-builder who labors for those who come behind him; 3) A peacock who faces anger with truth; 4) A turkey who cannot control its temper.
4) It doesn’t matter what you write about, just tell the truth. I recently shared a cartoon that reads, “I have nothing to say…I say it regularly.” But that’s not true . What is true is that I have to share as much of the truth as I can tolerate, and then push it a bit. There are many things happening in the world today, much in our lives to be grateful for. And, there are also many things that try to sap the joy out of life. To deny either life, the priviledge of honesty, of transparency, of truth diminishes us. So, while I am not wise enough to be a soothsayer, I can strive to tell the truth in the hope that I may someday grow wise, or failing that, learn more. Blogging is about relationships, and I cannot imagine being less than truthful as possible. Yet, a million times, I am grateful for your forgiveness.
When I read what others have to write–and I read quite a bit, but shallowly like a rock skipping over the surface–I am compelled to write about my point of view on those experiences. While someone may be particularly erudite (there, you see? That’s the defiance, the thought I can do as well as the erudite author), I know that it does not represent the whole story…because I am a part of that story. It is important to speak truth to the universe, to tell it the truth about itself (if you can identify the title of the sci-fi book that came from, let me know, ok?).
In traditional publishing, it’s expected you be an expert before opening your mouth. Blogging academics…I think that’s just trying to elevate the account of wrestling with truth in our lives. Like “He Who Wrestles with God,” bloggers must wrestle with their ideas, their emotions, the world around them and bring order to it. We need to speak to that struggle, tell when we fail, when we succeed.
5) Sharing one’s appreciation of neat things found in the world or in one’s heart. One of my favorite stories involves God hiding from humanity. The angels asked, “Where will you hide?” And, God answered, “I will hide in the one place my children won’t look…in their hearts.” I don’t remember where this story came from but it sticks with me. When playing hide and seek with my children, I always chose those places where they would not look…even though it was obvious and right in front of them (e.g. clean clothes pile, a lump of pillows on the floor, dirty clothes pile, immobile in the shadow). They would laugh with delight when they found me, and I pray that I find delight when I find His hiding places. It’s fun to share what you find with others and invite them to laugh.
SHARE MORE. That’s what it is all about…if only I’d known that high engagement encounters high resistance.
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