Why I Write.

I have not always been able to identify myself as a writer. Growing up I often enjoyed curling deep into my comforter to write pages and pages of ideas and stories in my Trapper Keeper notebook. These pages and stories were not something I openly shared and I wrote exclusively in secret. I feared the criticism and opinions of others and therefore I wanted to keep my words close to me. And while I did this, I never thought I was actually talented at writing. School essays would be assigned and I would be paralyzed, unable to think of what I could write that would be considered “good enough” or fit the strict format decided by my teachers. My papers would bleed red ink and sit at the bottom of my backpack with corrections and question marks.  I felt pretty worthless when it came to writing because I didn’t know how to do it to get the approval or grade I needed. And therefore, I self-classified myself as being novice or inexperienced.  Really anything but a writer.

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What makes someone a writer? I get asked this question a lot and it is something that I wonder myself. Am I a writer? I enjoy writing but I haven’t published anything you could buy in Barnes & Noble, I am not paid to write professionally,  and I certainly do not carry MFA in my pocket. I do however, teach creative writing with the Houston non-profit, Writers In the Schools and I write in my writer’s notebook essays, poems, and stories almost daily. My students often ask me at the beginning of my residencies with them,  “Are you a writer?” and for some reason I stutter slowly as I reply, “Yes”. Why is that? Why am I not able to proudly pronounce myself as a Writer?

Perhaps it is the fact that I went to school to become a teacher and for almost 10 years was paid as in this profession. It was a role I identified with since it consumed most of my daylight hours from September to June. But writing, that was my hobby and what fed me when I needed to be brought down to reality. Even as a young adult, it wasn’t something I shared with anyone, it was my restorative spa with a reservation for only one. So how I could I proclaim I was a writer when I had other identities that were easier to explain?

I often tell students, “You are writers! You write and therefore you are a writer!” and many times they don’t believe it right away. Mostly this is because in our society we view roles such as writer, doctor, lawyer, artist, as requiring some external validation. Obtaining a degree, passing an exam, selling a painting, or publishing a book. When adults spew these impressive achievements it convinces others yes, I am deserving of this title but unfortunately it can also diminish the smaller yet to be recognized accomplishments. If we want our students and young writers to believe in their identity as writers, shouldn’t we as adults consider the emphasis placed on these credentials to defining roles?

What I believe is this: I write because I have something to say and when I write my thoughts, feelings, and ideas down it makes me feel more understood. I realized how much my writing mattered when I started blogging and submitting writing, taking writer’s workshops, and  sharing my stories with my students. And I have found that the more I write, the more powerful my once quiet voice becomes  and the more confident I am to say, I am a writer. And each time I am asked, my words are stronger when I reply, “Yes”.

 

Writing Metaphorically

I remember writing as a kid and feeling so special when I could insert figurative language in my own writing.  I especially loved similes. I couldn’t stop comparing objects, feelings, colors to other things. When I drafted the perfect simile it was like being the cool kid in the cafeteria getting curly fries for lunch when everyone else had bland peas & carrots sitting on their plate. My writing sparkled. Similes were easy, I had a calculated the magic formula to make my writing pop. But metaphors were a totally different story. Of course I knew what they were but I could never really see a point in using them. In my mind, metaphors were silly and it had no purpose in my own writing.

Sadly, I feel like many young writers have similar sentiments when it comes to using metaphors and other forms of figurative language. They are difficult and complicated to do correctly. Yet as a reader, when I read a powerful metaphor it becomes a constant firework in my brain. An image I cannot release. Which is why I had to figure out a way to help the young writers I work with through Writers In the School see the power of metaphors.

I collect poems, almost in a hoarder-like fashion. I stuff them into drawers or notebooks until I can use them for a lesson. I had come across the poem, “How To Eat A Poem” by Eve Merriam months ago. I loved the play of language and the imagery used. The idea of comparing reading/writing a poem to eating a piece of fruit was so genius that I needed to figure out how this poem could be the star of a lesson with my middle school students.

How To Eat A Poem   By Eve Merriam

Don’t be polite.

Bite in.

Pick it up with your fingers and lick the juice that

may run down your chin.
It is ready and ripe now, whenever you are.You do not need a knife or fork or spoon
or plate or napkin or tablecloth.

For there is no core
or stem
or rind
or pit
or seed
or skin
to throw away.

I struggled to figure out how to tackle this poem and make it relatable for students. I thought about the rich metaphor the author used and the powerful actions described and realized that the biggest connection here was how the author used visually appealing actions to compare the action of reading or writing a poem. And with that I knew I needed to emphasize the descriptive power of verbs and actions.

I began this lesson by asking students to describe writing to me but to use the small actions that make up writing. Students responded, “Put down letters”, “Create ideas from your brain”, “Tell stories for people to read!” I wanted students to see the action of writing as not just one thing but a collection of smaller movements, helping them to slow down their writing as they described. Next, we analyzed the Eve Merriam poem and really highlighted the words and phrases she used to describe writing / reading a poem. What I noticed is that the students hung onto the visuals they had in their mind; the juice that may run down your chin or It is ready and ripe, whenever you are. These strong connections to our mentor text would help build the foundation for their writing work.

I strongly believe that spending time doing purposeful brainstorm can make or break a writing lesson. Therefore, I wanted to help the students to go through the steps to help them process their metaphorical thinking. On their paper, I asked students to brainstorm with me as many visually appealing actions they can think of:

Diving into a deep pool

Cracking an egg open into a bowl

Jumping into a leaf pile

From this list the students circled 3 to narrow down their choices and together we discussed the smaller actions and emotions that make up their chosen action.

Diving into a deep pool –> fear of bellyflopping, adrenaline rushing through my body, jumping off the edge, flying, splashing water covering me, holding your breath. 

Allowing students the brainstorm time to go through their actions and break it into smaller movements and/or feelings gave them immediate words, phrases, and even themes to jump into their metaphor writing. I then asked the students to think of the following pormpts: How I could compare writing to diving into a deep pool? What am I doing as I write that could also be described as diving? What emotions do I have when I write that I might also have when I dive? As a class, we came up with my modeled example

When I write, I am diving

deep

head first

feeling the rush of words, phrases, and images

splash directly into my face.

I can barely grasp for air

as each word is etched onto my paper. 

I wasn’t sure how students would receive this lesson and so I provided them some options for writing metaphorically and suggested they compare reading, writing, or another passion they have to one of the actions they brainstormed. The results were astounding as students compared writing to waterskiing, running a race, and even eating a slice of pie. This metaphorical tool not only looked impressive, it elevated the students’ writing to a completely new level.  Just think, if we pushed young writers to use this type of figurative language in their everyday writing the possibilities would be endless.

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Comparing a nightmare to diving into water. 

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Comparing writing to bowling.

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Comparing reading to eating a popsicle.