Pausing the story 4/31 #SOL

After two days of trying to write a short story, I am pausing for reflection.

Yesterday, after class, they came to see me, two of the Five Writers group that I’m supervising as extracurricular work. We’ve been writing together since the fall and the most recent prompt that they accepted was writing a short story; we looked at techniques of setting, and dialogue and talked about the complexity of taking an idea from one’s imagination and translating it to the page so your reader sees what you envisioned. As a writing teacher, I know the importance of writing alongside students, so I decided to join them as part of my own struggle to grow and wrestle with a writing life.

Both of these young women who sat, masked and distanced, are beautiful humans, complex and thoughtful intellectuals who possess a love of literature and humanities; I have taught both of them in grade 11 and, now, grade 12. We have forged a connection through words and I make a point of centering theirs. A month has passed and they are struggling with their ideas and reaching out for advice. I felt a lack in this area of the craft despite knowing the theory, and knowing how to find themes, literary devices, and apply the formulas of analysis to artistic form. But, I’ve never written a short story.

This might not be the most settled time for me to be writing a short story, since there are many personal and professional battles in my wake, but I decided to use this as the moment to gather more from the creative resources within, to mine that spirit which drives us for connection and reflection. And, so, I began to write, and the story has moved and shifted in ways that have been unpredictable. And, yes, I have a plan (sort of) and I definitely have thematic ideas that I want to convey, but the product and the process are challenging me in ways that I couldn’t understand had I not done this.

We talked about our ideas and what is happening with our writing. One fears that her vision of the story will not be understood and she has made several attempts, but her writing stutters — she feels unable to bring the story to the page. The other, too, imagines a story, plots out its parts, but can’t seem to bring it together “into a cohesive whole”. I thought about our processes of writing and wondered if a part to whole or whole to part framing of the writing might be helpful.

I shared my thematic idea:

I’m hoping to convey a message about reckoning with the past, with our own past as a way of moving forward. I was thinking about the ways that photographs can provide a sense of the past that isn’t real and yet being in the moment is so ethereal, so transient and living is like looking through the front windshield of a car while glancing back in the rearview mirror. We are trying to live forward while looking back.

I then shared the process over the past two days and the fact that the story morphed and changed as I wrote while I kept trying to keep this centre of meaning. It sparked a shared recognition and a lightness filled the room; they were both able to see themselves in what I had shared in my writing experience. Although I know that my craft is limited, I just don’t know how limited unless I try and fail and try again to reckon with this writing life.

10 thoughts on “Pausing the story 4/31 #SOL

  1. “and reckon with this writing life.” Yes! I literally cannot imagine anymore how I taught writing without actually writing. Fiction is a weak point of mine, too, so I doubly admire your willingness to try this path with your students. I love the sharing, the thinking, the honouring that you do here as you write about your process and theirs and how they are intertwined.

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  2. This is really honest, and I so respect that you are writing alongside your special students, and finding the same feelings of uncertainty. I love your passage sharing your thematic idea. The more I mature as a writer, the more I “write around” a piece. By that I mean- I used to think you just sat down and worked on whatever it was, editing, etc. Now I might write it as memoir, then as if it were fiction third person, then as a poem. We have to do more and more writing to find the kernels we are looking for, I think now.
    Bottom line- what a genuine and significant journey you are on with your students.

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    1. Thank you so much for this, Fran. I’m thankful for this community and this is a place to learn from others and by doing; it reminds me how vulnerable it is to publish.

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  3. I can imagine this time and space spent with your group of writers as especially generative and affirming. I am struck here by the mutuality in growth. Writing alongside students seems like a perfect avenue for recognizing more about yourself, your craft and your possibilities. Thank you for sharing your process.

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    1. Thank you, Sheri. Your sharing and your writing has been nourishing and the newsletter is bending the arc towards equity. Thank you for your scholarship that you generously share.

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  4. I enjoyed reading this reflection and admire your openness with students. I don’t know that there is a perfect time to write, especially when we are exploring a new genre. It’s easy to find reasons not to write. I worked w/ Meg Medina when I was at the Highlights Foundation. She said to write the story you’d want to read for the target audience, so if you’re writing MG, write what you’d want to read at that age. She also talked about how to fictionalize one’s own life. This was so helpful. I suspect you can find videos of her talking about these things. She specifically mentioned what in Yaqi Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass was born in reality.

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  5. Your students are very privileged to have you as their teacher with your willingness to work and experiment and also be vulnerable alongside them! I’m sure they appreciate it and your encouragement will help them to grow in confidence and ability!

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