DAY 1: June 1, 2011
Quick-Write #1: What are your goals for the writing retreat?
My main goals are to reconnect with myself as a writer, and to try out a writing assignment that I want my students to complete next year. I have some pictures of my home town that I'm going to use as writing prompts for creative writing genres, including poetry, vignettes, creative nonfiction, and short stories. Next year, I hope to use this writing project with The House on Mango Street. I want this project to make students think about their culture, their surroundings, their identity. It reminds me of the map writing that we did at the summer ISI. I want my students to have that "a ha" moment that I had when I realized that I am, in part, a product of my environment.
Quick-Write #2: What challenges are you facing as you write?
Right now, I'm dealing with my inner critic as I write my thesis. It's such an overwhelming and daunting task that I don't know where to begin, so most days I just don't. I don't want my thesis committee to think that I'm stupid. I know they will criticize my grammar, my style, my organization, my sources, my thoughts. I keep waiting for ideas to click magically into place, forming sheer poetry on the page. But I know it doesn't work that way. Funny that I don't feel that way when I'm sharing much more personal writing with my fellow PBWP'ers. I can tell them about my childhood memories, my loves and losses, my fear and dreams, but I can't begin a research paper about Shakespeare. Arg! I feel that the PBWP is such a supportive community, with no ulterior motive. I wish I could open up the doors and bring this level of support into my own classroom.
DAY 2: June 2, 2011
Quick-Write #1: How is my thinking changing?
I'm trying to silence my inner critic. He's not a very good critic anyway, just prolific. I'm trying to remember that the importance piece is that I just write, that I put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and just go. There will be time for perfecting it later. Right now is the time for the untethering of ideas, of freeing them from the bondage of the critic. What advice would I give to the student with writer's block? I'm stopping more frequently to tie my own experiences as a writer with those of my students. More metacognition. Making more connections. Letting my personal style as a writer shine through. These are things I want for my kids. It's okay to want them for myself, too.
Quick-Write #2: "We wrote. We listened. Then we wrote some more." How is this process impacting my writing during this retreat?
I love that we are each writing things that are so different. It reminds me that writing is not a narrow concept that can fit into a prefabricated box, but a term that encompasses so many different ways to express thought. Even though I’m focusing on my own writing, I find myself wanting to steal the ideas of my colleagues for a later date. I loved Dawn’s variation on Giving Tree. I wonder what I, or my students, could do with that. I loved Susan’s vignettes from yesterday about teasing her brother and other childhood experiences. How do I guide my students to produce that kind of poetry? Wenifer’s sense of voice is always to be envied. Does my writing have my voice in it? I’m remembering that article Dawn mentioned yesterday, asking “Are you in this paper?” I like Jean’s reflections on how far her students have come, each of them, not just the cream-of-the-crop writers. How can I make my students see for themselves how far they have come? I can’t be anyone else but myself, as a writer, and that’s okay. But I can let the writing of others inspire me to become better at my craft.
DAY 3: June 3, 2011
Quick-Write: What about this experience are you going to take away with you? In what ways will you continue self-discovery in yourself as a writer?
I would have to say that this writing retreat was most valuable because it rekindled my awareness of myself as a writer. Sometimes I make too many excuses for not writing; being “too busy” is my go-to alibi. But here, among fellow writers, in a safe and welcoming atmosphere, I am supported and encouraged to write. Since attending the ISI, I have been more diligent about writing. I keep a folder on my computer of poems that I have written, and I have started more poems within the last year than I have had the courage to write in all my years leading up to the ISI. I have begun submitting some for publication, and I don’t always get accepted, but that’s okay. The point is that I’m writing and I’m sharing and I’m more actively participating in the writing community. I’m also blogging about my experiences with technology in the classroom. It started as an easy way to keep track of all the cool stuff that I’ve encountered through workshops and Google searches, but now it turns out that I’m actually helping other people by sharing my own experiences. What a wonderful gift to be able to reach out to others who I have never even met! I’m trying to make myself a more well-rounded writer. I hope to come back to this retreat next year—hint hint—and do some professional writing about lessons that I have “tried on” this year, with the intent of submitting something to a professional journal. I just keep pausing to remind myself not to forget these past few days when I go back to my classroom in far too few weeks to think about. I can’t be blind to the connection between myself as a writer and my students as writers. The new crop of kids that will be showing up in my classroom on August 12th will have some struggling writers, so I must not forget what it’s like to struggle. That group will also have some kids who, like me as a youngster, enjoy writing. I must do everything in my power not to extinguish that passion for writing, but to also challenge them to grow their writing roots in new ways, trying new genres or strengthening their skills in familiar ones. The best way for me to teach writing is to be a writer.
Note: You can read more about the summer writing retreat, including posts by other retreat participants, on the PBWP Ning HERE.
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Jessica Pilgreen is a high school English teacher, a Piasa Bluffs Writing Project fellow, and a technology enthusiast. The main purpose of this blog is to help her keep track of all of the fabulous tools out there that she has encountered, but if she can help a few others along the way, that's good, too.