Sunday, February 2, 2014

Celebrating When Writing Gets Tough

celebrating-writersby Elizabeth Jamison, Dissertation Gal:

Today I’ve been reading a wonderful book titled, Celebrating Writers: From Possibilities Through Publication by Ruth Ayres with Christi Overman.

While the book is written for teachers of elementary and middle school students, some of the ideas really resonated with me.

Ayers defines celebration as a process with three steps: 1. Response, 2. Reflect, and 3, Rejoice.

While her ideas are not necessarily new, they served a special purpose for me (as I hope they will for other writers): I got out of my shell and sent some of my dissertation work to my advisor, even though I was afraid to because it’s nowhere near finished.

In fact, a lot of it is clumps of crap with a few good things in the middle. So I’d like to talk about these three important aspects of writing for a minute and how they pertain to older students and professional writers.

1. Response

Asking others to respond to your writing is probably the hardest part of this process, because when you hand over your words, you make yourself vulnerable.

And while teachers (myself included) encourage students to share their work, to go through peer editing, to engage in authentic writing and communication, I have to ask myself and you (professional or graduate writer) when was the last time you let someone else read your writing? It’s scary. It’s personal. It’s uncomfortable.

I’ve been a teacher of composition for almost ten years and I’m in the home stretch of my PhD, but it took reading this book that made me realize that I’d better start asking for feedback and celebrating little successes or I wasn’t going to be able to finish.

It also took a pivotal email from my colleague Lindsey and from my advisor Dr. Gaillet, both who told me to email my work in progress, to get me to just do it and send what I have completed so far.

It’s so scary to make yourself vulnerable, especially for perfectionists like me. I hate to turn in work that isn’t “finished” or my “best”, but sometimes you have to keep yourself accountable by turning in what you’ve got and just face the feedback.

2. Reflection

What’s missing from most people’s lives? I’ll tell you, I think it’s reflection. We (most of us) go through our lives, overcome obstacles, experience difficult times and impossible challenges, but it is the rare person who sits down and reflects.

And by reflection, I mean sitting quietly, thinking about what you did, what could have been better, what you’ll do differently in the future. It’s hard to reflect about the past, because to reflect honestly means that we have to look at our lives honestly. And that’s hard to do.

Ruth Ayres, in her book, talks about reflection as a crucial part of the writing process. I agree with her, although it’s easier to teach reflection than to practice it in my opinion.

I tell my students to peer edit, work with others, put their thoughts out there, make themselves vulnerable. But I find it hard to practice what I preach. I’m 43 (43??? When did this happen?). I have doubts about my accomplishments and I often feel like I should be further along than I am. But you know, I tend to look at the negative and not the positive.

3. Rejoice!

This book helped me to realize that I need to start looking at the positive, celebrating the positive, as well!

So today, I did the work I could and sat by the fire, emailed my professor, graded, and organized my thoughts for the book review I am writing.

I feel really good about today. Even though I am really, REALLY nervous about what my adviser will say about the work in progress, I am glad I got her something.

If you are a writer, a speaker, a photographer, an artist, etc. show your work to others. Get feedback. :-) I know - it’s easier said than done, but it is worth it.

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