Below is an essay I wrote about writing in my life. I really wanted to share it as it rings very true to me. This last summer I was able to participate in the Inland Area Writing Project/Inland Area Science Project as a Fellow. This has become an ongoing experience for me this year. I am working on small and big writing projects.
My Writing Life
The first experience I remember having with writing success was an essay I wrote in 6th grade. The theme of the essay was, “What America Means to Me.” I remember talking about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I remember also knowing that the essay was to be entered into a contest. I was told I won the contest and that the essay was going to be read on the radio. I guess I might have gotten a letter or something saying I had won but I don’t remember seeing such a letter or certificate or anything like that. I did feel very proud that I had won, but I didn’t get the experience of hearing my essay being read on the radio. Somehow the teacher got the date and time wrong. That was a source of disappointment for me, but overall I still felt validated in my writing ability.
I also remember in high school English class writing a sonnet or two, and a ballad. I remember a classmate reading my ballad, which had something to do with going to sea; that classmate was very critical of the rhythm of the piece. I remember thinking that the process of writing and finding that right word to rhyme, was what I focused on, not the rhythm of the piece. I started to see how poetry was complicated, time consuming, but also rewarding when it turned out the way I wanted it to turn out, not just because someone else liked the poem. In my junior year in high school I also wrote several poems when we were studying a unit on poetry, including the poetry of Emily Dickinson. We published some of poems in a class newsletter. One of my classmates said my poems reminded him of Emily Dickinson’s poems. I wasn’t sure what that meant. Perhaps he though because I was so quiet that I was a recluse like her, or perhaps my poems reminded him of the somber mood of many of her poems.
Later that year in the same English class, when we had read The Great Gatsby, we had to write an essay as an assessment about the book. I wrote one well written page and received an A on the essay. One of my classmates who had written five pages had received a B- on her paper. I learned the value of brevity and getting to the point without fluff from that experience. The first idea I had that I might want to be a writer was that year in English class. The teacher, I don’t remember her name was good friends with James A. Michener. She talked a lot about how his books were so lengthy but that was how he developed the theme of the book and show from generation to generation how the story unfolded. She also talked about how she helped in the research for his book Chesapeake. I was enthralled to know someone who knew an author, a successful author. I had started reading a book that year by him called Hawaii. It was a lengthy novel, but I made it about halfway through the book that year.
In high school I was the secretary for the square dance club called the Teen Dusters. As secretary I need to write letters and take notes. I remember getting feedback from some of the adult sponsors regarding how well written my letters and notes were.
The second half of year in sociology class in high school, I was asked if I would like to write two research project papers, one per quarter, for the second semester grade and not come to class anymore but go to the library. I did this and I don’t even remember having any problem writing these papers. I wasn’t absolutely sure that I had a writing style or ability but I did get an A on the first paper which was all about dreams and the current research on dreams. The second one was on Creationism vs. Evolution. I k I was writing argument at that time but I was very convinced from my involvement in the church that I was right about my viewpoint that there was scientific support for creationism, so I wasn’t critical of the evidence I presented in my paper. I remember quoting things from pamphlet’s from the Creation Research Society. When my teacher questioned the source material he brought up the idea of peer reviewed scientific research. As I was a naïve teenager, I didn’t really understand his criticism. I was steeped in my know-it-all teenage confidence; I was more upset that I got a B on the paper because the source material was questioned.
In college English, one of the assignments was to write a personal short story. I decided to write the story of having seen John F. Kennedy the morning of the day he was assassinated. My professor really loved the story but she wanted me to change it to say that I was in Dallas at the scene of the assassination instead of having seen him in Ft. Worth before he went to Dallas. She then wanted me to submit my work for publication. I told her that I didn’t want to change the truth of the story. Over the years I have rewritten this story, but I still need to work on my ending a little bit.
Over the years I have written poems for cathartic reason such as when I was going through a traumatic divorce way back in 1992. I have read some of those poems to the group during the Invitational Summer Institute. When epic or disturbing things happen in the world such as Columbine High School massacre, or the birth of Dolly the cloned sheep I have written poems.
Overall, these anecdotal stories of my writing life are not complete but they do give you an idea of my deep desire to write and to infuse writing within my life. The very first idea for a novel that I have is about a future scenario when a portion of the human population has acquired extended life expectancy in the order of 100’s of years instead of the usual 4 score and 20. Since that first idea more and more just come and come, the trouble is that I get started on one and then life gets in the way.
I hope to be inspired to write something to completion and soon. I don’t care what it is I finish even if it is just a short story or a paper to submit to NSTA. I want to see something of my work published in the next year. This is why I feel this Invitational Summer Institute has come along in my life right at the correct moment. I feel inspired by all the writing I have done in this institute and I am making a plan to do what I can to just write, write, and write. I am convinced that practice does make a writer, just as teaching can make a teacher.
Now, I face the challenge of brining the joy of writing to my students in the classroom. I need to meld the love of science and my love of writing with my knowledge that the writing process is a process, which is an effective method of learning content.
I see that I need to be a reading coach/writing coach and a scientific coach all in one job description. I can see more clearly from what I have learned in the institute about the central role of writing in the learning process now in order to create the proper learning environment where students do inquiry and then write to learn. Maybe along the way I can model enthusiasm for writing in such a way that students will write for pleasure just like we read for pleasure. My goal is for students to naturally want to write to express what they have learned.