Monthly Archives: February 2017

faire et se taire

How do you “faire et se taire” as a writer, as Flaubert put it? (Also, that rhymes, just to say.) Author Helen Simpson translates: Shut up and get on with it. And that’s what we’re writing about today.

I’ll admit it. This is really hard for me. Mostly because my to-do list looks like this:

 

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(NOTE: My to-do list does NOT include pics of my students, because that would be way creepy. I just have my journal lying on top of my roll sheet.)

 

Sometimes I think that my to-do list it detailed enough to count as actual writing, but alas. If you look closely, however, you’ll see that there’s a “RESEARCH” sticky listed and that there are even times listed beside each bulleted item on the list. For me, RESEARCH = WRITING.

Actually putting times on the items on the list, then making sure I block them into my day is improving my efficiency this semester (I think). It’s hard to make sure the writing sticky doesn’t get crowded out by those other notes, but this strategy is helping. I’ve also found a sweet new (free) app for my phone that’s called 30/30. It keeps me honest in the blocks of time when my mind feels like the urgent has to supersede the important. You basically enter in task and assign times to those categories, then tap on them and forget the time until the app buzzes that it’s up. It looks like this:

 

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Yet even with all these strategies in place, there are still days when I just Don’t. Want. To. Write. because I feel as if I just Don’t. Have. Anything. To. Say. Well, that could be true at any give time, but I’m allowing the writing bar to scroll up to the top of my screen anyway because I know that almost inevitably, about 10 mins. in, I gain some momentum and don’t want to stop.

If you need more encouragement, Austin Kleon of Steal Like an Artist fame, has his own “faire et se taire” mantra that’s so darn loving, it’s hard to resist: “something small, every day.” (Plus, check out this post to see how Kleon repurposed a workplace safety scoreboard sign above his desk for extra incentive. It’s pretty great.)

I suppose you can woo yourself in French (faire et se taire) or take a roll-up-your-sleeves approach (shut up and get on with it), or coax yourself to your writing space (Here, kitty, kitty, kitty–do something small, every day). Whatever you do, the end result promises to be the same. Just show up and trust that something will happen. Then pick up your pencil or turn on your machine and write, and something will.

 

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Dear Me — inspire yourself as a writer

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Today, we’re writing letters to ourselves as writers. We’ve all been there, and by “there,” I’m talking about that moment in writing when you feel like a big fraud. The “mean girl/boy” voices (or “little mousies,” as Anne Lamott calls them) can be pretty vicious in casting their aspersions. No matter how many times I forget it, I know those are the best times to remind yourself that you can push through. Here goes:

Dear Cindy,

So you’re winding up that prospectus right now. The end is in sight! (not “near” because that sounds pretty much like the doomsday clock is counting down even further). Rather, the time is the thing now. Wow, it’s easy to let the urgent crowd at the important, especially when it comes to writing, but think about how good you feel when you’ve gotten something down on the page.

Forget about all the times you write to erase, that is, those times when you use the backspace button more than you use move forward. (P.S.: I totally just did that.) Spelling is perhaps a legitimate reason to hit backspace, but you’re a good speller (plus, spell-check), so what would happen if you didn’t revise as you went for once, but just got your ideas down on the page? What if you wrote to the end of a single paragraph even, and then moved forward to another paragraph and another and another until you had generated a decent bit of content that you could spend 15 mins. editing at the end?

I predict it would feel pretty good. Why don’t you try that today?

Also, just for a minute, think about the stuff you’ve read that even upon re-reading seems pretty good, seems true and enduring, even though the circumstances that inspired the content may have passed. Think about the tweets you get like you got last week when someone read something from Pose, Wobble, Flow and felt inspired! The notification on your phone woke you up that morning, and there was a moment then before you drifted back to sleep that you thought, “Good, someone felt encouraged in their practice and they just might pay it forward as a teacher or a writer, and you had a small part in that.”

You might be able to write something today that will work in a similar fashion tomorrow.

Give it a try. Be surprised. No back-spacing. Write to the end of the paragraph.

Best,

Me

what’s your mindset on “mindset”?

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[IMAGE CREDIT: Edutopia]

One of the most common refrains I’ve heard from my students over the years is, “I’m just not creative.” When I taught high school, I heard and I asked my students to write in any genre beyond the five-paragraph essay (which is indeed a secondary school genre in that very few writers write in it past graduation, even English majors). In fact, if I dared suggest that my students write FOUR or FIVE+ paragraphs, oh the gasps that ensued! Oh the wringing of hands!

As determined as I was as a teacher to coax students out of their fixed mindsets as writers so that they could grow creatively, I have a confession to make: when I’m asked to move beyond a fixed mindset as a writer, I feel aghast sometimes, too.

I’ve been earning part of my living as a writer for “five-ever,” as my daughter would say, and though I definitely have my dark days, I’m pretty confident in claiming that identity once-and-for-all. In that respect, I’d say I have “fixed mindset” that yes, indeed, I am a writer. So that’s where my quibble with Dweck’s thinking about mindsets in dichotomous terms comes in. Rather, I see fixed and growth mindsets as related in potentially positive way.

When a fixed mindset is tied to an actionable identity, I believe it can be generative. That is, actually seeing myself as a writer is what propels me to engage in and grow through writing.

At the same time, when I dabble in varied genres and write for audiences beyond academia, I inevitably have to activate a growth mindset. I have to start over in a sense, but I can always come back to that anchor identity, that fixed mindset that I am a writer, just one who’s always stretching and growing. I ‘m not gonna lie, as with my high school students, there’s always some gasping and wringing of hands when I transition into a growth mindset, but it’s the fixed mindset that gets me through said grasping and wringing to the other side.

Thus I don’t see fixed and growth mindsets as either-or’s; I see them in potentially generative tension with one another.

I’m not the only one with a quibble about Dweck’s ideas. See, for instance, Alfie Kohn’s critique about buying the “mindset” mindset hook, line, and sinker, and then take a look at this critique of Kohn’s critique by whip-smart writer/gifted teacher/former student/luminous human being Jaime Wood. (Jaime’s piece is on a terrific site called Bark, which you’re going to want to start following right now, immediately. Just read this for starters.)

I think Jaime gets it right when she points out that an inordinate focus on the individual, which the notion of “mindset” (understood singularly) implies, ignores that the individual always exists in a sociocultural context of “family, teachers, economics, societal expectations, and a range of other factors beyond ourselves to contribute to our success.” In that case, “the notion that personal responsibility is the only condition that matters for success, or the most important one, is just plain false.”

Jaime’s conclusion: “growth mindset isn’t really the problem. The problem is that we have to understand the complex system in which this new strategy will take place and how other issues like forming positive relationships between students and teachers will have a substantial effect on whether a growth mindset will work.”

What she said.

in spite of / because of / on behalf of

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I made the mistake of checking CNN at lunch and spoiled my appetite. I’m not exaggerating when I say that my worst fears for public education were just confirmed today by Betsy’s DeVos’s confirmation. I’d be lying if I said I was shocked, but somewhere between disappointed and devastated sounds about right.

And for about the hundredth time in the past few weeks, I thought, “What now? What’s next?”

Ironically, I had another tab open on my laptop while I was reading the news. It was this blog post by Parker Palmer on Krista Tippett’s fantastic website On Being. Palmer was writing on an unrelated topic, but as usual, his words had profound relevance for the moment. Here’s what he had to say:

“…you may be asking the vexing question, ‘What can I do?’ For me, the answer begins within, then moves out into the world.

…Here’s where many of us get stuck, thinking of how little power we possess compared to the enormity of our nation’s problems. So let’s listen to the wisdom of writer and activist Wendell Berry who reminds us that, when it comes to big problems, there’s never been one big answer, only a million-million little ones.

If you believe that the little thing you’re doing can’t possibly make a big-picture difference, remember Berry’s words:

‘We don’t have a right to ask whether we’re going to succeed or not. The only question we have a right to ask is what’s the right thing to do?’”

Well, at the moment, I don’t really know what to do. So in the absence of that, I just invented a heuristic to ground my thinking. I’m calling it “IN SPITE OF / ON BEHALF OF / BECAUSE OF.”  Here’s how it worked for me:

IN SPITE OF Betsy Devos’s confirmation, I will keep working…

ON BEHALF OF public education…

BECAUSE OF my belief that the world will become more just and peaceful only if all children have an equal opportunity to thrive and grow.

At the moment, I still don’t know what to do exactly, but I’m hoping this statement can be a starting place that will allow me to follow Parker Palmer’s advice to “[begin] within, and then [move] out into the world.

If you try the heuristic for yourself, will you let me know how it worked for you? I’d love to hear your statements and feel inspired.

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weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down

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Okay, the truth is that Weebles actually do fall down, but the thing that Weebles do that other playthings don’t–the quality that is the essence of their Weeble-ness–is that they pop right back up again into their original pose. I bet you can see why a tagline like “Weebles wobble, then they fall down, but then they get back up again” didn’t make the cut.

I bet you can also guess there’s a metaphor at work here. You can take a look at this Morning Pages prompt for more details on what our community of writers is addressing today, but for now, it’s enough to know that we’re pose/wobble/flow-ing in relation to the pose of “Teacher as Writer,” that is of committing yourself to being a teacher who writes and a writer who teaches. (See this previous post for details on the pose/wobble/flow model and how it can support your growth as a teacher.)

When I think today about how and where I’m wobbling as a writer, it’s in the justdo-ing it part, in simply “engaging regularly in the practice of writing” (Garcia & O’Donnell-Allen, 2015, p. 76). I rarely suffer from writer’s blog, but there are so many demands on my time that writing on a daily basis often gets pushed to wayside. I’m talking about a certain kind of writing here because don’t get me wrong, I’m writing all day long (and doing so right now, in fact). But the kind of writing that dominates my day tends to fall into Scardamalia & Bereiter’s (1987)  “knowledge-telling” genre rather than the “knowledge-transforming” genre that feeds my soul. Writing grant proposals, lesson plans, letters of recommendation, and teaching observations does not feed my soul. Even though I acknowledge its necessity, duty-based, knowledge-telling writing plagues me because it tends to crowd the generative, knowledge-transforming writing right off the day’s agenda.

Herein, I wobble.

In Pose, Wobble, Flow, Antero and I cover strategies for dealing with wobble in more detail, but there are always challenges (did I mention the time thing already?), so this is a really good example of why it’s important to go back to the pose: I am a writer who teaches. I am a teacher who writes. So as a note to self, here’s what I know I can do to wobble toward flow:

  • I know I can set up writing as a non-negotiable “meeting” in my calendar.
  • I know that coffee is a must, as is a quiet place or a place where I can be quiet in myself in a crowded place like a coffee shop.
  • I know it helps to have a writing partner who holds me accountable.
  • I know that just 25 mins. of knowledge-transforming writing a day, five days a week,  quickly adds up to a couple of hours on even the busiest week. If I can knock out 1,500 words in 2 hours and write 43 weeks of the year (yes, that’s over 2 months off), I get to right at 65,000 words, and that’s a book, my friends! Yeah, yeah, I know that amount of time doesn’t take revision into account, but you get my drift here.

And yet…I wobble.

There. I said it.Coming clean with my students about wobbling is sometimes a risk because I run into the do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do syndrome, yet I hope it helps to know they’re not alone. (Psst! You’re not alone!) Remind me to be a good Weeble and check in this time next week to see if I stayed true to my Teacher as Writer pose.

In the meantime, let’s all of us let the throwaway tagline be our mantra:

Weebles wobble, then they fall down, but then they get back up again.

 

  • Bereiter, C., & Scardamalia, M. (1987). The psychology of written composition. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • IMAGE CREDIT: Community Blogs