Saturday, October 1, 2016

Longing for Writing Space as an Early Career Researcher Professor

I woke this morning with the longing to write, the need to carve time for creativity, to voice the thoughts swirling around in the ether.  Simultaneously, university course work tugged at the coattails of a writing desire that has become more and more elusive over the past several weeks.  I wobbled against its weight.  The pull of grading, of announcements to students clarifying their questions, and of emails to colleagues scheduling meetings worked to stifle what I know to be true: if I do not write, I cannot teach writing, nor can I teach future teachers how to teach writing.

Attending the Illinois Reading Council (#IRC2016) reminded me of the passion I need to reignite: writing to discover new ideas and to nourish the ideas that have had little time to take root.  A small group of professors with the College Instructors of Reading Professionals answered questions, and more importantly offered much-needed encouragement in my pursuit of what fills me as a professional.  Anne Gregory with NIU said it best when describing how early she rises each morning to workout: "I deserve this . . . and you deserve the time for your passion." Deserve.  I deserve the time to write.  That one word shifted my thinking profoundly.

But it did not shift my ability.

In a late afternoon session yesterday, Ralph Fletcher showed us poetry and encouraged us to draft a few lines ourselves.  I stumbled.  My phrases were lackluster.  The poem ended awkwardly with no connection to Fletcher proposed be our final two lines.  And how I needed that punch to generate an image, an idea about a memory long past.  I could then, and now, feel the rusty spigot creaking little by little with each word.  No pressure except for the words pressing themselves against the narrow faucet opening.

When Kelly Gallagher spoke in his session about voluminous writing in the classroom, I nodded agreement.  How can students improve their writing and enhance idea generation, organization, and detail development without constant opportunities to experiment with craft and improve writing stamina?  His strategies for engaging students in low-pressure writing without increasing the grading workload should be easy to implement in any grade level.  In fact, I am eager to add his Reading Reasons to my collection of professional resources to become as well-referenced as so many other reading and writing experts.

But then, let's flip the voluminous writing concept back to us.

Are we creating the space--time and place--for low-pressure writing in our own professional and personal settings?  In a sense, everything I have written in the past several weeks has been for a "grade."  Grading students' essays and communicating with colleagues or partner schools via email are higher-pressure writings that become evaluated by the people who read them.  Likewise, reports, course syllabi, and students' degree study plans cannot receive failing grades.  I like having a job.

Blogging is that release for me.  Writing in this space solidifies the ethereal thoughts, giving them legs to stand on . . . and hands to shake loose whatever weight might be hanging onto the tails of this new coat I am trying on.

So tell me, how do you create the space for writing?  What do you recommend for early-career researchers and professors?  What helps you reignite writing when other weighty obligations begin to take over?