Creating the Magic Formula: The Writing Life

My Writer’s Workshop class is now in full swing and the seniors have been refining their blogging skills as they respond to a number of short articles on the craft of writing.

This week, they begin reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and will post a response once per week (for the next 9-10 weeks) based upon their reading; however, for the sake of variety, I will be reading something else:

The Writing Life: Writers on How they Think And Work (A collection from The Washington Post Book World)

Sitting at my teacher desk in 2670 early on Sunday morning, I begin with the Introduction, the portion of the book I most often skip. However, my attention is caught. My interest peaked.

Marie Arana explains the need for this collection, but says something singularly important for all writers to understand:

There is no magic formula. Someone can teach you to formulate a good sentence; someone can teach you to do the legwork, build evidence, fashion persuasive arguments, connect the dots. But if readers carry away one lesson from this book it should be that writers learn their craft, above all, from the work of other writers. From reading. They learn it from immersing themselves in books.

Marie Arana

Of course! Reading is the key to great writing. But that can’t be the only advice she has. I read every day and have yet to craft my second novel (I did write the fifth installment of the Harry Potter series while in 7th grade; although, I only made it to page 52!). There has to be more.

She reveals her own personal journey to writing– from critic to author–and how she needed to prepare herself to “be the fool.” Writing is a solitary enterprise and must be done in comfort tucked away in a hideaway far from our peers.

Her next point returns me to the introduction in one of my favorite films: Iron Man 3. Tony Stark foreshadows his own personal failings in this film as he thinks aloud for the audience saying, “We create our own demons.”

When I first heard him say this, enlightenment struck like an anvil dropped from above. We are the authors of our lives and have the final say in how our story ends. We need to be able to defeat those demons we ourselves create and, in the process, create the best version of ourselves.

Arana writes in her introduction, “Writers create themselves.” Explaining this thought further, she writes, “They are pulled from potential to realization, discovered not taught. To educate–educere in the root Latin–means quite literally ‘to bring out.'”

This is the way I approach teaching in my own classroom, for the most part. For my seniors, I rarely spend more than five minutes in the driver’s seat at the front of the classroom. The only way for them, and myself, to improve is to practice the craft of writing. To be immersed in the process. I need to bring out those passions they all already have, offer examples showing how to share those passions, and set up the environment for revising and refining until a final product can be assembled.

Ultimately, the point is: we can only write in our own way–reminding ourselves that there is no one magic formula. There is only our own magic formula, our own writing DNA.

However, to better cultivate our writing we should take a look at the advice from some of the greats and see what works for us. We can work up to strong writing by doing the following:

Read, read, read. See examples of writing from others!

Experiment with sentence variety. A lot. Use brush strokes, clauses, punctuation, and varying sentence types to your advantage.

Find and develop our own voices. To do this we have to free ourselves and let our words flow onto the page, even when they aren’t yet perfected.

Write. Revise. Show others. Revise. Show different others. Revise. Repeat until just right.

I look forward to continuing these posts over the next nine weeks to learn from the greats, see what I can come up with in response to their advice, and witness what my seniors can create as they read Bird by Bird.

Create yo’self, people!

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