On Writing & Encouragement

I teach high school English which means I also teach writing which is probably one of the most challenging parts of my job. I won’t dive into all the pedagogical strategies I’ve tried over the years, but I’d like to share one recent experience.

The grade 12 class had just finished first draft writing and I wanted them to engage in some careful revision. I gave them instructions for a peer-feedback process that required them to ask for specific feedback on two aspects of their draft. Each student had to have four “feedback -readers” (plus me, of course), and to be a feedback -reader for four of their classmates. As we were organizing this activity, one of the students randomly asked, “Mrs. Crandall, can I be your reader?”

The question caught me off-guard for a moment, but I did indeed have a piece I had started working on with the hope that I could submit it to an online magazine. I once mustered up enough courage to submit a poem to them and was honoured that they accepted it. That gave me courage to submit another poem for another issue, which was also accepted. But I had yet to find the ‘whatsit’ to submit a pitch for an article. I tried once, labouring over a piece for a month before deciding it simply wasn’t good enough.

So, after a short beat, I told the student, that yes, she could be my reader. To follow my own rules for the assignment, I needed three more readers. Hands shot up across the room. I gave the four students a draft version of the piece I was considering, broke my rules by identifying not two but three areas for feedback, and then set to work earnestly revising and refining what was originally a post here on my blog. The stakes had just been raised…

The deadline to submit the piece to the magazine came before my class deadline for feedback, so by the time the four students had added their comments, I had already written the pitch, attached the revised article that I hoped was sufficient, taken a deep breath, and hit the send button. Their feedback, however, was insightful, honest, earnest. I was impressed. While their comments didn’t really have any impact on what I submitted, their willingness to engage with me made all the difference in actually making the submission.

Writing is hard work. Writing is vulnerable. But writing is also how many of us process life and sometimes we just need a little encouragement to keep putting words on paper or online or in other people’s hands. My students gave me a gift of encouragement, and I try to do the same for them and their words.

And those students, bless their hearts, were more excited and less surprised than I was when the article was accepted by Fathom Mag for publication in their recent issue on “Margin.”

🎁 When a gift changes things

A Jots & Doodles Update

As a teacher, I often receive gifts from students: Starbucks cards and chocolates and homemade cookies and tea (they know better than to buy me coffee!). I appreciate these thoughtful expressions of their appreciation. This year I received some book gifts — one was a novel a student enjoyed so much that she gave me her copy with all her favourite passages marked. What a treat! Another student gave me a book full of empty pages designed for me to fill. It is called The Daily Sketch Journal and I have been enjoying it immensely. So far I haven’t missed a day, which can be a challenge when school planning and marking duties lurk throughout each evening. Sketching slows my mind. Writing stimulates it. And that is why I incorporated the two of them together in my zine Jots & Doodles.

The Daily Sketch Journal has changed some things for me. One of them is having time to compile issues of Jots & Doodles. So I have decided to set that aside for this year. I’m hoping that a year of daily sketching will provide ample material for future issues, although I do need to find a more effective way to replicate the images so that they are better quality for printing. I’m working on a solution to that problem.

So, for this year I will be sketching every day and writing weekly here, usually in the form of Saturday Caesura musings but certainly not limited to that format. I’ll try to give a peek into the sketch book from time-to-time, just so you know I’m keeping up with it (and to hold myself accountable!) I am grateful for all who have wandered to this space and expressed appreciation for what you have found here.

Thank you.

☕️ Gifts

A Saturday Caesura

The first story I remember writing was about a cougar. At the time, I was positive that it was the greatest story ever written. I have only vague memories of what I actually wrote, but I can guarantee it was everything you would expect from an elementary school student: sentimental imaginings, clichéd descriptions, and gaping plot holes. I remember this particular story because writing it made me realize for the first time that the ideas and pictures in my head could become words on a page, that writing wasn’t just about copying letters or spelling words correctly or answering study questions in full sentences. I’ve not given much attention to story-making in the years since that failed masterpiece, but I’ve developed a love for story-finding among the bits and pieces and images of daily life.

The first picture I clearly remember drawing was of a poster-sized blue garbage can with big eyes, an open lid for its mouth, and “Feed Me” (or something similar) written on its belly. It won an anti-littering-on-the-playground contest which was monumental to my little-girl-self, not because of the prize (which I don’t even remember), but because I realized that I could draw and that I enjoyed drawing. At first I mostly drew animals. Okay… horses. But eventually a charcoal cat and a moose and mountain goats and even a cougar. Later, I realized that drawing people was somewhat similar to drawing animals; I just had to change the shapes and features and lines and proportions and perspectives — in other words, everything but the actual drawing techniques. Even later, I learned that artists call pencil crayons coloured pencils, and now I have a glorious array of them. They are still my favourite art tool.

Over the years writing and drawing have been relegated to the When I Have Time portion of the calendar. I regret this. I realize now that what I lacked was not time, but a proper understanding of the gift they are to me. For the past several years I have tried to be more faithful in using these gifts. I write and draw nearly every day, even if it is only for a few minutes – a quick sketch, a sentence or two. From this habit, comes a new project: a zine I’ve entitled Jots & Doodles, which combines inked images from my sketchbook with poems and reflections from my writing notebook.

Jots & Doodles Volume 1: Issues 1 & 2

As a gift to anyone who happens to stumble across this blog, I am making each issue of Jots & Doodles available as a PDF download. They can be printed on a single sheet of paper and folded into a booklet (see instructions below). They are the perfect size to tuck into a card or a pocket or an envelope, attach to a gift or pin on a bulletin board. If they bring you (or someone you know) some encouragement, I’d love to hear about it!

Gifts are only gifts if they are given.

Source: https://tellingcambridgetales.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/how-to-fold-a-zine/

Note: please notify me if there are any issues with the download links. Thank you.