Slice of Life: Inspiration in the Comment

Every Tuesday writers share a Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers. Please join in if you are so inclined.   You can read more slicehere. Thank you to  TaraAnnaDanaStacey,  Betsy  and Beth11454297503_e27946e4ff_hWhen it comes to reading and writing the steps toward understanding are complex and frustrating. As teachers we try to guide our students to discover words that make meaning on the page.   We want to find joy and excitement in words. What they mean and how to use them; to understand why the writer choose that word. To use just the right words when talking, writing, thinking. We are always looking for the  just the right formula to inspire our students to be passionate readers and writers.

Complicated. How to access these words so they make meaning not just as we read but as we write? And not just reading the word in a sentence, not just using the word in writing, but understanding the specificity of that word. Knowing that that word and no other word is  just the right word. Poetry seems to be one way to work toward all of these goals.

We have been reading poetry, one a week. Now we are going to  write. Knowing this was my plan, knowing my students would be scared, knowing I felt the same, knowing I had to start somewhere, I started with forms that have constraints and rules.  Those places I felt like I could be sure it was poetry because it “fit” a definition. Erasure felt safe as did found poetry, book spine poetry, haiku, tanka, cinquain all good. It was playing with words.

Chris Lehman’s #teacherpoets workshop was a next step. It was a  less safe place, but how could I not go: great lessons, great poems, amazing teacher poets all around. I pushed myself a bit further to that internal place where emotions lie. (silent scream) I listened, did the lesson, wrote a poem.

Days later, I looked back at that poem I had written. Oh it was painful. It didn’t do what I wanted it to do. It was repetitive and trite. I revised and revised. I revised to the point of having no poem at all. As the screen held fewer and fewer words, I thought soon it will be as if I didn’t write anything at all. Which hurt because it meant the meaning of my poem, the emotion I felt didn’t exist.  I closed the screen. Thinking bad thoughts. The next day  I read this comment from Catherine Flynn:

Your poem is the opposite of Laux’s “On the Back Porch” and it perfectly captures the bittersweet feelings we have as we realize our children are growing up and are ready to begin their own lives. I love this image of shifted furniture “leaving empty spaces uncovering indentations of what was there.” The perfect sliver to capture this big, important topic!

Then I reread this one from Cathy Mere:

To me, your poem speaks of our children growing up and we have to let go. Perhaps it is because that is exactly where I am right now. “Choices, that are no longer mine to make.” “Photo flash” of the times we’ve shared together.

Oh the power of a comment.  A comment that is a whole paragraph and specifically says what spoke to them.  Revision is a painful process. You just want to throw it all away and say it’s just too hard and I’m really not that good anyway.  But IF there is one little voice that says, no, don’t do that. This is good BECAUSE….The writer can rise again and pull out the writing.

Taking this lesson to my teaching self and back to where I began this post: the secret formula, the gift we can give our students, might just lie in the  compliment that is specific.  The compliment that says just what is good and why. That plus a little nudge and maybe they won’t crumple up the paper and say they are not good. Maybe they’ll say, really?  Open up the notebook and give it a go.

Thank you Catherine and Cathy for your specific comments.on that poem. I’m working on it.

And  to all who comment on Slice of Life posts, I can’t thank you enough. You are my writing teachers that keep me opening up my notebook.

10 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Inspiration in the Comment

  1. Oh, the power of compliments is mighty! You’ve expressed it perfectly here. I can feel the pain of revision and the relief and joy of Cathy and Catherine’s compliments. I love your reflection on you as a writer and translating that into your students as writers! As always, Julieanne, I enjoy your writing so much!

  2. I walked down that same road recently, doubted myself through that same process, wanted to scrap a whole piece of writing after questioning it and myself to death. I tried to quiet that internal voice ‘you are not that good.’ But then I, too, received feedback–specific, powerful, writer-changing.
    We weren’t meant to go this alone. And yes, what great lessons for our work with students. Keep writing. You’ve got a voice that speaks to many.

  3. “the gift we can give our students, might just lie in the compliment that is specific” This is a great reminder for me (and maybe for others as well) to keep leaving these comments for our students even at the end of the school year. We love comments and get inspired and encouraged by them. Why wouldn’t our students respond the same way? Thank you!

  4. I am so with you on the power of comments! The support and pats on the back I’ve felt from this community have been invaluable as I find my voice, and my confidence to use that voice and say what I need and want to say. Thank you for reminding me of the power of compliments–which go back to the power of words, which we all so love in this space.

  5. I cannot ell you how very much I love this line: the gift we can give our students, might just lie in the compliment that is specific. It must be at the heart of every writing conference with every student. Thanks so much for reminding us in this very special way, Julieanne!

  6. I love your honesty that you put into every post. You take the reader through the highs and lows of your journey into writing. We all have those doubts and that is something the students need to see too. Just because you are the teacher doesn’t mean you can do everything perfectly. We are all learning, and it helps when someone notices something about your writing. Write on!

  7. I like that you share not only the finished writing, but the working and thought process too. We can all learn from your today’s reflection. Your slice may nudge your readers to dare to experiment and share poems.

  8. I think we are often our own worst critics. Poetry and all writing has such a power to speak to others. I’m so glad you found out how much your writing spoke to others before you dismissed its value. I enjoyed reading about the process you went through. It’s a great reminder how much encouragement can help us and reinvigorate our confidence and push us to keep writing.

  9. I’ve just been reading Celebrating Writers and so much of what you say echos what is in that book- the motivation that comes from specificity and compliments. Small celebrations, like comments and compliments fuel writers.

  10. Julieanne,
    I have been thinking about this a lot “But IF there is one little voice that says, no, don’t do that. This is good BECAUSE….” as I consider conferring with young writers. We all need to know what works. It helps us revise and helps us in future pieces.

    I remember reading your poem that day and being moved by your words. You made me smile with your reflections.

    It is this community that keeps us moving forward and growing.


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