Wow–what a busy few weeks it’s been! I know I haven’t been around these parts (or others) often enough lately, and I’m missing that. I’ve been off keeping up with my own learning and the lives of my family and friends recently. Do you ever notice how the lessons you learn through very different life experiences begin to intertwine? That’s what learning has been like for me lately. I’m hoping I can make it all sound coherent here today and reconnect a bit in the process.
So…..several weeks ago, a young writer that I know included herself in the merriment we were enjoying at the start of our WNY Young Writers’ Studio session. We do this every time we meet, as a way of recognizing the goals we are achieving on our way to producing pieces we are proud of. Much of this celebration is about far more than the words we craft or perfect final products, I should add.
Anyway–this young lady found her moment within this celebration. She broke into smile and mentioned with measured confidence that she finished the rough draft of a novel that she began two years ago.This was a tremendous accomplishment. It would be for anyone, I know. What made it even sweeter was the fact that when she began Studio a year and a half ago, her ONLY goal was to finish a piece of writing that she had started. This was her greatest challenge: overcoming a thousand false and quickly abandoned starts. So when she announced that her draft was completed and she realized that she had persevered in developing strategies for getting herself to that place as a writer? Well, there was much to celebrate for certain.
I never recalled her saying that her work was finished, though. She knows that there are many more miles to go. She was simply pausing along the way to reflect on all that she had learned, name it, and celebrate her efforts with those who are supporting her. We did this.
I’m realizing now that we should have done more within that moment, though.
Shortly after, something not-so-unexpected happened, and it resulted in something not-so-wonderful. This young writer, completed draft in hand, began sharing it with others. Several others. And some of these others have mad writing skills and keenly critical eyes. Their intentions are good and their expectations are high, and both of those things can serve writers who are eager to grow. This young writer wasn’t ready to hear what these people had to say just yet, though. In retrospect, I’m not sure any writer would be, but perhaps that’s not even relevant. This writer wasn’t ready to receive criticism on her work or prepared for the way in which others would share it, so she returned to us beyond crestfallen and questioning her ability to move forward.
Here’s what I realized: we need to help young writers know, own, and advocate for their own processes. They must be able to self-assess and determine when they are in a place that calls for validation and when they are in a place that calls for criteria-based feedback. They also need to know how to ask for these things clearly and how to arm those they approach with methods and tools that achieve this. As a teacher of writing, I’ve learned that I need to help young writers understand and then advocate for themselves not only within our community but beyond it. The last week has provided me different opportunities for thinking and planning around this, and I’ll be blogging about that in the week ahead. It’s good to be back!