Sometimes I hate it when cliche's ring true to my own life, but it is tough to argue with the notion that our attitude towards something shapes and alters that very "thing" that we are dealing with, trying to do, or trying to nurture in our own lives. Every shift in the season rings in the opportunity to live differently, to do and try new approaches to old problems, to subtly change our attitudes and actions, or even to make a huge paradigm shift in the way we live. But if we do not seize the moment, we often lose the opportunity--and when we lose opportunity, we lose the chance of bettering ourselves. We can convince ourselves that we can try again tomorrow, but making pacts with the future is not a way to live out today. I need to wake up every day and remind myself that I teach writing because I am a writer who believes in the mystery and majesty of words and who believes that it is my duty to pass on what I know about writing to those who are interested in learning.
At the summer camp where we spend our summers there is a huge rope swing attached to an old maple tree that hangs like a great fishing pole from the shore of a cool and dark New Hampshire pond. Every afternoon at camp there is a shivering line of campers and counselors waiting their turn to climb the rickety wooden platform that leads to the swing. After the rope is handed to you, and after you find the courage to leap, you soon find that there is no turning back--the rope is not going to swing you back safely to the platform; and so you need to let go--in a sense, you simply "put yourself out there." It is at the moment of letting go that the show begins: for first timers it is usually a feet dragging, face-planting dose of humility, but it is also an epiphany because it is never as hard as you supposed it would be. You survived and were now part of a club of "doers" who tried and did something new, and it is a rare person that does not get right back in line intent on redeeming the day with an even better and more impressive leap. I always think to myself that writers, too, need not only to make the leap, but to get back in line for more.
Every summer for the past eight years I have run several small writing communities for both kids and adults. The communities are built around each person having their own blog within a larger community of writers and writing what they want to write over the course of the summer. My job is that of provider, nurturer, cajoler, and provoker. I try to create a safe and supportive place for people to write at whatever level they are at, but I also try to roil them out of their comfort zones and to help each person engage writing at a higher and more engaging and attentive level. It works if we all work; it works when I care and my students care, but it falls apart as soon as one of us does not hold up our end of the bargain: if I am lazy and begin to rely on cookie cutter assignments, my students will inevitably sense an opening to produce cookie cutter responses; if I expect or accept minimal efforts I get what I deserve, and my students don't get what they deserve; likewise, if a student puts in a minimal effort, they should expect minimal growth as a writer.
It is easy for me to say, "Write what you want to write," but it is certainly hard for new writers to do that because they don't really know what they want to write about or sometimes even how to start writing about something. If I assign writing prompts, they only work for a small percentage of people because the prompt may not even remotely spark his or her interests. So we have to meet somewhere in between. My students need to be willing to climb the tower of the metaphorical rope swing and make the leap, and I need to be there to help make them leap again, or to try a new spin move, flip, or dive, knowing that every new swing develops more confidence, more strength, and more skill; moreover, I need to continually recognize that each new writer is a unique person with a unique perspective on the world and, most importantly, a unique reason for being in the writing community.
The beauty of our humanity is our commonality. We are inextricably bound by our common interests and uncommon empathy--what interests us invariably interests others, and what we "feel" is likewise felt by others. This should not humble us; it should energize us to share in words what we feel in our heart, and know in our heads, and wonder about in our curiosity because "words" are the currency with which we buy and sell and share our thoughts and feelings; otherwise, no one will really know who you are, where you stand, or what you believe. If you want to leave a gift to the world, let it be your words, for words will always outlast the ravages of time. The time to start creating those words is now. There is nothing stopping you. You are as wise now as you have ever been: your life is full of experiences that have shaped who you are and taught you right from wrong and good from bad; you have tasted fruits both bitter and beautiful, and you have an opportunity before you to seize or shun. The choice is yours. The interesting (and revealing) part is that no matter what you do, you will have made a choice.
For my students who are reading this, I want you to make the choice to begin this summer by living like a writer, and a writer is simply a person who has made the choice to make writing a part of their everyday lives and who is willing to learn the craft of writing by practicing the tips and tricks and techniques of good writers--for the writer is no different than the woodworker in his shop or the athlete on the playing field: each of them does what they know they need to do to be a better woodworker or a better athlete. I will not tell you what project to build or what sport to play, but I will teach you things that will help you build anything you want to build or to be a better athlete at any sport you choose. I have listened and learned from many teachers and writers who came before me--and I continue to do so! Now it is your job to listen, to learn, and to write.
But remember, it is what you make of it, and it always begins with writing.
So start writing.