Diva Chat

As I corrected fourth grade spelling tests a few years ago at the local elementary school, I was struck by the teacher’s lesson on English. The lesson for the day was about adverbs, and while it was more about the purpose and correct usage of adverbs, it still hit a chord with me. The teacher went on to guide her students through some of the simplest yet useful lessons in writing mechanics. But as I half-listened to other well-prepared lessons, the truth of the matter became clear. Every author or aspiring author out there who’s managed to make it through the sixth grade has received instruction on the basics of the English language and how to use the various parts. Not only that, but during the course of their elementary years,they have been encouraged to show their creativity, whether it be through writing, music, art, sports, or any other areas where creativity is nurtured.

So why is it that by the time children reach junior high and high school, this knowledge of how to use words creatively and properly seem to go the way of the dodo? Does the pressure to be the best psych these students out of even trying because they suddenly realize they may not be good enough? Is the need to impress their friends more than their parents putting a damper on their creativity? Does the word “creative” in the course title to a class suddenly render the students as inadequate? I know many of you are thinking it has to do with the joyous or not so joyous side effects of hormones on the adolescent brain and that I’m fighting a losing battle here. However, it’s never too late for a little refresher course on the basics. I’ve heard of high school English teachers who devote an entire semester instructing junior and senior level students on the basics of the English language because so much of those earlier lessons have been lost.

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The question then begs to be answered: Why, if we’ve all received the same lessons, do some people have the ability to write beautiful prose or best-selling novels—or even a novel—while others do not? I can think of several things like drive, vision, stubbornness, dedication, talent… I hesitate to include talent in this list simply because so many people use the supposed lack thereof as an excuse to never try. “I’m not talented enough” or “I’ll never be a best-selling author” are all cop-outs. Most authors are where they are today because of their drive and dedication to the art of writing. Authors write—every day. Does this mean that everything they produce is prize-worthy or even creative? Not in the slightest. And that’s not the point of writing every day. The point is to practice and make it a habit. We would never think that a concert pianist or an Olympic athlete achieved such levels of skill without constant practice. They certainly wouldn’t have achieved much in their first attempts to develop any skill. The same holds true for any endeavor we take on, including writing.

GM_007_largeWe’ve heard the admonition “If you don’t use it you will lose it.” In high school, I took two years of German from a teacher who was, in fact, German. I’d even gotten to the point where my dreams were in German and I found myself thinking in German while translating thoughts into English when I’d go to my next class. But I decided not to pursue German in college. So two years later, when I had the opportunity to visit my sister who lived in Germany, I was very disappointed in myself when I couldn’t understand the basics of the language after I arrived. Unfortunately, my ability to speak and understand German languished because I had failed to study and use it. This lesson applies to writing. If we’re not writing and reinforcing those important lessons on how to write, we will lose the ability.

Write when you feel like it. Write when you don’t want to. Write even if you have to do it in ten-minute intervals or while waiting for your children to finish piano lessons (like I’m doing now). Waiting for that elusive moment when we will “have time” will never happen. The only person who can make you a better writer is you. You have the power to find those moments to write. Stop waiting for the perfect moment and create your own that are imperfect, disjointed, and full of inspiration.

So what does this have to do with elementary school? We experience many of our firsts in elementary school. Aside from reading, writing, and arithmetic, we learn about human nature, friendship, competition, loss, love, deceit, joy and pain, and we begin to understand that the world isn’t black and white nor is it right or wrong. School is the first time most children spend significant amounts of time away from a caregiver. Many of life’s lessons happen in the classrooms and playgrounds of school because it’s more than learning about reading, writing, and arithmetic. It’s about discovering what makes us and others around us tick. As we progress, so do our experiences in life. Our learning is never really over, but some of these earliest experiences are what we as writer’s draw from to create literature.

Now it’s your turn to share. What have you done to improve your writing and fit it into your busy schedule? What early experiences have shaped your writing? Please share your thoughts.


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