Becoming a writer

In high school I dreamed of becoming a writer. Emerson, Thoreau, and Kerouac hooked me; I wanted to be them. I bought journals from Barnes and Noble and stole away to local parks and coffee shops to write essays, articles, poems, songs, and just plain thoughts. During my junior and senior year of high school, I spent what little free time I had in between musical rehearsal, track practice, and my job at the bagel shop writing and reading. Sometime during my first year of college I declared my major as English, and from then on out I took every English class my schedule would allow. During my intro. to poetry writing course my sophomore year of college, my professor, Dr. Fort, encouraged me to submit a few poems to The Carillon, our English department's creative writing journal. For a few years I submitted pieces and had a few selected each year for the tiny little collection of student work. The first time I saw my name in print, I squealed with excitement and nearly cried. But sometime after my junior year of college, writing took a backseat. I was newly married and in the final stretch of my undergraduate degree where creative writing was traded for literary analysis and lesson plans.

Worn ragged and with gray speckled hair at the age of 22, I finished my first year of teaching and took the Nebraska Writing Project's Summer Institute. The first day of class, the professor, Dr. Brooke, explained the expectations including the daily writing we'd have to bring to our writing groups. Everyday. For four weeks. Out of necessity, I had stopped writing for nearly three years in order to be a wife and teacher. A small part of me was excited to write again, but a bigger part of me was terrified. Only one other student in the course was as young as me, and the rest had at least five years on me or more...way more. And most of them looked like creative, writing types: Radiohead t-shirts, Keen sandals, tattoos, and cycling helmets next to their backpacks. Not only were they more experienced teachers, but they looked way hipper than me. And I had to share my writing with some of these people. A week later we were split into permanent writing groups for the rest of the course. For two hours each day we shared our writing in small groups and then gave and received whatever feedback the writer requested. Once past the initial awkwardness, I loved it. My writing group became like a little family as we shared our passions, our families, our travels, our obsession with odd things like outhouses and pens, and eventually the most intimate portions of our lives: bad romances, innocence stolen, our fears, and death. In one of our writing group meetings, I shared a piece that I think dealt with a few ideas I had about teaching or something of the sort (I don't even remember what it was about anymore). My group was filled with fiery teachers who taught from the depths of their heart, so my voice trembled as I shared my ideas with the teachers who had grown to become my mentors. One of my group members immediately asked if I had shared my ideas with any other teachers. When I responded that I had not because I was afraid of what others would think, he responded with, "Who gives a shit. Your voice matters, and you've got to realize that." It was empowering. Throughout my first year of teaching I was filled with the impression that I, a first year teacher, knew nothing and did more harm to student learning than good. I started that course afraid to write and share my words, feeling like I had nothing to offer other teachers, and I left proclaiming I was a writer and teacher whose voice mattered.

That course has impacted my teaching and writing in a powerful way. I maintained a daily habit of writing, and took a stand in the teaching profession. Though I still struggle immensely with an inferiority complex, I've grown to know that my voice does matter. So when a call for submissions for a new book, What Teaching Means, came across my email last summer requesting essays on the book's topic, I was intrigued. It took some coaxing from a few people, but I eventually submitted an essay. This fall I received word that my essay was selected for publication if I agreed to work with one of the editors to make a few revisions. The revision process was difficult, and I often wondered if the editor would just give up on me and select a new essay in place of mine. But he didn't. A few weeks ago I received my copy of the book, and squealed again with excitement as I saw my name in print. I started reading through the book this weekend, and I'm humbled by the stories shared in it. The essays encourage me to teach better, to be patient with even the most frustrating students, to look for ways to learn from students, and remind me of why I love my job.


Amy said...

Wow! That is really cool! Congratulations Danielle!!

Stu said...

Hey! Congratulations on being published!!