I submitted an article for The Independent a few days ago. In this article, I attempted to explain and explore how, in many of my courses, I use excerpts from Miné Okubo’s graphic memoir “Citizen 13660” to teach the importance of historical context in research, why and when writers and creators feel obligated to speak out and speak up about injustice, the methods of communication they use to speak out and speak up, and more.
The article had problems. After having those problems confirmed by a trusted reader, I asked one of the editors of this esteemed publication to kindly ignore the original submission.
I was enormously unsatisfied with the draft. It was an information dump that included a lot of jargon from rhetoric and composition — jargon that I felt I needed to explain in order for all of my audience to understand. This made the piece unwieldy. I also tried to tie too many ideas together in a short a piece. Thus, it felt disjointed and the conclusion didn’t synthesize the major points in a way that my intended audience and I would have liked. Put another way, the article needed revisions. Stat. (Or when I got around to them.)
Yesterday, I was meeting with a student about her writing project. At the end of our meeting, she told me that I was the first writing instructor she’d had who didn’t focus all of the feedback on what needed to be fixed: “Every teacher before you has only told me what was wrong with my writing and told me, ‘Fix this and this and this.’ It was nice to hear that I did something right.” I had another student tell me, essentially, the same thing later that day. At that point, I felt a chat was necessary. It’s a chat I wish I would have had with the other student.
I told him a little about what I saw as my past and more recent “needs some serious revision” writing projects. We briefly discussed why the writing process is so important and why no writing project needs to be seen as “not good.” We both left that meeting feeling like we needed to find a coffee shop immediately and write whatever came to our heads.
The writing process is a process of possibility. Endless possibility. Revision allows a writer to go back and make what’s not working work or just take it out. Revision is what I enjoy most about the writing process. Learning to love, or at least appreciate, revision and taking risks in writing are the two big lessons that I hope my writing students take away from my classes.
Sometimes writing — which is an act of creation — needs to be withdrawn, saved in the cloud for a later writing storm, or used as the subject for another writing project like an article on writing by a writing instructor who still and always will struggle with her writing projects. The act of creation that is writing requires equal parts torture and pleasure. I know and feel this in my marrow. And so do my students. And so do most writers if we’re being honest with ourselves. Most of us might only experience the torture part of it.
Writing teachers, this little paragraph is for us. When we give feedback to our writing students on their work, let’s remember what those very intimate acts of bringing a message into the world were and are like for us. Let’s be honest with our students about their writing. Let’s also remember that every act of creation that we ask students to undertake contains possibilities. We might find that our students will hate writing less and find the pleasure part of it somewhere in the fog of their writing projects. Where would we be if someone somewhere along the way hadn’t pointed out both what we were doing wrong and what we were totally nailing in our writing?
Perhaps one day I’ll share the article that inspired this article, but only after some heavy revisions. Until then, find a copy of “Citizen 13660” and read it. Keep writing whatever you need and want to write. Find a trusted reader and listen to their feedback. It’s okay to save a draft for later. And wonder, as I am wondering now, how this article on writing turned into an advice column.