Hello! My name is Dani Fernandez and I am a wannabe creative writer and English 30 mentor. This is my second semester as a graduate student and my third semester leading English 30. I have been reading and writing for as long as I can remember but I never wrote anything more creative than literature papers for school until my final year as an undergrad. Now I’m ruined and spend too much time doodling in notebooks.
I think the biggest question mark in my mind about writing is about developing a writing habit. I had my students read passages from David Huddle’s essay “The Writing Habit” and it never fails to remind me how poor my own writing habits are. Not only do I need to discipline myself and abandon some of the bad habits that have never worked but I still hold on to (i.e., my favorite lie to tell myself: “the pressure of a looming deadline helps me focus”), but I also want to find ways to encourage my students to find their best writing habits to help them produce their best academic and/or creative writing.
A couple of moments from Dewey have stuck with me throughout the past week. One was my new favorite quote, “There is all the difference in the world between having something to say and having to say something” (or something along those lines). My first semester leading English 30 was really difficult because I didn’t understand how to make ten strangers into one community. Discussions were forced and flat and my big goal for each semester since has been community building. I’ve learned quite a few tricks since that first semester and my poor students read and write and talk a LOT in class now. It is still my favorite moment when the quietest person in the class finally raises his/her hand to speak. There really is all the difference in the world between having something to say and having to say something so it is my goal to create an environment where eleven (this semester) students can sit down and talk like they’ve known each other forever. I can’t wait to learn even more tricks/techniques/tools to help my students leave their fears at the door and come in to my class ready to face the unknown and conquer their (unwarranted) fears of being a “bad writer.”
The other moment that stuck with me was when Dewey showed pictures drawn by a child of trees in a forest. The first picture had stick figure trees with straight branches but the second picture was a far more lifelike drawing with trees that had bent branches and were covered in leaves (or pine needles or whatever). The teacher had encouraged the child to look at real trees and to redraw the picture with the new details the child had noticed. This (to me) totally mirrors the process of writing. Our first few attempts at an essay may lack depth or support or correct citations and we learn how to be “better writers” by reading and studying work written by others. Our vocabulary increases and we imitate the writers who impress us by borrowing structure and using others’ research to further our own understanding of a subject. This learning through observation is really interesting to me because that is something that I can do for my English 30 students. I can provide them with other writers who are interested in the same topics and point them in new directions to help them improve the content of their writing. To make them stop worrying about “grammar” and “flow” and get interested in the actual words they are using to describe or explain a subject. I want my students to realize that they have something to say and worry about the “correct” way to say it later.