I’ve been writing daily for years, but lately I feel as if I haven’t written anything worthwhile. Sure – I’ve written blog posts about family and the teaching of writing. Sure – I’ve jotted ideas down in my Noteshelf App. Sure – I’ve worked on a nonfiction writing project I’ve been trying to move forward for a little over a year. However, I don’t feel like I’ve written anything that is fueling me as a writer.
realize want to admit I was in a writing rut until I read Nina Badzin’s review of Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro. Badzin described Still Writing as a hybrid text: a memoir that provides guidance about the craft of writing and the realities of living life as a writer. Badzin is a freelance writer I’ve come to identify with so I took her recommendation and bought Still Writing. Two days later, the book arrived on my doorstep. I opened Still Writing and felt as though Shapiro was speaking directly to me. In fact, once I started reading I needed a highlighter so I could mark up the lines that resonated with me so I could read them over and over. Some lines that gave me a proverbial kick in the pants were:
Sit down. Stay there. It’s hard – I know just how hard – and I hate to tell you this, but it doesn’t get easier. Ever. Get used to the discomfort. Make some kind of peace with it (11).
Writing, after all, is an act of faith. We must believe, without the slightest evidence that believing will get us anywhere (23).
The further I get into this writing life, the more help I find I need (60).
The only reason to be a writer is because you have to (63).
That final line really resonated with me. I have to write. And even though I have been writing daily, I haven’t been doing the kind of writing, story writing, I love to do because everything else has been taking precedence lately. I’ve long had a dream to publish children’s picture books. That’s pretty hard to do if you haven’t worked on a draft of a picture book in over six months! Clearly, something has to change so I can make time to write the stories that live inside my head that are yearning to make their way on to the page.
I received an email from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) announcing the upcoming registration for the 2014 Annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City the same day I began Still Writing. The conference is three days filled with keynotes and workshops with authors, illustrators, editors and agents. It was exactly the motivation I needed to revisit the manuscript I finished in January and the one I began working on earlier this year. I was still hesitant about taking the plunge to register for the conference so I talked with my husband about it. Together we decided I should register for the conference since it would help me grow as a writer.
Shapiro reminded me of something I preach to teachers when I talk about using mentor texts to lift the level of writing in classrooms. “Reading good prose is influence” (33). As a result of Shapiro reminding me of something I tell others so often, I need to read more narrative texts to help me grow as a writer. And I’m not talking about more picture books since I read plenty of those to my daughter. You see, I read a lot of informational and opinion-based pieces of writing. However, I rarely find the time to read novels. Since narrative writing is what I want to write I need to be influenced by outstanding prose. My favorite author is Nicholas Sparks since he tells a good story and writes in ways that dazzle me as a writer. This evening I’ll start reading The Longest Ride with the hope I will be inspired to do some better writing as a result of being under the influence of Sparks’ writing. After all, “Reading great work is exhilarating. It shows us what’s possible” (34).
I started using Noteshelf late last month. Last week I created a new notebook called “Stories I Need to Write.” Now I have a place to capture all of the things I want to write. And any time I feel discouraged, all I have to go back through the highlights I made in Shapiro’s book for a little encouragement.
Do you have any other book suggestions that will fill my head with the sounds of good writing? Also, if you have any inspirational advice or ideas to help me get out of my writing rut, then please share them by leaving a comment.
I am a literacy consultant who has spent the past dozen years working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grades K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).