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Writing Takes Guts: My Writing Backstory

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-7-37-15-pmI just returned from NCTE 2016, and again the conference and all the bits and pieces of it touched me deeply.  Each year something different stands out, and this year my moment came to me surprisingly.  Sitting on the edge of a session talking with my friend and co-writer, Dana, it hit me.  Here I was, at THE NCTE conference with so many brilliant minds.  I was here as an attendee and also as a writer/presenter.

I was a presenter encouraging teachers, coaches, and educational leaders to join the writing community.  I would be sharing in front of writers with deep experience and knowledge of what it means to be a writer.  

The realization of this moment gave me chills and led me to share my writing backstory with Dana. 

My Backstory

I fell in love with writing in a creative writing class in high school.  Maybe it was writing poetry; maybe it was the love notes to my high school sweetheart, who is now my husband.  Or maybe it was the fact that it wasn’t a math class!  Whatever it was, I fell in love with writing in that class.

Fast forward a few years into my first college writing class and my first paper.  I was eager to hear the feedback from my professor.  I walked into his office, I can still see the stacks of books and papers flooding his room. I can still smell the old building.  I can still hear the clicking of the steps and rustling of bookbags in the hall.  I had no idea what was coming next.  As I walked in the door, my professor extended his arm across the desk and flung the paper in my direction,

Miss Cunningham, you have a wonderful voice and technique, but your writing is littered with spelling and grammatical errors.

I took my paper and walked out defeated, no longer a writer.

Dana listened to my story and encouraged me to open my presentation with this story to help other writers find their courage.  I was hesitant, the experience had halted my inner writer for years.  What if sharing it again had the same result?

During our session I listened to Beth and Dana present, I tweeted their wise words and noted key points to blend our presentations.  Then I received this mention on Twitter~

This is the negative feedback that killed my writing courage for so many years?  Comments like these do nothing to teach a writer about the support and encouragement of a writing community?  Comments like this can instill fear and stifle writers.

It was time for me to speak, and it just felt right. I wanted to advocate for writers who were afraid to write, so I shared my writing backstory.  I pushed through the latest assault, I found my writing guts and I spoke.  I felt supported and lifted up by the educators and writers around me.  

Finding My Writing Guts:

I find my courage to write through my friend, teaching partner, and writer Cathy.  Cathy stirred my inner writer and gave me the courage to write for an audience. Cathy’s confidence in me as a professional and a writer along with my student’s need to connect to a larger audience brought about the birth of my first blog, Primary Perspective.  My fears and doubts continue to rattle in my head, but for my students, I write.

The community of Two Writing Teachers provides me with a supportive community.  With our community, the aid of Grammarly, my friend and editor Carolyn I can lessen the negative voices and write.  

I want to advocate for all of you out there who want to write but don’t feel worthy!  Grab your writing tools and WRITE! 

It takes guts to write.

Just as Dana’s companionship at NCTE gave me the courage to share my story at NCTE, her post, You Can Write inspired me to share my story here today.  

 My Push to Write

When I am not writing, I see a difference in my teaching, I need to be writing.  Thank you, to all current and former students, to Cathy, Carolyn, Dana, the co-writers of Two Writing Teachers and YOU the readers for restoring my courage to write.

I hope all of you will find the confidence as a writer for you and your students.  For me, writing has changed the way I see the world around me, my teaching, and given me a compassion for writers.  A level of compassion I didn’t have before writing.

Because I write:

  • I understand the process takes time.
  • I understand why kids stare at blank pages.
  • I understand you can’t do your best every day.
  • I understand what it means to teach a writer.
  • I am an advocate for teachers who write and writers.
  • You can write, you change your life and a student’s life forever.

24 thoughts on “Writing Takes Guts: My Writing Backstory

  1. Deb,
    Thank you for your BRAVE post. I had a similar experience in a literature class. I fell in love with talking about and analyzing literature in high school. Sadly, in college, I had that professor who wanted THE theme explained, HIS way. And that was the end of my desire to major in English. While that experience hurt, I believe it made a better teacher of reading. I know you are that great writing teacher. Always learning and reflecting on your teaching; listening and honoring students’ voice.


    1. Julieanne,
      What a wonderful point you make! I had not thought about it before, but this experience made me the advocate I am for ALL writers!
      Thank you, perhaps I should send him a thank you note!


  2. Deb,
    Thanks for being BRAVE and sharing so publicly. Words matter greatly – spoken or written. I prefer to write my thoughts on post-its for students! I don’t even want to write on their work, BECAUSE it is their work. The more “stuff” I think of to add to the page means that less of the student will prevail. (Unfortunately I do still need to apologize to some students in those first classes of mine. What I thought I knew when I really knew nothing at all!)

    I hate that I missed your session, but I’m so glad that I did get to meet you at #NCTE16!


  3. I used to work with a Grammar Policewoman. I reached a point where I couldn’t even have a conversation with her for fear she’d correct me on something. Her name was Carole and if anyone wrote her a note addressed to “Carol” she’d say it must not be for her and ignore it. She was such a stickler for perfection! It became a great barrier to communication with her. I am glad you started your presentation with your story!


    1. Lisa,
      I am so sorry to hear this! Don’t get me wrong, I need my grammar friend/editor. She helps me find and repair most of my errors, but only when she’s asked. Grammar is important, and I want to represent myself well. I just want it to be done privately and gently.


  4. I’m so glad we got to meet face to face. NCTE was a wonderful gathering of teachers and writers. Thanks for sharing your story. I heard an interview on NPR today that accentuated that when we share our personal stories, we find connections. So many can relate to your story. Those doggone red pens!


    1. Hi Margaret,
      It was nice to meet you at NCTE too, but it was just too short! NCTE is a welcome reunion of great people. I would love to hear this NPR interview. Do you know where I can find the audio?
      I hope those who can relate will find the courage to write in my story.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Deb,
    I am so glad you shared this story. I have been working on commenting with students and one of the discussion points today was who is perfect and has never made a mistake. We then made the connection that we aren’t perfect and so it is not our job to point out someone else’s mistakes. I can’t wait to share your story with them!


  6. Deb, I’m so glad you shared this story here today. Or hear today. Lol. This is why so many people are turned off to the idea of writing. And this is why we have to be very, very careful how we respond to any student attempt to write.

    What a world we would live in if we didn’t have your voice. 🙂

    Also, upon further investigation, I believe that Twitter account is actually an automated program somebody created that ‘catches’ grammatical errors and then automatically tweets them.


    1. Dana,
      Thank you for your past post and taking the time to comment here, or hear (lol) today!
      I hope my post offers courage to other writers the way you Cathy have for me!

      Yes, this is an automated account, but who would even set this up? UGH!


  7. Wish I had been able to hear your presentation at NCTE. I, too, have a story of being shamed by a college professor who succeeded in shutting me down for two decades…until I met a very supportive professor in grad school who thought I had wonderful ideas and encouraged me to write. But I didn’t really become a writer until I had cancer, recovered, and needed a “way back in” to a community of educators. Kathy, one of your co-leaders on this blog, encouraged me to visit TWT and my life hasn’t been the same since! 🙂 I had found an audience and a community all in one place. Glad you finally felt strong enough to share your story.


    1. Barbara,
      I am so happy to hear you’ve survived! This is to be celebrated and writing seems to be a great way to embrace this celebration!
      Welcome to the community and thank you for sharing your voice!
      Write On!


  8. My husband is a college professor and we frequently have conversations about this. He struggles with student’s papers that are consistently, “Littered with spelling and grammatical errors.” How does one encourage writers, while helping them learn the importance of using correct spelling and grammar when turning in a finished paper?


    1. Gayle,
      Conversations with writer are delicate. For me, I point out to my students the message of their writing, the value of their voice. I encourage writers to write freely, reread, revise, then ask a peer to help with edits. (if it’s an adult or college student I open them up to Grammarly or other such sights).
      My hope is once students feel the power of their writing they will learn to polish and edit. Finding errors is more difficult for some. It is very hard to look at the details when the message rings so boldly in your head. These writers tend to read what they hear.
      Would we ever tell, or risk making some who has a speech impediment feel they should not communicate orally? Of course not! We need to consider this same respect for written communication.


  9. 2 thoughts came as I read today’s post–
    1)Writing a doctoral dissertation removed every creative writing bone in my body. I can’t send Christmas letters until I have revised those dangling modifiers!
    2)I would like to show this post to those teachers I know who worry way too much about conventions!


  10. It does take guts to write, and it takes guts to share your writing backstory. Thank you for being brave today, Deb. Your words will ring true with many of us. (And shame on your college professor too!)


    1. Jennifer,
      I hope others will find courage in hearing my story. It’s a story I have hidden behind for years, sharing only with my closest friends and cheerleaders until today.
      Had it not been for Cathy I would still be cowering behind my professor’s words and my shame.
      Thank goodness for Cathy and this supportive writing community!


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