Posts Tagged ‘Failure

25
Jul
13

Shame and the writer: Part four of Five Years, Five Lessons in five words

The great poets look into your own heart and the dark corners of your soul, shine a light on it, and name your feeling before you ever knew you felt it. For me, that’s Bruce Springsteen. In one of his most insightful moments, he sings, “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?” Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true? That’s a question from childhood, the last time when dreams feel like facts, but it’s that second part, the contemplation of what is worse than a lie, that rings prophetic. What is worse than a lie? Shame. The pain we feel when we hold up ourselves up to the image of who we thought we had to be and see every imperfection as a mark against us.4027703977_0e436effc2_b

In five years, I’ve seen many young writers experiencing shame at far above a healthy dose. I see it in their posture, hear it in their voice, and sense it in their defenses. It presents first as an apparent lack of confidence, and at the start of my teaching career, I thought that is what it was. Now, I see the need to call this shame what it is because nothing is more toxic to learning, creativity, and especially writing, where time spent alone in thought allows for shame to take root and spread until it is out of control. Continue reading ‘Shame and the writer: Part four of Five Years, Five Lessons in five words’

23
May
12

The Mythbuster Philosophy of Education: Failure is always an option.

Pop culture does teachers few favors. Most teachers on television are either boring busybodies who lecture ad nauseum (think Ben Stein’s character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) or energetic zealots who inspire students to learn through sheer force of charisma (Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society.) Perhaps I’m naive, but I think a lot of new teachers go through a stage where they feel like developing their own teaching style consists of finding a way to lecture without putting students to sleep and inspire without telling students to ritually sacrifice the introductions of their text books. I say this because in the beginning of my teaching career, I felt like I was navigating this dilemma: how do I deliver content while still being interesting?

The longer I teach, the more I realize that neither of these models is anything to emulate. Lecturing as the sole means for delivering content is a bit like trying to build a sandcastle by tossing mud at a pile of dirt at twenty paces: some of it sticks, some misses the target, but most washes away in the next tide. Charisma is nice to have and can certainly be a tool, but it only gets you so far; without a solid structure to the lesson being taught, you’re not maximizing your assets.

That’s why the best teachers on television are on the show Mythbusters, and if you’re looking for a philosophy of education to emulate, they offer a lot.

Image source: tvclash.com

Continue reading ‘The Mythbuster Philosophy of Education: Failure is always an option.’

27
Jan
12

Overcoming the stress and anxiety of the writing process

January is a popular time for resolving to change their lives. Many of those resolutions will fail. That’s partly because most people make New Year’s resolutions in the same way. They promise themselves to do something they’ve wanted to do for a while but haven’t; they make their resolution without treating whatever caused them to procrastinate previously; they forget their resolution before the calendar turns to February.

A lot of writers go through this same cycle. Blind optimism leads to setting unreasonable goals, which leads to disappointment and stress, which leads to procrastination, feelings of failure, disappointment, and a feeling that you should really get around to writing that paper, novel, letter, etc. Before long the to do list is pitched and the project gets tabled only to be taken up again whenever you have the most optimism to face it; say, maybe, next December 31.

The way out of that cycle starts at discovering why you’ve not been writing. Continue reading ‘Overcoming the stress and anxiety of the writing process’

02
Jun
11

Deliberate practice, motivation, and “The Dan Plan”

I’ve been paying a lot of attention recently to “The Dan Plan“. Anyone interested in getting better at anything should too.

Here’s how Dan describes his plan: “Through 10,000 hours of ‘deliberate practice,’ Dan, who currently has minimal golf experience, plans on becoming a professional golfer.” Becoming a professional golfer after getting to your 30’s without having taken up the game is ridiculously ambitious. However, deliberately practicing for 10,000 hours is just as ambitious, and Dan seems to be taking that in stride. Because of that, it’s worth thinking more deeply about the design of The Dan Plan. Continue reading ‘Deliberate practice, motivation, and “The Dan Plan”’

26
Jan
11

The Girl Who Was Bad At Semicolons

Lisbeth walked into my office claiming she wanted to get better at grammar. “We can help with that,” I said and ushered her over to a conference table. “What part of grammar would you like to work on first?”

“I’m not sure,” she said, casting her gaze downwards as if she might find the answer scrawled into the black surface of the table. I remained silent, knowing that she’d get more out of this if she set the agenda. When she finally figured out I wasn’t going to fill the silence, she began speaking “Well…I’m really bad at semicolons. Could we work on those?”

Her answer surprised me. I answered, “Certainly we can go over that.” But I was too curious to stop there. “But first, let me ask you a question. What makes you say you’re ‘bad at semicolons’?”

“I don’t know. I am just really bad at them. I’ve never got them.”

Her answer fascinated me for two reasons. First, understanding semicolons means understanding two rules, neither of which is very complicated. Second, Lisbeth was no stranger to using the Writing Studio. She’d been in on a handful of occasions. Yet, she never asked for anyone to teach her the rules for semicolons, nor did she bother to notice the spot on our wall where we display a brilliant comic, which provides the clearest and most creative explanations of semicolons I’ve ever read.

Lisbeth is a bright student. On top of that, she’s got enough courage to walk in and ask for help on a topic that’s challenged her sense of own intelligence. That’s admirable. However, it’s precisely these traits that make her situation so puzzling. That leads me to think that the most important question in education is this:

Why do bright, competent students make the same simple mistakes over and over again even when a teacher points out these mistakes and provides plenty of resources to help? Continue reading ‘The Girl Who Was Bad At Semicolons’

11
Dec
10

Helping someone who hates writing

They say that those that can’t do, teach. I’m proof of that rule. But it is in the reflections on why I can’t do that I learn the most about what I teach.

When I got my first writing center gig, the director asked me to write a short biography for the website. Scanning the other tutors’ entries for the inspiration, I noticed many of my new colleagues were “haunted by the power of language” or “loved the experience of putting words on the page.” Knowing the passion of my colleagues, I don’t doubt their sincerity, but I know that if I was going to wax nostalgic about learning to write, I’d be lying. So I started my biography off with three words: “I hate writing.” Continue reading ‘Helping someone who hates writing’

05
Dec
10

On trying and failing: blogging without a net

Of the all the pride-inspiring things about this project, I’m most proud that I have gotten as far as the second post of the blog without mentioning the fear of failure. However, since the fear of failure undermines almost every stage of the writing process of all writers, now is as good a time as any to talk about it, especially as it not only gives insight into the reasons students don’t write effectively, but also explains the cookie cutter look and feel of this blog.

The idea of putting my ideas on writing online in blog form has been percolating for a long time. Out of that brew comes grand aspirations: in a perfect world, this blog will become a place where many different writers will share their ideas. And the possibility of hearing positive feedback (or at least constructive criticism/healthy debate) on ideas that I thought up is flattering. But starting a blog is fraught with complications, not least of which being that I could try and fail, leaving my handful of posts relegated to float in the ether of millions of other ghost blogs out there.

Failure and I don’t get along so well. He tends to stick with me for longer than he should whenever he brings his ugly mug around. Continue reading ‘On trying and failing: blogging without a net’




Good Writer, Bad Writer

Good writer, bad writer reflects the philosophy behind the first writing lesson I attempt to teach students. Too many of them come into college believing that their writing abilities are set in stone. The bad writers continue to struggle, and the good writers don't take enough risks in their writing, figuring that any misstep will throw them back into the "bad writer" category.

Good writer, bad writer is my attempt to break the power of that dichotomy. On here, I share the lessons and attitudes that I teach, but I also talk about the attitudes I have towards my own writing since many of those have informed my own teaching. Thanks for visiting.


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