Puking on Paper

I used to get up everyday and stand in front of a classroom of anywhere from 26 to 60 students at a time. There were days when I was in front, leading the charge. There were days when I was alongside, just close enough to provide a sense of safety for students trying something new.

There were days when I knew my classes were boring, full of kids that were trying to keep their eyes open. But there were also days when I embraced my inner weird and let my students see an authentic version of me. Those were the days that I felt most alive. Those are the days that I was gifted with the opportunity to make lasting connections. Ones that went beyond content and were about human connection.

I’d get goofy. I’d be silly. I’d admit that I can’t spell the word pursue and peruse. I’d show them my struggles. I’d share my successes. Most importantly, I tried to show that learning is a process. Sometimes it’s easy, but most of the time it’s just downright messy. I always tried to do that in the most hands-on and real ways possible.

I loved teaching students to write. Not just liked it… LOVED it. I find magic in words. In the ways that they can be strung together to convey a feeling, to paint a picture. In the ways they can be strung together to build people up and sometimes tear them down.

I don’t remember exactly when I discovered the power of words, or when I realized that there was both a formula and an art to them, but I know that’s when I felt their magic. That’s when I realized I wanted to share that magic with others.

I know many people that would rather get a root canal than put words on paper, but I believe given the right circumstances, the right examples, the right coaching, anyone can uncover the magic of what words can do.

It’s strange that I can’t pinpoint when it all started. I can’t look back at a specific teacher who lit the way for me to discover the hows and whys of good writing. Perhaps it was more a compilation of teachers – whether the ones that taught me in the classroom each day, or the mentors that led by example weaving magic in the pages of the books that I devoured.

Regardless of how it came to me, I knew at my very core, that I had to approach teaching writing from a position of alongside rather than in front. I began to sit alongside students and write with them. We’d put on our detective hats and search texts for patterns. We’d search for the rules that were followed and the ones that were broken. We talked about the formulas that readers expect and the ways that as an author we can use that knowledge to create an experience for our readers.

There were many a days that I projected a blank page on my board and just began writing. I knew that my kids needed to see the process to really give it a try themselves. They needed to see the little blue squiggles that littered my pages as I just got thoughts on paper. They needed to see the red squiggles that popped up, giving my words the look of a warrior with gashes and scratches. They needed to see the misspelled words and the missing punctuation. They needed to see me run out of ideas mid thought – hit enter – and start typing “I don’t know what to write. I still don’t know what to write. Really, I don’t know what to write” over and over again until a new idea formed. They needed to see the page with lots of little dashes that separated my thoughts. Dashes that captured random ideas and separated possible paths to follow. Dashes that appeared until I found an idea and a train of thought that began to make sense.

There were many days that I would go through this process, get frustrated – jump out of my seat and stomp around the room for a moment before returning to my keyboard. There were days where that quick walk took me to the white board where I’d just start putting random words in a mind map trying to make sense of it.

Again, it was about the process. I needed them to see that it was exactly that – a process.

My former students could probably create a glossary of “Mrs. G isms”, but one of my famous lines was “Just puke on paper. Don’t think about it. Just puke on paper. Get it all out there. Then we can worry about cleaning it up.”

In a way I used that line for it’s shock and awe factor, but I also did it for the visual… Whether we’d like to admit it or not, pretty much everyone can point to a time that they’ve gotten sick and it’s gone everywhere. I wanted my students to let their words go everywhere.

I wanted the words out of them, just like we want an illness out of our body. Much like sickness, it may not be a pleasant job to clean it up, but it can be done and when it is we feel so much better.

And so, everytime we set out to write an essay, a response, a creative piece I started with the directive – puke on paper. It’s a practice that I’ve used a lot myself. I can’t tell you how many pages I’ve filled with random words that never see the light of day. Or how many pages have the ABCs – literally the ABCs – typed in the middle somewhere… Just to keep my fingers moving so that they can uncover a thought that’s gotten trapped in my brain.

Somehow in the several months or maybe even years, I’ve forgotten that writing is a process. I’ve gotten away from puking on paper. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been focused on an end product. Focused on writing an informative post updating people on Rylie’s status. Focused on writing a reflection that accurately conveys a feeling I’ve been wrestling with. Focused on writing on a consistent schedule so that I can build my blog. Focused on this crazy goal of writing a book.

Once I shared my dream of writing a book, it’s like I forgot everything I ever taught about writing. I focused too much on the end product instead of digging in to find ideas that were growing deep within my mind and soul. I forgot to puke the ideas on paper and worry later if they fit the end goal. If they were any good. If they needed to be reorganized. If they needed to be trashed.

I forgot about getting up from my computer stomping around the room and returning to the keyboard. I forgot about standing in the most awkward split stance as I tried to just put lots of ideas on a white board and then connect the proverbial dots. I forgot about writing random sentences, or even the ABCs, in the midst of a page to get the juices flowing.

Recently, I talked with a friend about what it was like to teach writing. I shared how I’d write alongside my students. As I talked, I envisioned that moment when I’d start typing, saying the words aloud as I thought them, all while looking at my students instead of the computer screen. I could see the awe on their faces as they realized I wasn’t actually watching the words on the paper. I often had to reel them in and remind them it wasn’t about typing without looking, it was about typing without judgement. It was just getting the words out there.

As I talked, I felt my excitement mount. I felt that familiar itch. The itch to write and create magic with words. That itch to just puke on paper. I felt the magic return.

I’m realizing it’s not about writing a book, right now. Right now, it’s about puking the ideas on paper. It’s about giving myself permission, not to focus on the end goal, but to focus on the process. It’s about closing my eyes and letting the words flow from my mind and soul, through my fingertips, and onto the screen.

Later… Once they’re all out, I can see what is worth keeping. What is worth saving for another day. And what should never see the light of day.

Meghann read’s this piece and shares a little more about why

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