Writing is a series of letting go’s
of our preconceived notions of how it goes
and allowing a deeper part of you to tell you what it knows;
when the writing’s good, it shows.
Because, ultimately, when we do,
that recognition of what’s true,
comes from the deepest part of you.
So let the writing speak to itself,
and let the writer listen, for
writing is listening on paper.
© Ken Chawkin
One of my earlier attempts at writing was about the writing process and how I came to experience it for myself. I was inspired by Donald M. Murray’s articles in Learning By Teaching. He is one of the pioneers of a process approach to teaching writing, and this book brought together twenty-nine of the articles, some previously unpublished, he had written throughout his career as a teacher. We studied this book when I volunteered to become a writing facilitator at MUM. It changed my life and my understanding of how good writing comes about. This idea of writing to know, to listen and see what comes on the page, was the main motif of the poem, and the last line was something I had read Murray say about writing, but didn’t get it until I wrote this poem.
Murray, a journalist, was asked to teach journalism at the University of New Hampshire. He admittedly knew nothing about teaching, but was obviously an accomplished writer, having won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 1954 at the age of 29. So he looked to his own process as a writer and broke it down into the different stages he would go through to end up with a polished piece of writing.
Tom Newkirk, Don’s friend and fellow English professor, said: “He developed teaching strategies for engaging students in a recurring stages of writing—pre-writing, drafting, revision, and editing. He championed the one-on-one writing conference as the most effective means of teaching this process, and this approach remains a signature feature of writing instruction at UNH.” Indeed, it has influenced the whole philosophy and methodology of teaching writing in schools across the country! You can learn more about Murray in Newkirk’s Foreword to the Donald Murray Memorial Program.
Another mentor for me was William Stafford, who’s ideas on teaching writing were equally radical at the time, also student-centered, process-oriented, encouraging his students to experience writing as a process of self-discovery through evolving steps of self-clarification in short individual conferences and on the page. He refused to assign praise or blame to a student’s writing, silently encouraging them instead to rely on their own inner judgment of how the writing should proceed, being open to where it was taking them. When his students complained it was too difficult to write a poem every day, he told them to lower their standards. It worked!
I also value Stafford’s poetry, some of which I’ve posted here on my blog. He would get up early every morning, recline on the couch, and write in his journal before anyone one was awake. He cultured this habit while working in public service camps for conscientious objectors during WW II and continued the practice throughout his life. He would usually end up writing at least one poem a day, along with letters to friends, submissions, and other correspondence.
You can learn more at this website: http://williamstafford.org and earlier posts: Every War Has Two Losers, a Haydn Reiss film on poet and conscientious objector William Stafford and PEACEFUL POETS: Filmmaker Haydn Reiss on Rumi and Stafford and the Power of Words.
See Writers on Writing–What Writing Means To Writers, and Words of Wisdom on Writing from Literary Lights. You’ll also enjoy reading best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert–Some Thoughts On Writing. And this latest post about my son: INSPIRATION, a poem by Nathanael Chawkin. You may also enjoy Burghild Nina Holzer inspires us to write and discover who we are and what we have to say.