We have a mantra in my classroom of “never done, never finished.” All products, projects, learning, can always be improved. We give ourselves grace in this by recognizing that we can always put something aside for a while (or forever), but we need to recognize that all important work takes time, reflection, feedback, revisions. Sometimes, that cycle continues for a long time and sometimes it takes a long time and then gets...put aside.
This culture takes a bit to instill, but I am always surprised by how quickly students adapt to this, and better than adapt, how they embrace it, and it becomes a vehicle of agency. Of course, often, many of them just want to be “done” with work, but because students choose their path (writing, reading, research), they have agency and ownership about how they work, and all the pieces that entails. They want their idea to bloom. So, part of the culture has to be the safe release of realizing their idea might be amazing, but there might be multiple reasons it cannot blossom right away, or for a while, or maybe ever.
That’s where my being a writer and reader, sharing my choices, revisions, frustrations, excitement all come in. I often quote Stephen King, his idea that you often need to “kill your darlings.” That has saved me as a writer many times. I have written things that are my absolute darlings, but whether it’s a line of dialogue, a scene, a chapter, or a whole writing piece, sometimes, it just has to be killed. Put aside, is what we call that in class. Some like to say they know they need to “kill their darlings.” They are middle schoolers, after all.
The reasons we lose steam and interest in a writing piece or passion piece are manyfold, and it is only for the owner of the work to decide. My feedback questions and support are usually questions around their goals and vision. We talk about multiple approaches, and I always ask the writer what they think they might want to use.
The writing process is messy, super messy, not linear. It’s why writers need to write, write a lot, to truly learn.
So, back to that “never done” mantra. I have written three novels, put a lot of time in one of them more than others, tried to get published, got some hits, got some kicks, stepped back for a while. That previous sentence is a boring sentence that represents about 20 years of my work.
I have been reflecting on the not done because I got back to my young adult historical romance. And I realized it needed a serious overhaul. It needed a big uptick in conflict, and it needed a change of setting.
This all meant back to major research. I’ve spent years researching all things Regency era, Napoleon wars, war of 1812, costumes, battles, culture. I could go on. But for my plans for this book, I needed new research.
My plot ideas unfolded leading me to more problems, better problems, more character crisis and development. All of those ideas led me to more questions.
This is at once most exhausting and exhilarating. It is another reminder of how hard writing is. It’s difficult in the process, the passion, the ideas, and the follow through (and that big old cycle).
I’m committed to this. My process led me to realize how much more I could bring to this story. It’s led me into a place of discomfort and excitement. And it’s reminded me how hard this process is. I’ve been writing and researching for over twenty years. More expertise to share with my students.
I’m far from “done”.
Goal: get some chapters and research done for the next few months. Enough to keep up the steam. Work, learn, and find ways to make our students’ return to school, whatever that looks like, a hospitable, comfortable, invigorating place.
Gratitude: being a writer and a teacher. Living and working in a supportive, amazing place.