Posted by: jeannineatkins | June 4, 2012

Writing from a Vulnerable Place … and Writers Camp

This summer, teachers and librarians who want to experience the joys, anxieties, and muddles that their students experience when writing can find inspiration and support through Teacher’s Write! A Virtual Summer Writing Camp begun by Kate Messner. I met Kate through blogging, so know first hand how the people we find on our computers can help develop our thinking and become friends.

Some who signed up mentioned being scared, and Kate responded with a great post about Writing and fear. I’m thinking about her words, and those of Jo Knowles who adds that we might as well have fun here. She offers a great kitchen-centered prompt as one way to begin, which is usually the hardest part. Here I’m adding  thoughts that theirs stirred in me.

Teachers have to look smart and responsible so much of the time, which may not be the best pose to take when writing, which, when it’s flowing, can ruffle us up. We’re going to look ridiculous and leave messes. And should remember that this is good. When we feel our bellies tighten, it’s a sign to keep going, not stop.  Our eyes may mist, and we can take out a tissue, but it’s fine to let tears flow. Of course writing doesn’t have to be emotional, but it may be, especially if you touch on a story that feels as if it’s been sitting inside you too long. Maybe you’ll just be funny, or write a silly poem, or an adventure taking place on another planet. Still, you’re going to be faced with challenges. If you’re like me, little comes out right at first, which means you’re going to have to move through more frustrations than we do when writing papers, evaluations, or letters home. Then we want to sound like an authority of some kind. But as creative writers, we want to connect more than instruct, and we may do that most when writing from places we don’t necessarily show when we’re wearing good clothes and loud shoes. Those who are used to being the people who others come to for answers, can find it tough to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t know.”

But it’s a beautiful place to begin.



  1. Jeannine, so true. At my school, one question we ask in interviews is how do you feel about telling students you don’t know something, then working “with” them to find out? It’s a challenge for most adults to admit things aren’t going so well. Thank you for your good advice.

  2. That’s a great question that speaks so well for your school. I was thinking this must be different than when I was teaching, for now many answers to what I didn’t know then, and don’t know now, can be found by students typing in words on their phones. But of course the big questions can’t be answered by google.

  3. And just think what one is missing by not admitting one doesn’t know? A chance to form a better relationship & to teach something else perhaps.

    • I agree. Some of the important, memorable, and close moments of my life have been when someone admitted to not knowing or having made a mistake. Much better than: this is my point and I’m sticking to it!

  4. Two things:
    1. Saying “I don’t know” to students gets easier over time, especially as one earns a reputation as a credible and helpful teacher. “I don’t know; I’ll get back to you with an answer ASAP” actually contributes to one’s acquired ethos.
    2. You touch on something so important to my own writing phobias. It’s not writing that scares me. It’s the “dark place” I find myself entering when composing something “creative” in the traditional sense. Today while writing in response to Jo Knowles’s prompt, I cried a littel. This happens with both humor and anquished prose. It occured to me that I experience something similar to what a method actor does using the Stanislovsky method. I haven’t gone to the scary place in a long time as I don’t like it much. I like being happy. So, is there a writing method one can practice that detaches one from the dark recesses of one’s mind?

    • Glenda, that makes sense about the “I don’t know.” And what an important question about the dark places. It’s a long answer, so I’m going to write it as a blog post today. Sadly, I think you for the answer may be that there’s not a method that keeps you from the dark recesses. What you may have to remember is that they’re there, but you have the power to leave them. The tears may come, but you may feel better for having them come, then drying them, than you would in trying to keep away from that part of your mind. You sound smart and brave and good-hearted, and I hope you’ll reach out again if you feel you need some help with this. I truly wish I could give you a happier answer. Maybe someone else can.

  5. “We’re going to look ridiculous and leave messes. And should remember that this is good. ”

    Thank you for reminding me to give myself permission to write a whole bunch of junk in order to get the few crystals that I’m looking for…hoping for…know I will will find eventually.

    • Mary Lee, I am lavish with permission slips on this particular question, so please consider this message a stash to keep beside you. I am stacking up a heap of junk today and through the summer, and have faith we’ll both find crystals, or as Virginia Woolf wrote, “the diamonds in the dust heap.”

  6. Oh, lord – connect rather than instruct! You said it, girl!

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