The adjunct teaching life is hard – lots of hours, lots of driving, lots of time spent in crowded offices with other tired, road-weary people. But there are these benefits – and one of them is that you meet wonderful people who know what you’re about with all this teaching and all this writing stuff. Chloe Miller is one of those people for me. We met when we were both adjuncting at George Mason University, and when we could squeeze in coffee between grading marathons, we would talk . . . and we became friends . . . Sometimes the hard stuff brings the really good stuff.
The other day, one of my writing clients looked me straight in the eye and said, “ Do you really do that? Do you take this advice that you give?” I mumbled in response, “Usually. Or, at least, I try to. Or, I want to. Usually.”
We were talking about outlining. She was working on an essay whose form had changed; I recommended not only outlining as a part of the pre-writing process, but also as a part of the writing process. It makes sense to regularly update an outline. After all, writing is part of the learning process. The farther along an author is in a piece, the better she understands her subject. The basic form is bound to shift with this writing and learning.
I had told my student that I outline not only essays, but also longer poems. This helps me to keep track of the ideas/themes/facts that have been introduced, especially when I start to revise the order that material is presented. I was using myself as an example to help her along with her essay. “You see,” I was suggesting, “we all go through the same challenges when we write.”
And then she caught me. While I do sometimes outline a poem (or essay or something else), I don’t always. I do, however, always hear a voice in my head telling me to do it. So why don’t I always follow my own advice?
We all look towards teachers to offer us help with brainstorming, drafting, editing, revising, deadlines, attention to craft (from the mechanics of grammar to the tools of a creative writer, like setting), submissions and confidence. But, while even the most published and experienced writers need readers and editors, we each know a lot about what we should do.
Here are some of the things we know we should do: Write, stay organized, write, make a schedule and give ourselves not only permission, but also encouragement, to keep writing, revising and submitting. It isn’t easy, but we need to try to do this for ourselves as much as possible.
Try this: Make a list of your favorite classes or writing coach sessions that you’ve had. Then, write three to five things that you enjoyed about those classes. Finally, look at the list and see what you can give yourself and what you can seek from others.
I recommend that writers keep a list of things they do well in their writing and things that trouble them. As a revising technique, I suggest reading through a piece with only one of these things in mind. This helps them to ensure that they continue to do something well and can focus their editing eye on something more challenging. After all, it is impossible to read through a draft for everything, from commas to the story arc, at once. This technique works well for an individual piece and the writing process as a whole.
When I write, I have trouble recognizing what’s clear in a piece and what presents more questions than answers. For this, outside readers can help me to see what’s missing and what’s overdone. I continue to take classes and work with writing mentors in groups and individually. I work hard to do what I can for myself, but also seek necessary outside help to be as effective as possible. And that’s a part of what a mentor does: Helps a writer know when to ask for help and when a writer is self-sufficient.
Chloe Yelena Miller is a writing coach who blogs regularly at http://chloeyelenamiller.blogspot.com/