, Derry, New Hampshire


December 12, 2013

Column: Good writers are willing to take the plunge

Writing well is difficult, even for the professionals. The famous playwright, Neil Simon, admits that “I don’t have the slightest idea of what I’m going to do ... It’s like being on a high board, looking down to a cold, chilly pool. Then I give myself a little push. The water isn’t as cold as I thought. I don’t think anyone gets writer’s block. I think fear takes over.”

All writers fear the blank page. Will I have anything interesting to say? Does anyone care what I think, anyway? Has it all been said before, and far better than I could ever hope to say it?

My sixth-grade students are no exception. The fortunate ones dive right in, convinced that the warm waters of a climate-controlled pool await them. Others stand frozen on that high board, sometimes for an entire class period, or more. They need more than “a little push.” I wind up, well, throwing them in head-first.

I doubt that Hayden, one of my students this year, is aware that he could star in a one-act play about what the writing process looks like -- hands clasped firmly on the sides of the head, pen poking out the corner of the mouth, eyes glued to the lines on the notebook paper, waiting ... waiting ... until one hand shoots into the air and permission is asked to go to the bathroom.

I feel Hayden’s pain. Delay is part of the writing game. I go to the bathroom, too. Or make some coffee, and then aimlessly browse the refrigerator. I try to never, but sometimes succumb, to a writer’s mortal enemy -- the Internet. There’s a bottomless pit of swill in cyberland to distract me from the task at hand.

On this particular day, I observed Hayden as he tackled an open-ended essay question. My students had finished reading “Freak the Mighty,” a spellbinding tale of two 13-year-old misfit boys who join forces and figuratively “slay dragons and rescue damsels in distress.” I asked my students to identify one “life lesson” or theme from the novel and support their reasoning with evidence from the story and movie version we watched in class.

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