Cross Training

Among the many things I try to tell my students which they aren’t always ready to comprehend is the fact that writing is a transferable skill. When I ask them to write a first-person narrative incorporating flashback – as I had my ninth graders do this week – that process of writing will inevitably benefit them in all future writing projects, regardless of whether or not they plan to spend their lives dedicated to the pursuit of first-person flashback narratives.

Which leads me to one of the complaints I hear most from my students, “Why do we read so many books and write so many fiction things? I’m never going to become an author…” The word “author” is expressed with such disdain you’d think they were actually using the phrase “drug-addled hobo” in its place. But let’s set that aside. What I really wish they – and all people who study writing – would realize is that the process of forcing your brain to take scattered clouds of thought and squeeze them into a coherent, soul-stirring form is GOOD FOR YOU. You write a poem, you suddenly improve in your skill to write a legal brief. Making intelligent choices in the areas of precision of word choice, linear thought, even structure of words – these things are good for you. If you think that the best way to learn how to write legal briefs is to write nothing but legal briefs for years on end, I think you’re missing something.

I’m writing a lot of music reviews lately. One of those weird serendipitous moments where an old connection sparked to life, and now I’m spending hours each week crafting bite-sized critical reviews of the latest pop albums. Needless to say, my novel manuscript is sitting dusty on its virtual shelf on my computer. Yes, it’s a little frustrating. I wish I could dive back in and pick up exactly where I left off, and crank through 700 words a night. For now, though, this new task is fulfilling me. But – based on the ideas expressed above – I have to trust that my wordsmithing is not in vain. When I do put fingers to keyboard (doesn’t have the same ring as “pen-to-paper,” does it?), my tool will be sharpened and ready for use.

Now, excuse me, but it’s my birthday, and I’m going to party like it’s 1979.