Cut me Some Slack: Risk and Fluidity in Writing

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H2O Flow
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This is a scene from Slacker, which was also on the promo poster for the film

First, I have to preface this blog with a commentary on Carter’s laudatory remarks for Slacker (1990). In “Writer’s Block Just Happens to People,” he opines that the it is a “masterpiece of the mundane” and that “nothing happens and yet the film works” (102). It is certainly mundane and there is no plot. I know that I am in the minority in disliking the film. There were some funny moments and I like the taxi scene where Linklater (the director and also the actor in the scene) explains that every choice we make includes an alternate path that we could have taken and a possible reality that will not be recognized because we did not take that path. That reminds me of interactive children’s books that require readers to make choices based upon certain challenges with which they are presented (, Choose Your Own Adventure Books). I find those to be great and inspiring to budding artists, including future writers. I understand that the movie may be viewed as a metaphor for the blank page, which provides endless opportunities for exploration. However, the film is composed entirely of disconnected strings of bizarre streams of consciousness by random, often paranoid individuals who do nothing but talk. There are also some gratuitous vulgarities that are not funny. The reviews for this movie were consistently great. Perhaps I am too traditional to “get it.”

While I support the point that writing does require time spent daydreaming and thinking, as expressed by Murray in “Teaching Writing as Process, Not Product,” writers can become too entangled in ideas, rather than setting drafts to the page (4). I also agree with Murray’s view that a majority of time should be spent prewriting, which includes research and other activities not involving the continuous wielding of the pen or keystroke. Carter, our ardent lover of Slacker, refers to the brilliance of an academic journal in which a blank page is published (100). It is entitled “The Unsuccessful Treatment of Writer’s Block” and it consists of one footnote: “published without revision” (100). I get the joke. I also understand Carter’s implied point that we should not be shackled by convention and that singular words and sounds can be inspiring (101). However, publishing a blank page? I’m in the camp that disagrees with doing this. Carter seems to have an almost “dump-all-the-Scrabble-tiles-on-the-floor” approach to writing to which I cannot relate. I do agree with his point that creativity is engendered by playfulness, which can lead to storytelling (101).

The other articles were based on solid points that were thought-provoking and important. Murray’s arguments hearken back to our initial reading of Lauer’s work. He is much clearer in explaining that writing should be taught in a manner in which instructors refrain from performing postmortems on students’ work; rather, they should allow them the to room to explore independent thoughts. I find his imagery of the autopsy to be vivid and perfect. Murray rhetorically asks instructors how they should motivate their students to take on the challenge of viewing writing as an organic process. He answers in a brilliant manner:

First by shutting up. When you are talking he isn’t writing. And you don’t learn a process by talking about it, but by doing it. Next by placing the opportunity for discovery in your student’s hands. When you give him an assignment you tell him what to say and how to say it, and thereby cheat your student of the opportunity to learn the process of discovery we call writing.

page 5.

Murray focuses on the crucial point of having students search for their own truths and find their own voices. It is important that we give students the opportunity to exercise intellectual risk and come to their own conclusions in their written pieces. Educators must not view students as blank slates, ready to be imprinted with robotic instructions. As the author aptly describes, students have already accumulated a great deal of knowledge about language when they walk into schools (5). Additionally, I found his connection between drafts and finished pieces to be enlightening:

There must be time for the writing process to take place and a time for it to end. The writer must work within the stimulating tension of unpressured time to think and dream and stare out of windows, and pressured time– the deadline– to which the writer must deliver

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Success is my only [expletive] option; failure’s not!

The two images above are tied to my analysis of Carr’s “Failure Is Not an Option.” As students, we have been conditioned to think that failing is shameful and that there is only one opportunity to shine (Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” Educators should not espouse this view because it can be demoralizing rather than motivating. Carr encourages us to see failure as an opportunity for avenues of new thought and creation (See quote regarding Thomas Edison above). Failure is most certainly not an indicator of the lack of “moral fortitude” (7). Carr eloquently states:

…We aren’t born pen in hand, fully primed to write sonnets or political treatises as soon as we get a grip on those fine motor skills. Writing is learned slowly, over a long period of time, and with much difficulty, and anybody who says otherwise is lying or delusional or both

78 (emphasis added).

Carr goes on to cite Malcolm Gladwell’s point in his great work, Outliers in explaining that it takes 10,000 hours to truly master anything (79). Students and instructors should live by this rule. This is easier said than done, given that competition and winning are an inevitable parts of life. Despite these realities, a writer must look within and make his or her own discoveries and failure and creative dissonance is part and parcel of the process. “Development is not linear,” a point that is echoed by the Sommers’ piece we analyzed last week (79). “Experimentation” and “question-asking” are essential to the process of writing well (80). It is important to note that this is an ongoing process. Our writing evolves as we evolve as human beings. Equating failure with a lack of willpower or skill is harmful, especially to budding writers. We should embrace risk (80). It is important that young people be taught this invaluable lesson.

In the process of encouraging risk, we should consider Sands’ piece, “Rubrics Oversimplify the Writing Process.” Writing is not a neat, paint-by-the-numbers process. If we strictly limit students to the five-paragraph model (as laid out in Kendra’s blog last week), we are hampering them. However, it is important for some structure (rubrics) to be provided, especially to “inexperienced writers” (265). However, even with students who lack a facility with language, we must take the training wheels away at some point. Reliance on strict modes of writing only leads to stilted writing and to what I referred to in my presentation as the Borezone.

I’m in favor of Sands’ “meet me in the middle” approach (, Official Video for “Meet Me in the Middle”). Writing is like a relationship, one that we have with ourselves (ok, hear me out colleagues). We cannot impose rigid, one-sided rules that benefit just our own needs on our significant others (that smacks of insecurity); rather, we need to give relationships time to grow and the trust to flow; compromise is necessary in this process. However, exercising healthy guidelines is important. The same goes for writing. We must incorporate essential things such as thesis statements and proofs, etc. However, we cannot choke our own writing with artificial rules/rubrics just so that we pander to the nervous critics that come out to play in the small hours of the morning. If we do this, creativity is stifled and we will not grow. We must exercise both patience and bravery to crack out of the shells of strict rubrics. We must push ourselves to exercise creativity, irrespective of the profession we end up pursuing.

Published by medeathewriter

Creative writer, lyrical gangster, poet, student of life and an attorney. Speaks Italian and Spanish.

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