Who Do You Write For?

When I was in 5th grade, we were given a homework assignment to read a book in Language Arts class and write a 500 word book report.  To this day, I cannot remember the name of the book, but what I do recall is that I didn’t read it.  It wasn’t that I didn’t try to read it, but you see, I had difficulty sitting down or staying focused for any length of time back then. I came up with every excuse I could think of to avoid reading.  And writing? Well that was always a painful experience to the point I would cry because I “knew” I just couldn’t write. 

The night before the book report was due I went into my mom’s bedroom and told her that I had finished reading the book and I needed help writing my report.  I remember her asking me questions about the book, specifically what the book was about and to tell her about some of the characters in the book. I struggled to make something up, so I told her I wasn’t feeling well and asked her if I could stay home the next day rather than go to school.  My mother, being the smart woman that she was, responded, “Yes,” and then told me to go get ready for bed. I felt so relieved that I would have the entire next day to come up with something to write.  As I walked towards the door, my mother’s voice stopped me, “I will take your report to your teacher tomorrow once you finish it.”  I slowly walked to my room, laid down and began to cry.  A few moments later my mom walked into the room. “You didn’t read the book, did you mijo?” she asked. “No mommy,” I responded after a few moments.  “I don’t like to read and you know I can’t write.” She leaned over and gave me a big hug and told me not to worry.  “Someday you will be a great writer,” she said in a quiet voice, “someday.”

“It’s not who you think you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you are not.”  -Unknown
Admittedly, things did not change much all the way through high school. I avoided as much reading and writing as I could. Writing assignment after writing assignment, I conned my way through most of it. Once in college, I knew that strategy would no longer work, so I tried a different approach.  I would seek out my professors and tell them I wasn’t a very good writer and that I feared that my lack of writing skills would prevent me from being successful in the class.  Although I was able to make it through my classes, my confidence never increased.  

Up until two years ago, I can honestly say not much had changed when it came to how I felt about my writing. The reading became more enjoyable, but the writing, well, let’s just say I surrounded myself with good writers who could edit my work. 

I have shared in the past that I credit both @gcouros & @patrickmmalrkin for encouraging me to start blogging.  Luckily for me, they didn’t succumb to any of the same lame excuses I had used with my prior teachers, professors and colleagues.  Instead, they encouraged me, pushed me and more importantly, convinced me to believe in myself that I could actually do it. “How can you expect others to do what you are not willing to do yourself?” asked George.  I knew he was right and less than a month later, I gathered up the courage to write my first blog post.  Two years later I have written 24 posts, typically writing a post a month.  From the outside, it may appear that I actually enjoy writing.  The truth is I don’t.

This past week I traveled to the Lake of the Ozarks to sequester myself for a few days in order to finish a writing project that I have been working on for the last few months.  I knew I needed the time alone to focus and to collect my thoughts in order to finish this work.  I arrived on Wednesday filled with hope and immediately began writing.  By Friday, I was not only frustrated with myself, but on the brink of wanting to quit.  “I can’t do this,” I thought to myself.  I left a message with a friend of mine whose writing I admire and shared my frustrations.  Honestly, I had lost all confidence in my writing and was beginning to question whether or not I could even do this.  For nearly two hours, I stared at a blank screen on my computer.  Every few minutes my fingers would press down on some letters on the keyboard, only to be followed by a series of taps on the delete key. I finally stood up and paced around the condo, reflecting back on my childhood and feeling sorry for myself.  For a short while, I thought about some of the bloggers I follow on twitter who post a blog every day or every couple of days and wondered why I couldn’t be more like them.  

“Why can’t writing come easy to me like it does to them?” I wondered out loud.

Just about the time I was ready to give up I received a message from my good friend @Jeff_Zoul.  He shared with me that he knew exactly how I felt because he often felt the same way.  Although he loved to write and considered himself a good writer, often times the experience was not very enjoyable. He stated there were times when his mind would go blank and he would sit for hours and not produce anything of value and his thoughts would turn negative.  “What? How could this be?” I thought to myself.  “Jeff is a great writer who has authored four books.”  “You can do this Jimmy,” he said. “You are a good writer. Just start writing and don’t worry about anything but typing your thoughts down as they come to you. Eventually, you will see your thoughts in front of you and you will be able to piece them together the way you want. You can do this!” I knew Jeff was right. His words had struck a chord with me and reminded me that nothing worth doing comes easy.  Even the most talented of individuals must work hard at what they enjoy doing and even then there will be moments when self-doubt begins to creep in.  I knew I had to press on.  I sat down that afternoon and wrote non-stop into the early morning hours.
My Weekend Reflections

Believe in yourself
Start writing and keep writing your thoughts down on paper
Once you see your thoughts written down, you will be able to piece them together
Get the negative thoughts out of your mind and believe in yourself
Don’t be afraid of what others will think – everyone has something to contribute
Forget about what it looks like, sounds like – just write
It only takes one person to relate to your story – honor your impact
Embrace your vulnerability – give of yourself and don’t be afraid to share your story
Reach out to others who you trust will “check you” back into perspective
It is normal to experience writer’s block – it happens to everyone, even the best writers
Write for you – reflection is powerful and necessary for individual growth
Model what you would ask of your students or staff – no excuses
By Sunday morning, five days after I had begun to write, I had accomplished what I had set out to do and was feeling both a tremendous sense of pride and as well as a sense of relief.  I decided to go for a run to help relieve the stress from writing.  When I returned, I checked my voxer messages and one particular chat group involving Joe Mazza (@Joe_Mazza), Melinda Miller (@mmiller7571), Ted Huff(@TedHiff), and Brenda Vatthauer (@mnbrenda) caught my attention. Ironically, the discussion that morning was on the topic of staff blogs and how we as leaders are supporting our teachers in their writing.  By the end of the discussion it was clear to me based on our conversation that I was not alone in my struggles as a writer.  The last vox message I listened to that day came from Brenda who shared a touching story about a former student of hers who wrote a blog which inspired her to think about running again, entitled, “Who Do You Run For?”

I was so moved by Brenda’s message I felt compelled to write this post; for her, for my colleagues on the Vox, for Jeff, for my PLN, and for other educators like myself who struggle to write their words down on paper or type them on a keyboard because somehow they have convinced themselves they cannot write or simply do not have the confidence to put their writing out for the world to see. 

Who did I write for this weekend? Well, I wrote for myself because I want to be a better writer and share my learning with others.  I wrote for my children because I wanted to show them they can accomplish anything they set their minds to and that some of the greatest rewards in life come from persevering through difficult times. But most importantly, I wrote for my mother because I wanted her to be proud of me and to thank her for believing in me.  I am not quite sure I will ever be the great writer she professed I would be, but I know that someday soon I will be an author of a book.

Not too bad for someone who struggled through school and who never believed he was any good at writing.





14 Comments

  • Mr. Heitz says:

    I have to say, Jimmy, as an English teacher, I could relate to much of what you wrote. Not only have I struggled with similar issues (my dreaded book report was about Lassie and involved some project using a cereal box…), but I have heard many a struggling student share these same feelings. From a co-taught 7th grade classroom to my high school College Writing course, these frustrations are very real for so many kids. I hope that some of your teachers, or others out there, might use this post as an example of what can be done with practice and perseverance. You continue to model what you expect out of others, and I respect that quite a bit, sir.

    Thank you for writing.

  • Auntie Em says:

    Jimmy, thank you for your words and honesty. Yesterday I wrote about believing. Sometimes we need another person to believe in us before we can believe in ourselves….a parent, a teacher, or a friend. Reflecting on this (and my own journey in which I needed someone to believe in me when I didn’t believe in myself) brought me to the realization that as a new administrator I must believe in myself, but more importantly believe in my staff and students and give them the support and encouragement they need to be successful. Reading your post this morning drove that home for me. Thank you.

  • Wow, Jimmy…. So many feelings went through me while reading this. Not that my opinion matters much, but to me, you’re an amazing writer because of your honesty and emotion. Your story is a perfect example of the importance of having support, and people who believe in you. Having that can help on so many levels. We all need this; adults and students. You allow us to connect and relate in more ways than you may ever know. It’s truly inspirational.
    Thank you for sharing your story, and for all you do.

  • The tremendously dislike when you write a comment just the way you want and it fails to publish. Thank you Jimmy for your words, thoughts, and vulnerability. I also have a tremendous difficulty writing and I have for a very long time. I’ve always admired you as an educator, leader, and a person. Your words definitely have had an impact on me and thank you for the encouragement to begin again with my own writing.

  • Jen H. says:

    It’s often someone else that sees the special talent within us that we don’t realize ourselves. If someone had told me that I would start my own blog this summer I would have told them they were crazy because I couldn’t have imagined myself opening my thoughts up to the world to read. It’s also a lesson for us as we work with students & encourage them to persevere through the tasks that are tough. I never would have realized that you struggled in school or had writer’s block from time to time. I’ve read many of your posts & often use your ideas for inspiration. After reading your post earlier this month about Rodd, I would definitely encourage you to pursue the possibilities of writing a book. Your story was touching and surely made an impression on many readers. With all of the experiences you’ve had and people you’ve met, I’m sure you have plenty of stories you could tell. Thank you for sharing this one!

  • jonharper70 says:

    Jimmy I don’t know where to begin. First, while you may write only a post or two a month, you inspire many more. You allow and help countless others to share their story and that my friend is powerful beyond meausure. I love how you put down in words that something is difficult for you, but that you stick with it and get it done. Modeling that for staff and students is so crucial. This was a great piece that I’m sure gave a few more folks the courage to step out and tell their story. Thank you

  • posickj says:

    Jimmy,
    Your final comment about your mother struck me like a brick. My mother and father both have always encouraged me to do my best and are proud and doting parents. I know by the way they talk to me and the way they talk about me. I am extremely confident that your mother feels the same way about you as my parents feel about me.
    Thanks for providing the strength and the spark to inspire all of us to write our own story.
    Jay

  • I had almost this exact conversation today. Once again, just the words I need to hear come from you, Jimmy. Thank you for sharing your journey and your process, judging by the comments above and the conversations you have been having, we are definitely not alone. Sometimes just knowing that is enough to push through! Hope the end of your summer is amazing!

  • Ben Gilpin says:

    Your honesty and transparency are wonderful qualities my friend. I encounter people on a continuous basis that either A) are fearful to write because they believe they have nothing to share/no value or B) simply do not enjoy writing

    Your story shares both of these viewpoints. My favorite part of your post was…”His words had struck a chord with me and reminded me that nothing worth doing comes easy.” I typically believe that easy is often non-memorable. The things that take hard work and perseverance we often never forget. I’m confident that your journey will inspire others.

    Thanks for the honesty,

    -Ben

  • Dennis Schug says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Jimmy, the power in your writing cones from the fact that every time I read your post, I feel as if you are speaking directly to me. You remind me to get rid of the excuses, believe in myself, and to fulfill my own potential. Thank you for your honesty and willingness to share your own struggles.

  • Dennis Schug says:

    Jimmy,

    Wow! Sharing your process, your struggle, and your vulnerability is what makes you such a special leader and a role model for others to follow. I had read this yesterday, and after spending parts of my day re-living parts of my own past that have shaped and defined who I am becoming, I couldn’t wait to come back and read this again. Your honest expression of reflection on the “why” reminds us events in our life are so much more about the journey than the destination. That being said, the “destination” (this post, the way I see it) is so powerful, and so moving. And it’s impact is that much more because you’ve shared it with us. And what’s truly amazing to me is that this “destination” is really only a new “starting point” for further growth.

    Your words always resonate, because you put us right there alongside you, Jimmy. And for that, I’m eternally grateful, because you make us all better.

    ~ Dennis

  • Jill Maraldo says:

    Jimmy,
    Thank you for this wonderful post! Your blog has been an inspiration to be an an educator and a writer. By being transparent in your writing process and school leadership, you inspire others to shine! As a former English teacher, I remember telling my students that sharing your writing is like bearing your soul. You feel vulnerable and you are taking a risk – but the rewards are far greater! Thank you for being willing to bear a little bit of your soul for those of us in your PLN and modeling the way as a leader! Keep it up and I can’t wait to read the book 🙂

    ~Jill

  • mona busiek says:

    Thanks for reminding me why I teach: to encourage students who’ve felt like you did. Writing only comes easily to me when I journal. My thoughts flow easily, and I sometimes can’t write them down fast enough. I even tell my students that writing is just thinking on paper. But the thought of blogging scares me to death. It’s out there for everyone to see. It’s published. The pressure of communicating to others my private thoughts can be paralyzing. I’m glad you got past the block and just shared your thoughts. Your honestly resonates with your readers. With your permission, I’d like to share some of your struggles with my 8th graders who HATE reading & writing. (By the way, the Ozarks is a great place to refresh and regroup.) ~Mona, a Missouri girl now at home in WV