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.
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.