Monday, September 18, 2017

Slice of Life: The frustration of writing

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 

A few of my colleagues from my MFA program started an on-line writing group, and we met last night. Some of these people are published authors, and all of them except me have completed their MFA program in creative writing. They've all written many critical essays, including one at least 35 pages long. They've also written over a hundred pages of a creative draft with the input of an experienced mentor.

We've all written a lot. 

And yet, many of the questions and the input and the struggles boiled down to the same questions I ask my elementary aged writers: 
  • What's your story really about? 
  • What does your character really, really want?
  • How do you weave action, description, dialogue, and inner thinking together in order to communicate the wishes and struggles of the characters?
  • How do you stay in the head of your character?
During our critique sessions, the writer whose work we are workshopping is supposed to stay quiet; that person gets to speak and ask questions at the end. Last night, when our author had her chance to speak, she talked about how frustrated she was with this story that she's been working on for five years, and how she still can't seem to focus in on the heart of it. She's thinking about switching the entire draft from third person to first person--which is no small task-- and she's also thinking of abandoning it. 

"I feel completely overwhelmed," she said, her voice raw with honesty. 

Sometimes, I lose sight of how hard it is to write a clear and compelling story, and our curriculum (which is based on the CCSS) asks our students to do it at very young ages. When was the last time you wrote a story? Not a post, not an essay, not a blurb, not a lead, not a conversation, not a poem-- a full story, start to finish. I'm guessing many of us, by virtue of the fact that we are part of the slicing community, have written a story in the not-too-distant past, although maybe we haven't gone back and reworked and revised one. I'm guessing some--maybe many--of our colleagues who don't spend as much time on blogs and in notebooks haven't written a true story in a long time. 

I give our children so much credit. Writing stories is hard. I need to remember that when I am working with my writers, young and old. 

Happy Writing,


  1. So true. I think writing slices or personal narrative is still easier than writing fiction -- at least for me. I cannot imagine what it is like to write fiction. I have a spark of interest in it... but it is still a low flame. We just turned our MS over to design. It felt so good!!! I can 't imagine starting a new piece tomorrow - but that is what we ask of kids. Good points you make .... much to think about! Thank you -= as always.

  2. I also find writing fiction much more challenging than writing slices or personal narratives. That challenge always helps me empathize more with my student writers. I've come to realize that even though it is hard and uncomfortable for me, I learn more every time I try it. Another important consideration and one I share with my students. Finally, I admire the writerly accomplishments of you and your writing group. That's a lot of writing to celebrate!

  3. Melanie,
    Point your group to Melissa Stewart's blog. Have them read her 10 year timeline for "No Monkeys, No Chocolate" . . . TEN.YEARS.

    Tell your friend in your group to try just a small piece differently. Maybe just starting at a different point. Don't throw in the towel yet!!!

  4. I really loved your slice! I totally agree with you that we need to give students credit because writing fiction is not something that can always be easily completed. In fact, I struggle myself often to come up with a story. It is much easier for me to find myself writing about personal stuff or writing slices.