Monday, June 11, 2012

Throwing Socks at the Ceiling Fan

Before I was an editor, before I worked in any form of news, before I had a master's degree, before I had any credentials other than a bachelor's degree and a post-baccalaureate certification, I taught tenth-grade English.

I think every college graduate should be required to teach one year, or at least student teach one semester at a public school.

There'd be a lot less debate about funding public schools or how hard our teachers work or even how different kids are today from how they were "back then."

So I taught tenth grade English, and at the end of that year, my students had to take the writing portion of the LEAP exam, Louisiana's standardized testing required for graduation.

Needless to say we focused on writing heavily, and needless to say many of them were extremely nervous about being required to write on a random topic in order to graduate. Or to write. Period.

Our mantra was "writing is a craft," and I explained that meant it was something you got better at the more you did it. I'd have them write something almost every day, pass it to a neighbor for "grading," and then go back and correct it before turning it in to me for the final grade.

It was a primitive version of critique partners, and I didn't even know it.

When I started writing books, I didn't know what I wanted to write. I'd get ideas for stories that I liked, or I'd get a character in my head, and I'd chase him or her wherever s/he led, whether it was back in time or outer space or just around the block.

My first book wasn't very polished, but I think my latest shows the mantra works. You do improve with practice, getting feedback, learning from mistakes.

When he was in high school, my older brother liked lying on his bed, taking off the socks he was wearing, and then throwing them at the ceiling fan while it was spinning.

Sometimes I'd lie on the bed beside him and watch, and we'd laugh about how far they flew or dodge the falling dust bunnies, depending on how long it'd been.

My writing path feels that way at times. Five completed MSs later, and I still don't know which genre I prefer to write or which my readers prefer.

I'm not sure it matters as long as I just keep doing it, learning from my mistakes, improving.

I can't seem to find my point today, I'm sorry. If you've made it this far, I guess it's just keep swimming. And if you're throwing socks at the ceiling fan, remember to dodge the dust bunnies. (Yes?)

Oh, and every one of my students passed the writing portion of the LEAP. I was so proud of them. Still am.

Have a great week, reader- and writer-friends! <3


Laura Pauling said...

I finally figured out that I have two differently styles that I enjoy and I don't think I could either up right now so I'm trying to put them both under the umbrella of spies, murder and mystery. I like the fun stories and I like the darker more literary stories. Hard to choose!But you know which one I started with. :)

Sarah said...

First, I just need to say that I love the title of this post, and that idea (metaphorically speaking). Next, there's nothing wrong with enjoying different genres and age groups ... it's just a bit harder to brand yourself, if that's something you want to do. But why limit yourself if now's the time to explore? I've written a few different genres, and both adult and YA, and I'm just coming to my preference ... and I think it's only my preference for NOW. Just part of the developmental process of a writer.

SA Larsenッ said...

I kept swimming. I'll keep swimming, and you will too. The title you chose today is really catchy. Love it. I am a firm believer in keeping at keeping at it. (Yes, I just wrote that.) Diversity is a good quality to have, at least in my book. I know I love writing children's books. But I often find myself shifting from YA to MG and then back to PBs. I pretty much enjoy writing about the strange and unexpected, but I know I have a contemporary YA story in me. Just don't think I'm ready to write it yet. ;D

Natalie Aguirre said...

Awesome post Leigh. I do see myself improving as I write too and will continue swimming like you. I hope I swim faster and have more than one project done soon. That's something I need to work on.

Chris Fries said...

Very socksy post, Leigh!

Fun and inspirational and I hear ya: Keep swimmin'!

Jessica Bell said...

So true. And it's people like you that help me to keep swimming! :) xoxo

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I bet you made an amazing teacher. And today I might have to lay down with my kids and throw some socks at the ceiling fan!

Pat Hatt said...

Can't say I ever threw socks at a ceiling fan haha but yeah I agree the more you write the better you get, I still cringe at some of my first drafts of things.

Matthew MacNish said...

That sounds like some great teaching. Writing teaches creative thinking, which is more important than we often give it credit for.

I write different genres, somewhat, but I do think Sarah has a point about branding. Of course, we have to get published before that's really a problem.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Throwing socks at a ceiling fan sounds like the way I test out ideas to see which ones I'd like to write about!

I'm trying a new genre for me right now, and I don't know yet how successful I'll be, but I'm having fun with it.

Old Kitty said...

It's a great mantra and so works!! Yay for you and your students!! Keep going - you and your students can all reach for the stars!

Now off I go to find some (clean) socks! LOL!

Take care

Clarissa Draper said...

First of all, I saw my book on the side bar - you're awesome! Thank you.

I love your idea about getting each student to teach a class for a year. I homeschool my kid and I think teachers should be paid more. Love the line 'writing is a craft' because it's true, it does take time to get better at it.

Lisa Gail Green said...

I agree that you just have to keep writing and you get better with each attempt. Maybe you're not meant to stick to one particular genre. I'm so NOT telling my kids about the sock game btw.

LTM said...

@Chris--LOL! Thanks! I guess another way to say it is that it's probably fine to swim around so long as we're doing it well, improving or craft. Then we can decide which genre to stick to when we see which "sock" flies the farthest! :D

amo said...

Heh, I think making every college grad teach high school would be an act of cruelty towards the high school students. But I quite agree on the salutary effect it would have on people's attitudes towards public schools.

I'm not quite sure what the dust bunnies and socks have to do with choosing your writing genre, but I'm sure it's deep and significant. Not to mention an amusing image. Oh, I know: "Sometimes the socks go flying, and sometimes they just stir up dust bunnies. Either one makes for good entertainment." That's the moral of the story, right?

Have a happy week yourself, and I hope it includes a few sock-tossing times, the literal or figurative kind.

Lydia Kang said...

I think I can writer a few different genres. I'm not sure what's going to be more enjoyed out there, but what the hey. I'll just keep writing them and avoid the dust bunnies.

Jolene Perry said...

I was a teacher first, too.

I miss it for a while every fall, but am glad I'm doing what I'm doing.

I'm well aware that I write contemporary best, but I do have a paranormal series I'd like to see out one day, and have started a couple of others.

but yeah... for now? i just write whatever catches me, or whichever I catch...

Melissa Sarno said...

Practice. Yes. I'm learning it's the only way. I tend to beat myself up about my work 'Why am I not THERE yet?' and then I remember, I'm still learning. Actually, I hope I always feel that way. Great post. :)

Carolyn Abiad said...

LOL! Love this post!

The sock/manuscript I'm working on is a little too psychedelic. (Must have gotten mixed up in the wash because it's definitely not mine.)Think I'd better throw another one up and see if it has better momentum. What do I lose? ;)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I wish we had written more in English and had feedback. It would have gone a long way to help me become a better writer. But I suspect my teachers really didn't care. That's why so many students struggled in university.

Right now, all I can imagine is writing YA, but the subgenres keep changing, depending on my mood. :)

DL Hammons said...

I always thought I knew which genre I was best suited for, but now I'm beginning to wonder. Can I borrow some socks? :)

Angela Felsted said...

I really enjoyed reading this post today. It may have wandered a bit but I felt it came to a good conclusion. Just keep dodging those dust bunnies. Who knew dust bunnies could be so profound?

M Pax said...

I can't believe how hard people are on teachers, the schools, and kids these days.

You're right. I notice it in my writing, too. Each time, it's like I've been reinvented, getting better, improving, trying not to repeat mistakes. It is a process that requires a lot of practice.

Talli Roland said...

Sometimes my whole life feels like throwing socks at the ceiling fan! And yet... I'm enjoying it. I feel that way about writing. So much is up in the air, outcomes are never guaranteed, but it's FUN.

lbdiamond said...

LOVE this post!

I'm dabbling in different genres because I enjoy different genres.

Can't know if something will work withou trying.

LTM said...

@LBD--Thanks, girl! And that's me. I like reading different things, so it makes sense to try writing different things. We'll see which one flies~ :D <3

Pk Hrezo said...

Awesome for your ex-student! And I think thats a fab idea to make every college grad teach one year. It would make a HUGE difference. Thank God for teachers. Man, I cant even imagine going back to my first novel from 5/6 years ago and reading it. Oy. THat's a good thing tho cuz it means I've improved tenfold.

Ella said...

Wonderful about your students and your beginning process~ You taught them so much! I'm going to toss socks at the ceiling fan...hubby tosses them at the hound.
Practice makes perfect, right Teach...okay, maybe not! It is fun to keep trying, though... <3
Damn those dust