This is my fourth year doing the Slice of Life Challenge. Even though I’d been planning on participating again this year, I almost forgot about it until someone (thank you, Aeriale!) asked if I was slicing again this year. Is it March already?
To be honest, I thought about not participating. Even though I’m always telling myself I’m going to be better at managing my commitments, it’s really hard to do. Unfortunately, in the busyness of life, writing is usually one of the first things that ends up pushed off for another day and then the momentum is lost. I try to do the weekly Slice of Life throughout the year, but the last time I wrote for that was back in November, and before that, I think it might have been sometime last summer. It’s okay, I told myself. Just make it up in the March challenge. Well, it’s March, and here we are.
So here I am.
What I appreciate about the Slice of Life Challenge is how open-ended it is, full of possibility. Most of my writing in the last year or so has been specifically school and teaching related, as I’ve continued to write for Moving Writers, PAWLP (PA Writing & Literature Project), and Heinemann (did I mention I have commitment issues?). As much as I love writing about all things teaching, there’s a pressure associated with those blogs—an expectation that what I write has to be good enough to share, that what I’ve done is something someone else might find worth doing. There’s an audience in each of those situations, an audience with expectations.
But slicing is different. If writing for Moving Writers/PAWLP/Heinemann is writing in “complete sentences” then slicing is writing in “fragments.” Too much of my recent writing has been here’s what I’ve done and not enough here’s what I might do or here’s what I’m thinking. It’s been a lot of show and tell versus here’s what I’m figuring out.
And yet writing to discover is powerful—and we don’t do enough of it.
Yesterday, a student asked me advice about what English course to take next year. It’s course selection season and as a rising senior, she has a few different choices available to her. She had narrowed it down to a two courses: one was more of a traditional literature course while the other was a creative writing option. Because she’s currently in my AP Lang class, and because our focus is on non-fiction and writing, I tried to encourage her to take the “literature” course. But when she asked about the type of writing each course does, and when I answered honestly that she would likely be doing more response-to-literature and literary analysis in one course versus the other, she decided to go with the creative writing class. “I’ve really enjoyed the writing that we’ve done in this class,” she shared, “and I don’t want to lose that momentum.”
It’s hard to argue with that, even as much as I would love her to read Shakespeare and Bronte or Morrison and Allende. I’m still not sure how I feel about her choice—and I cringe thinking about students who might graduate not having read a Shakespeare play—but I’m not sure that how I feel matters. In the last few months, she, like a lot of her peers in her class, has spent a lot of time finding her voice and writing about topics she’s interested in. Which makes me wonder: but can’t you do that in a “literature” course? And of course you can, and of course we should. And yet…
I wonder if part of the issue is that we emphasize writing in “literature” courses as writing to show and tell. Whatever form literary analysis takes—whether it’s dialectical journals, timed writes, text-dependent analysis, or 5-paragraph essays—it’s often writing to show what you know rather than writing to discover and figure out. It’s writing focused on having the answer to a question rather than writing that just asks questions.
“Kids are interested in questions,” I shared with a colleague last week. We were talking about the role of theme in literature, and wondering if we should put so much emphasis on finding themes versus seeking questions.
I think we need to make more room for questions—and writing that helps them find those questions.
This post is part of the 11th Annual Slice of Life Annual Story challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, a month-long challenge to write daily by inviting participants to share a snapshot of life through writing.