Writing from the Heart

Love is like playing the piano. First you must learn to play by the rules, then you must forget the rules and play from your heart. ~ Unknown

A writer friend of mine posted the above quote in her Facebook status this morning and it occurred to me upon reading it how much Writing is like Love. You only need to replace a few words in the quote to state something equally as true about writing:

Writing is like playing the piano. First you must learn to write by the rules, then you must forget the rules and write from your heart.

Writing from the heart. It’s not something they very often teach in schools, is it?

Nowadays, at least in my kids’ school district, there is a huge emphasis on writing and learning how to write, but I find the programs that they use lacking. Mostly, to me anyway, they teach grammar. They start the kids at a very early age diagraming sentences and memorizing prepositions. My kids can chant every preposition in alphabetical order. Makes for a good bar trick, in my opinion, but it’s not very useful. They teach them all the rules. They tell them they should aim for this many adjectives, this many adverbs and this many whatever-the-hell-else in each paragraph. Now, don’t get me wrong … they have to learn the rules, and structure is a good thing. But they never seem to go that extra step further … teaching them how to write from the heart. Because that’s where all the good stuff is. Right there in your gut. How many times have any us, self-proclaimed writers or not, sat down to write something we HAD to write … something we didn’t want to write, something maybe our bosses wanted us to write, or a teacher. Or God forbid, we’d convinced ourselves we had to write Science Fiction or Fantasy or about vampires, because that’s what’s selling these days. Doesn’t work, does it?  Time and time again, I prove to myself that the key to getting into that “sweet spot”, to get those girls in the basement humming and sending me all kinds of great ideas, is to write from the heart. In the words of my friend and author, Samantha Graves, “Write the book only YOU can write.”  I think I might be paraphrasing here, but the message is still there. 

Do you like Green Eggs and Ham?

To continue my rant about how they teach writing in schools these days, I was lucky enough to have two incredible teachers in high school who actually managed to teach how to write from the heart. They were a husband and wife team … Mr. & Mrs. Starkey. Recently, I have found many of my high school buddies through Facebook, and it never ceases to amaze me how many of them are writers in one form or another. I am convinced it is because of these two Truly Wonderful (one of Mrs. Starkey’s favorite catch phrases … much akin to the Wiffers’ Awesome! Drink!) people. There were no desks in their classrooms. Students could choose to sit in a chair with one of those little pillow laptop desks, or sit or stretch out on the floor. And we wrote, and we wrote, and then we blew bubbles to find our center, and we wrote, and we chanted the words to Green Eggs and Ham, and we wrote some more. They had us write in Big Chief tablets … we weren’t allowed to punctuate or cross out or edit, the key was to keep the pen moving. And they never read it unless we wanted them to. But of course we wanted them to! When they read it, they’d circle things that they liked and would write little note and thoughts in the margins. And as a teenager who was convinced that nobody cared about what she wrote or thought about, that was HUGE! 

So now, when I’m stuck, when I sit and stare at an empty page and nothing seems to come, I take out my journal (alas, it’s not a Big Chief) and just write. I don’t edit, I don’t second guess myself, I don’t worry about how many adjectives I’ve used and whether I’m splitting an infinitive … I just write.

And if that doesn’t work, I blow bubbles and chant “That Sam I Am, That Sam I Am, I do not like That Sam I am!”

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. coffeegirl88
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 01:09:20

    No, you got Sam’s quote spot on and I love it. It means so much more to me than “write what you know.”

    It’s wonderful when you get teachers that good. I had one, my senior year. It blows my mind now when I realize Mr Minnick was probably 25 or 26 years old and he handled our class so well. His teaching was equally out of the box, he made my senior year. I keep hoping I’ll find him on Facebook, someday I’ll get to tell him how much I appreciated that class at that time in my life.

  2. jennerosity
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 01:18:13

    That sounds like such a wonderful writing class and wonderful teachers! I personally think that Dr. Seuss has some magic to it that helps tease out the human spirit.

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