On Loving the Writing

October 1, 2013 § 8 Comments


By Amy Wright

amyMy recent Brevity essay, “The Bedroom that was a Beekeeper’s House” was prompted by a Cowbird “Saga.” 

Cowbird is an online community of storytellers that arose during the momentum of the Occupy movement, providing the 99% with a forum to put faces with those numbers destabilized by the economic inequality of large corporations.

The first “Saga”—as I remember it, since the themes are no longer organized chronologically—was the “Occupy Saga,” and gathered stories of confessional Wall Street “low-rung” financial advisors, Red Diaper Babies-turned grandmothers, Oakland strikers, new “Migrant Mothers” en route across country to look for work, etc.

The “Working Saga” that followed takes Studs Terkel’s idea international, collecting anecdotes from retired principals of South African schools, Mexican painters, Norwegian photographers, Kalamazoo briefcase and accessory store owners. Thus, even as the media was answering a context-driven call for connection, it was already transcending the movement, inspiring stories of separated lovers, perseverance, failure, and adversity that are timeless and global

The strength of this community, as I read it, is that Cowbirders “love” each other’s posts. The distinction between loving a piece, commenting on, retweeting, liking it, or giving it a thumbs up may seem insignificant, but I would argue makes all the difference. For, in love—unexpectedly perhaps, depending on your definition—there is much freedom.

I have loved pieces I don’t particularly like, because I admire the writer’s intention or revelation. I have loved pieces for risks the writer takes rather than literary merits I tend to favorite. And perhaps most significantly for me, knowing only love can return after publishing a post bolsters a writer for the kind of fortitude required to take on such intimate themes as the “Bedroom Saga” that inspired my Brevity piece.

I aspire to create some such haven in my classroom—however briefly—by having students read aloud 2-3 paragraphs from their essays before they turn them in. On that day, students receive only applause, praise, encouragement, for the next class period they will need to open themselves to  feedback from their peers during workshop.

Receiving criticism is not a moment in the writing process I have tended in years past. Though I have long asked students to share a section of their strongest work with their live audience, I have only recently begun to pause and linger before allowing discussion to say “Yes!”—allowing that feat to be enough (even if their 2-3 paragraphs net only three pages of their required eight). Later we will discuss suggestions for the required revision, but I want them to revel and remember reveling in having written—for only that joy will sustain the best of them to return to the page the many times it takes to crystallize meaning, image, insight, closure.

Might all writers be similarly fortunate to find readers and editors (and teachers!) to help them at every level.

My Cowbird “Bedroom Saga” piece, including a photograph of the bedroom/beekeeper’s house is online at: http://cowbird.com/story/37140/Oh_Heart/

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§ 8 Responses to On Loving the Writing

  • Empowering people (students, readers, the curious) with the magic of the written word, its musicality, its potential to render the ineffable, to emote, conjure, inspire…these are noble pursuits, worthy of you, of us.

  • Maria M says:

    I had never heard of the Cowbird group before now, sounds intriguing. I admire you for encouraging your students to read aloud from their work as I have discovered that is the most daunting task you will ever be set and it is all about fear of how others see your work. But your idea is brilliant offering only hope and praise. Well done.

  • djdodson says:

    Nice approach on building confidence to be strong enough to utilize criticism.
    Managing criticism (An ideal in itself!) for me is about over-arching ideals and altering course in-flight – without over-steering . . .
    Sounds like Love to me! Thanks Dr. Amy! Dan Dodson in Texas

  • The Cowbird Community sounds like an amazing group! I really admire what you did with your students by having them read parts of their essays. My teachers never did and, back then, I was glad for it since reading my stuff aloud sounded daunting. However, looking back, I wish they had.

    Also, I have learned the important distinction between liking and loving a piece, something I originally thought had no difference. Thank you for this post!

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