Going from Teacher to Student – Guest Post by Christa Allan

Marcy and Lisa are pleased to welcome a special guest poster to Girls With Pens today–Christa Allan.

A true Southern woman who knows that any cook worth her gumbo always starts with a roux and who never wears white after Labor Day, Christa is a writer of not your usual Christian Fiction. She weaves stories of unscripted grace and redemption with threads of hope, humor, and heart.

Walking on Broken Glass Christa AllenWalking on Broken Glass is her debut novel. Her next novel, Edge of Grace, was released by Abingdon Press in August of 2011.

Take it away, Christa . . .

It’s much easier to assign writing than to teach writing.

That epiphany in my profession as a high school English teacher was a blessing and a curse. . .for me and for my students. It meant I stopped bombarding them with the alphabet soup of essays (analysis, biography, comparison, definition, exemplification, etc.), and started devoting more time to the writing process. Brainstorming, rough drafts, more rough drafts, editing, revision, more revision (FYI: they hate revision).

It’s exhausting. They don’t know what to write, where to start, when to finish, how to finish, if their sentences or paragraphs are too short or too long, or if it “sounds stupid.”

Their first question is usually, “How long does this have to be?”

Generally, my response is “the miniskirt rule”–long enough to cover the subject, short enough to be interesting. (FYI: they hate this rule).

I pace the classroom chanting my mantras:

“Keep pushing your pen across the paper.”

“Don’t paralyze yourself waiting for the perfect opening or word. Some lousy writing is better than no writing.”

“Writing is messy business. Create chaos–we’ll find a way to make order of it later.”

“Don’t fret over the introduction–you’ll probably ditch it later anyway.”

I tell them to read the paper out loud to hear the ebb and flow of their words, to remember their audience, and to forget the “cotton candy” words (the words that look pretty, but lack substance).

They whine. “Why can’t I write like Asmeralda? She writes better.”

I answer, “Because you’re Fred. Because she’s writing from a different place.” I don’t tell him it’s because she and a younger sibling and their mother lived in their car for two years.

“Don’t over think it. Just keep putting one word in front of the other.” When I say this, they look at me as if I’ve just announced the cafeteria would be serving lima beans for lunch.

I’d wonder why they wouldn’t trust me.

Until I started writing my first novel. Which proved to me, once again, that God does have a sense of humor.

Almost every writing chant I used in class perched on my shoulders and giggled as I stared at the cursor on my monitor. Every blink, a taunt.

I returned to the classroom a humbled writer-in-the trenches with my students. They know I suffer with them. I think they derive a certain malicious pleasure from that, if not a grudging respect because they’re aware I’m not asking them to do that which I’m unwilling to do myself.

When my second book was due, they badgered me about my word count on a daily basis. I showed them my messy beginnings. When my edits arrived, I scrolled through my manuscript so they could see that someone bleeds on my papers too.

I don’t teach writing any more.

I learn writing. Everyday.

How do you make sure you never stop learning?


6 comments on “Going from Teacher to Student – Guest Post by Christa Allan

  1. Boy, does this sound familiar! It’s the same when you teach college-level writing. Everyone hates revision. They hate that writing is not like math, where the answer is either correct or it isn’t. So many times, they’ll ask me a question about whether it’s right or wrong to start an introduction a certain way, or something similar, and my answer is: “It depends…” That drives them crazy. Teaching writing is hard. Being a writer is hard too. But I still like doing both.

  2. Sooo true… I am retired now, but teaching writing was horrendous….Letting them write worked much better. The mantras will go on, but the fact is ….they will write when they are ready and they will write what they know about. It makes life easier. Thanks Christa, for bringing the smile to my face, the memories to my mind, and the reason I follow your blog 🙂

  3. Sorry for getting here late. I was away for two days and didn’t have a chance to linger on the Internet.

    I appreciate your stopping by, and your comments were encouraging!

  4. We influence others when we are most alive. And it’s evident to me, Christa, that you’re breathing just beautifully in your writing. I think most teachers could stand to inhale a little more than they do. But your students are blessed. Your influence — whether from panting or gasping — is healthy and growing in the lives of so many. Count me among your most thankful students. So glad you’re “alive”!

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