Fear & Courage

Yesterday I tried something new with my communications class. I’d successfully used this method of directed writing in the past. My “writing spurts” start with me asking a simple question and then students writing answers in 2-4 minutes spurts. We do this for about a half hour. 

It worked out well for some people, who came away with two to four pages of solid idea notes. Then there were the folks who had barely half a page of work. The ones who said they were confused and didn’t understand how these notes would make a paper.

I wonder about those mixed results. Does it prove that some people are “natural” writers and others simply cannot be taught to write?

Several variables occur to me. Maybe the less prolific student has never been required to write in spurts and is simply unfamiliar with the method. Or they are a slow writer who needs to be alone in a room with a radio and no ticking clock to produce pages. Maybe they are dealing with a personal issue that distracts them from the classroom. Maybe the student is bored, sleepy, lazy or just doesn’t care.   

And don’t these variables apply to would-be creative writers as well? I used to get distracted by my life all the time. Certainly not understanding craft would cause some new writers to balk rather than produce pages. Many writers instinctively crave structure but don’t know how to build it. Not having a clue how story worked never stopped me, but now that I know the elements of craft, I write better stories.  

Maybe some people who want to write end up being bored by the actual processs. That has never happened to me, but fear that I can’t pull off this mystery I’m constructing is hounding me right now. Fear is like boredom unmasked. I’ve feigned boredom when really I’ve been afraid. Afraid I wasn’t up to the task. Afraid I’d fail.

How I deal with this fear of failure is to tell myself I need to try, and if it turns out I am not up to the task at hand, then I need to face that. In writing and in life, I like the idea of being a courageous person rather than a fearful one. Courage is not the opposite of fear, it’s feeling fear and doing the thing I’m afraid of anyway. I’ve feared failure with every big assignment in my life, like when Woman’s World called and gave me three days to complete a feature story. Or when I accepted the BBC assignment.

Those two writing assignments turned out to be big successes for me. Yesterday’s attempt to help all my students get started on their next essay was not a total success, nor was it a complete failure. And I’m glad I tried to make writers–if only for a half hour–out of even the most unlikely students.


  1. At least this in-class assignment allowed the students to tap into their creative side, just to see what’s out there. Imagine a student who’s never been given such a challenge or an assignment to attempt to write?


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