A few weeks back, I read “Reading While Writing.” I’m not sure why: I’m not the sort that reads assigned text for fun, or tries to get ahead of the game by reading texts in advance. Something about the author’s writing style, his ability to playfully unwrap the many layers of reading and writing that I have played and struggled with throughout my life, held my attention. It was reassuring to hear that it is okay for other texts to directly inspire you, that other writers will hold off reading strong prose so that it doesn’t affect their writing style, and even that it is normal to feel jealous when confronted with beautiful writing. Up until I read this, I’d been stumbling through my personal writing, feeling faint guilt over every phrase, every sentence structure, and wondering which novel I’d read in the past that had planted it there. It is much easier to write creatively, freely, when you aren’t examining your text for imagined plagiarism or trying to fight the style that is bubbling from your fingertips and thoughts because it sounds like JK Rowling, or in our author’s case, Phillips.
The second half of our reading served one main purpose for me: it made me realize what a fantastic job my teachers over the years have done in commenting on my papers. Always, there were prompts that encouraged me to dig deeper, clues about which route might be more effective for my idea, but I never felt as though they were encroaching on my license as a writer. It also made me nervous about my own future role as a writing colleague: judging by the thin line that teachers and tutors ride in helping students, it will take specific questions and keen insight in order to help students truly dissect and un-package their essays.
On a side note, I found the conversations between student and tutor very amusing. In real life, even great questions like the ones the tutor asks don’t yield such spot on answers. I feel like it will take much more stumbling around on the part of the writer, and prodding on the part of the tutor before the student is able to see his problems and begin to fix them. I do not mean that the students aren’t smart– but often when faced with an older student who’s good at what you’re doing, you feel intimidated and it’s difficult to think; Difficult to think about the questions being asked you, difficult to think of the answers. Perhaps a good way to combat this feeling (on the part of the writing colleague) is to take it slow, never jumping to the conclusion that a student knows exactly what you mean, or that when they say they get it, they really get it. Ask them to demonstrate that they understand without putting them on the spot. And it’d also probably help to get to know the kids you’re helping, and let them see your flaws as a human being so they don’t feel quite so bad about revealing their own errors to you.