Sunday, July 29, 2012

TMT Summer Writing Group - Week Nine

I owe (what I consider) my success with writing this summer to Teachers Write! Teachers Write motivated me to focus and get into the mode of writing. I feel accountable to everyone going through Teachers Write in the sense that I want to be able to share my own writing experiences and I also want to be there for others as they write.

About a month ago, I realized Brian Wyzlic and I were talking a lot on Twitter about my writing and his writing and writing in general. His comments on Friday Feedback were also really helpful to me. One time they spurred a whole discussion about my WIP that helped me brainstorm some ideas and think about where my story could go. I’ve been able to read some of Brian’s writing, too and I know he has been willing to share and accept constructive criticism.
Then I had an epiphany and realized I wanted to ask him to work together as mini-critique-writing-support-group partners. And he said yes! What Brian and I have set up is a very focused and specific version of Teachers Write. It has made my life as a writer and my writing so much better. I’ve invited Brian to chat with me about how we’re supporting each other and why we think having a writing partner really works.  

Hi Brian!

Hi, Jen!

When you asked me about being a mini-critique-writing-support-group partner (MCQSG, pronounced “ma-QUIZ-gah” [I just made that up; I hope you’re okay with that]), I was flattered, and then excited. And then I realized that meant I had to do things.

You see, Teachers Write has been helpful, but it’s been very much a cafeteria-style thing for me. I take what I want, I leave what I don’t, and on some days, I don’t stop by at all. Before long, I was starving, not writing at all. You asking me to be your MCQSG partner was like dragging me back to the cafeteria and forcing me to eat. You’re making sure I’m writing.

This is something I personally needed. Having someone there to do something as simple as ask “Hey, did you write today?” has taken me from writing every now and then to writing nearly every day. Beyond that, the advice and encouragement you have given me has been big. Sometimes, as I’m responding to something you’ve said or written, I’m realizing things about my own WIP, so it’s kind of like I’ve been helping myself even when I’m helping you. It turns out that saying yes to being your MCQSG partner has been the most selfish thing I could do to help my own writing.

First of all, MCQSG is just one reason I knew we would be able to work well together...I come up with something ridiculous and you find a way to make it even more ridiculous! I’ve already forgotten what those letters even stand for because all I hear in my head is maquizga.

If I could give any advice to other Teachers Write participants about finding their own maquizga, it would be to take time to find someone who you get along with, who understands what you are doing (and is kind of in the same place), but most of all, who is going to be straight with you. A maquizga should be someone who can be brutally honest but who also makes you feel hopeful and ready to write on after dispensing that sometimes hard-to-hear feedback.

Secondly, it really makes me feel so great to know that I have been helpful to you. We talked the other day about how, while we have both written different amounts, we still have each written more than what we had at the beginning of the summer. I really believe that even when you aren’t writing you are still writing. Just being part of Teachers Write has changed my whole outlook on life...I see a story everywhere I look. Sometimes I’m not able to write everyday, but checking in with you and talking about what we’ve been doing and knowing that I’m going back to my writing at some point, helps me feel like I am really truly in this for good. I feel so much more serious and committed by having Teachers Write, first of all, but even moreso from having a maquizga.

Now, Jen, if you don’t mind, I’m going to take a moment to address our readers.

Something that we’ve found really works well for us (and helps to keep the ideas organized and flowing in other collaborative efforts I have [yes, Jillian Heise, that’s a shout-out to you]) is using Google Docs. Jen began a doc one day, and it has become a place for us to share any frustrations we’re having, or quotes and advice that help us out. Our schedules are very different: Jen writes in the morning in her laundry room while I write in the afternoon in my. . .well, I don’t know what room it is (someone: quick, come up with a name for a room with a dinner table, wine and liquor cabinets, bookshelves, and camping supplies).

We don’t have a lot of real-time conversations (though they certainly do happen). Most of our conversations are through the Google Doc, e-mail, or Twitter (often DMs). In fact, this very post was written over the course of over a week and a half, back and forth on a Google Doc. It works for us. It helps us help each other. Find something that works for you. Maybe it’s a phone call. Maybe it’s grabbing lunch once a week. Or maybe it’s a Google Doc. But find your maquizga, and find a way to make it work for you.

Don’t just take our word for it! I recently read about people making big life changes in Pathways to the Common Core by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth and Chris Lehman. They explain that states adopting the Common Core Standards are engaging in major school reform. What they share about how to be successful with this change can also apply to those of us tackling Teachers Write:
“Dr. Ed Miller from Johns Hopkins says, ‘If you look at people after coronary-artery bypass grafting two years later, ninety percent of them have not changed their lifestyle’ (Deutschman 2007, 4). Deutschman points out that the only situation under which health patients improved was when the call for them to change their habits was accompanied by weekly support groups. ‘If the threat of death does not motivate people who are ill [to change], what on earth is going to motivate teachers to change?’ Fullan asks. He answers, ‘deep engagement with other colleagues and with mentors in exploring, refining, and improving their practice as well as setting up an environment in which this not only can happen, but is encouraged, rewarded, and pressed to happen’ (65)." p. 181

The authors encourage teachers to work together, talk together, share, ideas and support each other to move towards achieving the Common Core Standards. Having a continuing support group is what works for health patients, it can work for teachers as we go forward with Common Core, Brian and I have found that having a maquizga has proved that it also works for writers.

Teachers Write has brought so many of us together in this large online community. (Thank you, Kate! Thank you, Gae!) Now, Brian and I encourage you to seek out a maquizga or a small group (maquizgai?) to support you and your writing as well.

This is where we huddle up, put our hands in, and cheer gooooooooo maquizga!

My rules for the TMT Summer Writing Group:
1. We respect each other and the types of writing we do.
2. We only criticize each other constructively.
3. We are positive and encourage each other at all times.
4. We recognize and maintain this as a safe environment.
**I reserve every right to put the smackdown
on anyone who messes with our positive energy.**

Today, in the comments section:
Do you have a maquizga or small group you work with?
How does working with them look like for you?
How did you do this week? Did you meet your weekly goal(s)?
What was the pit of your week? (The hardest part, the not-fun part?)
What was the peak of your week? (The bet part, the most-fun part?)
What are you looking forward to and planning for the week ahead?

Thanks for stopping by and have a great week of writing!

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