About that Face to Face Book Group: On Reading and Writing

I live on the edge of a very small town in Sussex County, Virginia. It is the home of those staples: peanuts and bacon. I moved here about five years ago and have spent most of that time working rather than getting involved in community life. This year, I decided I needed more non-work interaction in my life, so I joined the book group at my local library branch. I read A LOT so getting the homework done wasn’t going to be a problem. And the group meets one hour, once a month, five minutes from my house. (It’s actually close enough that even I could ride my bike and may do so in the spring.)

We met Tuesday and talked about We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. It is a story told from the perspective of mother and son, complicated by poverty and hope and love. We learn about what it is like to be undocumented but integrated in America. And, even more importantly, it reminds us of the terrible tragedy of the impact of zip code on education and thus opportunity. I can recommend it and you can read my full review at my book blog.

I’m really posting this blog to celebrate the book group and some ideas about writing: SO much fun to sit around a table with thoughtful people and just talk about a book for an hour. One woman provided several interpretations that had never occurred to me and expanded the possible understandings of the book. I haven’t dug this deep into a book for awhile.

As for writing…what struck me most out of the whole book was a comment from the author in the Q & A at the end. The interviewer asked her about writing her second novel, and she talked about the fear of disappointing her readers. This fear tainted her writing:

I was so worried about writing a “good” book that I ended up writing a carefully polished book with absolutely no heart.

She owes her freeing herself from that fear to a friend in her writers’ group who reminded her that she didn’t have anything to prove:

Somehow, those word set me free. I stopped trying to be good and just started to write–and the book improved dramatically from that moment on.

Two lessons leap out here for writing teachers, or indeed teachers anywhere: let them write (read/learn/share) without worrying about meeting a rubric or impressing someone else and give them community in which to do it. In my writing workshop, students produced fascinating pieces of writing when I gave them a chance to record their lives and stories. They wrote letters and stories and poems. And they wanted to read what their classmates wrote because they were so different.

I understand the concern with impressing people. The need to be profound. I wrote about it here and discovered Tim Owens shared a similar issue on his own blog.

I’m just decided that I am going to keep writing anyway.

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