Evidence of Struggle

Yesterday, Jim Burke began his presentation at NCTE with this slide.

I thought- Thanks, Jim. That’s exactly what I need, more pressure when it comes to writing. If writing is a public performance of my intelligence, then what does it say for all the times that the page is filled with garbage, or even worse, blank? 

It didn’t matter that Jim then followed that slide with a hilarious story about burning his own poems in his backyard when he was in high school or acknowledging that we are always at risk of feeling stupid when we’re writing. I still had that first slide burned into my head.

But then Jim said, “If the page is blank, that’s evidence of struggle.”

Evidence of struggle. Not evidence of stupidity. Not evidence of failure. It was such a useful characterization for me. I’ve always heard the blank page characterized as a place possibility and opportunity. But the idea of the blank page as a place of struggle seems to helpfully reinforce the idea that the work of writing starts even before the pencil hits the page or the fingers hit the keys.

For the writing to happen, there do eventually have to be words on the page if the writer is to win the struggle, and so I was also grateful for Penny Kittle’s reminder of Tom Romano’s entreaty to, “Write in faith and fearlessness.”

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