Thursday, April 12, 2012

Kill Your Darlings

Yep, that's me. 

This is a post from last year, but it's what I am in the middle of right now. I have a couple of really huge deadlines and just don't have any extra words or time to craft something new. 

However, vacation starts at 3:00 tomorrow (!) and I will have time to write about teaching next week. I hope. 

My 8th graders are writing their graduation essays, and I love watching their process. They have to write an essay about a lesson or experience during their years at Crossroads Academy that can then be reduced down to 3/4 of a page for memorization and delivery at graduation. We hardly ever write personal narrative, as the Crossroads composition class is all about expository and persuasive essays, so it's fun to watch them cut loose a little. 

Over the course of two months, I encourage them to brainstorm, free-write, bash out terrible rough drafts, hone their words, memorize, and walk in to the auditorium to the rhythm of Ms. Whittington's graduation march.  I teach them how to approach public speaking, I make sure copies of their speeches are in the podium - in the correct order - just in case they get lost in the stress of the moment. But when it comes down to it, they face that audience alone, armed only with their own words.

By the time those kids stand up there at the podium, I have memorized their speeches and could give each one myself without a crib sheet.

But that moment is still months away. In the meantime, it's still April. Right now, they are working through some VERY rough drafts of their speeches. They know what they want to talk about, but as written now, it's still all reporting, no arc. What they ate for lunch the day they overcame their fears and competed at Math Counts. The arc, and the truth, will come with time. Today, they write what Anne Lamott calls "sh*tty first drafts," and I support them while they craft and edit and cut and revise and kill their darlings. It's a tortuous process for some of them. These are high-achieving students, and often, they simply tell me what they think I want to hear.

That's why I start in April. It really does take that that long to write down to the bones.

This is my last opportunity to teach my 8th graders, and I love it. I occupy an incredible position of privilege and trust, and I'm humbled by the weight of that privilege every year when I sit in our auditorium,  and watch them them deliver their half a page of truth. 


  1. You are such an inspiration. And I love that picture. I hope you have it framed somewhere.

  2. Oh, MSB, you have no idea what that means to me coming from you. I don't have it framed, but I do love it. I called my mom and asked where it was taken, and they were flummoxed. They had no idea. Probably at a mall. I still hate any sort of shopping and have adult tantrums.

  3. i just read anne lamott's newest about her son sam having a baby boy. it was perfect and just what i needed at the time which is weirdly what most of her books have been for me.

    do you ever wonder who was the first to say, "kill your darlings?" or is that some literary fact that everyone knows but me? it's such a perfect sentiment. now i'm going to google it.

    (i keep wanting to turn you, "...half page of truth" into "...full page of half truths.")

    1. Did you look it up? It was Faulkner, apparently, but I also read somewhere that he cribbed it from someone else first. We all recycle....

  4. you know what's fun? being relatively new to your blog so that, no matter what you have to post, it's all new and revelatory to me, gently recycled or no : )

    and i don't think it was until my first paying gig as a writer for a trade magazine in NYC that i really understood the editing process. it was painful and i wish i'd had some genuine exposure to it much earlier on. eighth grade might have been about right.

    your students are privileged, too, to have you with them through this process.