The more I write in my journal, the more I learn about the world and myself. The more I share my writing with my classes, the more open I become to my students, the more open they become to me, and the better all of our writing becomes.
Often, I hear students refer to their feelings of isolation from family, friends, and other students. I sense they are stranded on a metaphorical, desert island waiting for a passing steamer to rescue them. Sitting alone under a palm tree, sunburned, and tired of eating coconuts, their lives are blocked. Writing in a journal – one that takes on a personality of its own, one that becomes an extension of the author, one that holds the truth like notes placed in a bottle thrown into the Gulf Stream as a means of salvation – will help create that puff of smoke on the distant horizon indicating help is on the way.
Celebrate Your Unique Self
Many times, students need to see themselves as unique individuals. Being different is the price we pay for being better. Following the herd creates a boring sameness, a death-like monotony, and keeps us from achieving our potential. Writing in a journal reflects back to us how truly original we are.
Inspire to Action
Wait no more. Writing in a journal encourages me to translate my ideas into actions. If I can write about my ideas, I can see them as real possibilities. If I can capture them in a journal, I refer to them later when I act on them. John Hancock Field said, “All worthwhile people have good thoughts, good ideas, and good inventions, but precious few of them ever translate those into actions.”
Get Through the Darkness
Many students dwell on their negative life experiences, and most of us go through periods like this, sometimes. When I have no one to listen to me, my journal becomes my best friend, my voice in the night, the big brother or sister I never had, my guiding light. Often, simply writing my feeling onto a blank page helps me get through the darkness.
Looking for Meaning
The seventh century Chinese Philosopher, Hui-neng said, “The meaning of life is to see.” Looking at something is not the same as seeing it. In our complicated world, we have so much to look at, but we see so little. Looking at things demeans life. Seeing things, clearly, gives life meaning. Writing in a journal forces me to see things, not look at them. I can’t count how many students have told me that by simply writing devotedly in their journals they found a meaning in their life they didn’t know existed.
Create the Answer
One of the wisest men I know told me that everyone searches for the meaning to life. He said the answer is not to be found but created. If there is no particular purpose, we must develop one. Following our own unique destiny is challenging for all and frightening for many. We can’t hide in the herd any longer, when following our individual path.
“We must be true inside, true to ourselves, before we can know a truth that is outside us” (Thomas Merton).
I am responsible for my actions and my thoughts, and I want to learn much more than I now know. I sense the knowledge inside of me is much more important than the external knowledge I could acquire. No one else can teach me what I need to know. My insight comes from life experiences. I must each myself how to see.
Every year, I teach The Scarlet Letter to my eleventh grade high school students and renew my interest in the Puritans who settled New England. My mother traces her family name (Steele) to Abigail Adams in the United States and to Charles II in England. The Puritan religion plays havoc with her family tree. On my father’s side, Charles Martin was, in fact, the treasurer on board the Mayflower when it docked at Plymouth Rock. We can’t say for certain if he was one of our family, but it is possible.
The Puritan custom of labeling people into two groups was one of their interesting habits. If these people believed in the need to reform the Church of England and tell citizens the “pure” interpretation of the Bible, they were “saints.” If some expressed any doubt in the strict Puritan philosophy, obviously, those people were “sinners.” Life was so black and white, so simple. “Saints” and “Sinners,” that is all there were.
King James I threatened the Puritans when they asked him to change ceremonies, carried into the Anglican Church from the Roman Catholic Church. He said, “I will make them conform, or I will harry them out of the land.” He demanded a simple life, too. Subjects had to follow his way, or else they had to go to jail or leave the country.
These Puritan farmers, merchants, professionals, and scholars, especially from the University of Cambridge, came to be regarded as gloomy fanatics. For example, “They objected to bear baiting, not because of the pain to the bear, but because of the pleasure to the spectators.”
Some teachers try to “harry . . . out of the land” students who feel a need for new ways of thinking about old problems. These teachers feel they are on the front line of ethical values, and to alter their nineteenth century views is the same as succumbing to modernism. Many of their students feel no sense of unity and no sense of inner awareness. These conservative teachers take so much pride in being orthodox, like King James, that they retard many learning processes.
Rush Limbaugh sends his newsletter to interested subscribers for $20/year, but he “charges $10 more to liberals.” Doctrinal instructors put that “$10 more tax” on creative and non-traditional students in the way of stress, pressure, and a “saints or sinners” approach to education.
Opportunities to learn arise when different points of view appear on the scene. The greatest single educational lesson I learned in education revolved around the definition of the word “synthesis.” The main point of view in any discussion is called a thesis. The opposite point of view is the antithesis. Many hard life experiences taught me that seldom is the truth ever in one of these two opposing points of view. Almost always, the truth is somewhere in between the thesis and the antithesis. The truth is in a blending of the two, the synthesis. Once I accepted this lesson of life, I learned what tolerance really meant.
When I learned that my ego determined my thesis or my antithesis and that what I thought I saw was based on my pride in knowing the truth, I understood what Joseph Campbell meant when he talked about the dragons in our world.
Campbell’s discussion of the mythology surrounding the European dragon in literature and religion points out to me how important my ego becomes in determining what I think I see in any situation. European dragons are negative barriers our egos place in front of us to prevent us from achieving our desires and goals. Writer’s block is one dragon I must deal with on a regular basis, and my ego creates it, not anyone else. I learned how to over come my dragon.
This specialist in comparative mythology changed my life forever. He taught me the importance of following my bliss and why I should expect synchronicity in my life. He taught me to look inside myself, to find the life force to which I am connected and trust that my reason for living will become unknown. He showed me why when I do what I am supposed to do with my life, synchronicity will “open 1,000 doors.”
Campbell’s thirty books and forty years of studying cross cultural mythology reinforced what I sensed in y childhood years: most major religions have more in common than they do differences. If we study them far enough and rise spiritually high enough, somewhere beyond this mortal plane, they come together as one. That intersecting point is not located outside ourselves. It is only reached through an inward journey.
When my father was a young man, he was dressed in full combat gear, ready to board a troop ship to cross the English Channel and do his part in Normandy in June 1944. I remember seeing newsreels of General Eisenhower talking to young men, just like my dad, the day before they left for their meeting with “Hell on Earth.”
“Ike” asked one soldier if he had a religion. The smiling paratrooper said, “Yes, sir!” The general said, “Good. Where you are going, you will need one. It does not make any difference what it is. It just matters that you have one.” I wonder if this awareness is not just as true now, as we face our personal “Normandy Invasions” today.
A recent retiree became interested in construction of an addition to a shopping mall. Observing the activity regularly, he was especially impressed by the conscientious operator of a large piece of equipment. The construction worker went beyond what would have normally been required and reached for excellence in all he did. The day finally came when the retiree had a chance to tell the man how much he enjoyed watching his scrupulous work. With an astonished look on his face, the operator replied, “You are not the supervisor?”
Most people need supervisors looking over their shoulders to ensure excellence. Many look at the way we live our lives and draw conclusions about our self-reliance. True students have few supervisors looking over their shoulders. I see good students remaining disciplined because they are courageous enough to become their own supervisors. They don’t need someone else telling them how to study or when to study. Sincere students, teachers, and managers spread their visions of simplicity, synthesis, ands synchronicity to students, peers, and employees.
Today’s Monday with Martin was previously published in Fine Lines Journal.
(c) David Martin
What do you need to ensure personal excellence? Who is your personal supervisor? Why?
A lot of us writers are perfectionists. We want to make sure every single letter; every comma is flawless. When do you know you’re done working on a piece? When do you distinguish the time to put down the pen, or stop clicking away at that keyboard? “I’m finished.” Are you able to say that?
Many writers are not. One published novelist told me she only knows she’s done when her editor tells her she has written enough. Most writers believe they are never done. Even after something is published, a lot of writers still feel their work is unfinished, and that’s okay! Here are some helpful tips from me, another writer, to get you to a place where you can say “I’m done.”
When you’re sick of working on a particular piece, you’re done. You started out with something you really loved, but now you dread going back and editing. That piece has reached its finale. Send it to someone else to edit. You’re done.
Remember that you may never feel your piece is “done.” You might always think you could have done better. We all feel that way sometimes. That doesn’t mean you aren’t finished.
As you mature as a writer, your tastes will also change. Spending too much time on one piece can often do you more harm than good. You could spend the rest of your life on one single piece of writing, and never feel it’s finished. This is sometimes called the “Black Hole of Revision.” If it’s been a long period of time, too long for the amount of pages you have, you’re done.
Ask yourself these four questions: Did I complete all the necessary story points? Have I taken out parts of the writing that I simply don’t like? Does everything make sense? Are my characters believable? If the answer is yes to all four of these questions, it’s likely you are done.
Ask a friend. Ask someone whose opinion you trust to read your work. If they have some major things you need to change, you have work to do. If they only have small comments, it’s time to submit!
Remember, you don’t have to be 100% confident in your piece to submit it to an editor. Sometimes the pieces writers are the least sure about are the first ones to get published. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t revise. Revision can be your best friend! However, at some point, enough is enough. Carry on writers… but not for too long.
How do you decide you’re work is done?
Bio: Abigail Hills is a published writer and editor for Fine Lines. She is getting her bachelor’s degree in creative writing at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She is also a public speaker and advocate for those who suffer from anxiety and depression. Follow her at @AbigailHills on Twitter.
Some writers don’t worry much about naming. They slap a label on a character and run with it. Other writers dive down the rabbit hole and put excessive amounts of research, thought, planning and creativity into naming. I’m in the latter camp, so thought I’d share with you some of the things I consider before attaching a moniker to a new character. I don’t recommend you join me down in the rabbit warren—especially not during NaNo—because it’s far too easy to lose all sense of time and purpose while exploring the wonderland of names. Instead I offer you a few categories, resources, and suggestions to help you quickly choose the names you need and get on with the business of the story.
WARNING: once you go down the Rabbit Hole of Naming, it can be hard to climb back out. For safe exploring, always attach a lifeline — a kitchen timer or a trusted friend to rescue you at an appointed time should do the trick.
As far as I’m concerned, the primary consideration when selecting a name is the connotations that come with it. Unfortunately connotations are for the most part an individual thing. Take the name Charlie, for example. If that’s the name of your favorite grandpa, your best friend, or the family dog, you will have a much different feeling about that name than if Charlie was the bully who beat you up in the third grade.
So how do you get a handle on connotations if it’s such a personal thing?
Try to weed out the truly personal associations and look at the more general, cultural connotations. Take “Trump” for instance. Because of “The Donald,” most American adults immediately think things like tycoon, businessman, wealthy, powerful, mogul. The cultural connotations of Donald Trump are bolstered by the definition of the word trump: a card of a suit that outranks the other suits; to excel, surpass, outdo. Note that I didn’t put a “good” or “bad” value on it because not everyone likes Donald Trump. The good/bad connotation will differ from person to person (along with various other associations, like crazy hair), but the impressions relating to Trump being a business tycoon are fairly consistent.