Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Learn from Failure

I fell off the writing wagon. I didn't hit my head and I have no injuries to report, but I stopped posting slice of life pieces last Wednesday. I am still writing. I have several drafts in my post queue.

Drafts view show posts in progress. 

I am writing on paper, on notepads, on my iPad, in journals and in private.  I chose to stop publishing for a variety of reasons non of which I want to air. Life happens.

Life happens. Life happens to teachers and writers and students. Sometimes things get in the way of writing or publishing.

A friend who is slicing for the first time sent me a message on Facebook telling me I did not finish my writing challenge. Her check in made me chuckle. She loves me and the message demonstrates her care and kind nature,  but it also made me think. How do I bridge failure and continue to write? What comes next? On a blog, in a public space? How do I learn from the writing failure and move forward?

Instead of wasting words beating myself up over not finishing the challenge I thought I'd spend them considering how I would talk students through such a failure. When students do not finish something or will not finish something, what do I do to support their learning? How do I help them get past the failure or the feeling of defeat so that they can continue to grow? First off, in my classroom no assignment, no activity, no writing challenge is ever all or nothing. There is always partial credit for what a student demonstrates. Only pregnancy is black and white.

If a student quit (and a few did last year), I would remind them that this is practice. Blog writing is drafting in a public space. This type of writing--a daily challenge--is practice or faster thinking and writing than pieces we polish, draft, revise and revisit. Some slices are quick writes; we give ourselves thirty minutes and go. Others develop over time and we might work at the craft of the piece. Right?  I know that has been my experience during this challenge. Even you only practiced three quarters of the time, what did you learn about yourself as a writer? I would ask my student(s) that question to get them talking about the experience.

My father used to contextualize my mistakes with a scale from one to ten. Ten, he said, was serious, possibly life-threatening. I use that scale with students when they are overcome by guilt and don't see a way through defeat. If ten is someone's life or death, then not finishing this challenge in order to grow as a writer is likely less than five.  It is one series of practices. It is one experience, one thread in the cross stich you create living the life of a writer. Have you seen the back of a cross stitch? Mine are messy. My mothers are terribly neat. Mine have knots and threads everywhere. Colors cross paths and much of the direction does not make sense. My mothers show the image from the front in reverse. She has more experience stitching than I do; I did not realize that early on. I just stewed in frustration. Now, I realize that the sewer can tie a knot in that thread and let the string dangle on the back of the image. She can start a new scene; sew with a different color or move to another piece of the canvas entirely and start over. Eventually the picture, the pillow, the sentiment, the message will be beautiful. No one will see the knots of  experiences that got her there. It is the same with writing.

Ultimately, I  want students to find encouragement to face the failure and persist in writing. My  message to myself and to my students is not to give up, but to reflect, contextualize and move on.

Keep writing. I know I will.

The Slice of Life Story Challenge is hosted by the team at Two Writing Teachers
everyday in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. 


  1. Well said, Lee Ann. I love your father's idea of teaching you a sense of scale, of proportion. W learn from our mistakes and setbacks, and that is really lesson number one - that we can, and are better for it.

  2. Of course you will! Good reminders! Writing is as messy as life. Besides you have finished a book! Talk about stick-to-it-ness!

  3. 24 drafts?! Wow!

    This is such an important post. I'm saving it to remind myself how to talk to those students who get paralyzed or give up. Love your last two sentences!

    (And I'm so glad you're back to blogging!)

  4. Lee Ann, I came to your blog when I was reading a few SOL's before writing my very first one this week. (eek!) I'm not quite yet a teacher as I'm still in college and I started a blog recently because a very wise teacher told me that "to be a good teacher you have to be both a voracious reader AND writer." So thank you for admitting that we all have obstacles - your vulnerability, even as someone who was incredibly successful with writing in the month of March, has given me hope that I too will be able to continue to work towards writing and publishing more in the future. Thank you so much for this humble post!

  5. You have so many important lines and ideas in this post! One of my favorites is definitely "First off, in my classroom no assignment, no activity, no writing challenge is ever all or nothing. There is always partial credit for what a student demonstrates. Only pregnancy is black and white." The seriousness of the message combined with the humor was perfect.

    Writing every day was HARD, and you are great to put this out there and model figuring out the hard stuff for students and all of us. Thank you for this post!

  6. I love the analogy of 1 to 10. I will definitely be borrowing that. I have thought about how does this compare in the bigger picture. For example, in 10 or 20 years from now will this decision to do or not do something be remembered. There are definitely things that won't be remembered even a month from now let alone a year or two. However, there are behaviors and actions that will make lasting meaning or change for someone. Those we need to really consider. I love how you took your issue and thought about how you would coach a student. Great post.

  7. I love your father's advice of contextualizing mistakes. It really does put things in perspective, and makes the events of the past few days at my house (which almost kept me from finishing the challenge) seem manageable. Thanks for this honest and heartfelt post!

  8. I'm right there with you and thank you for this post.

  9. It is a kind thing for you to write to explain your feelings about not finishing the challenge. And since I always like hearing what you're doing and thinking as a teacher, the approach you've taken here is also illuminating. As my students matured and I knew them better and better, sometimes having them 3 years, I respected their choices, and sometimes they needed to "not" do something. It's a growing up/maturing thing to choose for oneself, and I wanted them to have that power. If you chose not to continue, then I respect that it was what you needed to do. Cheers, Lee Ann!