The Doubting Hand

Monday, back to school after two weeks of vacation, my middle school students weren’t exactly thrilled about writing. Their hands hurt. (They obviously hadn’t picked up a pen or pencil over break.) They were tired. These are typical complaints after break, so I didn’t worry too much until one class broke into variations of a chorus: “But everything I write is stupid anyway. I always get it wrong. It’s too hard.”

I think they were a bit shocked when I agreed that it was hard. But I wasn’t going to let them get away with calling their writing stupid or wrong, so I pulled out a little trick to share. (I’ve been telling students this for years, so I’m sure I read it somewhere -maybe Natalie Goldberg? I’m just being clear that I don’t think this is a wholly original idea.)

I put my pen in my writing hand. I named that hand the “creative” hand. Then I used my other hand and started smacking my writing hand, saying things like “Why are you writing that? Are you sure that’s how to spell that word? That is horrible.” I named that hand the “doubting” hand. Then I put it behind my back & asked them to put that hand behind their back (or sit on it) when they were hearing that negative self-talk in their heads while writing.

They thought I was a little nuts. But then I noticed them doing it, and I realized that I need to take my own advice. I have let the doubting hand knock me around a bit lately, questioning every choice I make in a draft or a revision, resisting submitting work, avoiding opportunities for feedback, you name it. (Cue Yoda: “The doubting hand is strong with this one.”)

Part of that doubt always comes from reading a lot over break. So many good poems. And all of them (according to my evil left hand) better than anything I am writing. So today, off work/school due to dangerously cold wind chill temps, I read through some work I’ve been drafting lately and told that hand to shut it. And, although I will not say that I am super-confidence-woman regarding these new pieces, at least I shut off the negativity long enough to be more cheerfully productive.

And, if you need a reason to believe in creativity and to remember how poetry can move you, please read this piece by Alex McElroy in Diagram (thanks to T.A. Noonan of Sundress for bringing it to my attention). And then use any hand you want to get a tissue.

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