Reflections on WoFo’s first Write-a-Thon

On Monday, November 23rd WoFo hosted its first ever Write-a-Thon in my little cinder block classroom at the end of the English hallway in Robbinsville High School.

For 10 years I have called room A205 home. A place where, like my students,  I have laughed, cried, blushed,  fallen asleep, panicked , wrestled with morality and have counted down the minutes to June.  A205 has been a place I’ve dreaded and a place I’ve come to love. A retreat. A proving ground. A sanctuary. A pain in the ass.

But the Write-a-Thon afforded me an opportunity to do something that I had never done before in A205…write.  Sure I’ve written emails and letters of recommendation. I’ve fashioned lessons plans and curriculum and course descriptions and other pedagogical blather but I have never written selfishly. I’ve never fleshed out a personal narrative or set the syntactical footers for a private poem inside the confines of my classroom. Needless to say I was excited.

But then something funny happened.

When the clock started and the Write-a-Thon commenced, I couldn’t write.  For the first 30 minutes  I started and stopped  and started again. I watched the young writers around me write with wild abandonment blowing through pages and dulling pencil points, the way  I image Kerouac did.  I was envious. For years I persuaded students to write and helped them discover their writing voice and here I — the gate keeper, the captain, the voice of A205 was still and silent.

So I ate a bagel.

I read passages from The Kite Runner. I listened to Springsteen, Dylan, and Eminem. I tried using story starters and reading inspirational writing quotes. But the breakthrough never came. The light bulb never buzzed.

Here I was, the teacher, hosting a writing event, in my classroom, struggling to do the thing that comes most natural to me– oh the Joycean irony!

I wish I could tell you that there came a sudden flash of inspiration. That I broke through my own aloofness with a full heart and sliced open veins and bled romantically across the page. That eventually I wrote a scene blistering with action,  wrought with truisms and edgy dialogue and aching with conflict. But I didn’t. Yes, I wrote. I muscled through almost ten pages. Most of it is junk. Most of it I’ll throw away.

The Write-a- Thon was awesome. We raised $1,300 for the Special Olympics athletes at Robbinsville High School. We dedicated two hours on an otherwise mundane Monday morning to the art of writing. It was good stuff. No, it was great stuff.

But when the timer clicked to 00:00  there came a stark reminder to the teacher who demands his students write daily… that writing is hard business. That finding your writing voice is a perpetual struggle. That you must have the courage to crawl deep inside yourself, to let the world go, and listen to yourself. And that writing is like high school– its arduous and painful and sometimes boring–but  if you want to learn, if you want to grow, if you want to succeed–  you have to show up and work even when you don’t want to.

Be well,

Jay