One metaphor to use as a comparison to writing is pitching in baseball. No pitcher just gets up to the mound and starts pitching. They warm up first with some practice pitches. Their point, of course, is to pitch as many strikes as possible. Even the best pitcher in the league, on her best day, never pitches all strikes; there are balls, wild pitches, and some pitches just get hit. Pitchers practice all the time to improve their average of strikes over balls. Some days nothing goes right; the pitcher walks everyone, or every batter hits every pitch thrown. Other days, one might pitch a no-hitter.
That's the way it is with writing, too. You have to warm up. That warm-up might include practice writings every day, or even physical exercises like swimming to loosen up your arm, assuming you're writing in longhand first, which is often a necessity. If you are creating on a computer, maybe you should loosen up both arms, your neck and your back. Anyway, you write and write hoping you'll produce more good writing than bad. But the first point is that you have to produce, you have to do the writing. Call it bullpen writing, that is what you are doing in workshop classes. Invent and borrow exercises to loosen up the writer. Write along with them, and like William Stafford says in Writing The Australian Crawl, you have to write a lot of bad stuff to write something good. Some days, the writing works like a charm. That first writing comes out close to being a finished piece, needing very little editing. Other times, maybe one can use a word, or a sentence or an idea from the original writing. Sometimes, you get nothing at all you can use, but you do it anyway. Maybe that so-called "bad writing" makes it possible for the next writing to be a useful one.
Enjoy the whole game, baseball or writing. If you only feel worthwhile throwing strikes, you are setting yourself up for misery. Enjoy the whole process of writing, the organization, the doing, the writing, the reading, the editing, the mystery, trying to make something happen, finding something happens that you did not expect at all. The work and the fun of writing go hand in hand.
The hardest part is first writing; that's where your student may feel the most anxiety. Do not allow them to wait for or be dependent upon inspiration. Teach what works: exercises. "If you have something to say, any exercise has the possibility of getting that 'stuff' to surface." Sometimes forcing a topic, "You're going to sit and write about that tunnel," doesn't work well. On the other hand, let the tunnel idea slip to the back of their mind. Do an exercise and the tunnel idea might pop out when least expected; show a picture of a tunnel and see what happens; maybe the tunnel will come up, maybe not. Writing is about learning; let the writing take the writer where the writing is supposed to go, not where you, the teacher, want it to go. If the idea is better, that's the direction to take the story. Let the piece live on its own; let go of the original idea. If the writer likes the original idea, write that, too. If that doesn't develop into a strong piece, keep the writing in the writer's personal file, and let the unexpected piece be the public piece, the piece to submit for publication (later down the line, it that's a goal).
Writing is about telling the truth. There are two kinds of truth--actual/factual truth and emotional truth. Writers tell the emotional truth, even if they have to lie to get there. We share an interest in family histories and memories, the emotional truth of these stories, the stories of the senses, like smells, textures, sounds as well as events. You want each student to know their family history and memories, and also that their current lives are important, they each have stories inside them, stories worth telling. Give students exercises that access these stories. Invite people in the houses of their lives by entering through the back doors with these writing exercises. Teach students how to become aware of these stories and to learn to tell them.
When we write and read, we find connections in the world; connections to ourselves, to our family (parents, grandpar ents, children), to our neighbors, cities, each other, our culture, cross cultures.
Awareness fosters appreciation of self and others.
There are so many obstacles to writing, so many distractions; cold air on the hand making it difficult to write. Write through all obstacles.