The New Orleans Writing Marathon and the Writing World
The “New Orleans Writing Marathon” (NOWM) is a communal writing experience that takes writers out of the dis/comfort zones of their typical school and home writing environments and into new locations. Created in New Orleans twenty years ago, it involves groups of writers, over lengths of time varying from one hour to three days, writing their way across a landscape while voluntarily sharing their work with each other, socializing, and interacting with the outside world. A typical NOWM might find a community of thirty writers, after a brief welcome in a crowded room, splitting into groups of five with each group doing several rounds of writing and sharing as it moves independently from café to pub, park, river, restaurant, cathedral, and bookstore. Click here to continue reading.
Journey to the Center of a Writer's Block
In 2010, my muse packed her writing prompts and left. I can’t blame her. I was drowning in lesson plans, grading, and data collection, which left little time to write. To tempt my muse’s return, I christened a room of my house “The Virginia Woolf,” hoping that having a room of my own would break my writer’s block. I even took a job as Library Media Specialist but continued to teach one section of Dual Credit English, hoping that I would have more time for inspiration, but nothing worked. For years, writing had been my lifeline; however, the duties of teaching took their toll, and I slowly stopped putting pen to page. When negativity moved into the space where my muse once lived, I acquiesced to the voice saying maybe it was time to admit I wasn’t a writer. For a year, I didn’t attempt to write a single word for myself, but when Dr. Susan Martens, the Director of the Prairie Lands Writing Project, sent an invitation to attend the New Orleans Writing Marathon, aptly titled “Finding Your Muse in New Orleans,” I knew I had to go, find my muse, and bring her home. Click here to continue reading.
Bringing It Back Home
My plans for taking my eighteen high school creative writing students on a mini-writing marathon seemed to be dashed by the cold weather that heralded the beginning of winter on a November day in Nebraska. Before the cold set in, I had visions of them walking across the street to the local coffee shop, or even through the beautiful neighborhoods that surround our urban school district.
In my second year as a creative writing teacher, I constantly searched for new ways to challenge students and transform my classroom into a safe writing space, so I had taken a page out of the National Writing Project’s summer institute model and used that to inform my classroom. Students were allowed time to write about anything, and then they shared their writing in groups each week. But after writing in the same place week in and week out, I wanted to give them a new experience. I should have known that the long, mild autumn wouldn’t last, and my lesson plans would have to be rewritten. Then my mind drifted back to summer when I’d walked the streets of New Orleans on my own writing marathon. Click here to continue reading.
Finding My Nonfiction Pedagogy Muse at the NOWM
Conventional wisdom would have us believe that poets and novelists are the only kinds of writers who have muses—or need them. Given the current educational climate, however, in which we teachers and our students must exist, one might argue that nonfiction writers need muses most of all.
With so much focus in high schools now on testing and on the scores generated by writing assessments, especially with the formulaic, survivalist kinds of writing that proliferate, many students come to our college composition classrooms believing that nonfiction writing is a sterile landscape ruled by clear thesis statements, strong topic sentences, and supporting detail. All of us know, however, that the best nonfiction writing—composition, rhetoric, creative writing, critical writing—transcends formula. All good writing draws its power from story, craft, and insight—elements most traditionally associated with the metaphor for creative inspiration we call “the muse.” Click here to continue reading.