The Importance of Giving Space

I just completed Day 5 of my write everyday challenge. Here is a quick overview of my experience and early thoughts.

The Exercise

For 30 minutes (a hard 30 minutes, not a moment less, not a moment more) I free-wrote. For those who are unfamiliar with the practice, freewriting gives the writer space to just write. Sometimes, the exercise involves a topic or point of inspiration, but the most important element is to write for the entire duration of the time allocated to the activity.

At first, I intended to free-write every morning. And I did. For the first morning. After that, it fell to the late evening one night and I haven’t been able to get it done in the morning since.

I choose not to share this anyone I knew personally. Not my boyfriend, not my coworkers and definitely not on Facebook. Why? Because I didn’t know if I could do it. Lately (and what I mean is the last two year), I’ve really struggled with time management. If I couldn’t allocate time to write, would I want to write at all?

While I contemplated the exercise for the last month, I decided to commit after I was selected to facilitate a workshop at a writing conference. While I do write sporadically, I did not have any sense of commitment to it. The purpose of this exercise was to provide a sense of structure without being formulaic. Thirty minutes (and I cannot stress that it was a true 30 minute session) was enough time for me to just write.

The Lesson

Freewriting is a great exercise in and of itself. It is an excellent way to get your fingers moving over the keyboard or pen across paper.

For me, the lesson was the importance of giving myself space to write. I allowed myself one- 30 minute session every day. I allocated time in my busy schedule to write.

Now, this may seem simple. Obviously, I should have seen it from the beginning, but I have become a work-as-fast-as-you-can-because-it-was-due-yesterday kind of person. When I am busy, it is easy for me to fall into the I-just-want-to-move-on-to-the-next-thing mentality.

This exercise forced me to stop and write.

I started to think about other times where I have allowed myself space to do something. Sometimes, space means letting the toddler’s bedtime ritual unfold even if it’s nearly 9:30 p.m. Sometimes, it means giving us permission to be late to an event because getting there on time is just not going to happen. Sometimes, space means that during a rainy afternoon, I am not going to fret about homework, but that I will be present as I read books to the toddler and play with blocks.

In busy lives, it is important to give ourselves space to be present in our lives.


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Some Thoughts on Writing and other Things: Confidence

This past year, I’ve been doing some thinking on the idea of confidence: What does it mean? Where does it come from? How do we cultivate it within ourselves and each other? Etc. After coming off the confidence bender that is college, I felt a little drained and rather out of sorts. I did not have the same support system that fostered such intellectual confidence that I had found in the halls of academe. I was out of my comfort zone, a place that conditioned the kind of strength I had. But where had that confidence gone? How could a trait that is often seen as the cornerstone for a solid foundation of self-worth and purpose seem to be so fleeting, especially when tested? Where was my confidence as I stocked bananas and corrected comma splices?

Writers know that a lack conviction for the words they choose can be crippling. Stage fright and self-doubt will destroy a musician more than any missed note or poor pitch. And artists show their truest selves with every display of their work.

To be honest, my misplaced confidence has stopped me for writing more than a quick entry in a worn notebook.

As a tutor, I see that one of the greatest challenges my students meet every day is a lack of confidence. One at a time, they come into my office, looking for guidance and assurance that they are truly on the right track. Through some coaching about language and sentence structure, we reach an agreement that they have great ideas and that I am here to help them convey them coherently.

Not only are my students overcoming a number of academic and transitional obstacles, they must also overcome their own self-image. Often, although many of my students are smart and have profound insight, they are inhibited by their lack of confidence as some voice from their past continues to whisper that they can’t do it.

For a while, I would joke that I was more of a cheerleader than a tutor. The majority of many of my sessions with students would consist of words of encouragement and exclamations of “You got this!” in my most New England of accents.

Why is it so easy for us to say that we are not good enough, but so hard for us to see our strengths?

This summer, I stumbled across TED Talks. I feel like I’m late to the game of one of the greatest sources of really awesome lectures and new ideas. Amy Cuddy’s Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are has really resonated with me. She explains that our posture, the way we hold ourselves, not only directs how other view us, but also how we view ourselves. If we appear hunched or walk with our heads down, we not only tell others, but we tell ourselves that we are insecure. Yet, if we walk tall with our heads up and our shoulders back, we not only tell others that we are confident, but we tell ourselves this too.  There is an exchange between the brain and body that causes us to believe (or not believe) in ourselves.

Now, I know that I am not doing her talk justice, so I recommend that you watch it. Here is the link:

Later that same summer, one of my colleagues told me about the phrase academic confidence. Because many of our students come from non-academic backgrounds, the transition to the classroom is really difficult. Although I’m not sure exactly what has come of this or where she caught this idea, I’ve latched onto this idea. As a tutor, I can foster the development of this kind of confidence in my students–the ability to speak with conviction within the classroom, to share new ideas in an educational setting and to be comfortable with this idea of student/scholar.

And with this, I return to my original dilemma–how do we translate this kind of confidence into real world applications? How do we find the same conviction outside our comfort zones?

I use my experience as a tutor because it allows me to distance myself from my own doubts and insecurities. I can see the difference between first semester students and continuing students by the way they carry themselves. Most returning students demonstrate their confidence as they walk through the halls with their heads up. By witnessing how they overcome their challenges, I can reflect on my own and this begets the writing process and some personal reflection on my posture.