Writing in the same room as your students

Writing in the same room as your students

On Monday, I opened the door to my classroom and my Advanced Fiction students filed inside. I opened up some cookies, scattered some leftover Halloween candy on the desk. I showed them that we’d received another postcard from the students in Lori Rader Day‘s class. They’re doing NaNo, too. I passed around a postcard, and a few students wrote down their words of encouragement.

I walked around the room to find out how everyone was doing. “What’s your word count?” Some people started in October and are farther along than others. At this point, one week in, they should be at about 25% of the goal or 12,500 words. Most were. Some weren’t, but they recognized this and told me their plan to get back on track. I marked their progress on this handy-dandy poster I got from the Office of Letters and Light.


They settled in. Some like to use the computers already in the room, always the same one, same spot. Some bring their own laptops. Some sit on the floor. One student brings her own pillow for this purpose. They fired up their iPods. Logged into 750words.com. Opened up Word or Q10. And then they started writing. Tap tap tapping. Everyone entered the world of their story.

I have been teaching creative writing for almost 20 years, but I’ve never witnessed anything like this.

My students.


Right in front of me.

Usually, this activity takes place privately, out of sight, and I am merely presented with the fruits of said activity. Over the course of the semester, I’ve slowly gotten them used to writing in this room, with each other. It wasn’t easy. Many of them resisted, and I understand why. I’ve never liked writing in public places–coffee shops, libraries, etc. But I’m realizing now that there’s something profoundly comforting about doing so, like the difference between practicing yoga alone vs. in a studio full of people. 

Writing is a profoundly meditative activity, and to do so in the presence of others reminds us that we aren’t alone in this endeavor. Anti-NaNo-ists are troubled by the idea of millions of people engaged in the act of writing–alone or in small groups, in real rooms and virtual ones–but I don’t understand why they are so troubled.

This morning, I got up at 6 AM so that I could spend an hour inside the world of my book. This is my 43rd day of continuous writing. Sometimes, I rise a little earlier than normal so I can get my words in before the day begins. Sometimes, I close the door to my office for twenty minutes. Sometimes, I write in the classroom with my students. I’ve come to look forward to this time. Its sanctuary. Its blessing. I’m beginning to realize that writing isn’t something I should associate with a physical place. Not a desk. Not a particular computer. Not a room. Rather, it’s like a small garden in my head, and finding a way to spend time in that garden–making time for it–is what matters.

Everyone wrote for 70 minutes or so, and then I gently announced that class was almost over. Slowly, we all left our stories and returned to the room, returned to the real world. We looked around at each other. And then we left the room and went on with our days.



  1. Susie McCray says:

    This blog post was very inspiring. I wish I could take time out of my busy schedule to attend the NaNoWriMo write-ins around town. All I have is my radio and my chattering toddler to keep me company.

  2. Lori says:

    I don't want this semester to end, do you? It's really inspiring to watch my students do something they never thought they'd do.

  3. David Wright says:

    Really enjoyed your reading/talk tonight at the Illini Union Bookstore. Next time I teach creative writing in the fall, this will be a model for what we will do during the fiction section.

  4. Lowry Pei says:

    This is so fabulous. At one point, I got this to happen with, I believe, 3 students who had been in a regular (workshop) class of mine. I got a room for one hour once a week. At the appointed time, we met there, we sat down at the table, and I said the magic words: “Let’s do some writing.” Then we wrote. When our hour was up, we stopped, said goodbye, and left.
    That was it, and it’s hard to beat that.
    In one of my classes, I start every class period with 10-15 minutes of writing. I love the particular quality of the silence as we are all writing. It is like meditation with others; you go deeper. I especially love looking up and seeing my students so focused, so into it, their faces so undefended and open and inward. I am so lucky to do this.
    Why not a whole class period?
    Why not a whole class? Period?

    • Cathy Day says:

      Yes indeed. Why not? Most of my students really enjoyed the course. There was some grumbling about the fact that I didn’t read and respond to their writing along the way. They wrote 50,000 words+ during the term, and then revised 10-25 pages for their “final.” That’s what I read closely. I offered to meet with them at the beginning of the following semester for one-on-one conferences about those manuscripts. A few have returned to take me up on this offer.

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