creative writing Archives - The Jose Vilson

creative writing

Shadowboxing [To 50K and Beyond]

by Jose Vilson on July 11, 2011

in Jose

Golden Gloves Boxer, Shadow Boxing

Writing these days has been an exercise in shadowboxing, fighting myself on the way to the completion of this first manuscript. Similar to my blog, I decided to stay away from topics that could hurt my professional aspirations and / or provide any openings about my past or present love life. Unlike my blog, however, I will discuss events that actually happened in my classroom and school that merit further discussion. It’s less a confessional and more a re-telling. Thus, past incidents have left me facing versions of myself from years and decades past, and they’ve come back packing punches. Every time I re-look at that document, I’m pulling it further from the how-to guides and research-heavy stories so popular in some of edu-circles and more into the realm of semi-memoir as social commentary.

That route is far more dangerous than I even gave it credit for.

During the process, I’ve excavated within my soul in ways I didn’t want to originally, for fear of finding things out about myself that I didn’t know were there. At one point, I had to put it down because it knocked me out emotionally. Normally, when I write, my feet might go up, my back straightens some, and I’m intent on finishing the piece. With this, I’m pacing from my living room to the kitchen, then to my bedroom, then I get back and stare angrily at the piece. Then, I might wince a little, scream at my Mac, then look in disgust at the thought that I might put something that intimate about me out there. Believe it or not, I’m such a private person when it comes to certain things that sometimes I lean too much to the right and become the professional voice, the outside observer, or the nascent (and benign) commentator.

Then I’m reminded that this isn’t that kind of project.

As I’m reaching 40K in my manuscript, my fighting spirit came back to me through a few incidents, one of which was getting a glimpse of John Leguizamo’s one-man show writing process for Ghetto Klown. There’s something to be said for digging so deep that you also learn why you’ve made it as far as you have. My voice in this manuscript is creeping slowly from the comfortable and professional, more gangsta and passionate. It’s a temperature as warm as this summer. The more I surrender to the process, the stronger I become.

I’m at 35,000 words now. I’m aiming for 45,000 and beyond. Whatever the end product, I assure you it’ll be the product of a set of battles I won. Until then, rumble, young man, rumble …

Jose, who doesn’t think it’s too much for him to jam …


A Letter To A Writer Who Doesn’t Want To Hear It

by Jose Vilson on June 5, 2011

in Jose

Dear burgeoning writer,

Please don’t take this the wrong way, but we need to talk. It’s the same talk my editors had to have with me after my first few submissions, and one that I never had to have again afterwards. You see, for writers that care, the act of writing is a personal craft, and I can’t deny how hard it is to get your writing critiqued because it is a piece of you. Whether it’s a personal poem or an objective article, you put in all this time into your piece, hoping that you’ll get the same exact feedback that all your friends do:

“Oh, you’re such a great writer!”

“That was awesome. I’m really excited that you wrote this piece.”

“Your performance of the piece was stunning. I feel it right here [points to heart or temple].”

So, when you came to me asking me to give you feedback, I was under the impression that you wanted me to give you constructive feedback, the type I’ve learned how to give, and the type I succumb myself to constantly. When I asked these individuals to edit my work, we were both under the assumption that, whatever talents I might possess as a writer, I would work hard to push my writing to be better, because there’s no such thing as a perfect first draft. They didn’t always qualify my writing with “good” and “wonderful” as a whole (or bad and terrib, and the compliments come in the form of statements and observations.

I might think I hit the nail on the head when I first wrote a piece, but the editor  will come back with a critical question that will make me think I hit the nail sideways instead.

And here’s the trick: the writing is personal, but the editing is not. A good editor can look at a piece and see whether it most clearly expresses the point the writer was trying to make, or plays well to the nuances and writing style of the author, and turn those observations into questions and comments that the author can take back with them as they plow through that particular piece (and future pieces)! I didn’t understand that when I first heard / read feedback, but, after reading pieces I did even three years ago, I notice the absurd flaws I made in my writing.

I wish I had an editor then.

I’m not saying the editor is 100% correct either. Some editors don’t come in with the same vision you do, or may not be attuned to your experiences that you’re sharing. However, if that’s how one person reads it, you can only imagine how many more will interpret it the way that one person did. Thus, when editors edit, it’s more important to take it as a lesson, even when you disagree with the edit. Good editors aren’t editing to tear you down as a writer, it’s to help you see something in your piece that you haven’t.

Whenever someone tries to edit my piece, I always note how well they’re doing it based on the quality of the feedback, even when it hurts. And that’s OK. After you’ve gotten critiqued well and often, you get better. And so does your writing. Don’t take it personal.

Jose Vilson, who thinks it gets better



Double Reading Rainbow

After posting a few crosswalk documents between the New York State math standards and The Common Core Standards on this site and at my place of employ, I’ve been very involved in understanding how these mandated national standards will transform our way of teaching students, and how we need to get parents and students involved in the education ecology. By all accounts, the new standards are pretty good; light on how much we need to cover, deeper in the things we should cover.

Yet, this transition phase, like most other reforms, can often feel like it’s being done unto teachers and not with teachers. Under the premise that the eventual assessment will look like a series of tasks given to students, the overhead view on this assessment veers in the direction of the exams we have now. In other words, so long as a certain group of people use these assessments as a tool for extreme accountability and not a means of true support for our schools, we might as well not have the new standards.

We can’t discuss, for example, creative writing and voice recognition in poetry if there’s still that big scary test looming at the end of the year. We can’t expect many teachers to implement new technologies in our classrooms if we’re constantly balancing efficiency and depth in content. We can’t trust that teachers will want to visit other classrooms in their spare time when they have to use the waning amounts of time in their pocket to sift through hundreds of papers and give consistent critical feedback and analyze all those papers into pretty spreadsheets that demonstrates our understanding of data.

Why get creative and try something new when the old thing just works. Even if it’s only for 60% of the students, 60% of the time?

By the formulas teachers are now being judged by, that’s really all you need. The pressure isn’t to improve pedagogy on an imaginative level; it’s to standardize to the point where the outliers get forced into the mainstream of complacency. Policies like No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top kill creativity. Even a well-intended set of pedagogical mandates like the Common Core Standards gets out there on behalf of the federal government, they mess it up by allowing layers upon layers of middle people to twist these innovations into their own framework for success.

What does it mean? Well, if you’re in a school where people don’t stress out too often about exams, then this means next to nothing. However, there are far too many schools right now where these high-stakes exams can literally destroy whole communities. In places where we could use creativity for socio-cultural uplift, it’s amazing that we haven’t let schools become places to help those places become self-empowered and even answer the hard questions about their communities.

As any good teacher can tell you, though, it also means that students will also get to ask questions. And the answers could be all the above.

Jose, who has postponed the redesign of his blog for a month or so.