I knew what inspired me, and it certainly wasn’t money or fame. Not that I’m opposed to them—would take either if you offered—it’s just that, so far, my writing hasn’t been good enough to merit that kind of reward.
What motivates me is readers. When I write something funny and get a smile, or something sad and produce tears, or come up with something insightful (too rarely) and get an “ah ha,” I’m hooked.
Maybe addicted is a better word. I have to do it again.
So that’s what I do for students. I become their reader. With little notes in the margins of their papers, I let them know how their stuff is affecting me:
“Scary. Your courage is inspiring.” Or, “this is beyond funny. You crack me up.” Or,” How sad! Can’t believe she just left you guys.”
Does it work?
We’ve finished with out-of-class journals (four entries per week) for the semester, and I’ve already had students ask if they can keep doing them.
Which leads to a final point. If one helps students want to write, he’d better want to read—because he’s going to do plenty of it.