The Wonderful World of Writing


By Ashleigh Gamboni-Diehl
Published in The UC Merced Writing Project Anthology Summer 2016

During the summer before fifth grade my father let my brother and I raise chicks. Our four chicks ate, slept, and played in a cardboard box. Attached to the side of the box was a heating lamp which provided the warmth needed for their survival. It was my job, as the chickens were in my room, to keep them hydrated and fed and to adjust the temperature. During this experience I became interested in journaling, or as I referred to it then: my diary.  

As time passed and I changed into a young woman, my diary also underwent a metamorphosis. Entries about chickens turned into daily scribbles about my newest crush. Then I would find refuge in discussing my fears about college and entrance exams. Future projects, more mature relationships, and due dates started to fill the pages. No longer was my small hard-covered books diaries, they were journals documenting my journey. They were small, safe places for me to communicate, in comfort.    

The goal of journal writing had always been to document my experiences. I figured when I was old and grey I could use them to revisit my journeys. Sitting in my rocking-chair, holding the journals in my hands, I would reminisce on each delicious moment. Each entry would be like taking a bite back in time. It was this goal and the habit of writing that I was able to achieve rhythm and a sense of time to my current writing.

Surprisingly, I didn't bring the joys of journaling to my students when I first started teaching. They had journals but we treat them as confined writing spaces. Each piece of writing consisted of at least three sentences, including a capital letter and a period at the end. Transition words dominated the beginning of each topic sentence and details fell logically below. Each piece of writing was preceded by a picture book, group discussion, brainstorm session, and finally a shared writing. The joy I found in writing was missing in my writing instruction and it now pains my heart to know I chose to kept the secret of journaling to myself.

Thankfully my appreciation for writing has been rekindled through the U.C. Merced Writing Project. Our first assignment for the project was a personal narrative. It was difficult to figure out exactly what I would write about and so I referenced years of journal entries. Combing through philosophical monologues and endless descriptions of previous crushes, I found a recurring entry that would serve as my topic. At one time I had stolen, or at least thought I had stolen, a small, plastic Native American figurine from Costco. I reasoned it must be important to me since it kept popping up in my journals.

So my narrative started. Habitually I tapped away at my laptop's keyboard, the narrative appearing word-by-word upon the screen. Suddenly, I was a little girl again, writing what I was feeling and seeing while I walked down the aisles of Costco. Each movement was fluid, natural. Each thought accurate and personal. Similar to when I was journaling, I concentrated on the moment, drawing out the relevant details, and then writing. What resulted from this meditation was the short story, The Key. It was proof that journaling was beneficial to me as a writer.   

Now in my classroom I want to bring rhythm and a sense of time to my student’s writing. Academic writing, rigid and structured, produces robotic representations of a writer’s thoughts. Teaching from, talking about, and most importantly modeling my own writing will enrich my student’s writing.  

I can envision my classroom as a changed environment for writing. When the big hand of the clock is on the 9 and the little hand reaches the 8 my students and I will pull out our journals.  

“I’m writing!” I will loudly declare.  

One rambunctious student will follow my announcement, “She is writing!” And with that student’s heads will bend, the soft scratch of pencils will fill the room, and everyone, including the teacher, will disappear into the secret folds of their own mind. Experiences, wishes, events, questions, answers, currents of ideas and emotions will change from mental representations into manifestations developing and finally blossoming into something concrete.  

Journaling will become a time to explore the writing process. Each student will learn to bond with their journal, and hopefully writing will become as much a part of them as it had become for me.