It’s the Writer, Not the Writing
It’s tempting to see writing as something a person does, as assignments to complete, as skills to acquire for an academic or career purpose.
It’s tempting to evaluate the writing a person does as though it is a set of math problems—measurable, impersonal, external.
It’s tempting to push for completion, because the assignment or project has a due date or has to be done for the end-of-the-year evaluation.
The paradigm shift is this:
Writing is not like other subjects. Writing is closely related to the self, no matter what the content. Even mothers sending me email get nervous thinking I will read their questions, and wonder what I will make of them, because they are undressing their minds right in front of me. What will I see? How will I react?
How much more kids feel that way?
- Take the “school definition” out of writing (beware of the ghost of public school past).
- Focus on the “writer” more than the “writing.”
- Tears mean the lesson is over for the day.
- Partial work is valuable.
- Progress happens through a series of attempts, not through wrestling a single project to the perfected finish.
- Self-expression is a risk and needs you to treat it gently.
- Support helps—and help is helpful (not damaging, not cheating, not short-cutting).
Academic formats require as much “soul investment” as fan fiction and diaries. You must be just as gentle and curious with an expository essay as you were with the story about your child’s pet gerbil.
Writers express what lives inside them. Writing is the form it is put in. Expression deserves respectful care. Mechanics deserve minimal care. Expression matters the most. Mechanics are marginally important.
Work on the two components (mechanics and expression) separately and teach your writer to take responsibility for editing mechanics and getting someone to help him or her see what he or she can’t see without a second set of eyes.
That’s it. That’s all the attention mechanics deserve. They do not make or break the essence of the writing. They merely punctuate it, so someone else can approximate the tone and meaning the writer intends.
Brave Writer not brave writing.