Thursday, January 27, 2011

Knowing What Trips Us Up--Elizabeth Spann Craig

Tuesday, I was going through my daughter’s weekly folder of graded school papers--parents are supposed to review the papers, help the kids with any problem areas, and sign that the folder has been checked.

Everything looked great until I saw a writing project paper that stopped my quick flipping through the pages. There were red marks all over it, which was unusual. And my daughter’s writing looked different.

She ordinarily has a fun and breezy writing voice. This writing was stilted and forced.

Even her handwriting looked different. It was very formal and stiff. There were perfectly-formed letters as if she'd tried to do calligraphy instead of the messier writing I see when she’s in the flow and is trying to put her ideas down on paper.

What on earth had happened?

I really didn’t want to approach her in a critical way (especially with this particular subject and coming from me), so I was just clearing my throat and figuring out what to say when she saw me holding her paper and burst into tears. Which was the last thing I wanted, of course.

They’d started a new creative writing program and the grading was going to be very strict, she said. She pointed out the rubric grid that was stapled to the back of the paper. The rubric was detailed, with four sections detailing what the paper would be graded on… from mechanics, to content, to neatness.

And she’d totally freaked out.

Honestly, it really had little to do with the assignment and a lot to do with her. I’m just completely delighted to see creative writing taught in public school at all, honestly. And it is time to really focus on getting the mechanics perfected….she’s nine years old.

For her, though, it messed her up to look at this rubric while she was writing. When I suggested that , in future, she make a rough draft first and then make corrections in the second draft, she was all smiles.

Apparently, she’s her mother’s child. :) It makes me freeze when I think too much about the mechanics of my writing while I’m being creative.

For other writers, it’s completely the opposite. Seeing all the typos and other mistakes in the first draft distracts some writers so much that they can’t move forward until the mistakes are corrected first.

There’s really so much advice out there on writing. Much of it is contradictory because it’s what works for that particular writer—and each writer is different.

I wish there was a faster way to know what works as a writer, but I know it took me ages to figure out if I was an outliner or a pantster, if I could research as I wrote or if I needed to wait, or if I should edit as I wrote or at the end.

I tried each method and just paid attention if it was a struggle or not. I noted if I stalled when it was time to write or if my writing was really unnatural and stilted—and then I tried something else.

I’m always looking for ways to be a better writer. And I think I’m still looking for ways to have a better writing process. I probably just need to stick with what works and leave it alone. :)

Have you learned what trips you up as a writer? And what works for you?

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams
Pretty is as Pretty Dies--Midnight Ink
Delicious and Suspicious--Penguin Books--as Riley Adams


Levi Montgomery said...

As a writer and the father of six kids, I have to say that the first things that popped into my mind had far more to do with the school, the classroom, and the teacher than they did with the young author. If someone, at any age, has that kind of about-face in response to an assignment, it's an indictment of the assignment, not of the writing.

As for the writing advice, the worst part of it all is that the people giving it always think they are right, for all people, at all times. "Turn of your inner critic," they're so fond of saying. "Stifle the inner editor. Write poopy first drafts." As if that's the only way to do it. "You can't write at the level of words and sentences," they say.

The point they seem to miss is that for some of us, turning off the inner editor will turn off the flow of words. That for some of us, we cannot write without that nit-picky word-level detail. In the first draft and the second and the third.

Actually, I don't do drafts. It's all a draft until it goes to press. Every word is subject to change, at any point in its life. But that's a different rant.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Levi--It was definitely a startling about-face from her usual writing...and so abrupt. I think that writing became "work" to her--sort of like when math stopped being fun and became work.

And your point is exactly mine--some folks should approach writing one way and others another. Not everything works for every person, for sure. Unfortunately, schools sometimes don't seem to have the time to develop different approaches for individuals--it's the same program for all. It *shouldn't* be that way, but with all the staff cutbacks and overcrowding in the classrooms...I'm guessing that there's no other way.

Peggy Webb said...

Write as if your pants are on fire....then edit. That's my motto. The writer lives in the right side of the brain, the editor, the left. (Or is it the other way around.) Anyhow, constantly switching from side of the brain to the other ruins the process for me. I don't turn my editor loose (the one inside me) until I've done the creative work. Bottom line: you gave your daughter great advice!

Heidi @ Decor & More said...

I just have to run with it and then go back to edit. When I'm in my work flow, the words just come so fast I don't want anything to disrupt the thoughts. But I know it's different for everyone. Good advice to your girl. :)

JLC said...

I wish every student interested in "creative writing" had a writer for a parent. That way, most of the budding authors might have a chance at blooming because they'd get advice on what advice to ignore. And of course, there have to be no boundaries to experimentation with method.
I taught high school age, so didn't have quite the breadth of possibilities among my students available to teachers who are working in the forming of writing knowledge and habits. Too many of mine had already had the clay begin to harden. I confess to a certain amount of enjoyment in trying to crack it now and then. ;-)

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Right now I am only writing my blog but they are my stories and I admire all the different ways that others write. I,myself, can only write as though everything were the last draft. I correct as I go. It is my personality, my makeup, and what makes me happy and my writing flow. It is interesting to hear what makes the words flow with other writers. Thanks for sharing.
Donna @

Kate said...

It was great you discovered that piece of paper and eventually could help your daughter with her problem. Well writing is one thing I love but as a school kid I really hated it !
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