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C09P12 – Comes with the hat

C09P12 – Comes with the hat published on 10 Comments on C09P12 – Comes with the hat

I had my first day as a teacher’s assistant today. I’m helping the 3rd grade, and also supervising some of the break time (some of the former-4th-grade-now-5th-grade recognized me and made a point to tell me about their cool stories that they’re working on which is AWESOME) and I’m feeling much better about how all this is going to work out. I did get one heck of a surprise today though.

I’d always assumed that Fear of the First Draft was something that happened to writers in adolescence. So I was very shocked to discover today, during the writing period, that even 8-year-olds can fall prey to this pitfall. I was shocked when I asked students “You look stuck, what’s going on?” to hear:

“I have to pick the right idea and I don’t know which one is right.”
“I can’t start because I don’t know what the middle is and I need to know.”
*After erasing an entire paragraph* “What I wrote wasn’t good enough.”

It really surprised me. I understand the fear — for a long time, I was afraid to write something down unless I was confident it would come out perfectly. And I’ve met SOOOOO many writers that find starting the hardest part, because they’re worried that the first draft won’t be any good. Here’s a big secret…first drafts are NEVER good. Or at least, not as good as they will be once you revise it. The nature of the first draft, the purpose, is simply to exist. To get the process started. You can’t go on a journey until you step out the door, but all you have to do is open the door. You don’t have to finish the journey with the first step.

I didn’t learn to let go of my fear of the first draft until I learned to value the (often painful) process of revision. I’m not sure how to convey to a student that hasn’t even begun that they don’t need to fear the first draft. They just need to write.

Have any of you had this problem? What would you recommend to a child that is struggling the way you have?


Children visit this site. Moderate your language accordingly.

I think the best way for anyone to start is to write stuff that NOBODY IS GOING TO SEE. I have several files on my computer that I’m going to list in my will as ‘delete without opening’. Without the anxiety of what people are going to think, it’s easier to let the words flow. As you get used to seeing your thoughts on paper (and nothing bad happening), you start to gain the confidence to start writing stuff that *is* going to get read by a (very select at first) audience. Also, if the kids are old enough to understand it, have them bore themselves into it. Say ‘I’m going to sit and stare at this piece of paper for half an hour, and if I don’t write anything, I’ll have stared at a piece of paper for half an hour.’ After a while, even writing something terrible is better than that. As long as (again) nobody else is going to see it.
Also, I’ve heard it said that there are two primary types of writers: those who dump it all on the page at once and then revise, and those who ponder over every word and can’t move on from a sentence until it’s just right. Both approaches turn out equally good material. I’m the latter, but some of my teachers made me feel like there was something wrong with me for not wanting to make major changes to my work. Why would I? I wrote it just the way I wanted the first time. But they were taught the ‘write and revise’ method and didn’t know how to handle any other way. I guess my point is, however kids get their thoughts down, whatever their method, as long as the final product is good, be OK with it.

This kind of made me laugh… I’m the same way, and I used to have to wire a paper, save and print it, and then go back and properly make mistakes and print those, too, for my “drafts”. At first it made me angry, and them it became a joke on the teachers 🙂 Nice to hear about

I am so glad that I am not the only one that did that. In school we had to label (write) our papers in colors. Topic sentence = red, statement/quote = blue, argument built upon it = green, closing = red. That’s for a 5-sentence paragraph. With full papers it was much, much worse (black and yellow! Five paragraphs all in the same order! Two green sentences to every blue!). I would just write the papers and underline them in the colors, because they never taught us about transitions or any proper organization. It drove me crazy.

Yes, it seems like the “write and revise” style is being constantly pushed. Although I agree it is better to start at all then to write nothing, I think it’s not helpful to say you have to do it almost without intent to get it right the first time. I get wracked with guilt every time I notice I haven’t been working on my stuff, but when I do get around to it I feel like I write 80% good stuff, whereas when I force it I get maybe 40%.
Renowned playwright and author Michel Tremblay has described his writing process as the dump method. He says it takes months to write something, except that the actual pen-to-paper (or typing!) only happens for a few days.

It’s funny… I don’t have a fear of starting my first draft, but I have a horrible problem with a fear of finishing the draft! I have piles of unfinished stories, all unfinished because that last section has to be perfect. My current WIP is struggling with this right now.

I used to ask the kids questions about the topic to help them go in the direction that they wanted. When they came upon something that they liked, I would suggest that they write it down and would help them remember what they said. That way they are getting encouraged and are actively moving in their writing. I miss that type of work with kids (but museum work is just as fun). Good luck with your work!

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