Thursday, January 27, 2011

Knowing What Trips Us Up

La Méditation by Domenico Feti -1589 - 1624Tuesday, 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?