One of my children has been saying he’s a “bad writer” and that he doesn’t like writing. Writing is complex and so emotional that the act can feel like we’re ripping our skin off in public, so I tread carefully on this. Because, really, sometimes I tell myself I’m a bad writer, and often I don’t like writing (particularly the rewriting part, which is about 80% of the writing I do).
He told me yesterday, in an impromptu conversation held at the beach (as most potentially life-altering conversations are) that he wants to write his truths, his story, because that’s the assignment at school, but he doesn’t want to write his whole truth, his deep truth, because it’s going to be judged on some level, and possibly shared. So he picks the stories of his life that aren’t the most profound, most revealing, most forefront. Meaning he doesn’t pick the ripest fruits from the most fertile ground.
And I get it. I said that writing is making yourself vulnerable, and it’s ok to not share those stories yet if he’s not ready. And he may never be. But he should write them somewhere.
He wants to write them. He wants to share, but what’s forefront in his mind are those stories in his young life where he has felt different, excluded, raw, or torn between difficult choices. These are the things that make for real and wonderful writing, and the things that can make for painful moments in childhood (and beyond). These are not the things one necessarily chooses to stand in front of one’s peers and read.
Fortunately, he’s not isolated, he has friends, and he can slough off many difficult situations with more grace than any child should have to muster. He also has perspective and a good heart, and some real skills. I gave him some suggestions on different ways to handle these types of situations. He can choose how he wishes to proceed as he continues on. He will have to write in school. That’s just how it is. He will have to write narratives probably at least through middle school. That’s also just how it is. But he has choices and strategies now.
As a former English teacher and also as a mother, it’s made me wonder about writing and how we teach it, what we expect from our youngest, most vulnerable artists. It also explains why teachers get a glut of “narrative” essays (one of the big three we are required to teach – narrative, expository, and persuasive) – about scoring winning goals or small traumas and pains or issues that scratch the surface or highly formulaic pieces that don’t usually take a big risk.
And it reminds me what an act of courage it is to ask children to go to school every day and write and interact and take risks. To be bad at something. Or, scarier, to be good at something.
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