The Pit of Perfection
When I teach writing I, like many others, teach writing as a process. The process intends to teach writers to draft and revise before submitting a final product. The process also often includes a peer review activity to seek feedback and guidance. And yet, there is often a perception, even among young writers who have embraced the writing process, that writing should be perfect the first time it is shared with others.
I have to admit that the pit of perfection is something I struggle with myself as a writer. But there are a few strategies I have learned that help -- both me and young writers.
I encourage students to find out more about the writing process of their favorite authors. Contemporary authors often have webpages that share information on their writing process and include everything from playlists of their favorite songs for a creative jumpstart to their preferred writing spaces. Interviews with authors often include information regarding the writing process, especially when writing was a challenge or when writing was easy. The letters and manuscripts of authors who are no longer with us can also provide insight into the writing process. Sometimes an author even includes a letter to his or her readers, which is one of the reasons I selected Ruth Stiles Gannet's My Father's Dragon and Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess for read alongs on the Sonrise Tutoring YouTube Channel.
Each author offers his or her own strategy for writing that can inspire or shape our own processes. One strategy I have embraced and encourage young writers to adopt was shared with me several years ago. I was an advisory member of a grant-funded summer writing program for upper elementary and middle school youth. The guest author advised that we not purchase special pens and journals for our young writers. Instead, he suggested that we make writing feel less special by purchasing bulk pens from the office supply store and composition books. A special notebook and pen, he argued, would add pressure to the writing process for these young writers. The expensive paper and pen would intimidate their creativity with the thought of perfection. His message revealed to me my own pit of perfection.
Those special notebooks I love to purchase have often dampened my ideas instead of capturing them. While I still like to draft by hand, I now usually compose my first draft in a normal composition book and then take those "notes" and transfer them to a journal before I type out my stories in a Word document. The process takes time and maybe too laborious for other writers, but it gives me a space to compose my ideas before refining them into a narrative.
The formulaic process included in our rhetoric and literature books is incomplete because we each need to define the steps in the process for our own sense as a writer. Sharing strategies from authors helps young writers begin to see how they can shape their own writing process. And, hopefully, they learn to avoid the pit of perfection and free their ideas from its depths.