Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Permission to Write Badly (June Theme) by Kristin Levine


When I was in elementary school, I hated writing.  Hated hated hated it.  Sure, I loved reading, but every time a teacher announced a book report, or worst yet, a creative writing assignment, I cringed a little.  I was a bad writer.  It took me hours to complete the shortest assignment, my ideas were never as creative as everyone else's and on top of all that, I was a terrible speller, so bad, sometimes I couldn't even find the word I was looking for in the dictionary. 
I continued to dislike writing until the summer after 7th grade, when I had the opportunity to attend a summer program at CTY.  This is a program run by John Hopkins University where 7-9th graders get to go to a college campus and basically pretend to be a college student for three weeks.  I was planning to take a math class, math was always what I was good at, but at the last minute, I decided to take a writing class.  Maybe, I thought, I'd learn something so I wouldn't dread all those writing assignments quite so much.
The writing class at CTY turned out to be mainly a workshopping class, where we sat around and read each others stories and offered suggestions.  And there, I discovered that I was right.  I was a bad writer.  But I was a really good rewriter.  I was really good at taking constructive criticism.  And I was really good at revising my work.
Suddenly, I had permission to write a bad first draft.  If writing was about revising, I could make things better as I went along.  The first draft didn't have to be great, in fact trying to make it perfect was counterproductive, since all it seemed to lead to was agonizing over every word and writer's block.  Suddenly, by giving myself permission to write badly at first, I found that I loved writing.  And I have ever since.
PS. I'm still a terrible speller, so bad, sometimes spell check doesn't even help me.  But I've got a pretty good vocabulary and can usually just think up another word to use instead. 

2 comments:

  1. Sometimes, when I'm really in the writing zone, I wind up spelling simple words phonetically. Makes for some funny editing moments...

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  2. I love this Kristin! So many of us think we have to be perfect at something in order to do it, but you were brave enough to step out of your comfort zone and it opened up a whole new world to you!

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