Whenever I’m asked to list my interests (which I feel happens more often than you’d think), “writing” always pops up, alongside reading, going to the beach, and eating cupcakes. I’ve been listing writing as one of my interests for as long as I can remember.
It should come as no surprise that my heart breaks a little bit every time a student tells me he or she hates writing. Oof. Hate is a strong word. I hate animal abuse. I hate racism. I hate the Holocaust. I hate sugar-free cupcakes (what is that?!) I feel like there are a lot of things more hate-worthy than writing, and yet, every month I get handful of students who flat out tell me they hate writing.
You know what, though? I’m skeptical. I have a sneaking suspicion that students don’t actually hate writing. I think they’ve just been taught to think they hate writing.
Think about it. Many people have very negative experiences with writing early on, particularly in school. How many of you have had a teacher use writing as a punishment, a la Bart Simpson?
I’m ashamed to admit that even I used writing as a punishment during my brief life as a middle school teacher. When I had kids in detention I’d make them write out MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech or Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” I also made them listen to Queen (which I didn’t actually consider punishment, but they did). I’ve since realized what a mistake that was. How could I use something I love as punishment? I see now that it would have been much better to have had them just help me with cleaning the classroom or something along those lines. Writing should never be used as punishment, and kids don’t learn how to be better behaved because they’re assigned to write. Just look at Bart.
You might also think you hate writing if you’ve never really received adequate feedback. I consider inadequate feedback to include feedback that only focuses on the negative and never points out the positive. Admittedly, sometimes it is difficult to find something truly positive to say about work that really needs a lot of improvement, but students need timely feedback that discusses what was done well and what needs improvement. If you’re constantly told bad things about your work, or worse, if you never hear anything about it at all, then of course you won’t associate good feelings with that task. Your teachers owe you detailed constructive feedback that focuses on what needs improvement and what was done well.
If the bulk of your experience with writing has been completely based around preparing for standardized tests, as is the case with a lot of recent high school graduates, you might think you hate writing. After all, with all of the testing requirements each state has to abide by these days, many teachers don’t have time during the school year to let their students write creatively. I volunteer with kids and a few weeks ago two really awesome, smart kids I work with (9 and 12) told me they hate writing because all they ever do is practice for the FCAT (the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) and that they never even get feedback on the practice writing they do. I asked them if they thought they’d like writing if they got to write fun things like stories and songs. Of course they said yes, but with so many arts programs getting cut in schools it’s getting harder and harder for kids to get exposed to creative writing early on.
Here’s the thing, though: you like movies. You like music. You like TV shows. You like video games with killer story lines. You do like writing, even if you just like it when other people are doing the heavy lifting. If you hate being the one who is doing the writing, you might just hate your past experiences with it. How good would it feel to work really hard at getting better at it, and succeeding? After all, you know you’re going to need to be a decent writer in your lifetime, even if the extent of the writing you do is limited to business emails and memos.
Here’s what I think: if you put aside your “hate” for writing long enough to form some new experiences with it, you might be surprised. I, myself, have always had terrible experiences with math (and I’ve even uttered that I “hate” math on more than one occasion), but several years ago I had no choice but to put aside my feelings about math and get help. In order to graduate from college I had to pass this big state math test and I hired a tutor. With the one-on-one attention from the tutor, I learned that my real problem with math was that I just didn’t understand it, and no one had ever taken the extra time to help me overcome the hurdle. It frustrated me to be forced to do something I didn’t understand. Remember, it’s cool to ask for help. If you work toward getting better at writing, your distaste for it might ebb.
Challenge yourself to write something, anything, this month. Ask someone for some feedback. Do it while you’re doing something else you enjoy, like listening to music or, um, eating a cupcake. Give it a chance. I don’t think you really hate it. Save your hate for terrible things, like the 21 Absolute Worst Things in the World.