COW has been carefully designed to provide an environment which encourages fluency in writing. Fluency is the ability of a writer to generate ideas, then express them in words on the page. The opposite of Writing Fluency is Writer’s Block.
Writer’s Block can arise for a number of reasons. Here are some of the primary reasons from my personal experience and those of the students I’ve taught:
1. Obsessing with Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar
Many times, I’ve seen students hunched over the page, head in hands, just plain stuck. When I asked them how it was going, they’d often reply with, “I don’t know how to spell __________.” A word they were unable to spell was like a giant boulder that had suddenly landed in the middle of the highway of their writing, providing an insurmountable barrier. Spelling, punctuation and grammar should live in the domain of editing. Conversely, a first draft is meant to be a wild outpouring of ideas. Mistakes can be fixed later. With spelling, do your best, then move on. You can come back and fix it later. COW does not provide a spell checker or grammar checker for a reason. We want writers to focus upon fluent writing.
2. Trying to Come Up with a Title
We’ll come back to the student hunched over a page, only this time, it’s completely blank. “I can’t think of a title,” they say. When creating a piece of writing, a title is one of the last things you’ll want to think about. I always wait until I’ve finished a story before I even bother to think of a title. That’s because often, when I’m writing, stories take bizarre twists and turns, heading off in unexpected directions. I have to wait until the dust settles to see what story I’ve got, and then begin to think of an appropriate title. That’s why, with COW, we ask students to give their story a title after they have finished writing.
Oh, yes. That dreaded monster called Perfectionism. Certainly, perfectionism has its place. Personally, I’m happy that the individual flying the airplane I’m riding in or the person filling a cavity in my tooth is a perfectionist. However, perfectionism can be a creativity killer. Overly analyzing each and every sentence as it eeks out of the imagination can only lead to a stifling of the creative flow of ideas and words. Keep in mind that the first draft is a very messy, absolutely imperfect piece of writing that possesses one thing and one thing only– potential. Perfectionism enters the picture during the revision process. COW provides a revision mode, allowing writers to revisit their stories and revise to their heart’s content.
If you are worried about the validity of your writing, whether your ideas are any good, and if others will like your writing, your primary focus is not upon the process of writing. Fear can extinguish the creative urge with an overwhelming paralysis of self-consciousness. When you write a draft, write fearlessly. It’s kind of like singing in the shower or dancing when you think no one’s watching.
When writing a first draft, it’s very important to keep in mind that whatever you write is not your final product. It’s merely one version along a very long road of versions of your story. There’s nothing permanent about what you’re writing, so just fly at it, take chances, and always remember than anything you write can be chopped or drastically altered through the process of revision.