How often have teachers witnessed students staring at an empty page or a blank screen? So many students learn at an early age all about that dreaded state of Writer’s Block.
Through my years of teaching writing to students, it became painfully clear that the cause of Writer’s Block often boiled down to one fundamental cause– Fear. More specifically, the fear of imperfection.
When words are squeezed out onto the page, the process of writing is painful, stressful, and, worst of all, clearly not the path to writing improvement.
Conversely, the path to raising confident, accomplished writers involves creating an environment where students can write fearlessly with the freedom to experiment, fail, try again, and try, try again. Rather than writing with that tyrannical self-editor shooting down every imperfect idea, the young writer forges ahead, their words dancing onto the page.
An anecdote from Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland wonderfully illustrates how, in the early stages of creative development, quantity really does win out over quality.
“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left hand side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of the work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.
His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an A, forty pounds a B, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an A.
Well, come grading time a curious fact emerged: the works of the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work and learning from their mistakes, the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”
COW (Creative Online Writing) was designed to provide an environment in which emerging writers are encouraged to fearlessly write more words more often. Certainly, the development of spelling, grammar and other stylistic elements are vitally important to the growth of a writer. Yet, to develop the fundamental skill of writing– the communication of ideas– the quantity of writing practice is the key.