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  • Heather McQuillan

Inspiration Overrated!

Updated: Nov 21, 2019

John Spencer blogs about creativity, writing, project-based learning and all sorts of things educational here:

“You often need to write in order to have something to say. Thought comes with writing, and writing may never come if it is postponed until we are satisfied we have something to say."
Frank Smith *

When I tell young writers they don’t need to plan as we start writing the room usually erupts into whoops and cheers. Focused planning is not an approach used by many writers and it is not one that comes naturally to children. A young child’s natural approach to storytelling in play is improvisational. All options are available at the start and the relating of stories/ poems/ personal stories/ knowledge can, and does, go anywhere.

I do not propose that planning goes entirely out the window- just the expectations that everyone does it a certain way or needs it at all. Younger children may plan through drawing. As they draw, the story they want to tell, along with the nouns and verbs they need to tell that story, will come to mind. The act of drawing helps shape their ideas both before and during writing. Older children may prefer to start writing, doodling or listing. But planning a story, or an argument, from start to finish before you write? Why would you do that?

“I don't have a plan for a story when I sit down to write. I would get quite bored carrying it out.” Michael Ondaatje

There are some children ( and teachers!) who will be anxious about this ‘no-planning” concept at first. These are the ones who believe they cannot start to write until they have an idea worth writing about. This is a huge pressure to place on young minds or old ones.

It is liberating for our young writers to know that they don’t need a pre-formed idea. They don’t need to be clever. They just need to get something on the page. One of my chief delights is seeing the pleasure on the faces of writers, young or old, at the moment an idea appears on the page that they’d never expected. Often, given freedom from planning, the writer will segue from where they started with something humdrum to say something candid and sincere, something they could never have put into a plan. That is the way many writers discover the truth of what they want to write about – without a plan.

"The first draft is just telling yourself the story.” Neil Gaiman

* Smith, Frank. Essays into Literacy: Selected Papers and Some Afterthoughts, Heinnemann, 1983

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