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  • Heather McQuillan

Writing is not like Skydiving!

You don't have to get it right first time!

Many of the students I work with are initially hampered by the belief that they must get their writing right first time, or that if they need to revise it will only be to correct spelling and punctuation.

“Something all experienced writers know that seems to have been concealed from many teachers is that writing generally requires many drafts and revisions to get ideas into a form that satisfies the writer, and that a separate editorial polishing is required to make the text appropriate for the reader. Part of the power of writing is that it does not have to be right first time, that drafts can usually be modified or even thrown away “ Frank Smith*

By making the stakes high with grading, setting unreasonable time limits, or by insisting on editing corrections of every piece, we perpetuate this myth, creating multiple opportunities for our students to fail.

Damaged writers in our schools (I prefer this term to reluctant writers because it shifts the responsibility) have experienced too much of this false failure. They have been led to believe that they can’t write for all sorts of erroneous reasons.

The empowering truth is that you can have numerous goes to get writing the way you want it and you may not even know how you want it until after that first draft is on the page. You may even put it aside for another day, month... year!

I was at the wonderful Tūranga ( Central Library) in Christchurch last month working with young writers as part of BECA Christchurch Heritage festival. On display was a sample of Margaret Mahy's manuscript for The Catalogue of The Universe.

"See," I said pointing to all of the crossings out and changes "Nobody gets it right first time, not even a genius!"

I certainly didn't get this photo right first time! Apologies.

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

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