Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Watching Kids Write, II

Roaming around classrooms and computer rooms over the past decades, I learned very very quickly that not all of us write the same.  Before the advent of word-processors (of the electronic kind; pencils and pens qualify, too, don't they?), the range of students in my room on a let's-write-for-a-half-hour day ranged from what I guess I'd call Grinders to Geysers.

Edwin Arlington Robinson
The Grinders wrote with great reluctance, great resistance--and, sometimes, great despair.  Each word emerging from pen or pencil came only after a fierce battle that raged between brain and hand; some of the writers seemed not to be writing on a piece of paper but carving into a piece of granite.  (Lifting their papers, I wouldn't have been surprised to see gouges in the desktop.)  Some of these youngsters wrote only a short paragraph in 30 minutes.  The Grinders were not--at all--necessarily less bright or verbally gifted than the Geysers.  Some of the best writers I ever taught were very deliberate, choosing words with care, not advancing to the next one until they were certain the one they'd just used was the best one for the purpose.  Some professional writers are like this.  The three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, Edwin Arlington Robinson, once said that he spent the morning adding a semicolon to a poem, the afternoon removing it.

The Grinders, of course, are those who most suffer on timed standardized writing tests.  I saw them have trouble on the Ohio Proficiency Tests in 8th grade (sometimes failing, even, when I knew they could write better prose than the judges who were evaluating their papers).  At WRA, I saw them do poorly on the SAT Writing Test, that insanely stupid 30-minute assessment that measures little but how fast and how conventionally a kid can write.

On the other end of the continuum--the Geysers, the kids who had written a hundred words before the echo of my voice reading the prompt had even begun to soften.  With lots of kids, this eruptive fluency was married to quality, as well.  Somehow, their ideas transformed seamlessly and effortlessly into remarkable phrases, clauses, sentences, paragraphs.  Some of those kids astonished me, spewing out pages of handwritten text in 30 minutes--often virtually errorless, engaging, even novel.  I write pretty quickly, but I revise heavily--and slowly.  But some of the kids I taught over the years were somehow able to produce "rough" drafts that were smooth, sometimes even elegant.  (Is it wrong to envy a student?  If so, I'm a sinner!)

Anthony Trollope
There all sorts of examples of professional writers like this--from Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) who wrote forty-seven novels (and a bunch of other books)--all after the age of 32.  And John O'Hara (who typed his novels and stories once--straight from his typewriter to his publisher).  And Joyce Carol Oates, who writes great books faster than I can read them.

Of course, there were all sorts of stages between these two--and even combinations of them.  There were Grinders who never paved any road but with rough gravel; there were Geysers who sprayed barely punctuated nonsense all over the page--the written equivalent of logorrhea (a word I adore: "pathologically incoherent, repetitious speech," says dictionary.com).

But what about kids writing with computers?

Check this space tomorrow ...

And don't forget--my bios of Mary Shelley and E. A. Poe on Amazon Kindle!  (You will get sick of reading this before I tire of writing it!)

1 comment:

  1. Yes, and some of us start as Geysers and become Grinders.
    A terrible transition!
    My first year in college, I had a professor who would analyze sentence structure extensively.
    Why do you use so many compound sentences in this paragraph? Why not start sentence 3 with an introductory subordinate clause? 4 could be a compound complex sentence . . .
    I began to contemplate the sound and movement of every sentence, phrase, word . . .
    Such agony . . .
    That was the beginning of the end of my future as a fiction writer.