Every Sunday, I spend two hours helping out at a writing workshop for six wonderful third graders. I watch them write the kind of stories that eight-year-olds tend to write...the kind of stories I used to write as a kid. And sometimes...I'm a little jealous of them. They don't know many of the rules and conventions of writing. They don't all know about the proper way to format a piece of writing. And, being eight, they're not expected to know.
"Is it true you have to start a new paragraph every time someone speaks?" asks one girl.
"Yes," says the teacher.
"Oh...I haven't been doing that..."
"Don't worry about it," says the teacher. "Just get your words out. We'll do editing later."
I don't know when it happened, but at a certain point, I became too obsessed with the way stories are supposed to look and sound, and I became constrained in my writing. I sometimes wonder what changed about me. As a kid, I wrote furiously and prolifically. I was constantly in the middle of several stories. My imagination churned faster than I could write and, even before the days when I could type on the computer, I filled notebooks and pads and random scraps of paper with stories. I felt powerful, like I could write about absolutely anything in the world. I felt comfortable and free.
When did writing cease to be an activity of freedom?
I think I should hang a post-it somewhere near my computer that says, "Just get your words out. We'll do editing later."
Getting your words out is a big deal, and the more you mean them, the harder it seems to be.