Writing Takes Time
Writing of any sort takes more time than most of us actually anticipate. Adults face this dilemma in their professional lives, and students often realize this fundamental truth at the midnight hour—too late to forestall disaster. This is certainly not a new problem, but in discussions with my students – both younger and older – I’m conscious of two distinct pathways operating at once in the present generation.
On the one hand, there is the expectation that all students will learn the rudiments of writing in school: grammar, punctuation, and the steps involved in the writing process itself from brainstorming to the final product. The pressure is on for coherent, well considered narratives and analyses, whether short or long.
On the other hand, our children live in a sped-up world of video games, instant messaging, and texting. Internet searches require no more than a word to lead students down the rabbit hole of YouTube or Facebook options. Homework is often done while students listen to music or watch television. Add into this mix the tight schedules of balancing family and extra-curricular student activities, and the problem of finding time for writing becomes more apparent.
My middle school and high school students are aware of this split in themselves. Technology and busy schedules make it nearly impossible for some students to quiet their minds enough to even discover what they think or know about a subject. I now see elementary age students skitter off the page trying to write a coherent paragraph.
The reflective state of mind required for the careful questioning, note-taking or structuring of arguments for a research paper or a literary analysis is at odds with the racing minds of our technically proficient children. Even short paragraphs demand a coherent arrangement of ideas that tests the patience of many students. At some point, students must come to terms with the reality that writing anything well usually takes longer than expected.
Many students also need time to unravel ideas or events verbally before they can begin to brainstorm ideas onto paper. Learning to pace out a project is the key to having time for the different steps, from brainstorming to first and second drafts to revised final copy.
When I explain this to students, I actually do not believe I am Don Quixote tilting at windmills. I’ve discovered that some students imagine strong writing happens easily and quickly for others, without too much hard work. This just isn’t true. Or they tell me they prefer math and science and “just want to get the writing assignments over,” with no expectation of improvement in style or technique.
Others don’t know how to begin a project, let alone comprehend the time necessary to complete the project. Magical thinking takes over. These students operate on a wish and a dream, hoping the problem will one day resolve itself on its own. In the meantime, they flounder with no grasp of what is involved technically or time-wise to pull off a strong piece of writing.
I teach students to get started early on with writing assignments and to consistently follow a writing plan using my brainstorming and note-taking techniques. More often than not, this approach creates a meaningful connection to the material, which energizes the writing process. Students then progress more steadily with their writing, instead of only in bursts of effort nearer the project deadline.
I believe all students need to find a balance in their lives. Yes, they deserve to enjoy their extra-curricular activities and the attractions of the cyber world.
They also deserve to understand why setting aside enough time to plan and complete their writing assignments will bring them immeasurable success and satisfaction.