Why Good writer, bad writer? You can blame Billy Joel.
A colleague of mine went to hear Joel speak about song writing. During the talk, an enthusiastic member of the audience stood up and asked, “What’s the secret that makes you such a great song writer?” Joel responded by saying that while he had written many songs he was proud of, he didn’t think he think of himself as a great song writer. He insisted that for every “Piano Man”, there were drawers and drawers full of songs that he’d be embarrassed to sing in public. His “secret” was that he just kept writing songs and released those he was most proud of, hiding the rest.
My colleague loved this approach. An aspiring song writer herself, she noted how it gave her the confidence to push through the stretches where it seemed like she could write nothing but bad songs.
There’s a lot to love about this attitude, and it’s one I try to foster with every student I work with. But it’s a lot harder than it looks.
From a very early age, students are told what kind of a student they are. We hand back report cards and give I.Q. tests and categorize students into classes as if these reports are a reflection of their abilities and potential. Those categories ignore the fact that students’ cognitive abilities develop at different rates. Nor do these categories account for the dramatic effect a home and neighborhood environment can have on the rate a child develops.
By the time students get to high school, they are experts at categorization. (Side note: does it surprise you that this is the time of life when cliques hold the most sway?) The effect of all of this categorization is that the grades students get in high school become the tea leaves they read to classify themselves as a good writer or bad writer. And while many teachers know not to have too much confidence in those categories, too many students don’t.
Good writer, bad writer reflects the philosophy behind the first writing lesson I attempt to teach students. Too many of them come into college believing that their writing abilities are set in stone. The bad writers continue to struggle, and the good writers don’t take enough risks in their writing, figuring that any misstep will throw them back into the “bad writer” category.
Good writer, bad writer is my attempt to break the power of that dichotomy. On here, I’ll share the lessons and attitudes that I teach, but I’ll also talk about the attitudes I have towards my own writing since many of those have informed my own teaching. Thanks for visiting.