When I was a kid I liked to write. My writing was never very ‘literary’, I wouldn’t have set the world on fire with deep and original musings. But I did have a deep passion for entertaining people, both on paper and in real life. I quickly learned that the kind of writing that I found interesting and amusing, was not very interesting or amusing to my teachers. Aside from the two I mentioned on my home page, a lot of teachers seemed to consider my work a bit ‘lowest common denominator’, or at least not very academic.
In History class in year 11 we had to write about an important time in history. Now, it’s a long time since I was in year 11 so it’s stretching my fragile memory to recall the exact details of the assignment. But while my buddies all chose events like wars and revolutions, or people like Stalin and Lenin, I decided to write about the 1960s because I thought that was a pretty fucking cool time. The spread of pacifism, the civil rights movement, the embracing of previously taboo social topics like sex (ooh la la!), all set to a backdrop of awesome music. Who wouldn’t want to research and write about that?
Not only could I read and listen and watch to learn more, but I could actually ask people who lived through it! Brilliant. And I did. I thought my assignment was a masterpiece.
My teacher did not. I don’t remember exactly why she didn’t like it. I just remember I got a C+. I mean. Fuck off. On effort alone it was worth an A. But that’s not the point. The point is that what I took away from school was an idea that my writing wasn’t meaningful or clever. And that idea thwarted my confidence for an unforgiving 23 years.
But last year I turned 40. And something a bit interesting happened. You know how you only ever hear about mid-life crises (usually in relation to men), well I think I had a mid-life breakthrough. I acknowledged what it is that really fills me up (writing), and I began making time for it. Not just that though – the old voices that plagued me for years whispering ‘you’re not good enough, idiot’, quietened. Rather I shut them the hell up. Because now I was doing this for me. Not for anyone else. Not for a teacher, a parent, a ‘follow’ or ‘like’, I was doing exactly what I liked. Damn what anyone else thought of it.
So this was new. And liberating. Writing for my own pleasure. My own growth and development. I liked it. A friend of mine has a theory – she said that when we hit 40, society tends to reduce women to invisible status. Which is completely offeensive and quite confronting but it feels accurate. What comes with this though is an awakening of our true purpose and a care factor of less than zero about what people think of us. Excellent. So this unwarranted invisibility unlocks a devil-may-care attitude. A superb super power of sorts, where we start to live as we always should have, with purpose and without apology. Of course there are women who feel their purpose and live it much sooner than 40 and these women are fucking awesome. I have aspired to be like them for so long and now, at 40, I am.
When ruminating on this topic I didn’t love the idea that kids are still being hurled out of the education system with this notion that they’re not clever enough or unique enough to write meaningful work. If that’s happening then I’ve no doubt many a creative soul is being squashed and exiled in the deepest part of these kids. Why should they, as many of us have, wait until they reach some moment in midlife when they finally scream ‘enough’ and unleash what’s always been inside them?
How can we ensure that we are not sending kiddos into the world with this toxic idea that their writing isn’t ‘special’ enough? I believe much of this comes down to feedback. I read in some text somewhere (not great with details) that if a kid is given a letter grade on an assignment, regardless of whether any further explanation is given, the mark is the only feedback they will take from it. And I agree. I clearly remember getting a C+ for my Sixties assignment but I have no idea what, or even if, there was any accompanying feedback about why a C+ was appropriate.
What we say to students leaves a deep impression. Yes they need feedback about the technical development of their writing and construction of a piece, but the way in which this is given is so important. I teach primary school so fortunately I don’t have to give letter grades on any work. I spend all my time in conferences with students having conversations about their writing and their habits as writers. The aim is to improve the strategies of the writer, rather than ‘fix a piece’.
I would love to know if you’ve managed to overcome issues of confidence that may’ve plagued you since school. Are you now creating whatever your heart needs to create? I hope so. And I hope we can all work together to ensure that kids no longer feel that not making art is preferable to receiving feedback.
It’s late! Tea time now. Until next time xx