Problem: It’s hard for kids to overcome perfectionism and self-criticism—which go hand in hand with writer’s block.
Solution: Help them let go of the obsession to write perfectly by starting with an unpolished rough draft that can be refined later.
Kids can be their own worst enemies, can’t they? They set the bar so high with unrealistic expectations that failure is pretty much a given. Though lots of stumbling blocks litter the road to writing success, perfectionism—that personal pressure to “get it right the first time”—is the biggest contributor to writer’s block.
The Curse of Writer’s Block
Writer’s block. The phrase itself is enough to banish every creative thought from your child’s head. When kids are in a stare-down with a blank page—and the page is winning—it’s easy to believe they’re the only ones who ever wrestle with getting a thought on paper.
It should comfort them to know everyone suffers from writer’s block at some point. Even famed novelist Ernest Hemingway admitted the most frightening thing he’d ever encountered was a blank sheet of paper!
Face it. Most children—yours included—loathe the writing process. They want to write a paper once at best, and they want you to love it. There’s no room in their world for the nuisance of proofreading, editing, or revising. In their eyes, the first draft has to be perfect. Some kids so strongly believe nothing they put on paper will be good enough that they don’t write at all.
Author Anna Quindlen describes the problem this way: “People have writer’s block not because they can’t write, but because they despair of writing eloquently.” This “writer’s perfectionism” is the obstacle that makes it so hard to overcome writer’s block.
Writing Tips for the Perfectionist
1. Write, write, write
As counterintuitive as it sounds, the more you write . . . well, the more you write! It’s very much like priming a pump: it takes water to produce water.
So how can you encourage your child to flex those writing muscles? One way is through a simple exercise called freewriting. Author, homeschooler, and writing teacher Dianne Dachyshyn uses free writing to ease the grip of writer’s block:
“The first time you ask children to do this, they will stare incredulously and grumble. They will be hard pressed to meet the time requirement of three minutes. However, after a regular discipline of free writing, they will begin to enjoy this time and it is amazing what they can produce. I often have to force them to stop at the end of ten minutes.”
RELATED: Check out The Writing Well for more ways to try freewriting.
2. “Don’t get it right, just get it written.” –James Thurber
Believe it or not, one of the best solutions for a perfectionist is writing a rough draft. After all, writing is a debugging process.
First, students write something sloppy. This is the practice draft—the imperfect, flawed rough draft. Later, they’ll go back and fine tune it. That’s why I love to call the rough draft a “sloppy copy.” Starting sloppy deals a blow to the blank page as your child puts forth ideas and gets into the writing flow.
As author and poet Margaret Atwood so aptly put it: “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”
3. Learn to let go
Enjoying the process—any process—is one of the toughest hurdles for perfectionists! I’m not going to say it’s easy, but it is achievable—bit by bit—as they learn to let go of the things that weigh them down.
✔️ Let go of precision.
Creativity is a messy ordeal. Why do our kids think it’s fine to make a mess when painting or working with wood or clay, but not when writing?
The creative process isn’t always neat, tidy, and measured, and it’s certainly not perfect. Assure your children it’s okay if their thoughts spill out in a bit of a jumble, and it’s to be expected that they (or you) will add marks to the paper during editing. Cleanup begins during the revising process.
✔️ Let go of pressure.
Writing is a process. A process is nothing more than a series of steps done in order, with an end goal in mind. Just as bread dough needs to be mixed, kneaded, and allowed to rise, a piece of writing needs time to go through certain steps, too.
Equally important, writing can be fixed. This welcome news should relieve some of the pressure your young perfectionists place on their own shoulders. James Michener once said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” Even if you’re a famous author, early drafts just won’t measure up.
As much as your kids want to crumple up their efforts and keep starting over, encourage them to just get that first draft written. Later, like every other author of great or small renown, they can work on revising until they’re satisfied.
✔️ Let go of perfection and finish the draft.
Though it’s tempting for kids to try to correct everything as they go, have them finish their rough drafts without wrestling with every word, phase, and sentence. That’s what revising is for!
And don’t forget to show your enthusiasm and approval when they finish the assignment. Success breeds more success, and when your children feel successful, they’ll be much less reluctant next time.
Sometimes your kids ARE perfectionists, true? And this can indeed hold them back from doing their best by seizing them with fear. But sometimes, well . . . sometimes they’re just plain lazy! If this is an underlying issue in your homeschool, you’ll appreciate these tips for helping lazy writers.
WriteShop builds the steps of the writing process into each level of the program. As kids begin to understand the purpose and value of rough drafts—and editing those rough drafts, they can begin to overcome perfectionism and writer’s block.
Train your elementary children early using WriteShop Primary and WriteShop Junior. For older students, choosing WriteShop I and II helps you equip and inspire successful writers in your homeschool!