Help your homeschool child let go of perfectionism and overcome writer’s block

by | Oct 11, 2021 | Reluctant or Struggling Writers

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.

Do your kids struggle to overcome perfectionism or writer's block?

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!

13 Comments

  1. Kim

    Love your attitude, Loralee. I hope your son hops right on board with you!

    Reply
  2. Loralee

    I can’t wait to tell my #2, perfectionist son the quote by James Michener (“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.”)! If someone who has had several 1000 (+?) page books published can rewrite their creations, then hopefully, he will see that rewriting a couple of paragraphs is no big deal!

    Reply
  3. Kim

    See, I knew it! 😉

    Reply
  4. Amy

    Kim, I just read it! 😉 You were right!

    Amy

    Reply
  5. Amy

    My #2 son and I are avid perfectionists, so this post spoke directly to me. He hates re-writing! Matter of fact, he hates doing anything twice (a math problem, spelling words, etc, etc – unless it is watching the same movie again and again ’til he gets the quotes down! 😉
    I really can attest to the just write to write exercise, with a time limit. I tried this and it seemed very daunting at first, but after awhile, knowing that it was indeed possible and what’s more, even helpful, I learned to enjoy it. It was a huge release for me to know that I could write whatever came to mind and it didn’t have to be perfect, because the fact was when I wrote like that at first a lot of foolishness comes out until sometimes you hit a groove and can’t stop! I can’t wait to teach my kids all these AWESOME things that I’m learning.
    I also agree with Jimmie that if the revision process is done over a period of several days, it would seem less intimidating and discouraging.

    Amy in Peru
    http://fisheracademy.blogspot.com

    Reply
  6. Kim

    You’re right, Jimmie! A wise parent will introduce her children to the writing process at a young age rather than wait till junior high or high school.

    Reply
  7. Jimmie

    I think that emphasizing the writing process is key to this obstacle. From the very earliest (1st grade) I made my daughter’s writing assignments stretch over many days as she worked from prewriting to publishing. Very, very few people can simultaneously think about all the facets required in good writing. And when they try to, it inhibits creativity and productivity. My daughter is 5th grade now, and she totally grasps the concept of planning, drafting, and editing.

    Reply
  8. Kim

    Isabelle: Not all children are perfectionists—even if their moms are! 🙂 Sounds like he’s making progress. Taking time to rewrite a word is a good step for an 8-year-old.

    Tammy: Thanks for sharing your girls’ positive experience with WriteShop. I hope you know they’re not alone in their dislike of revising—particularly in this microwave world of instant results! Even if they never learn to love the editing process, hopefully they’ll at least learn to appreciate and respect its value.

    Reply
  9. Tammy

    I don’t know if you would call my three daughters perfectionists when it comes to writing. Writing is the subject they dislike the most because they don’t like that it is not instantly completed as their workbooks or cd-rom programs are. Your Writeshop program has helped. They absolutely love your story builders. I believe their big hang-up is the fact they have to write and rewrite. Hopefully these ten tips will be helpful with our journey. Thanks

    Reply
  10. Isabelle aka Canadianladybug

    Alexandre is not perfectionist yet. He is only 8 but I fear that he gets myperfectionism… OUCH!

    But these days when he makes an error, he will take the time to erase it properly before re-writing the word. He sometimes goes too fast. I would like him to slow down so that he takes the time to think before writing…

    Reply
  11. Kim

    Here’s my take on this, Diane. In college, students need to write all kinds of papers that will benefit from careful editing and revising—from one-page essays to 12-page research papers. But they’ll also face many timed-essay situations where thorough editing and revising just aren’t possible.

    Timed writing operates under a slightly different set of rules. SAT evaluators aren’t looking for perfection and polish. Recognizing that a student is performing under pressure, they just want to see that she can organize and articulate her thoughts in a timed setting. The perfectionist still has to learn to write against the clock, realizing that these essays can’t undergo the same careful revision as her untimed ones.

    Fortunately, if a student does a lot of free writing and essay practice (both timed and untimed), she will eventually be able to write excellent timed essays—even if she is a perfectionist!

    Reply
  12. Diane Allen

    Perfectionism is a major problem with my daughter. I vow and promise to use these suggestions!!!!

    As I read about the need for editing is occurs to me that the SAT essay (and the GRE essay) process do not reward those students who need the editorial and revision process to be separate from the composition process. Mmmmm. What are you thoughts on that?

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Writer's Block Doesn't Exist - Craft Your Content - […] read an article that said something like, “writer’s block is just your brain telling you that your words […]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.