Looking Both Ways

I Caution road signgrew up a bit unclear about what is con­sid­ered accept­able risk.

My mom was an ear­ly adopter of the entire “don’t run with scis­sors” canon. And my dad reg­u­lar­ly told us about his teenage antics blow­ing things up and catch­ing rattlesnakes.

Find­ing the bal­anc­ing point between tak­ing risks and stay­ing safe proved a lit­tle con­fus­ing for me.

It con­tin­ues to be some­thing I meet up with when­ev­er I do class­room writ­ing work­shops. Some stu­dents jump into wild cre­ativ­i­ty with­out hear­ing a sin­gle warn­ing rat­tle. Oth­ers stop to look both ways so often that they nev­er suc­cess­ful­ly make it across the writ­ing street.

The truth is that both approach­es serve stu­dents well at dif­fer­ent stages of the writ­ing process. Dur­ing the ear­ly brain­storm­ing and draft­ing stages, it’s best to surge for­ward with­out over­think­ing the fact that a writ­ing project can blow up in your face at any moment. And espe­cial­ly dur­ing the lat­er writ­ing stages, stu­dents need to take the rules of writ­ing into account. Yes, writ­ers can and do break those rules. But it is best to do it with appro­pri­ate cau­tion, only cross­ing that street if they have con­sid­ered both ways and deter­mined that their deci­sion best serves their readers.

No won­der some young writ­ers are con­fused! I’ve seen those who are unable to cre­ate ear­ly drafts because they’re so wor­ried about break­ing the writ­ing rules. And I’ve seen those who are unable to take the appro­pri­ate care and con­cern with their work in the lat­er stages, so that they can’t cre­ate some­thing that trans­lates for an audience.

Despite their risk-tak­ing dif­fer­ences, my par­ents man­aged to cre­ate a har­mo­nious house­hold. Work to help your young writ­ers see that they can bring a har­mo­nious bal­ance to their writ­ing by learn­ing to look both ways: there is a time for tak­ing risks and a time for let­ting the rules rule.

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