Emma, age seven, spent this afternoon with me. She came with her homework folder full of stuff that made me remember why I had done so badly in school. But it also included instructions for writing the story of the week. Hey, this I could handle! There were writing prompts – good. And rules - scary. Now I realized why most of us have so many hang-ups about writing. Indentation was important, punctuation, spelling, and there had to be at least eight sentences.
Emma chose the writing prompt: This Halloween…. After about the third sentence of what she was doing this Halloween she ground to a halt. I suggested she might pretend that it was about the cats. Costumes for cats? “Cats craving candy!” she yelled. Wonderful! I said. She started to write. Then clutched her head. “Oh, God, I spelled 'making' wrong. I wrote 'meking'!” I told her not to worry about spelling. “I have to indent!” she said. “We’re not supposed to use the word ‘fun’!” She was erasing like crazy. I told her all the stuff I tell my adult students: let it be sloppy and messy, don’t worry about punctuation and spelling, this is the creative part, you can always go back and edit. She looked at me. “You know how you can tell when you have eight sentences? You count the periods.”