This quote comes from one of my favorite books, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Though it is a book about writing, it is compelling. Lamott is a great storyteller who has written both fiction and non-fiction. She is a writer who speaks freely about just how challenging writing can be.
Learning to write is one of the most difficult things we do. We first have to learn the physical act of writing and then move on to the craft of writing. As readers, we learn what we like to read and, as children, often do not connect the fact that the books we enjoy are indeed products of writing. Connecting the two disciplines can be challenging.
At Wilmington Montessori School, we work hard to expose children to great literature. Whether the books we share are noted for their beautiful illustrations or their compelling stories, they are all products of writing. When I was a child, I was taught writing through grammar drills and the construction of specific pieces of writing such as the five-paragraph essay, book report or research paper. Rules were imposed with no examination of the craft of writing. I never aspired to write like the essays and papers I was reading. I wrote because I had to.
What we know is that one can’t write by rules alone. A writer has to bring herself to the story and explore the craft of writing through the words chosen, the sentence variety and her voice, among other things. Writing is not simply putting words on the page – although that is how it begins. Much like an art teacher introduces children to various art forms, asking them to explore the form, line and color of particular paintings, a writing teacher introduces students to different types of writing and challenges each child to look more deeply at the elements that make each piece effective. Whether writing a story of fiction, a poem or a report on birds, the writing matters, and the only way to become a writer is to write.
As Anne Lamott says, “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”