Tell Your Kids They Suck At Writing (So They Can Get Better)

When I was in high school, writers seemed like the new rock stars, the new superheroes; I wanted to be one, and so did all of my friends. We all thought that our stories would make it big and we’d someday be the next JK Rowling, the next Stephen King. We all took Creative Writing classes from less-than-qualified teachers, who told us endlessly that our work was incredible, technically impeccable, and our ideas wonderfully original. I wrote a good portion of a novel, confident that my work was publishable, and needed no editing.

Then I went to college.

While there, I discovered that I had no idea how sentences worked, what grammar really was, and how incredibly pretentious every paragraph I’d ever written really was. Now, in my final year of college, I’m actually rewriting the novel I wrote in high school, and becoming absolutely terrified about what would have happened had I not learned what I learned in my classes here.

This seems like a huge problem today, this undeserving praise. Kids are being told that they can do whatever they want, and that whatever they do will be amazing, so long as they just try hard. This is great for getting kids to try new things, but there comes a point where meaningless praise becomes harmful. By all means, encourage your kids to do something, and build their confidence when they’re first trying something, but if they’re truly unskilled at something, tell them that. This doesn’t need to be cruel, nor does it mean that they should stop trying to do whatever it is they are bad at, it just means that you need to tell them when they’re doing something wrong and allow them to learn how to better it.

I’d rather have a bunch of kids that get annoyed that something is difficult but still try to excel at it, than a bunch of kids who are told their work is superb and continue thinking that regardless of the actual quality of their productions.

About Ed Battistella

Edwin Battistella’s latest book Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels was released by Oxford University Press in March of 2020.
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