I’ve been reading this book, Scout, Atticus, and Boo by Mary McDonagh Murphy. It’s a fifty year celebration (published in 2010) of To Kill a Mockingbird. It contains reflections on the novel by all kinds of people, including Oprah, Wally Lamb, Alice Finch Lee, and many others. I was very taken with Richard Russo’s piece and what he had to say about teaching writing.
“Writing, it seems to me, is often taught, from the time that we’re in grade school, as the absence of mistakes–when you get your first papers back, and you have a little X that’s an error, another X that’s an error. Right up through college, I remember being taught that way, the careless errors, the difference between T-H-E-I-R and T-H-E-R-E–you get counted off for that.
And so every time you get a little check, then, you have lost points. And I lost points. But somehow you never gained points. You started off with a hundred points, and then for every mistake that you made, you lost points. If you’re trying to teach fiction writing or any kind of decent writing, any kind of real writing to students, the first thing you have to do is get them out of that frame of mind whereby you lose points for mistakes.
…The thing about writing is, you’re not looking for an absence of errors. You’re not looking for a pristine slate. You’re not looking for things to be perfect, but something that hits you where you live.” (Russo.Murphy,170-171)