How To Get Students to Write Passionately


There is no better way to squash a budding writer’s interest in writing than to saddle them with a dozen restrictions before they sit down to write. Imagine you’re eight years old, and writing in your second language. You’re already nervous. Now imagine you are given the task to write a five-paragraph essay. Now imagine it has to be about glacial erosion. And that the first sentence of every paragraph has to be a certain length. And that every paragraph has to be four sentences. And the last paragraph has to be conclusive but must not feature the words “In conclusion.” And…

Obviously the eight-year-old writer becomes paralyzed. He certainly won’t enjoy this assignment. He might never want to write again.

By placing so many guidelines and restrictions on the young writer before he begins, we’ve eliminated the possibility that he might write something interesting. It’s like first loading a dancer down with lead weights and then telling them to choreograph something beautiful. The first thing we did has made the second thing impossible.

So free your students from the restrictions. At least at the start. If you want to make a passionate writer, allow them to write freely — and ideally about something they care about.

You can always impose the grammar later. And you will! But if you start with a free-writing period, where they write from the heart without worry about spelling and structures, you will likely have a wonderful amount of raw material to work with. You will have the young writer’s real voice, and his real passions and feelings.

From there, you can begin to help them shape this passionate raw material into a polished and grammatically sound essay.

Remember — and teach your students — that writing is a process. It’s not a matter of first-drafts-and-you’re-done. It’s a first draft, then a conversation, then an editing session, then a second draft, then more editing, more comments. Then a third draft, a fourth, a fifth.

But it all starts with that passionate first draft, where the young writer is untethered.