Yesterday evening after my husband, my son,and I were all home for the day, my husband pushed a piece of paper under my nose with the declaration, “I wrote something today!” The excitement in his voice scared me rather than made me curious, I have to tell you. Why? Because my husband, while a good preacher/pastor, is NOT a writer. So with some level of trepidation, I attempted to take the crumpled up piece of paper out of his hands to read. In his excitement, though, he couldn’t stand still long enough for me to take it, so just as quickly as he shoved it at me, he tore it away and began reading to me what was written on the paper.
Surprisingly, what he had written was pretty good. But all he had at that time was his thesis, so I encouraged him to go create the “rest of the story,” so to speak. Rather than going in the other room and, while he was hyper and excited, doing some writing, he proceeded to fidget around the room, brainstorming his essay out loud.
I am the first person to be very excited for someone who has a good–maybe even a great–writing idea. But I gotta tell ya, folks: until you have something concrete down on paper–some real SUBSTANCE, some true MEAT, keep it to yourself. I have my own writing, my own thoughts, my own STUFF to deal with. By telling me so much of his idea at such an early stage of the writing process, it made me feel as if he wanted me to write it for him. But as ANYONE who writes knows, the ONLY person who can “run” with a writing idea is THE PERSON who comes up with the idea in the first place. Two people can collaborate, but both have to be interested–inspired–by the topic (the story) for good collaboration to take place.
And while I do think that my husband’s idea is a very good one, I am simply not interested–or inspired enough–to write it with (let’s face it, with him it would be FOR) him.
Am I a terrible spouse? Especially considering the fact that not only do I TEACH writing, but I write–a lot–myself and he is soooo NOT a writer???
I’m happy to read through what he ends up putting down on paper–later…..I just don’t want to hear it right now while he’s in the brainstorming stage. What really frustrates me is that he is like so many of us as writers: we get these great ideas, we talk about our great ideas with any and everyone who will listen and even with those who won’t listen, and we brainstorm our guts out–out loud. But the act of actually getting any words to paper is nil and thus a great idea goes to waste. All of which goes to make me feel guilty or at least a little on the bad side for not helping him through this brainstorming part of the process because in not helping him, he will more than likely never go from idea to written, finished product.
I tried to encourage him and to tell him that the writing has to be HIS and that I’ll be happy to work with him once he has written something. I’m interest in seeing if he follows through….
The irony of this situation is that I do the same thing in my classroom. When students are in the early pre-writing and drafting part of the writing process, I do everything in my power to stay out of their way. I love it when they come in with the excitement of a rough draft in their possession, but when they ask me to read it, I back away like the Road Runner speeding away from the Coyote. It’s next to impossible for me to read anything without having the critical writer’s eye–whether that be for content, grammar, or other details that may need to be worked on.
Every once in a while I will have a student bug me to the point where I will go ahead and read the rough draft. Sometimes I can get away with saying, “That’s a great start. Way to go!” But then there are times when the student persists and begs me to give more feedback. That is when things go downhill because I tend to be honest and sometimes, honesty is NOT the best policy–especially when those students then walk out of the class with tears streaming down their faces.
I HATE that. I don’t want to ruin the joy of writing for anyone!!!! It’s a fine line writing instructors and editors walk. We don’t want to take away someone’s excitement for writing, but there is SOMETHING inside of us that also won’t let us allow something that is NOT good–not up to snuff–be presented as if it is in its final state (whether that be in a classroom setting or for publishing).
To my shame, I can’t read a book without marking the grammar errors or other types of mistakes throughout the text. As much as I love the HARRY POTTER series, I have marked in every single copy of my books (I have them both in paperback and as ebooks) every single mis-use of subject/prounoun dis-agreement: “‘Why would anyone want to celebrate the day they died?'” (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J. K. Rowling 130). (“Anyone” is a singular indefinite pronoun so any pronoun or noun referring back to it as the subject must also be singular, but the plural “they” is used instead.)
(*Please don’t hate me. I LOVE the HARRY POTTER SERIES and I greatly admire Rowling. It’s just that when something is grammatically incorrect, no amount of loving the story or the author will change that fact.)
Anyway, the bottom line is this: Pre-writing and rough drafts are not meant for anyone but the writer. Until said writer has some revisions to the draft, said writer should keep the pre-writing and rough drafts to him/herself. And don’t be offended when others refuse to read anything in the early stages of the writing process, ok?!