Why creative writing should be nurtured not taught

One of the joys of parenting is witnessing a child’s imagination at work. The tiniest of toddlers can capably construct whole worlds to disappear within, while kids’ drawings help us see things differently (I’m always grateful for my long flowing hair and skinny physique in the illustrated version of me).

It’s even more exciting when your child brings home their first handwritten story. This piece of work not only represents the culmination of days, weeks and months spent carefully learning sounds and letters, then words and even more words to make sentences that join with other sentences to make sense (well sometimes), but it also reveals a little bit about who the writer is and how they see the world, and that is the bit that makes our hearts flutter with pride.

But the new assessment-heavy approach to education is threatening to crush the creativity out of creative writing, as early on as in primary school. And when I read this in the Guardian today a little piece of me died inside. Can we not give our kids just a little bit longer to be free and uninhibited enough to express their imaginations without any rules? Please?

It seems I’m not alone in my disappointment. A band of around 35 children’s authors have written to the Department of Education to express concern that the curriculum’s prescriptive approach to teaching writing skills in primary education is damaging to their creative writing.

Children are being encouraged to use longer more elaborate words in their written work and simple words like big, good and nice are often banned. This approach is designed to better prepare them for assessments that I suspect are rewarding them for demonstrating advanced vocabularies and a complex grasp of language.

All well and good, but good writing is not about fancy words. In fact professional copywriting is about clear and accessible language. Journalism is about objectivity and reporting of facts. And adverbs are considered utterly naff in creative writing teaching. Plus, for everyday business communication the last thing we need are more puff words infecting our language.

I work in communications within an academic environment, and spend large chunks of my time stripping out superfluous adjectives from text that is written to assert an intellectual position rather than be read and understood. If you want people to read what you write, then don’t write like these people.

My absolute pet hate is when the word “utilise” is chosen instead of “use.” Can you think of any example of when “utilise” should be used instead of the shorter, more basic “use?” Are you still thinking about it? Nope, nothing. Because there is never really any need for utilise. Use is perfectly adequate.

We’re already experiencing information overload and increasingly rely on written communications through our many devices and channels. Future generations are going to have to work even harder than ever before to use language effectively to be heard and understood. There’s no space for unnecessary adjectives in a tweet.

Having ambitious standards for our children’s language skills is important but this can be developed through reading and discussing books, and also by encouraging children’s verbal skills. However good writing is subjective so by giving kids too many rules early on we’re potentially stunting their creative development. Instead, let’s give kids the freedom to find their own voice through their written work, and by doing so we’ll be gifting subsequent generations with a diverse range of literary voices to help them make sense of the world, whatever that world will look like in years to come.

You can read the article in the Guardian here.
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