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By Joe Quirk

Flow first, grammar and spelling last

You may find this bit of advice hard to accept, especially as a parent anxious to support your children’s academic writing skills. But it pays to give your children the chance to experience writing without correction, no matter how bad the spelling and grammar may be.

If you doubt the truth of this, think about all the adults who are excellent grammarians and spellers but can't write a captivating essay. Blame their school. In our day — the forgotten nineties, ancient eighties, and primordial seventies — we were taught such stringent grammar and spelling rules, many of us never learned to get in the writing "flow zone." Fear of the red pen has paralyzed many intelligent adults who can tell a great story or explain a wonderful idea but can't write one.

Creativity is spontaneous, holistic, miraculous. Grammar and spelling are analytical, rule-based, and reductionist. Engaging the analytical side of a child's brain too early in the process sabotages creativity. Actual writing flow must be messy.

Your first job is not to teach your children to edit but encourage them to write. Editing, corrections, and rewriting can come later, but until your children have gotten a story or essay on the page, talking about spelling or grammar is a sure-fire way to shut down creativity.

Before I started this essay, I listed my five points, then sketched out details. Now that I have allowed my thoughts to flow out my pen, I will go back and correct my atrocious spelling and awkward phrasing. After several drafts and rigorous editing, I will create the illusion that I had a clear idea of what I was talking about before I started. That's how professional writers write, and that's how kids learn to write — one messy word at a time.

Joe Quirk is a novelist, science writer, and creative-writing teacher living in Berkeley, Calif. His bestselling book, The Ultimate Rush, is an action thriller about rollerblading.

Comments from readers

"Absolutely BEST article I have ever read on getting a kid to write! My son thought I was crazy when I told him to not worry about the spelling, etc. and just get the idea on paper.I ask a question and have him tell me the answer, then rough draft it, then worry about edits, then penmanship(or typing). I learned this when my oldest broke his arm in third grade, he had been labeled as 'unmotivated' aka lazy, when in reality he had not yet been diagnosed with dyslexia. Well, the truth came out when his classmates (bless them) volunteered to transcribe what he dictated, and amazing stories came through!! Needless to say, life has been much easier for him ever since, and essays are no longer to be feared and dreaded!! Great article, thank you. Donna"
"Great advice for every age!"