Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Thank you, Mr. Zinsser

Long, long ago, say about 20 years ago, there was a little boy with a big imagination and a lot of stories in his head.  His fingers could not keep up with what he wanted to say and he struggled mightily to get it all down on paper.  I read in William Zinsser's book, On Writing Well, that it was OK to allow him to compose on the computer.  This past week, I've been visiting that boy, a grown-up now, and found just the quote I wanted in the copy of Zinsser's book which I gave him some years back:
"For children ... the word processor strikes me as an ideal tool for learning to write.  Children are natural writers - their heads are full of images and wonder and wordplay.  Their motor skills, however, are too slow to get all the wonderful words onto paper, and the words that they do get on paper look childish and clumsy; children, no less than adults, deserve the dignity of having their writing look decent. Pleasure turns to frustration and is often lost forever.  This wouldn't happen if children could tap out their words on a keyboard and see them on a screen, and move the words around, and substitute one word for another, and then have a machine print their composition neatly.  That's writing, as every poet knows - to make words dance for us in all their possible patterns." 
You may chuckle now at my reticence to allow composition on the computer, but you must remember - or if you're not that old, I'll tell you - that back in the day, not every child had a screen perpetually in front of his face.  Some children actually wrote with pencils on paper and when they were done with their schoolwork, they went outside and got dirty in the woods behind the house.  Some of us conscientious parents weren't so sure about how good those machines were for our children.  I mean, really, should I allow my 7 year old to sit in front of that screen for so long?

But Zinsser gave me the go-ahead and so, that little boy wrote his stories on the computer.  Now, he's writing papers in graduate school.  A couple of years ago, on a beautiful hike in the Flatirons near Boulder, he outlined for me the five books he wants to write.  I feel fairly certain he will write them someday.

So, thank you, Mr. Zinsser.

*Note: A collection of blog posts written by William Zinsser for The American Scholar was published in November, 2012 in a book entitled The Writer Who Stayed.  Coty and I are reading it now.


Susan said...

This is sweet, Beth! You're awesome. What a good mother you were and are. I still wonder about screens and all of the time people spend in front of them; I'm glad my kids think about it for their children, too.

And, by the way, I *really* want to go on a hike with you, too! :-) Someday we will, won't we?

tonia said...

I think you were just a momma ahead of her time. :) I have struggled with that too, but now that we are looking into dyslexia with our youngest, I realize what a GIFT it is!

Lisa said...

This is good! I still feel that way about screen time, too! Good to read this...