Things I Know 316 of 365: It’s best to teach two types of writing

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.

– Benjamin Franklin

Yesterday, I was listening to and interview of one of my favorite television writers, Steven Moffat. He’s the head writer and executive producer of Dr. Who and Sherlock and one of the screenwriters of The Adventures of Tintin.

Moffat has been a fan of Dr. Who since he was a boy and was asked when he wrote his first script for the show.

I expected mid-20s.

Moffat answered 10 or 12. He and a friend scripted a 4-part series of the show on their own, in their free time.

My mind immediately went to how that interest could have been leveraged in school. The voice in my head sounded something like, “I’m sure they didn’t, but Moffat’s school should have had a program for script writing. He could have latched on to his passion much earlier.”

Thinking it over, I’m glad they didn’t. We might have ruined him. This was a boy so enamored and passionate about writing – this kind of writing – that he spent his free time playing with the form and structure.

While school could certainly have been the place for the development of his talent, it seems unlikely they would have given it room to breathe and time to develop.

I’m so tempted to argue that we should be teaching more forms and genres of writing in school aside from the expository and persuasive essays required by standardized tests. In the current curricular climate, though, we would teach those things in pieces with restrictions and a tone of teaching that says, “This is the way you do it.”

What I love about Moffat’s writing is how far he strays from the expected and how often he breaks the rules. It makes for interesting storytelling.

When I started my students on story slams, my guidelines were purposefully vague – tell a story, make it interesting. The judges in the audience were given two measures – content and presentation. We never stopped to define what a top score in either of those categories would look like. Rather than looking for certain characteristics, I relied on the idea they would know quality when they saw it.

If we could teach writing like this – if we could say, “Work until you think you’ve gotten to quality” – then I’d say we should carve out space in classrooms for our future-Moffat’s. Until then, their curation of their passions is safer in their free time.

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