Writing, chaos and contentment

content2I did a day’s teaching today and one of my colleagues commented on how relaxed I looked. I admitted to feeling relaxed and she asked what my secret was. She said wanted to know what she needed to do to feel ‘just a bit of what I feel’ so that she could and make to ‘after-Christmas,’ when she could relax a bit.’

It’s an incredibly busy time of year. The hive of activity in most organisations seems to steadily intensify before reaching a crescendo just before breaking for holiday season. Everywhere I look I see people stressed to the max! Racing from one thing to another, frantically chasing their kids, or their colleagues, or their shopping trolleys, but mostly just chasing their tails. It’s the time of year that seems to send everyone into a frenzy. But I don’t feel it.

I thought about what my colleague had said. And it’s true—I do feel relaxed. I am enjoying every single day. Whether I’m teaching at school, tutoring at uni, researching, or writing, I enjoy every day. It’s been the same for the past six months. Because I am living my dream.

Finally, at the ripe old age of #%,  I’m doing exactly what I‘ve always wanted to do. And I love it. I love every part of it. It doesn’t mean I don’t experience frustration or writers’ block or the pressure of a deadline. Nor does it mean that I don’t occasionally get annoyed or upset; that’s part of the human condition.

But when I look around and see the stress and tension that seems to consume some people, I am incredibly grateful that all I feel is contentment. There is nothing I would rather be doing than writing. The desire to write has been inside me since childhood. I’ve always known I had to write. I realize now that I never had a choice.

It was during the years that I fought the need to write that I experienced the most disharmony.  I thought a steady job with a regular income was more important. I thought money in the bank and home ownership should take precedence over my ‘dreams.’ Of course, those basic needs were important, but what I didn’t understand was that once I was living my dream, all the stress and fear and chaos and unhappiness that goes along with fighting your most basic driving force (which for me, was writing), would fall away.

And it has. Sure, I don’t own a home anymore, and I don’t have a steady job with a good income. I have so much more than that! I have joy in my heart. I wake up feeling excited about each day. I look forward to every step along the road I am currently travelling. And I feel so lucky.

During that same conversation today, someone else asked me if I was going away for the holidays. I told them I wasn’t because I was back at my desk straight after New Year.  They shook their head and said “you poor thing.” I laughed. I couldn’t help it. It is entirely by choice that I’ll be back at my desk. There is nowhere that I’d rather be.

So, those of you who are yearning for the holidays, so that they can do something they enjoy, instead of working, I hope you have a great holiday. For me? I experience the wonderfulness of doing something I love every day!

Happy Holidays!


Writers’ Group: A fabulous institution

I was writing an article about convening Writers’ Groups for kids for the Australian Education Times this afternoon, and couldn’t help reminiscing about the Writers’ Group that began my own journey to publication. I was part of a fabulous Writers’ Group for a few years before my teaching and studies began to dominate and I took a break from the group.  I miss it. The following post was about the wonderful women that wrote and critiqued with me during those early writing years. I still call them friends.

books3A writer’s group exists to give feedback during the development process of writing a novel. Members of the group read, or hear the work read, and respond with constructive criticisms designed to enhance the development of the piece. Comments and criticisms relate to aspects of the writing such as character development, voice, point of view, consistency of tense, plot development and structure, among other things.

As anyone who has written (or attempted to write) a full length manuscript knows, it is easy to get lost in your own vision, your own story. I thought the first manuscript I wrote (the one that remains unpublished in the bottom drawer of my desk) was fantastic, a masterpiece! That was until I read it out loud some years later. Now I cringe with embarrassment when I think about it, and wish I’d thought to join a writers’ group way back then.

The manuscript I’m working on now (my third) will probably be my strongest. Why? Because each week in my writers’ group, my fellow Authors tear it apart. Well, maybe not tear it apart, but they do tell me what is wrong with it and why. Sometimes it is hard to hear. Sometimes the scenes I think are awesome, they suggest cutting (yes, every writer has heard about ‘killing your darlings’ but it doesn’t make it any easier). Sometimes the bits that I think are boring, they say are important for plot development. Sometimes I think one or more of them are wrong and I ignore them (at my own peril, I know), but mostly they are right - and I love them for it. Because I trust them. Because I know they have my best interests at heart, as I do theirs.

The inherent value that lies in constructive criticism cannot be underestimated for any author developing a manuscript. Any manuscript, in any genre benefits from this kind of deconstruction. So what happens when someone who struggles with accepting criticism, no matter how constructive, joins such a group?

A writing/critiquing group that provides endless empty positive platitudes is more destructive than it is constructive. It serves no purpose at all and is not fair to the writer sharing the work - it provides no basis for development. But what do you do when a writer receiving constructive suggestions fires back with personal attacks?

Well, you could do nothing, and watch as the group dynamic changes, regular members stop attending, people start feeling intimidated and getting defensive, until the group eventually dissolves. Or you could step out of the firing line and allow your fellow writers to be very clear about what is, and is not, acceptable within the context of a critiquing group. And if you are lucky enough to be part of a positive, productive, functional group of writers that holds high esteem and mutual respect and trust for each others work, this is exactly what will happen - in no uncertain terms!

Writers groups are a wonderful, valuable and I believe, essential means for developing a manuscript. But it is crucial to get the ‘right’ mix of people for it to remain so. I love my writers group.

I’m not crazy, the voice in my head is!

murderI need to learn how to kill someone — without getting caught. I’ve done a lot of research now, and I’m pretty sure I could pull it off. I have to be careful not to raise suspicion though (note to self: remember to clear browsing history regularly). It has to be quick, relatively painless, and non-violent. I hate violence. And it would help if it wasn’t messy.

Poison would do it, and it’s relatively easy to get hold of. But getting my potential victim to ingest said poison is the challenge, particularly as there is no social connection. It’s a dilemma. And it’s been running around in my head for quite some time now. Months, actually.

I’ve considered seeking advice from a professional. Someone in the know who could give me a few pointers. A doctor maybe… or someone with practical experience. But how do I find a murderer who hasn’t been caught? And do I really want to go to that extreme?

Perhaps I should clarify. This morning, after a three-week hiatus, I was back in the pool swimming laps. The 50m outdoor pool sparkled in the Sydney sunshine, totally seducing my senses, lap after lazy lap. Swimming is very good for thinking. It’s quite meditative and I’ve always found it a fabulous way to process stuff. Things have a way of drifting up from the subconscious when you’re swimming.

It was while I was swimming that I remembered, that though the whole plot of next novel revolved around murder, and I had all my characters, plot and subplot lines sorted, I still hadn’t figured out how it happens. It’s kind of a crucial element. I guess I’d just been avoiding it because… well… I spend so much of my time as a writer, with the voices of my characters in my head, that occasionally, the conversations become intertwined with real ones. It’s a worry!

I don’t want to be at my desk in the office, or doing the shopping, and muttering about murder. Or having coffee with a non-writer friend and watching them empty a sachet of artificial sweetener into the cup, and say out loud: “I could put the poison in a sweetener sachet, but I’d have to make sure it was tasteless.” (Sorry about that Karen)  It tends to get awkward.

I probably should get better at compartmentalising my writing and my life. Problem is, my writing IS my life!

Back to researching murder…

On Publishing, promotion and putting yourself on the line

self-promotionThe manuscript (and several more following it) is complete, the contract signed, editing done, book cover sorted, publisher’s launch over. You’d be forgiven for thinking that my work as an author is over, but you’d be wrong. Very wrong.

I was at the Australian Book Expo, at Olympic Park last weekend, to sign books and talk to people about my new release. The expo itself was a bit of a disappointment because numbers were pretty low, but it gave me a fabulous opportunity to chat with people. It was interesting watching my publisher in action, but even more interesting to wander around and chat with other authors either published traditionally or self-published, and in some cases, both.

Most authors who had been around for a little while understood the nature of the changing industry and described their journey to (and from) publication as a roller-coaster. I could certainly relate. But I came across one or two authors, at the Expo to give their titles a boost, who were a tad resentful that they were expected to have a hand in promoting their books. I listened as they described the days where, once they’d signed the contract, they were given an advance and then sat back waiting for the publisher to tell them where to go (to sign books, speak, etc) and what to do, and in the meantime they got on with writing the next manuscript. Ah… if only it were still like that. But it’s not.

It is only when the contract is signed, if you’re lucky enough to be published traditionally, that the real work begins. The in-your-face, rejection-inducing, self-esteem challenging, slap-in-the-face, get-knocked-down-get-up-again task of getting your book ‘out there,’ type of work. Unless you are published by one the ‘five,’ in an industry that is just beginning to settle enough to get a glimpse of what writing and publishing might look like into the future, one thing is clear — the role of the author now includes promoting the book. It’s become a necessary part of getting your work out there. Readers can’t read your books if they don’t know where to get them. But for most writers I know, it is this part of publishing that is the most challenging.

Writers are the kind of people (I am very much generalising here, and happy to be contradicted) that are content working alone, in front of the computer, sometimes for months at a time. I know myself, when I am writing, days, sometimes weeks, pass barely noticed. It’s our work that we want in the public domain, not ourselves. Self-promotion is uncomfortable, awkward, and often off-putting, and I for one, do not enjoy it one little bit. Luckily, in the age of technology, it doesn’t necessarily have to be done face-to-face. But it does have to be done. And that’s what social media is for. Developing an author platform on social media is critical if you want any chance whatsoever of getting your work read. There is no escaping it.

So what would I say to those authors who refuse to change their way of operating? Well, in polite terms I’d suggest that as an author in the 21st century, you need to embrace change as an inevitability and adapt accordingly. Or to put it a little more bluntly—build a bridge! If you don’t have the skills to build a bridge, get someone else to do it for you, or you will sink into publishing oblivion. The halcyon days of book publishing are gone. Deal with it.

Sensitivity and the Writer

kittyI'm a delicate little flower. People tend to laugh when I say this, but it's true! I am a very sensitive person.

I think people tend to laugh because sensitivity is all-too-often confused with weakness. But I am definitely NOT a weak person. I am someone who feels deeply. Sometimes I might struggle with expressing those feelings in a way that others can understand. Sometimes deep empathy is mistaken for aloofness because I cannot process and express the emotion immediately. Other times I express anger and frustration with tears. A lot of the time I simply don't react externally, rather, I contain the depth of my emotion internally, requiring space and time to do so. But I DO feel it. Very much so.

It seems these days, sensitivity  is not looked upon as a positive. I remember in one job I had (in a particularly toxic workplace environment) a friend said to me "if only you didn't cry," as though ti was my crying, rather than the personality deficit of a dysfunctional bully, that was the reason he targeted me (as well as others who thought, felt, responded, differently to him.

I've been told to "toughen up" and "get a thicker skin" so often in my life, that for a very long time I thought there was something terribly wrong with me. I was compared to a turtle without a shell; an oyster with no protection; and told "the world would chew me up and spit me out" unless I changed. I tried to 'toughen' up, I tried not to take things personally, I tried the 'water-off-a-duck's-back' philosophy. None of it worked for me.

And then, in a moment of great clarity, I realised that I didn't want to do it that way. I didn't want to shut down. I didn't want to switch off from pain - my own or anyone else's. I didn't want to be one of those people who could walk past an old homeless man in the street and recognise the inadequacies of a society who has failed him. I didn't want to look into the face of an impoverished child and not see the hunger. I didn't want to close myself off to the friend locked in an abusive relationship and pretend it's none of my business, or the colleague who cares for an elderly parent and a sick child who sometimes gets grumpy. I didn't want to hear another news report about asylum seekers and not recognise the desperation in their actions. I didn't want to grow a thicker skin if it meant walking around in a narcissistic bubble.

I realised that I am okay about being a sensitive person. I refuse to allow our government, or mass media, or colleagues, or 'friends', or society try to desensitise me. I am okay about being a sensitive person. While others may not cope with, or understand, or approve, my sensitivity, it lends itself very well to my writing. After all, how can a writer write with authenticity unless they have some degree of insight into their character's emotions?

The short answer is: they can't. It's why writers tend to be such a sensitive bunch.

The writer who writes without an understanding of, or empathy for, the human psyche, can only skim the surface of the human experience. Human connection and interaction is what drives story. Regardless of genre, a reader must be able to connect with a character. They must be able to relate to a character, either positively or negatively, whether the character is human or not. A reader needs to see some of themselves in the characters they read, consciously or subconsciously, in fantasy or reality. Strong narrative should elicit some kind of reaction or response from a reader. And reaction comes from emotion. And emotion comes from empathy. And empathy comes from sensitivity.

To really get inside a character and create that relate-ability, a writer needs to be aware of and sensitive to, the full gamut of human emotion.

I'm a very sensitive person. And I'm okay with that. Because I'm a writer.


Creating anomalous characters

charactersEmpathy is a valuable skill as a writer. Being able to put yourself in someone else's position to get an idea of how and why they might think or feel about something is important when you are creating characters that might be different to yourself. But what about when it comes to understanding what motivates a person to do something that you yourself would or could never do? How do you go about writing such a scenario with any kind of authenticity when you can't possibly conceive of it? Should you even try?

Every writer has heard the oft-used saying ‘write what you know’, and probably for good reason. Believability, even in fantasy, is what makes a strong story. Characters have to be genuine. And by genuine, I mean true to form, consistent, real. 

 If you've never had any experience of hatred, how can you write hate? If you've never been in love, how can you write a romance? If you've never been betrayed, how do you write about betrayal? If your natural state of being is one of optimism, how do you write a character that is depressed with any kind of authenticity?

I'm not suggesting that as an author, you shouldn't create characters that experience these things, but you do need to at least understand what motivates people who experience emotions strong enough to drive them to actions that are outside of your personal experience.

Observing people, listening to people, talking to people who are polar opposites to yourself is one way to do this. And that is not necessarily an easy thing to do. Recently, I went to a workshop on Ethics and Integrity as part of a PhD conference I attended. As a PhD candidate it was help, but as a writer it was incredibly insightful.

 One of the scenarios we were presented with related to the ethics of animal testing and experimentation. Now as a long-time vegetarian and animal lover myself, I found it very challenging to hear some of the perspectives put forward by researchers who were involved in this type of activity; so much so that I found myself feeling quite distressed. Particularly as one of those outlining the necessity of such (abhorrent) activities, made his position seems so rational and (almost) understandable.

I caught myself in the middle of this conflicted emotion, took a step back, and just observed the group participants on both sides of the debate. Speakers for and against were getting equally as passionate, each trying to get their point across as vehemently as the other. I watched those arguing for the testing and really listened to what they were saying to try and get an isight into their motivations. I'd never before considered how anyone could really believe that using animals for research into humans could be a good thing. And I still don't believe it. But listening to the discussion without emotion gave me a look inside a person who thought and felt very differently to me, in a way that I'd never really experienced before.

Though I found this observation incredibly challenging, as a writer it was fabulously insightful. I've always been a people watcher, it's a valuable tool when creating characters. But if you get the opportunity to engage in people-watching in a situation that is completely outside your comfort zone, and remain detached and objective (well, as objective as you can possibly be), it can be an amazing experience and hugely beneficial to your writing.











The trouble with grammar


'Intelligence supersedes grammar... Grammar is secondary to content... Language is changing anyway so grammar doesn't really matter...'

These are some of the statements I (over)heard during the week at a conference I attended for PhD researchers. These candidates were were having informal discussions about their work and their personal processes in writing up their research.

As a writer, I was astounded. But as someone who recognises the need for content to be accessible, I was horrified. These people were completely missing the point. Grammar provides a structure for writing to ensure that it is able to be read. As I tell my writers' group participants, grammar is the road rules of writing. It is a set of rules that, if followed, ensures everyone is able to read your writing. Grammar provides a framework for communication.

In the context of the conference, I had to wonder, what is the point of spending 60+ hours a week for four years reading, researching, analysing, synthesising, then writing up your work if you can't communicate it?

There are many issues relating to grammar, not the least of which is credibility. Credibility is vitally important in effective communication.The mechanics of writing can't be underestimated if a writer wants to present a credible, trustworthy message. There seems to be a common (mis)perception that if the material to be read contains information that is intelligent and important, then people will read it regardless. This is not necessarily the case.

Reading any type of communication, whether it be a novel, an email, a blackboard menu (and haven't we all fought the urge to edit one of these?), or a thesis, is is done so with a common understanding of what it is to read. And thought the definition of 'reading' is changing (the subject of my PhD and a discussion for another time),  this should not undermine or reduce the importance of the common understanding by which we currently read and understand material. Each language has its own syntax, and to communicate effectively in whichever language you use, you must understand and be able to replicate it in order to communicate with others, especially in the written format.

Generally speaking, people will not be able to see through a grammatically incompetent piece of writing to recognise the value of the content. If a person wants to establish themselves in a field with any kind of authority, they must be credible; not just in their specific field, but in the broader context. And that means being able to engage people.

I'm not just talking about PhDs here. If you are an aspiring writer and you send a query to an agent or publisher, do you really think they'll read past the first grammatical error they see? Probably not.

I used to get a lot of requests to review books and/or manuscripts. Some authors made the job of rejecting a manuscript easy. I'd delete any emails that were not grammatically sound, without even reading the abstract. Often, one paragraph in an email would tell me more about a writer, than the entire content of their manuscript. Sound harsh? It probably is, but it is also indicative of being time poor. And aren't we all time poor these days?

Another example of how important grammar is to credibility came to mind recently when I received an email newgrammar2sletter from a local politician. There was an error in the very first line. I moved to delete the email but then noticed the picture of the person and recognised him. It was a young politician that I'd met and spoken to at length a few months prior. He was earnest and idealistic (as many pollies are when they first start out) and he genuinely wanted to make a difference. Instead of deleting his attempt to reach out to his community, I edited his email and sent it back with an offer to edit future communications. He accepted, gratefully.

People don't generally notice correct grammar, they're too busy reading the content of the message. But people DO notice bad grammar and are quick to dismiss it BEFORE getting to the content, hence message lost. Don't let this happen to you.

So, back the to the title of this post, grammar doesn't really matter... WRONG!  GRAMMAR DOES MATTER. Use it properly. Or if you can't use it yourself, get someone who can to help you out.

Fellow grammarphiles might appreciate Weird Al Yankovich's take on the matter. Watch the video above.


How important is reading to you?


“Not every reader writes, but every writer reads.”  Attribution: Every writer I know (worth their salt).

It’s an important statement for a lot of reasons. A writer needs to be very familiar with the genre in which they write, as well as have a comprehensive understanding of the demographic for whom they write. How else can they do this, except by reading?

I know a lot of writers — published and unpublished, and I have direct contact with many more aspiring writers. I write a lot about writing, I talk a lot about writing, and I study writing. You could say (and I often do) that I live and breathe writing, and you’d be right. Writing, and everything related to it, is in the forefront of my consciousness, ALL THE TIME. What can I say? It’s my bliss.

But there would be no point to writing without someone to read. A real writer knows this. So when I hear someone who aspires to be a writer say: “Oh, I don’t read. I just don’t have the time,” I get a bit bristly. Now, I know that not everyone reads (as an avid reader and prolific writer my whole life, I was somewhat of an anomaly in my family-of-origin), but a writer choosing not read is like a swimmer wanting to finish the race without getting in the water. It just doesn’t make sense.

People read for all sorts of reasons, not the least being for pleasure. It’s a pastime unsurpassed by any other. Reading for pleasure takes you to another place in a way nothing else can.  It’s both journey and destination.

A writer needs to understand that. And what better way to understand it than to experience it first-hand? A successful writer hones their craft. They read, read, read. Then they write. And read some more.

To reject that process is to deny yourself the opportunity to grow and develop as a writer. Even entertaining the thought of not having a book (or two or three) on hand for those moments between, gives me chills. It’s the easiest, and most effective, way of engaging with my craft. To suggest I wouldn’t need to read seems… well, arrogant. Given that I’m a writer.

If you’re a writer, or you aspire to be a writer, reading is not an option. Not if you want to do anything with your writing.


The Incredible Power of Writing

powerI sat down to write about the amazing transformation I’m seeing in some of the kids I work with in my Writers’ Groups. Then I remembered I’ve written this type of post before. Rather than link back to the original post, I’m going to repost it below. 

The kids I’m referring to today are a mixed bag of young teens. They were from different schools, different grades (some Year 7 and some Year 8), different genders, different cultures, and different abilities. When they first began, they were nervous —of me, of each other, but mostly of themselves. They didn’t want to stand out. They were so nervous about sharing their writing, that sometimes getting them to read it aloud was like pulling teeth.

Today, they were all keen and enthusiastic and happily volunteered to be first to share their writing exercises. Today was the day they gelled as a group. And it was awesome to see. These kids are not only developing their writing skills, and their confidence in their writing. They are developing friendships, across their differences,  that I’m sure will last much longer than the Writers’ group that brought them together. 

Writing has an incredible transformative power. Not just for the people whose thoughts, feelings or attitudes are influenced or impacted by the writing, but for the writers themselves.

It’s been acknowledged historically that those wielding the pen wield an enormous amount of power. It’s been said many times in many different ways over the ages. From as far back as the Islamic prophet Muhammad, quoted as saying “The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr,” to Shakespeare in the 1600s in his play Hamlet Act 2, scene II, writing “… many wearing rapiers are afraid of goosequill,“ and a few hundred years later Edward Bulwer-Lytton said ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’.

And we know that the power of the word, and therefore the process of writing, is a far more effective way of influencing thought. And while those quoted above were referring to acts of violence being less effective than writing in achieving compliance or influence, they couldn’t possibly have known just how powerful the written word would be in a technological age where words influence —positively or negatively—on a much grander scale.

But recently I’ve witnessed how powerful writing can be on a very different level. Convening writers’ groups for teenagers, I continue to be astounded by the incredible power writing has for kids. I’m not talking about the power it gives them over other people; I mean the amazing transformative power writing gives these kids over themselves.

I saw it last year when my writers’ group was made up of disengaged young men in Year 10, and I’m seeing it again this year with a completely different cohort of kids. One of my groups this year comprises a dozen 13-year-old girls in Year 8. I started with them last year when they were in Year 7. They are the brightest in their year and were nominated for writers’ group by their Year Advisor.

These girls have reading ages way beyond their chronological ages. They are intelligent, engaged in the learning process, keen and enthusiastic students. And when they first came I wondered how beneficial the group would actually be for them.  I thought a writers’ group for these exceptional students may be a little redundant and that I could be better utilised working with students that needed a literacy boost. I was wrong. Again.

While all of these girls are academically gifted, some of them struggle with a social phobia and dislocation that makes functioning in a societal context quite difficult for them. Acute anxiety affects one or two, and intense pressure from home to achieve hangs over the heads of many of them.

Last year the writers’ group sessions with these girls were more about encouraging them to suspend their realities enough to tap into an imagination that I’m sure must’ve existed in them at some stage of their childhoods. It was hard work. But now, now they are writing. They’re writing fiction — fantasy, science-fiction, fan-fiction, romance, mystery, adventure. And I am so excited by it!

When they first came, their eyes were dull with trepidation, or fear of the unknown, or the weight of expectation. Now they come to group with inspiration bubbling from them in an effervescence of enthusiasm. Once silent, they now chatter happily, with sparkling eyes and big smiles. It is wonderful.

And they write. Prolifically. And they tell me they look forward to coming to writers’ group.

Writing has given some of these kids a means of social expression and interaction that they didn’t have before. Sharing their writing within the group has broken down some of the social barriers and awkwardness and opened up a world of newfound respect for each other. It’s created a space where they all interact on equal ground not just academically, but creatively and socially.

I am the luckiest writer on the planet because I get to share the joys of writing with these amazing kids.


When Writing Becomes Destructive


sadgirlwritingThis week I’ve had the (dis)pleasure of supervising the NAPLAN tests in a primary school I teach in sometimes. 

Yep, it’s that time of year again. Standardised testing. A process where some bright spark who has probably never set foot in a school, thinks it’s a good idea for every student in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9, to sit the same exam at the same time across the country. Every year students, parents, and teachers raise the same issues and concerns. And every year I write, politely, about it.

But this year, I can’t, won’t, disguise my disdain for an antiquated ‘educational’ practise that again and again proves to be a counter-productive and misleading exercise that does more damage than good.

Let me share this year’s experience of NAPLAN. For the last few years, as well as running Writers’ Groups, I’ve been teaching digital literacy in a primary school on a part-time basis. The other day I was asked to supervise the NAPLAN writing test that Year 3 students were undertaking. I’m talking about 8-year-olds. Little kids. Eight. Years. Old. 

The kids are sitting at tables in rows. They have a pencil and the NAPLAN answer booklet in front of them. The teacher reads the instructions from a handbook provided by the Department. She writes the time allowed for each section of the test on the board. 40 minutes for the language conventions section and 40 minutes for the writing section. They have a short break between the tests. 

The kids are nervous. They sit jiggling their legs, fiddling with their pencils or hems or hair. Some are staring out the window, others are looking imploringly at me as if to say ‘why?’ I have no answer. I’m wondering the same thing. 

The teacher tells them to begin. I wander through the rows looking over their shoulders. Some are drawing pictures. Some are colouring in the headings on the front page of the booklet. One kid has his head on the desk, I crouch down and ask him what’s wrong. He glances sideways and shrugs before turning his face back to the desk. He hasn’t even picked up his pencil. I notice the girl behind him sitting, staring at her blank page with tears streaming down her face. I know this kids is an excellent writer because I have her class for computers and for an 8-year-old, she writes complex, rich imaginative stories when we’re creating digital narratives. I’ve often thought she might be destined for a career as a writer. 

I crouch down next to her and she looks at me, pale-faced, and whispers “I can’t do this,’ I tell her she is an excellent writer. I remind her of the fabulous writing I’ve seen her do. She just shakes her head. I gently encourage her to re-read the stimulus, pick up her pencil and at least write something. I assure her that if she can just start writing, the rest will come. She is frozen. There is nothing I can do. As I walk away, I wonder what went on in her household this morning. What was said that contributed to this state.

Halfway through the test, there are still kids that haven’t yet started. They’re just sitting staring at the booklets in front of them. I move toward them and encourage them to at least write something. Anything. They don’t. They can’t. They stare at me, blankly. After the test, the teacher tells me those kids are in the enrichment class. They won’t score well on their test at all. And their results will impact on the class results, the teacher, the school results and the regional results. I’ve been part of a staff that analyses NAPLAN results, I’ve heard the discussions, I’ve seen the disappointment on the faces of class teachers whose kids didn’t do well, of Principals whose school results didn’t improve, and of parents who think their kids have failed.test kid

These stupid tests take bright, enthusiastic YOUNG kids who love school and enjoy learning, and turn them into nervous wrecks. They take the fun out of learning. They inadvertently create stress in kids who are under pressure to perform. Writing is regarded as a chore, as something that is to be done to prove they are ‘good' enough or ‘clever’ enough or ‘hardworking’ enough. Writing becomes a tool for students to prove their worth, to prove to their parents and teachers and friends that they are 'enough.' These children are EIGHT YEARS OLD. Not much more than babies. They should be free to learn to write for fun. They should be enjoying taking risks with their writing, trying different things. They should be experimenting with the language, writing to reflect their play, their families, their experience, their love of life. They most definitely should NOT be sitting in a pressure-cooker being made to write about ‘changing a law or rule,’ as they were this year. 

Teachers know how destructive these tests can be for young kids. Why don’t those who create these ridiculous regimes listen to them?