You have to learn the rules before you break them.
That was, at least, my fifth-grade teacher’s defense of the writing curriculum taught to younger students. You can only return stronger if you leave in the first place.
My experience with writing has always been a little counter to my age. Of course, my skills have grown with time and experience, but much of my creative frustration had to do with how many candles were on my birthday cake that year.
In elementary school, kids are encouraged to use big words while writing and avoid any basic or overused adjectives (opting for “enormous” instead of “big”). They are pushed into flowery, purple prose, and away from the short and sweet. Even in middle and high school, every essay has a word count requirement. Quality may be important, but to the education system, quantity is even better.
I resented this then. Good writing is concise. It isn’t redundant or self-gratuitous; in fact, most writing can be improved by cutting something out.
So why do we push our kids into the opposite end of the pool? Enforce clunky adjectives and sensory descriptions lasting five pages?
Because as writers, we needed to get to that point before we could return from it. We needed to dump our bag of words before we could declutter it and find the treasure in our trash; we needed to cause a mess before we could clean anything up.
I’m more concise in my writing now than I was in elementary school. But if I hadn’t learned the big words, complex sentence structures, and how to stretch out a single detail, I wouldn’t know how to avoid them when needed. I wouldn’t have anything to cut out, wouldn’t have any darlings to kill.
I still don’t fully support the idea that long equals good. However, I’m more sympathetic to teachers of younger students who enforce purple prose and word counts. It is the behind-the-scenes of writing, the process before you get to the good part.
It’s not a sweet answer, but at least it’s a short one.