The Writing Spirit

Can you give it to someone, or do they simply “have it”?

Beth Hankoff
4 min readAug 11, 2022
A small boy is sitting in front of a notebook with a pencil in his hand. He looks up at the camera with a smile. The girl next to him smiles at him admiringly.
Image by Wix Media

As much as I love writing on Medium, writing is not my day job (thank God because 47¢ is not enough to last me the year). In real life, I am a certified teacher, but I’m self-employed. I tutor homeschooled students in language arts, mainly writing. I know — shocker.

Like most teachers, I get lovely cards and high-calorie gifts, especially in December and at the end of the year, thanking me for being a “nice teacher,” and so on. A few years ago, one year a second-grade boy gave me an unusual card. It said, “Thank you for giving me the writing spirit!” inside a card he had made himself. Oh, you bet I kept it!

“Thank you for giving me the writing spirit!”

I found this comment so profound for a young child of 7. I hope it meant that writing became something personal to him, a form of artistic expression rather than another “have to” in his day. Maybe it was even in the more profound realm of the soul somehow. Who knows what a kid means by “spirit,” right?

All this got me thinking. When was I given the writing spirit? Was I given it at all, or did I “have it,” like an inborn thing? Is creativity a gift we offer, a talent a great teacher can cultivate, or something a person comes into the world with that we need to allow to flourish?

After thinking about it, I have an opinion. It is not research-based. I have arrived at my opinion by reflecting on thirty-five years in the creative world:

I believe everyone is born with creativity, or a “creative spirit,” if you will. Suppose children are allowed many opportunities to express themselves in non-judgemental, non-competitive ways. In that case, they will try many forms of expression we could categorize as art, music, dance, acting, writing, etc., wouldn’t they?

I am not technically gifted at all of those things. Maybe I’m not talented at any of them! However, as a child, I tried every single one. I could because no one told me it was wrong or not good enough. When I got past about age 8, I could see for myself what my strengths and weaknesses were. I chose activities that were more successful for me and that I enjoyed.

To get back to the writing spirit idea, I think it is the creative spirit that he was feeling, but often writing can feel difficult to kids because of how it is taught — or isn’t. Some creative activities take more skill. After the early years, children may show interest in something specific that requires some teaching, like playing the violin or writing.

This will get too long if I go into detail, but the first issue I see is that no one has taught the child how to print their letters. So, to tell a story, she is painfully figuring out which direction her pencil needs to go to form each one. If she’s picky, she stops several times to erase it, trying to make it look like the one she sees in books. By the time she writes a letter or two, she has completely forgotten what she was saying!

The second issue I see is that teachers do not teach students about the parts of stories and how to write them. I experienced this when my younger son was in third grade. His second-grade teacher was a worksheet teacher. They may have written sentences sometimes, but never stories. When he entered third grade, she gave them crazy pictures and asked them to write stories about what was happening.

Boy, did he write stories! They went on and on, but he completely lost track of the plot. I didn’t care because it was his first time writing, and I figured the teacher would help him learn how to revise and edit. Instead, she complained to me during our parent conference that he didn’t know how to focus his writing topic. I just nodded. A confrontation wouldn’t help because she didn’t know how to teach this skill. He homeschooled the following year.

So I don’t think I “gave” that young boy the writing spirit, although it was so sweet of him to say so. I let him show me who he was and what his voice was as a writer. I reassured him that I wasn’t there to tell him that his handwriting, grammar, or spelling were terrible. If he needed help with those, I would assist him. I made it safe for his writing spirit to come out to play. We wouldn’t be writers if we didn’t do that for ourselves, so we can’t expect any more from children, can we?

I would love to hear your thoughts about creativity and the writing process. Let me know in the comments. Thanks!

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Beth Hankoff

Neurodivergent educator, changemaker, advocate, mother, and follower of Jesus. I write about my life, parenting, education, autism, and mental health.