How Writers Write
This is a guest blog post written by Shannon L. Brown. Shannon has a freebie listed in Homeschool.com’s FREEBIE FEBRUARY event, so you please check it out, and enter to win.
When teaching writing there seems to be a natural inclination to have the child carefully consider each word as it’s written. There’s a desire for perfection in a first draft.
This makes sense since most other subjects are black and white. There is no second choice in math, science, or social studies: the answer, with few exceptions, is always the same. 2 + 2 = 4. Water boils at 212°F. Juneau is always the capital of Alaska (although, for history trivia buffs, they did vote to move it in the 1980s). To have a happy child and good results, rules for a structured writing process need to be relaxed. The best example of this in action is probably professional writers.
When it comes to creative pursuits, we have to let go of some of our control and the image we have of the finished project. There are some rules that apply to writing, but most of them can wait until the basic assignment is on paper (or computer screen). Most professional writers have tried different writing methods and found what works for them.
Some writers just slap words onto the page, rolling from beginning to end. Some consider words carefully as they write and labor over a sentence or paragraph’s structure in places. (Word processing programs are wonderful!) Some re-read the previous day’s work and tweak it a bit before moving on. Either way, one great difference between a young writer and a professional is that we know with absolute certainty that many of these words will be different in the final version.
Some plot every minute detail of a book before beginning. Some sit down and write with planning considered a stifling rule. Others, like myself, plan some and write some. Then plan some more. I do wish I was a planner, but am grateful that I don’t write completely by the seat-of-my-pants (planner and pantster being common nicknames for the two main schools).
The truth of the matter is that we often believe we’ve written drivel. Sometimes we’re wrong and we simply can’t see the wonder of our own words. Other times, we are right. The first draft is also known as a “rough draft” for a reason. If we don’t let the words simply flow onto the page, we never reach “The End.”
Good writing doesn’t always happen in the first draft; it’s wonderful when it does. The first draft is simply for putting a story on paper (or computer screen). Relaxing when writing a story down allows the writer to let go and try new ideas. Some will stick and some won’t. Some writers, like Ernest Hemingway (“For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “To Have and Have Not,” “The Old Man and the Sea”), reread what they wrote the day before and make changes. Some continue through to the end without re-reading anything.
The polish and refinement belongs in the editing stage. Hemingway said in a 1958 interview in “The Paris Review,” “I rewrote the ending to Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.” His reason? “Getting the words right.”
Editing is the time for more rules. Add new tools to a writer’s toolbox over time. Every writing assignment needs a beginning, middle and end. Every one does not need a variety of sentence lengths—that’s a wonderful tool to use with a more experienced writer.
Assign a writing project and give enough structure for the child to complete the project, but not so much structure that writing becomes the torture it is for many. The end result will be better and the child will have fun writing, and just maybe not fight with you the next time you say it’s time to write.
Award-winning journalist Shannon L. Brown had the idea for a mystery for kids—a briefcase full of feathers—pop into her head while driving on a busy Interstate and “The Feather Chase” was born. Degrees in both communication and education came together when she created a lapbook that takes the child step-by-step through writing a mystery short story and expands on subjects in the book such as sheriffs and London, England. “The Feather Chase” is available in print and ebook wherever books are sold and the lapbook is available on her website www.cousinsmystery.com. She is giving away both during the FREEBIE FEBRUARY event.