Friday, March 02, 2007

Writers of the Future

I am fortunate enough to be a stay at home mom, which means I can help out in my kids' classrooms and schools. Most of the time I grade papers, listen to the kids read, and help serve lunch once a week. For the last few days, however, I've been helping my oldest daughter's fourth grade class with a writing assignment.

They are supposed to write a fiction or nonfiction story of about 750 words. I am not a good short story writer, but I figured I could help a bunch of 10 year olds. Some of their stories lacked detail and/or plot. We had to find ways to expand their ideas without needless padding. Some were well over the allotted word count and ran amok with repetetive phrasing, unclear sentences, and meandering narrative. A few strokes of Mrs. P's magic red pencil helped clear that up. The biggest problems seemed to be grammar and formatting, but overall they created an amusing variety of works. Ten-year-olds have some interesting ideas. They aren't afraid to go way the heck out there, which is so fun to deal with. They don't worry about conventional wisdom or what the other kid is writing. They just do their thing. They're also open to your suggestions and don't balk at grammatical rules.

I think many of us could take a lesson or two from these writers of the future.

1. Write what you love, or at least like a lot. Throw yourself into a story and let it flow. Editing can come later, and it will, but enjoy the time with your muse when you get it. Don't write to the current market if you aren't enthusiastic about the topic or genre. Readers are a savvy lot and will sense your apathy. And besides, who wants to toil away on a project they aren't excited about?

2. Yield to a "higher authority" when it's appropriate. If your editor/agent/crit partners all call you on a particular issue (grammar, plot flow, pacing, etc.) consider that they may be right. Give the changes a try and see how they work for you. Even some of us over the age of 10 have something to learn.

3. A fun font will make your story shine, even if it's bad. Okay, that's not quite true. Use a fun font, if you must, as you're writing, but be sure to work on your craft and change the font to something more acceptable to crit partners, agents, editors, and fourth grade teachers. Hey, we all have to grow up sometime.



At 8:53 PM, Blogger Meankitty Says... said...

My next chapter for your crit is going to be in X-files font, then, a personal favorite.

At 5:57 AM, Blogger Meretta said...

Good for you to help out, Cathy! Being a classroom helper is a major undertaking!

One thing that surprised me with my Gr. 4's curriculum this year was the encouragement of adverbs. I guess it's more a matter of personal style, but as a homeschooler I skimmed over that bit of advice and instead instructed finding the strongest verb possible.

And I'm always careful to not interrupt the creative flow. Better to let them write and write and write and then we can go back and fix the spelling and grammar.

Creativity is crucial and it's hard to be inspired when someone's nagging you that it's "i before e, except after c" but not when you're spelling weigh or beige or rottweiler or...well you get the idea. ;)


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