Posted in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Writing Life

Discipline

Recently, I had a student say children’s writing was “more challenging and restrictive” than she’d thought, and she was considering changing to an adult audience. It may be true that writing for adults is more a fit for her.

Or it might not. With this particular student, we’d only done three lessons together. She hadn’t tried nonfiction, which might be her niche if she’d give it a chance. The real issue, however, is that many of the mistakes she was continuing to make would be a problem for adult readers. So, audience wasn’t the issue. Could it be discipline?

My mother taught piano lessons in our home. I heard her students play scales and play scales. No one learns piano just to play scales—they want to play music! However, scales are a necessary step in the process. Students moved on to simple melodies and, if they worked at it, they advanced to more complicated songs. My mother could tell when students hadn’t practiced in between lessons. They weren’t improving. Writing is similar.

We have to practice, practice, practice no matter whether our audience is children or adults. We must learn the basics of fiction writing: grammar, point of view, setting, characterization, plot, etc. if we are going to succeed.

Like most instructors, I will re-explain a grammar issue, point of view, etc. in a different way in hopes that will work for the student. But sometimes I wonder, did she read what I wrote in my previous letter? Did he even try?

In both courses I teach, we give the students deadlines. Deadlines encourage discipline. Often, the students that progress the fastest are the ones who meet or beat the deadlines. Each lesson builds upon the ones before. When too much time passes between lessons, students forget what they learned earlier. I have to reteach concepts. It slows their progress which can cause frustration for both of us.

All writing is challenging in one way or another. Sometimes it’s coming up with the idea or angle. Or making a character and/or setting come alive. Or perhaps the plot isn’t working. Or the dialogue. But once those frameworks are in place, we still have to check for flow, get rid of unnecessary words, add more detail or information when necessary, etc. And, of course, proofread. The first story I sold to Highlights went through two revisions with the editor before it was accepted. This was after it had been critiqued by fellow writers and revised several times.

I love this quote from Harper Lee, “To be a serious writer requires discipline that is iron fisted. It’s sitting down and doing it whether you think you have it in you or not.” And as Patricia Wrede said, “Talent is way down on the list of things you need to write; it comes in a distant fourth, after persistence, motivation, and discipline.”

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Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Recreating

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We see the word recreating and usually think “kicking back” or doing something for the enjoyment of it, as in recreation, and that’s true.
But, what if we pronounce the word re-creating?
Re-creating could be a “big picture” look at a novel. Sometimes, we honestly know a manuscript we’ve written isn’t working. Sometimes, it’s our critique group, agent, or an editor who points out big problems. Either way, re-creating can include slashing scenes/chapters, or creating brand new ones. We might need to re-create our character, who is either too flawed or not flawed enough, or not likable enough. We might have to re-create plot, or fix the tension or chronology in the story. It might take starting the story in a different place or at a different time. We may be restoring the story to fit the bright shiny vision we first had. Re-creating might change the whole story into a different shape. It may feel like going backwards. But if the end result is a better story, it’s worth it. I love this quote: “Don’t hold onto a mistake just because it took a long time to make.” -Lucy Ruth Cummins
Once the overall story is working well, then we can move on to scene by scene revisions. With this step, we might be strengthening our characters, going deeper into their emotions and motives. Perhaps we’re adding in sensory details that ground the reader or removing unnecessary description. Is a conversation compelling or is there trite dialogue that needs to be cut? Is everything in a scene necessary? If not, take it out.
Next is revising individual paragraphs and line by line editing. We refresh tired words, overused phrases, and check the pacing of our sentences. It might include tightening. Our goal is to make the words stronger, clearer, and more compelling. Here’s a great quote I found on twitter: “I keep going over a sentence. I nag it, gnaw it, pat and flatter it.” -Janet Flanner
We may not do our revising in such separate steps, but however it’s done, it’s necessary. I like what Linda W. Jackson says, “First drafts are paper plates. After many revisions, they become fine china.” Now that’s quite the re-creation!
Recently I was recreating, as on vacation, where I got to add another state to my list of those visited. Which reminds me that sometimes it’s time to visit a new project–not just return to those we’ve written before, or those in progress. In that case we are re-creating the story from our mind onto the page or screen. (At least if you’re like me, they’re always different in my imagination than what ends up in actual words.)
Sometimes, we’re re-creating ourselves as we try something new. I remember hearing Kirby Larson talk about taking a poetry class while working on a novel. That something new helped her write her Newbery Honor book Hattie Big Sky.
And back to the usual definition of recreating. We do all need time away from our writing so that we can come back refreshed and ready to go.

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