Thursday, June 16, 2016

Wordplay: The Two Stages of Writing (And Why They Are Fun)

 A friend of mine told me that she had considered asking me to talk to her second graders about writing, but decided against it because I write for teenagers.  I actually wrote my first story in second grade. I still have a copy of it (and enough memory that I can read between the lines to know what I meant to say). Since then I have been thinking about what I would share with younger kids. I've written a post already about why I write stories, including to communicate and to practice writing skills. I think younger children would also benefit from the habit, so I decided that I would share that writing stories fun, and how to do it.

Playing on Paper

Writing is done in two stages. Most people have a favorite, but both of them can be fun. The first stage is called drafting, otherwise known as playing on paper. Watch kids play. They take a few toys or objects that catch their eye, assign them characters, and then make them react to each other in different ways. They don't stop to wonder what comes next. They're endlessly adaptable, easily throwing in some new idea or character and seeing what it does to the story. I can still remember the first time I switched from pretend play to daydreaming: just playing inside my head without the toys to illustrate (I believe it involved some kind of Robin Hood adventure). Perhaps you still daydream. The same patterns apply: you take some interesting characters, some interesting ideas of things that might happen to them, and you throw them together and see what happens.

The first stage of writing, drafting, is to put those kind of stories down on paper. Play with it! You can start with characters (you and your friends, your cats, your favorite toys, even your favorite tv characters if you want), or you can start with the plot (that just means the things that happen to the characters, like 'they go to the zoo' or 'somebody is going to be captured and need rescued'). You may not know where you're going, or you may have an ending in mind, or you might have a list of things you want to cover. All of those are fine. Don't worry about spelling right now. Don't worry about grammar or word choice or all those rules you learn at school. At this stage, the only rule is to have fun with it!

In Control

If you are writing just for yourself, you might stop after drafting, and that's okay. In fact, if you love your story enough you may never end and just keep going as long as you can. Some people don't like the second stage, which is called editing, but I do. If you want other people to read what you've written and understand what you mean, if you want to make your story the best it can be, if you want to turn it in to a teacher or publish it into a book, you're going to have to edit.

Editing might be my favorite. When you're drafting, you write down everything as it comes to you. The story itself is in charge. When you edit, however, you are in complete control. This is a great feeling, because no one truly feels in control in life. You''re working by your parents' rules, or the school's rules, or society's rules, or the bank or the country's rules (yes, even grown-ups feel this way). Editing is when you work by your own rules.

Of course, if you are writing this story for a certain reader, you will have to pay attention to their rules too, but I don't like to think of it as following their rules. I've studied grammar and read lots of books about writing, and when something makes sense I adopt it as my own. Now it's not the book's rule, or grammar's rule. It's my rule, and I get to enforce it.

Different people do editing in different ways. If you are writing a story by hand, your first edit will be either copying it into a computer or copying it into a new notebook. You'll probably make changes as you go, deciding that some things could be phrased better to make more sense. That's great! The more times you go over it, the better it will be!

So, writing is fun! You get to play and imagine, be in control, make new friends, express yourself, and unlike play and daydreaming, you'll be able to go back to it whenever you want and enjoy the story all over again! Keep practicing, keep learning, keep reading others' stories. If you keep working at it you may become an author. Or you may decide not to, but those writing skills will be helpful in your life. At the very least, you can look back at the things you wrote when you were younger and be able to understand and remember how things were. And I think that's well worth the effort.

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