Writing With First Graders: Writing to a Deadline

This may seem to be a bit of an odd topic for first grade writing, but it is relevant. Oh the stress and the humanity!

Writing to a deadline, whether real or artificial, can actually be good for your writing. It helps you focus and decide what is important enough to go into your writing.

Putting the stress aside, having deadlines for your writing commits you to getting work done. Some of it will be good, some will not. The important thing is that you have reached a goal.

So here are some tips to writing to a deadline:

  1. Set an attainable goal. Whether your deadline is artificial or publisher driven, be realistic in what you can accomplish.
  2. Map it out. Set smaller goals to reach over time that will help you attain your deadline.
  3. Don’t wait until the final hour. When you do this, your work becomes about quantity rather than quality.
  4. Buffer. If you have a month to finish up a work, do it in three weeks. Use that extra week to let your work sit for a few days and then reread it one last time.
  5. Life matters. Make sure you give yourself time to enjoy life. Don’t push aside responsibilities and family and you time for a deadline. Deadlines will come and go, but you only get one chance to live.
  6. Be flexible. Life happens. Know that the best laid plans will always find a way to unravel.
  7. Practice. Set yourself goals, even if there is not a hard deadline. If you act like there is when it doesn’t really matter, when it does, you will be able to handle it better.
  8. Reward yourself. This is the most important tip. When you are done, do something that you enjoy. Release that stress and be proud of what you accomplished. Don’t focus on the problems or shortcomings, be happy for what you did do. (For me, I like to enjoy a bit of cheesecake.)

With a shortened schedule in my class, my three-week deadline became a one-week deadline. Many of the kids have been working hard on their stories, even outside of our class’s writing time. They are excited to see their stories finished.

So my original plan was space out the writing, do a final rewrite and edit, transfer to a story format page (for the contest), illustrate and bind the pages into a book.

New plan: Edit, space out writing (beginning, middle, middle, middle, end) and prep for contest.

Many of the kids have already don the editing and spacing part, so it is on to final edits to correct spelling, basic grammar and neatness.

Prepping for the contest is not unlike your own writing career. Each genre and form of writing has rules. Some are general rules or guidelines, others are industry standards and expectations. If you write outside of the expected parameters, it is unlikely your work will even get looked at. There is a reason that publishers and agents have guidelines for queries or ask specific questions. They want to see if you know the rules for the genre you are writing in.

For my first graders, there were two basic rules: word count had to be between 100-200 words, no more, no less. They also had to draw at least 5 illustrations.

The contest provided preformed pages for the kids to write on. Each student go pages numbered 1-5 and they wrote their story.

Some of the students quickly picked up that we had already spaced our story into five parts, so one part went on each page. Some students tried to fit their whole story on one page, then couldn’t figure out how to do five illustrations.

And then some students changed their story midstream and wanted to write a new idea or did not have a strong middle or ending. I pulled back the stress to let them know that this week was my deadline, but the contest gave them two more weeks. This is why it is important that you give yourself some space and not write to the last hour.

Not one of the stories went over the two hundred word limit, but many came in below the one hundred word limit. For most of the students, it was about adding in details or writing one more sentence.

As they finished and turned in their final product, their faces beamed and they were excited to have written and published their first story. Unknown to them, I copied their stories and created a generic cover (Title and name) for them to decorate later, and bound their book. I will give it to them in a few weeks when all the other students have had a chance to finish theirs and I have submitted their work.

As you finish your manuscript, take time to feel proud about your accomplishment. It is a big deal. You finished what you set out to start. Now it may only be one of many steps, but you did it!

I remember finishing my first real manuscript. It was a 42,000 word middle grade manuscript that will never be published. At the time I did not know that, but even after discovering that, the feeling of pride over accomplishing what I set out to do did not fade.

Hold on to that feeling. Let that power you as you send out your story to find its home or as you write a new one.

Next week I will wrap up this blog series with a look back and some introspective thoughts on the journey my students took, I took as a teacher as well as a writer.

Author: matthewlasley

I am a school teacher and an author. I like to write picture books, middle grade, science fiction and short stories. I live in Alaska and I love history, so those two things often influence my creative writing.

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