Teaching fourth grade this year in a virtual setting has been eye opening, and not just for for my job as a teacher, but my job as a writer. This last week we did an exploration of our writing by looking at various samples of writing I have received. Since the students aren’t “seeing” one another constantly, it made it pretty easy to share work anonymously.
We looked at good writing and better writing and some pitifully poor writing. Just like I’ve learned from doing critiques, we always find something positive in our feedback.
I would like to break down the differences and apply it to my career as a writer.
POOR WRITING (KIDS): When the kids write poorly, it is usually not from a lack of skill, but a lack of motivation. It’s more of a “be done with it” attitude. Don’t worry about the directions, just put something down so no one harps on me for not getting my work done. There is no pride in their work and their expected audience is them.
(ADULTS): I see the same in adults (myself included). Poor writing here is often a focus of who their audience is. “This is my story and I’ll write it how I want it.” They never look at anyone else as really reading the story. They are writing the story they want to read and who cares about the details because I already know them and no one else gets it. They may spend hours revising and rewriting, but if they don’t understand that their audience is anyone else but them, it will always be poor.
GOOD WRITING (KIDS): When a kid does well in writing, it isn’t usually because of skill, but from the fact that they can follow the directions. They understand the expectations and write to their audience, the teacher. Here are the guidelines and I can check off the boxes and get a passing grade.
(ADULTS): I believe that many of us who have chosen a writing career, whether successful or not, fall into the “Good Writer” category. We understand the expectations and rules and we write to them. We understand who our audience is, though we often focus on the main two: Agent and Editor. Here are the guidelines and I can check off the boxes so they should want this.
The problem is, we get stuck in the formula and our stories are merely good. And sometimes “Good Stories” get published. Often at conferences, classes, seminars and webinars, we are told to follow the formula, this is what the publishing world wants; but that isn’t entirely the truth.
BETTER WRITING (KIDS): When a kid writes something that I want to share with the other class as an example of writing, it is often the kid who has gone a step beyond. They aren’t just giving fact or rehashing what they have learned, but they put themselves in the writing, sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively. This requires skill, but more importantly, your connection to the topic you are writing about
An example of this was a recent writing my class did on Treasure Island. The directions were to write about Jim’s escape from the pirates. One student not only cited the story to support his response, but he conjectured what Jim must have felt by imposing how he would have felt if he’d been Jim. He didn’t just follow the formula, he wanted to share a bit of himself. He understood that not only was his teacher his audience, but possibly his classmates and anyone else who picked up the report.
(ADULTS): I think this is the kind of writing we aspire to do. These are the kinds of books that we see more often getting published. You may not agree that the are “good” but in most cases, these books have a connection with them. That is why you can have numerous books on the same topic, because each author brings a bit of themselves to the story and makes them unique.
I know that when I wrote Pedro’s Pan, I put bits of myself in it. My experiences prospecting as a kid and an adult. My fear of not being what everyone thought I was. My dad showing me the way through love and wisdom. In the end, that is what the publisher bought. And in the end, that is the connection the reader makes. They can see that and experience it themselves.
GREAT WRITING: Great writing is the White Whale. Great writers don’t set out to do great writing, it just happens. What makes great writing is not the writer, but the audience. It is like art, opinions of what is good varies and most people don’t understand great art until they experience it. Just like great art, great writing comes from exposing a part of yourself to the world that you can never get back.
So as you set out writing, think about your audience. Are you writing this for yourself? Are you writing this for an agent or editor? Or are you writing this to share with the world? Is it your story, their story or everyones?