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Guiding Your Young Authors through the Creative Writing Process: Developing Writers

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It’s creative writing season again! (Isn’t it always?)

Young authors all over the greater Paris area are sharpening their pencils and collecting story nuggets in their writing journals in preparation for the:

2014 Young Authors’ Fiction Festival
co-sponsored by
Time Traveler Tours and the American Library in Paris.


The deadline for YAFF submissions is April 1st (no fooling!). Which means that many young Paris-based authors will have already moved beyond free writing. They may have committed to an idea that they are now drafting into a story, from beginning to middle to end. Or perhaps they have finished their first story draft and are ready to type it out on the computer, thus moving into the revising and editing stages.

If this is the case, they’re probably asking for some guidance right about now, either with the computing process or maybe they want feedback on the writing itself.

If you are wondering how to help your young author, or even if you can, then this post is for you!

Roaming Schoolhouse  teachers in Paris conference one on one with their students in the revision and editing stages.

Roaming Schoolhouse teachers in Paris conference one on one with their students in the revision and editing stages.

Can I, should I, help my young author?

The answer to this question is an unequivocal, “Yes.” It’s okay to offer guidance to your young author. Real working authors seek guidance all the time, from critique partners to agents and editors to family and friends. No writing can mature in isolation. So, please do feel free to help. However,

the key is to not do for your young authors,
but to guide them so that they may do for themselves.

Avoid the knee-jerk grab for the red pen (or any color pen for that matter). Don’t just correct the spelling errors; or tell them when their flow of ideas is illogical and should be moved around; or add whole sentences where thoughts may be missing. Instead, challenge yourself to make each call for support a Teachable Moment, that is, an opportunity for your young author to learn.

Meet them where they are in their own development as literate people, and move them forward from there, one step at a time.

And be ready to accept a “No” if your young author does not enjoy your point of view. The author gets final choice. End of story!
 

How should I help my Developing Reader/Writer?

Admittedly, guiding rather than doing is easier said than done, it also saves time to just do. So join me below as I unpack the writing process, by age and writing stage.

In this post, I suggest ways to guide our developing reader/writers.

I offer tips on how to steer pre-reader/writers through the creative writing process in this post.

And this post in the series is devoted to emerging reader/writers.

 

Developing Readers

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It doesn’t take long for emerging readers to become developing readers. It’s more of a moment in the grand scheme of things, an Ah-Ha!

Once they’ve cracked the code, they’ve emerged. They begin to function independently as readers. And they embark on a much longer journey toward developing fluent literacy. 

This stage continues over a longer period, throughout the school years and into university. It is characterized by increased comprehension and analytical understanding of text, as well as the ability to make meaning with more complex and sophisticated material.

As I stated in the two earlier posts in this series, language and literacy development begin with productive skills, and are followed by receptive ones: speaking follows listening; and writing follows reading. But the productive-receptive skill pairs reinforce each other too. Therefore, the more you can encourage your developing readers to write, they better readers (and writers) they will ultimately become.

 

Characteristics of developing writers

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As writers, developing readers will tend to make fewer spelling errors than emerging readers. But as their ideas grow in sophistication, so do their story structures as well as their need to employ more complex grammar. Thus, logical organization and clear communication become the bigger challenges.

At this stage we see story plot lines becoming more complicated, and therefore more difficult to manage. Developing reader/writers may be adding subtle literary features, like metaphor, double meaning, satire, subplots, and moral messages, to their writing, all of which are reinforced by their increased capability as readers.

For all these reasons, when guiding young authors at this stage of development, it is still best to focus first on their meaning-making and only turn to the mechanics of writing – spelling, formatting, punctuation – in the fourth and final stage of the four-part process of story creation: Editing.

So, as you read their drafts and seek to guide them through the process of Revision, allow your feedback to be influenced by the following five questions:
 

Sarah offers OREO feedback to this young developing author in the midst of spinning a marvelous fantasy adventure.

Sarah offers OREO feedback to this young developing author in the midst of spinning a marvelous fantasy adventure.

1. What’s working? What do you appreciate about the story? Is it funny? Is it well organized? Does it hook you from the get go and pull you right in? Is the story problem clear? Does the end work to resolve the problem in a satisfying way? Does the middle include enough scenes to make the journey from beginning to end believable?

Something is always working well in any story draft. Focus in on that first so that you begin with positive feedback.

Let your young authors know what you like about their stories before you move into more critical territory. In this way, their confidence will be preserved and your help becomes a Teachable Moment.

 

2. What’s missing? All stories follow a similar structure. There must be a beginning, middle, and an end.

  • The beginning communicates the story problem. It will also introduce the main character and offer a sense of place and time. But if there’s no problem, there’s no story.

  • The end provides the resolution to the problem.

  • The middle traces the main character’s journey from problem to resolution in a series of scenes, or events. It will also include the obstacles or additional dilemmas or challenges the character must overcome en route to the story resolution, or simply the stops taken or friends made along the way. These events will tend to rise in intensity or suspense or hope or lack thereof, culminating in a climax event. In the climax, everything will come together and a change or transformation will take place, usually in the main character.

Copyright 2014 Sarah Towle

Copyright 2014 Sarah Towle

If any of these elements – the beginning, middle, or end – is missing in your young author’s story draft, that's a great place to begin revising.

Ensure that the story problem is established in the first quarter of the story. Then look to see if the problem is resolved (and not simply by waking up from a dream). Verify that the middle has enough events, presented in a logical sequence, that tie the problem and the resolution together.

Some authors will draft great beginnings, but never get to the end. Others will get the beginning and end down, but the middle may be lacking and need fleshing out. Others knock out the journey, climax, and resolution, but have to go back to paint the problem a bit more clearly.

Even experienced adult authors have to face these challenges.  So there is no shame in going back and revising one’s story from the initial draft. Often several times!

I recommend at least three revisions for every story draft at this stage.

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3. What’s not in the right place? Is the problem stated in the first quarter of the story, or buried in the halfway point? If the latter, move it.

Does the journey move from point A to B to C? Or does it leap to B, back into A, then zig to D before zagging to C? Rearrange it.

Stories are linear. They therefore follow the rules of logic and cause and effect. But young authors can often run ahead before they’ve paved the road. Your comments should guide them to mix and pour the cement with just the right amount of water, gravel, and sand added.

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4. What’s not needed? All writers overwrite at the drafting stage. In the process of getting the draft out, we include bits that don't ultimately serve the story. Or we take several sentences to communicate what could be said in one. Or we string together long grammatical structures when a simple declarative sentence will suffice.

Less is always more. And it’s actually more difficult to be concise.

So once your young authors have completed a full story draft, help them to see which pieces, if any, really don't belong.

It can be great practice for young authors to learn to focus on the essentials. Especially when there is a word limit (as in the YAFF).
 

5. What’s confusing? Of course, nothing is ever confusing to the author. We see the entire story in our heads. So our writing is clear as California pool water to us.

But questions from a careful reader are a signal to an author that, in fact, we haven’t done our job as well as we thought.

Teach your young author, therefore, that questions are good; that they usually indicate where revision is necessary. These are the places they need to rework in order to clear up any confusion.

Example: A character refuses to play his guitar at the family picnic in one scene because of a broken string. Then, in the next he's practicing. How is that possible? Did he get a new string? Where? When? Or is he only playing with only five? How does that sound?

This is the kind of thing I’m talking about. And they are easy fixes. Young authors just need help sometimes to see them.
 

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One Final Tip!

The above questions will not only guide you in helping your young authors. They can also be employed by young authors to help each other!

That’s right. This is a great age, and stage, to teach your young authors the value of offering encouraging critical feedback such as I’ve described it above.

I call it OREO Feedback (like the cookie).

It works like this:

  • Start with something tasty and sweet: What you like; what’s working well.

  • Then move to the gooey-not-so-sure-about filling: What’s Missing? Confusing? Not needed? Etc.

  • Finally, end with another something yummy and easy to digest, comments like: It’s such a great idea, I wish I thought of it! Keep going. This is going to be a great story!

And don’t forget to encourage them to read, always and often. Remember that receptive linguistic skills always precede productive ones, i.e., reading comes before writing. Therefore, the more they read, the better readers and writers they will become. Guaranteed. It’s like magic!
 

For tips on the writing process itself, you and your young authors
won’t want to miss this video.

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Guiding Your Young Authors through the Creative Writing Process: Emerging Writers

Roaming Schoolhouse  teachers model the creative writing process for their young authors by writing with them.

Roaming Schoolhouse teachers model the creative writing process for their young authors by writing with them.

It’s creative writing season again! (Isn’t it always?)

Young authors all over the greater Paris area are sharpening their pencils and collecting story nuggets in their writing journals in preparation for the:
 

2014 Young Authors’ Fiction Festival
co-sponsored by
Time Traveler Tours and the American Library in Paris.
 

The deadline for YAFF submissions is April 1st (no fooling!). Which means that many young Paris-based authors will have already moved beyond free writing. They may have committed to an idea that they are now drafting into a story, from beginning to middle to end. Or perhaps they have finished their first story draft and are ready to type it out on the computer, thus moving into the revising and editing stages.

If this is the case, they’re probably asking for some guidance right about now, either with the computing process or maybe they want feedback on the writing itself.

If you are wondering how to help your young author, or even if you can, then this post is for you!
 

Can I, should I, help my young author?

The answer to this question is an unequivocal, “Yes.” It’s okay to offer guidance to your young author. Real working authors seek guidance all the time, from critique partners to agents and editors to family and friends. No writing can mature in isolation. So, please do feel free to help, however,

the key is to not do for your young authors,
but to guide them so that they may do for themselves.

Avoid the knee-jerk grab for the red pen (or any color pen for that matter). Don’t just correct the spelling errors; or tell them when their flow of ideas is illogical and should be moved around; or add whole sentences where thoughts may be missing. Instead, challenge yourself to make each call for support a Teachable Moment, that is, an opportunity for your young author to learn.

Meet them where they are in their own development as literate people, and move them forward from there, one step at a time.

And be ready to accept a “No” if your young author does not enjoy your point of view. The author gets final choice. End of story!
 

How should I help my Emerging Reader/Writer?

Admittedly, guiding rather than doing is easier said than done, it also saves time to just do. So join me below as I unpack the writing process, by age and writing stage.

In this post, I suggest ways to guide our emerging reader/writers.

In a previous post, I offer tips on how to steer pre-reader/writers through the creative writing process.

My next post is devoted to developing reader/writers.
 

Emerging Readers

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The term "emerging readers" refers to those kids who have “cracked the code” of literacy. That is to say, they’ve discovered that written words are symbols for spoken equivalents and that, strung together, words make sentences and sentences communicate meaning.

These kids are now emerging as readers. They are beginning to read independently, maybe not fluently or fluidly, but with more fluency with each passing day.

And they are excited about it!

They love their new-found independence – at least we hope they do.

They will therefore bridle against any suggestion that they dictate their stories to you as pre-readers will want to do. These children want to write their stories themselves. And this independence is to be celebrated!

Their writing, however, may be fraught with spelling errors, especially if English is not their dominant language of literacy: the language in which they have first learned to read, usually the language of school.

If this is the case, then your young authors' dominant language of literacy will greatly influence (some might say interfere with) their spelling in English. And here’s what I want you to do about it:

Nothing.

Sarah tells this young author what's really working well in his story.

Sarah tells this young author what's really working well in his story.

Priority #1: Making Meaning

What’s of primary importance at this stage is that your young authors are keen to experiment and make meaning with language. That they are expressing their ideas, even if their spellings are largely invented.

This is not only okay, it’s great!

Spelling will correct itself over time. For now, leave your young authors to tinker with their inventions. Resist the impulse to start “fixing” things. Rather than help them, this may instead send the message to your authors that they are not capable. It will shut them down, causing their flow valve to snap into the off position. And they may never consider themselves writers again.

This is a very fragile phase in the development of readers and writers. They need to be encouraged for their effort to make meaning at this stage. Because what they’re doing is very hard work.

It takes a lot of mental energy to communicate one’s ideas in words, even for the most literate adult. The last thing an emerging reader/writer needs to hear at this point is what’s “wrong” with their writing.
 

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But how do I make meaning if I can't read the story?

So what to do when you can’t make sense of their finished stories precisely because of all that invented spelling?

Easy.

Ask them to read their story to you.

Your young authors will know what their writing means. And as you listen, read along. You’ll begin to see patterns in their invented spelling and unique grammar constructions. You’ll begin to see the logic behind the apparent madness. You’ll actually see their other language bleeding through.

That’s what I do as a teacher. And that’s how I figure out how to guide each child forward on his or her individual path towards literacy acquisition.
 

Guiding questions for your ears only...

Now, once you’ve heard the story, congratulate your young author! Focus on the story idea and tell them what you like about it. Tell them what’s working. Something always is.

Then suggest that the two of you type the story up together on the computer. As your author reads, type exactly what you hear. You can guide the bigger picture ideas by keeping the following questions in mind:

  • What’s missing?

  • What’s confusing?

  • What’s not necessary?

  • What’s not in the right place?

In this way, you can help your author to flesh out his or her ideas a bit more while working together through this second, typed draft.

Keep in mind, though, that you are merely the guide and the scribe. All ideas must originate from your author. Stories must reflect their voice, vocabulary choice, individuality, and intentions. You can make suggestions, but if your author rejects your intervention, you must accept that.

Because the author gets final choice. End of story.

Now, print out the typed version of the story and ask your young author to read it out loud to you again. What better way to learn proper spelling and grammar conventions than by reading one’s own words!

Don’t be surprised if they wish to read it again and again. A very positive sign, indeed.
 

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One Final Tip!

Read to your young authors, always and often. Remember that receptive linguistic skills always precede productive ones, i.e., reading comes before writing.

The more you gather your emerging readers into your arms and read to them, the better readers and writers they will become.

Guaranteed. It’s like magic!
 

For tips on the writing process itself, you and your young authors won’t want to miss this video:

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Guiding Your Young Authors through the Creative Writing Process: Pre-Readers

The hum of creativity is audible in the Writers' Workshop of  Paris-based Roaming Schoolhouse .

The hum of creativity is audible in the Writers' Workshop of Paris-based Roaming Schoolhouse.

It’s creative writing season again! (Isn’t it always?)

Young authors all over the greater Paris area are sharpening their pencils and collecting story nuggets in their writing journals in preparation for the:

2014 Young Authors’ Fiction Festival
co-sponsored by
Time Traveler Tours and the American Library in Paris.

The deadline for YAFF submissions is April 1st (no fooling!). Which means that many young Paris-based authors will have already moved beyond free writing. They may have committed to an idea already that they are now drafting into a story, from beginning to middle to end. Or perhaps they have finished their first story draft and are ready to type it out on the computer, thus moving into the revising and editing stages.

If this is the case, they’re probably asking for some guidance right about now, either with the computing process or maybe they want feedback on the writing itself.

If you are wondering how to help your young author, or even if you can, then this post is for you!
 

Can I, should I, help my young author?

The answer to this question is an unequivocal, “Yes.” It’s okay to offer guidance to your young author. Real working authors seek guidance all the time, from critique partners to agents and editors to family and friends. No writing can mature in isolation. So, please do feel free to help, however,

the key is to not do for your young authors,
but to guide them so that they may do for themselves.

Avoid the knee-jerk grab for the red pen (or any color pen for that matter). Don’t just correct the spelling errors; or tell them when their flow of ideas is illogical and should be moved around; or add whole sentences where thoughts may be missing. Instead, challenge yourself to make each call for support a Teachable Moment, that is, an opportunity for your young author to learn.

Meet them where they are in their own development as literate people, and move them forward from there, one step at a time.

And be ready to accept a “No” if your young author does not enjoy your point of view. The author gets final choice. End of story!
 

How should I help my Pre-Reader/Writer?

Admittedly, guiding rather than doing is easier said than done, it also saves time to just do. So join me below as I unpack the writing process, by age and writing stage.

This post is dedicated to our youngest authors: pre-readers.

In subsequent posts, I offer tips in how to guide your emerging reader/writer and developing reader/writer through the creative writing process, so that you may take advantage of each interaction as a Teachable Moment.
 

Pre-Readers

This young pre-reader drew her story about three princesses questioning the existence of mermaids first, and is now dictating her story, "reading" from pictures.

This young pre-reader drew her story about three princesses questioning the existence of mermaids first, and is now dictating her story, "reading" from pictures.

Receptive linguistic skills always precede productive ones, i.e., listening comes before speaking; reading comes before writing. So if your child isn’t reading independently yet, he or she isn’t likely writing with ease either.

But that doesn’t mean pre-readers aren’t bursting to tell their own stories. Here’s how to help children at this stage open the tap so that their creative juices can flow…
 

Draw it out. I find that kids of this age prefer to tell their stories in pictures. So, offer your young authors some clean paper and fresh markers or colored pencils, and have them draw their stories out first. Be warned, this could go on for days and pages. But once out, they will be ready to “read” their story.
 

I listen as this young author "tells" me her story, in pictures.

I listen as this young author "tells" me her story, in pictures.

Speak it out. Ask if they would like you to write their story down as they tell it. You’ll want to check first whether it’s okay to write directly on their pictures, or if they’d prefer that you draft their story on a separate piece of paper.

You wouldn’t want to spoil their art and stop the creative flow!
 

Write it out. As they dictate, write exactly what they express, grammar errors and all. It’s their story.

If they get stuck, ask leading questions to move them along, like: “And then what happened?” “What did she say?” “How did he know that?” This will help to model story structure and organization as well as the linear flow of ideas.  

Be careful in this drafting phase to accept their ideas and words, as delivered.

Don’t try to insert your own ideas. That will only end in tears of frustration, and block their creative flow. It may also bring an end to their motivation all together.

Also, write neatly, in block letters, and alternate each written line with a blank one. This way, it will be easier for them to read in the next phase of the process...

This young author shares with the group his story about a super hero with a mace for a hand, which he imagined first through illustrations, then dictated, then copied out following his teacher's guide.

This young author shares with the group his story about a super hero with a mace for a hand, which he imagined first through illustrations, then dictated, then copied out following his teacher's guide.

Read it out. Once the story is completely written out, you can ask your young authors to read their stories aloud to you “to make certain that you wrote it down correctly.”

What better way to acquire literacy skills than by reading one’s own story! Be prepared to help them out along the way as they work through your written version. While they “know” the story, many of the words will be unfamiliar to them.

You can also have each young author copy his or her story out, using your writing as a guide -- another reason for skipping lines in the drafting phase, and also a great learning exercise.
 

Revising (optional). Now that the story is out in the world and has been reviewed a few times by both you and the young author, it might be time to suggest making a few edits.

As you transcribed the story, the spelling should be 100%. But let’s say that the character wakes up in one sentence. Then, in the next sentence, she’s at school. Do we need to know what happened between bed and the classroom? Is it important to the story flow? Ask your young author.

If he has an answer, ask if he’d like to add that to the story. If he does, insert the new content – in his words – in the appropriate place.

Similarly, if there’s a sentence of action that doesn’t seem to fit the story, ask: “Is this idea important to your story?” If it is, maybe it needs to be fleshed out a bit further. If it isn’t, suggest that she remove it.

But remember, you are only the guide. The author has final veto power. Always. So if s/he says “no” to any of your suggestions, that’s that. Move on.
 

Editing and Publication. Now, with drafting and revising complete, pop your young author on your lap in front of the computer and type the story out, exactly as written. As you type, the odd ungrammatical sentence or passage will be flagged by your program’s grammar checker. In Word, for example, you’ll see a green squiggly line.

Point this out to your young author. Show him or her how you can ask the computer for suggestions. Read these out loud to your young author. Discuss them. Does he like the sound of another option better? Then grab it and insert it into the document. If she doesn’t, then leave as is. It’s her work. And you’ve taught her so much already!

Print it out and, et voila! We have a published author!
 

Submission to YAFF (Ile de France residents only). Once your pre-reading author’s story is finished and published, it will be up to you to handle the submission process. Please follow the instructions here. I repeat: please follow ALL instructions. We get more faulty submissions from adults than we do from the kids. It’s true. And it's all there, honed after many years of trial and error.
 

Keep your eyes on the REAL prize. Remember that the real point of all this is that your young authors enter into a creative process, learn valuable literacy skills, and enjoy themselves as they do so.

The point is not that they produce a perfect story. Or that they win a YAFF prize or mention. The point is that they are motivated to put pen to paper and create something of their own unique invention.

Any child with the desire to actually pick up a pen and complete a story from beginning to end is a winner in my book!

Engagement in the creative process is the real prize.
 

One Final (yet crucial) Tip!

Read to your young author, always and often. Remember that receptive linguistic skills always precede productive ones, i.e., reading comes before writing. The more you cuddle your burgeoning readers on your lap and read to them, the better readers and writers they will become. Guaranteed. It’s like magic!
 

For tips on the writing process itself, you and your young authors won’t want to miss this video:

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