Steps 1 and 2 in the Writing Process - The Idea and The Plan
I love working with young writers. I love writing. And I love THINKING about writing. That's probably some sort of weirdness on my part, but I'm okay with that. (For more on WHY this weirdness is valuable, check out my post Understanding Why Students Hate to Edit Their Writing.)
The different kinds of thought that go into creating a good piece of writing fascinate me. When I work with young writers, I try to share this "behind-the-scenes" look at the process. It seems to empower them for the journey, making it less frustrating for them to take several stabs at the same piece of writing until it becomes really strong and beautiful.
Here is my extraordinarily UN-scientific explanation of Steps 1 and 2 as I observe them in the high school student's writing process:
1. The Ideas Step - Some students are paralyzed by a blank piece of paper placed in front of them. For those students there is a simple cure for paralysis: take the paper away. There is no reason writing has to begin on paper, and as a seasoned writer myself, I know that I rarely have anything to jot down until I've been working on the IDEAS in my mind for some time first. Did you know that many students do not realize this? They think that their job is to pick up a pen and craft a well-constructed, beautiful and inspiring piece of writing, thus fulfilling their assignment. No wonder they feel intimidated!
First, just talk about the subject for a moment. A descriptive piece about their favorite place to be alone? Let's chat!
Where do you like to be for some alone-time? What do you like about it? What does it look like? Sound like? Smell like? What time of day do you enjoy it the most, or does that not matter? (For more on this process, see Articulating What You've Read in Your Homeschool)
Now reflect back what the student said in a simple summary: Ok, so you love to get in the hammock in the back yard, especially after dinner. You can see the house, the garden, and the woods behind the fence, and you can smell whatever's blooming. The mosquitoes are the only downside, yes?
Not only has your student gotten a start on the ideas about which he will write, he also feels personally validated because you just showed him that you were really listening to what he said and paying attention to something that he cares about. (Free "Good-Mom-Points"!)
Once a writer feels more confident, he can do this step by himself by having an internal dialogue in his head: Ok, where do I like to go? Hmmm....how would I describe it to Mom if she was sitting here? Etc.
2. The Plan Step - Next comes my favorite step. You take those ideas and you form a plan for attacking this assignment that will convey those ideas to your reader. Again, many students don't understand (perhaps no one has ever explained to them?) that there are MANY WAYS to attack an assignment, and finding the one that feels the best for you is an important part of being a good writer. Writing teachers call this "finding your voice." Using our descriptive example from above, here are some possible plans of attack varying with different writers:
* The poetic soul may choose to paint the scene for her reader with words: The warm, lilac-scented breeze is just enough to keep me gently swaying, but not enough to ruffle the pages of my book. Could there be a more perfect evening for a visit to my hammock?
* The scientist may prefer a "just the facts, ma'am" approach: A hammock is, by its very design, perfect for wrapping its occupant in just the right kind of support. A post-dinner visit to our backyard hammock is a sure way to make me feel good.
* The drama queen can pull out all the stops: Snugly wrapped, swaying to and fro, the gentle repetition of a hammock's movements takes me back to the safety and comfort of my mother's womb. I am secreted away from the bustle of the world, and I can again be still and think great thoughts...or perhaps think about nothing at all!
* The action lover can run with his idea: When dinner is over and the dishes are done, my family knows better than to block my path to the hammock. If the weather is nice and I have no place else I have to go, that hammock pulls me to it like a giant magnet.
BE CAREFUL with this step, however. A student won't actually be WRITING the sentences above; I just did that to illustrate what I mean by a variety of voices to address the same idea. At the Planning Step, you just want to choose the voice in which you would like to write the piece. What voice fits you as a person? What fits the subject matter (is it very serious, or light and fluffy)? What is your teacher likely looking for in terms of tone (casual and conversational, or formal and objective)?
Once we have an Idea and a Plan, we're ready to move on to that piece of paper. Even though it still is blank, it feels a lot less intimidating with the thought process well-underway!
The rest of the steps I've observed in the writing process with high schoolers are for another post on another Tuesday...wait for it!
What are some writing "voices" that really grab you?