When I spend a day in a classroom as a substitute teacher, I always feel as if I’m the one learning something new. A couple of weeks ago, when I was elementary art teacher for the day, I was reminded of some very important writing truths.
The art teacher had left instructions for the Kindergarten class to add a few finishing touches to their art projects. When they were done, I dismissed them to “free draw.” All of them huddled around the big, round open studio table, grabbing scissors, glue, string, construction paper and markers. All except one boy. He clenched the Sharpie he had used for his art project tightly in his fist and asked if he could write a story instead.
“Go for it.” I said.
“The Troll Sbardee,” he wrote.
“The Troll Story,” I read.
“Oh, I got that right? I wasn’t sure,” he said.
“Well, actually, that’s not quite how you spell it, but when we write for fun, that doesn’t matter so much,” I said.
He beamed. Ah, a kindred spirit.
He went to work writing his sbardee, and I roamed the room, admiring art work, untangling balls of yarn, and reminding kids not to run with scissors. Towards the end of the period my little writer came up to me, proudly waving a paper. Happy clusters of black Sharpie letters danced on both sides of the page.
“I finished!” he said. “I finished my story.”
“That’s wonderful. Will you read it to me?”
He held the paper in both his little hands and in a ceremonial voice, read his story of the princess troll. It was funny. It was action packed. And someone got eaten. It was perfect.
“That is a great story,” I said. “You have some interesting characters. I would love to see what they look like. Do you think you can draw a picture of them?”
He scrutinized me, with a most serious little face. And then he said, “This is a word story. This is not a story for pictures. I don’t have time for that.”
Lessons learned, dear fellow writers:
1. Write for fun! Get the story on the page in happy word clusters. You’ll have plenty of time during the revision stage to worry about spelling, sentence structure, arc, pacing, and all those other academic things. But first, just enjoy the act of creating.
2. Know what you’re writing. You might not know what you are creating when you start, but sometime during the process, ask the important questions.
- What genre am I writing?
- Who is my audience?
- What is the heart of my story?
3. Stick to your guns. Critique partners are gifts from heaven. Great feedback can place you squarely on the right track. But ultimately, you know what you want to accomplish, and where you want your story to go. Suggestions are just that. Make sure to stay true to your vision.
4. Manage your time wisely.
But mostly. Have fun writing those sbardees!