Struturing Chaos

So your kids have been freewriting for months now, you are taking the risk to let your kids express all those random thoughts while you find words and ideas to praise… so now what?

I like to recommend eight weeks of freewriting before you revise any of the pieces of writing. Keep the eight freewrites in a manila folder and don’t even bother to read them unless your child wants to read them to you (let her decide).

Then when the eight weeks are over, take the folder from the shelf (on the ninth week) and lay the freewrites out on the table. Suggest your child pick one that she likes and that you will revise together.

The word “revision” often strikes fear into the heart of the child/student (particularly if writing practice has mostly consisted of correcting errors in the past). To avoid the clash of egos (Writer versus Editor), talk about expanding the piece of writing (not revising it). Let your child know that the goal is to take the raw writing, find the gems in it and then shine them up by adding detail and bringing the original to life.

Here’s how:

  • Read the piece aloud.
  • Give a colored pen to your child so that she makes the editorial changes and notes.
  • Together, identify the main idea. (Ask, What’s this piece about? Pick one main idea. If the piece meanders between cooking and soccer, choose one.) Cross out sentences that don’t support that idea.
  • Circle vague terms. Vague terms include “amazing, great, awesome, lousy, totally rad, cool, the bomb, nice, special, red, boring, long, short, hard, complicated, dangerous” and so on. These are hiding experiences so dig a bit deeper.
  • On a new sheet of paper, expand the content of the vague sentences. Pick two to start. Then ask, “How was scoring that goal amazing? Show me. Tell me about the experience of scoring the goal.” Then write a few more sentences about that experience. These will replace or expand the weak content. You can do this over a period of several days, doing only one or two at a time. Don’t do all of them. Pick ones that hold more detail in your child’s imagination. Don’t work on those that create anxiety or frustration.
  • Type up the piece (with new expanded sections) triple spaced, one sentence at a time. Print. Cut the sentences up and lay them out on the table. Now move them around until there is a pleasing order. Staple in the new order onto a piece of paper.
  • Look for lapses in sequence or missing details. Add those now on another sheet of paper.
  • Add a new opening. Almost everyone starts with a boring sentence. Write a new opening that draws on personal experience, an anecdote, a question or an interesting, little known fact.
  • Put it all together on the computer, print it up and read it to someone you love!

For more detail about all of these steps, see your copy of The Writer’s Jungle.

Remember, you don’t have to fix everything. Fix a few things and then be done.


One Response to “Struturing Chaos”

  1. Merry says:

    “Vague terms…are hiding experiences.” Yes, how true, what a great way to put this! Thanks!

    Merry 🙂