Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for creating #SOL18. A wonderful place to meet new writers and old friends!
What do we call the writing “stuff” we teach? When we talk about strategies, what do we mean? A strategy is a series of actionable steps that helps us to break down the work of a writer. It is generalizable, so we can use it across many pieces of writing, often, regardless of genre and format. A strategy is something we outgrow, and then it becomes a skill that we use automatically, without thinking about it at a conscious level.
Think of a strong emotion. Make a list of a couple of memories that connect to the emotion and pick one. Write the scene.
The big screened-in porch at my grandparents’ home in Coopersburg had emptied. My mom, my dad, my sisters, my aunt and uncle and all my cousins had made their way to their cars. Their arms were filled with food for sandwiches the next day and carefully wrapped slices of Grandma’s open-face apple pie. Except Pixie and me. I was staying for the summer. The entire summer! I stretched out on the hammock and pulled the light blanket up to my chin. The fireflies blinked on and off like tiny Christmas lights among the dark trees. It was very beautiful – the woods that stretched, dark and deep and quiet, all the way to the tiny creek an acre or so away.
“Come in Lynnie,” my grandma called from the kitchen.
“I want to sleep out here tonight,” I called back.
“Come inside,” Grandma said. “Now.”
“Oh, Dottie,” my grandfather chimed in. “She’ll be okay. Let her stay outside with Pixie. He placed a small rug on the floor next to the hammock and motioned for Pixie to lie down by the hammock. Pixie willingly obeyed. Her long tail thumped softly as she curled up, closed her eyes, and sighed.
My grandma shook her head. Grandpa winked at me and closed the screen door. I grinned and breathed in the woodsy air. My grandfather understood me. I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep, a smile fixed on my face.
My process: I thought of several scenes and connected them to a strong emotion. I decided I wanted to write about a time I felt really happy….content. Then I decided where I would begin my story. I started my story purposefully in a spot where I could see the ending in my mind. So, knowing where to begin and end a story is important. I can revise to add more detail about the story problem – I had often asked to sleep outside with my dog for company, but the answer was always a firm no. This time was different – I finally got to sleep on the hammock with my grandfather’s help. My strategy: to vary sentence lengths by consciously breaking up some longer sentences into shorter ones and even using a few fragments. As a writer, I know that I tend to write very long sentences!
When you write a piece, think about how you stay focused the entire time. Imagine the sequence of steps you do. When you are developing strategies, you almost spy on yourself as a writer. Notice what other writers do in your favorite mentor texts. Always keep your eyes and ears open for new ideas. Ask yourself some questions.
- What do you notice?
- What do you see?
- What are the authors thinking?
- What did they do to make you pause and think?
- How does it make you feel?
- What do the people in the pictures feel? OR What do you think the readers will be able to visualize in their mind?
As you write, spy on yourself and ask these same questions. As you draft and revise, think about a strategy you want to use and how it will help your writing.