Writer’s Workshops Part Two: Let’s get Messy.

photo-1461344577544-4e5dc9487184This is part two in the Writer’s Workshop (WW) series. If you missed part one, I mean really, how could you have missed part one?! But if you did, you can check it out here first. Go on. I’ll wait.

Here’s the grand segway into part two: They put words and ideas down on their GDocs. Now what?

I’ve got two words for you: Messy Multiple Drafts.

For those of you that follow the writing process, we spend the next few weeks (3-4 weeks, depending on the purpose) on the same piece of writing, traveling in and out of the revising and editing stages. It is within this cyclical process that I bring out the mechanics lessons that I discerned/discovered from their writing samples collected at the beginning of the year that would be the most beneficial to their writing now. For the record and the sake of the length of this blog, I’m going to assume that you understand that the process laid out in these WW blogs continues all year long, with the only substantive variations being the piece of writing and the mechanics lessons used.

Anywho, this is where all the messy fun takes place, right in the middle of fighting over multiple drafts. My students, maybe like yours too, are natural One-Hit-Wonders. Say, if an essay is due Friday, then they would write it on Thursday night/early Friday morning; no other eyes but theirs have been on it, no proofreading, no editing, no formatting checks, nothing. “What do you mean I should have reread/rewritten/spent more time on this?!”, they ask disgustedly.Sound familiar? Anyone, anyone?

Sound familiar? Anyone, anyone (Bueller)?

We don’t play that in my class, this One-N-Done crap. They are forced, kicking and screaming and (sometimes, true story) crying into revision/editing/proofreading/rewriting mode while I sit back and relish all the pain and anguish that occurs every period of the day. Well, not as maniacally evil as that, but you know, a little bit.

It’s important, though, not to take the pain away. Not to step in and take away their discomfort just because something is hard to do or time-consuming, or whatever. Growth involves pain and struggle. To get better at something, you have to do that something over and over and over: sports, video games, cooking, reading, writing, whatever.

The sooner they realize that you won’t accept their first piece of (crappy) written work, the better.

Depending on the piece of writing and its purpose, we’ll do 2-3 drafts before they submit their final piece for review. This process is messy and it stinks (literally and metaphorically). Let them know it will be messy. Assure them that Messy is okay, that Messy can be cleaned up. I tell it to them like this, nearly word for word:

A draft is like throwing up on the page. You gotta get it all out of your head in order to know what you have. And, you always feel better when you get it out. But it stinks and it’s a mess, sometimes a pretty big one. It’s during the revising and editing that we begin to clean up that mess. You gotta get in there and root through all that stuff to find the pieces you want to keep and the pieces that need to go. And there will always be pieces that, with just a bit of elbow grease, could be amazing. Time to get to work; start vomiting!

Sorry for the visual and the overly extended, forced metaphor. The visual works, though. It sticks with them when they write and when they revise and edit. And for the three weeks after the first “vomiting”, that’s exactly what we do.

We focus on no more than two grammar/mechanics skills per draft. Any more than that and the students get lost. We can’t catch everything at once (we do lots of writing, we’ll catch other things later), so let’s drill down to the big things that matter: Active/Passive voice, Run-Ons/Fragments, Confused words (their, they’re, there), Word choice, and Sentence structure (varying lengths, beginnings, middles, and ends). We also dig into concepts that are a little bit more abstract and elusive too: Voice, Writing flow, and Ideas.

Fear not, we hit spelling, formatting, capitalization, punctuation, and the like, we just do that later. Those are the easy(ier) fixes. For two out of the three drafts, I explicitly state, nay command, that any reader or writer or proofreader of these drafts are NOT allowed to correct or point out ANY of those basic mechanical writing issues. Those are not the fixes that will make their writing any better, trust me. Think about it, a perfectly spelled, masterfully formatted, horribly written, nonsensical essay does not proficient writing make. And because these are easy(ier), we do the hard work up front, then come back on the final draft and deal with the little red squiggly lines, paragraph indenting, sentence punctuating, word capitalizing, etc., etc.

Well, I’m pretty sure that all of this came out jumbled, filled with a lot of plot holes, and conjured up more questions than answers. But then again, that’s basically any normal teaching day for me 🙂 So, as I read and reread this before I published it, it felt warm and homey to me.

Connect with me on Twitter, @theteachingjedi, if you want to further this discussion.

And may the Force be with you.


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