Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Learning from Students

The Test Drive
In the past my students taught me to be a better writer. Early in my career when I taught a grade 3 class as a year-end L.T.O. assignment, I came in with a poem I had written the night before. I was excited about it - thinking it had a nice rhythm to it and very strong images. "Night Riders" it was titled, about mysterious people riding on a bus. As soon as I told the students I was going to read a poem they wordlessly assembled on a carpet in front of a rocking chair the previous teacher had left for me.
And so I began reading. Soon the attentive postures slumped, scabs were sought out for picking, tickle-fingers reached for friends and the whispers of more important topics quickly added to my serious reading voice: clearly the poem was not for them. I smiled and learned...
Many times over the years I have had students 'test drive' a new story long before any editor gets a look. They taught me much!
Now I need to borrow someone else's students to test drive the manuscript for Dan Time-Boy.
At Stockdale Public School I asked my good friends Kathryn Corbett (see blogs in Oct. & Nov of 09) and Dave Loucks to pass the manuscript on to a few assorted readers. Heather Yearwood, who splits her teaching duties between Stirling Sr. P.S. and Sir Mackenzie Bowell P.S. in Belleville, will do the same. (see blog 3/30/10) Heather's students were insightful readers of Leaving Fletchville last year and had great questions. Charlotte Armstrong, a former student of mine who now teaches at Percy Centennial P.S. in Warkworth will also pass the manuscript around. Her class was also very well prepped before my visit last year. (See Nov. 2009)
Getting some intelligent feedback from some adult friends and family members always helps me find clumsy stuff and typos. But adults will put up with writing that kids cannot follow, so comments from students of various grades and reading abilities are essential for me.
In a few weeks I will have a better idea of what I might want to keep / change / or add to the finished story before daring to send it for publication.

Waiting on your Writing...
When students ask me if their work is good I always tell them: put it aside for a few months and then look at it again. If it has problems you'll see them clearly. You'll groan at goofy metaphors or chafe at characters who are one-dimensional, and clench your teeth at cliche expressions. However, if it is really good you will see that too.

I have produced my fair of bad pieces of writing but also I have a few pieces of writing in a desk drawer that I will some day finish.

Getting rejections makes me wary of sending off manuscripts too quickly. I always proof-read for errors, but even if I really really like something I've written, it may still have scenes or characters in there which should have been deleted or re-written months before.
Live and learn!

1 comment:

  1. Stirling Senior is proud to help with the writing process. We will be sure there are no "goofy metaphors, one-dimensional characters or cliche expressions". So excited to begin tomorrow
    BTW Kaitie says hi