June 28, 2016
In some ways I feel like I’m in the thick of this course and in some ways I feel like I’m still at the very beginning. Of course, I’m really at both stages, right?
I began working on Assignment Two by reading the assigned chapter. I promised myself I would read the entire chapter as the directions specifically said to read to the end before starting. Apparently some sort of out of body experience occurred because I wrote the piece and then realized … I hadn’t finished reading the chapter!
What is wrong with me?
Actually, I don’t think there is anything wrong with me. I’m excited and impatient. That’s who I am. What I need to learn is how to use those two traits to get the most out of this course instead of continuing to submit work before I’ve done the learning. I drafted my piece this week and then read the rest of the chapter to see if my piece incorporated what I was supposed to have learned. I felt like I did a pretty good job for someone who’s never written a short story for kids before. I had introduced a character and her conflict, but after having read the rest of my instructions, it seemed like a weak plot. There just wasn’t enough to the story. I put the piece down (as my instructor had recommended)and reflected some more.
Do you know what metacognition means? The basic definition is thinking about thinking. Sometimes I am very metacognitive; my husband might even say too metacognitive. I like to think through all of my thoughts and talk about them incessantly. It’s probably annoying, but I prefer to label it passionate and introspective.
The good news? My excitement and impatience, when combined with my passion and introspection make me more interesting. The less good news? Those characteristics also have me jumping into things without thinking them through. I’m not taking the time to process my new learning and incorporate it into what I knew before and as a teacher, I know this is counter-productive behavior. If I don’t connect my new learning to my current knowledge, it won’t stay with me. So I make myself read through the chapter and re-read all the articles assigned as well. I put my trusty highlighter to good use and I also take notes in the margins. I go back through my current assigned piece and realize I have much to cutout.
I need to follow the advice of my instructor who reminded me to use only words that tell the story. “Don’t use too many words to explain background and what happened before,” he explained. “Good writing will tell the story without having to fill in every detail for the reader. Let the reader think.”
I believe I know what he means. At least I know what it means when I read it, but I’m not always sure I know how to make it happen in my writing. So that’s what I’m working on this week.
Since my assignment right now is a short fiction story for children, I’ve decided to study children’s magazines. I think the piece I’ve written would work for a magazine like Cricket or Highlights.
Happily,I notice that the Institute of Children’s Literature has come out with a couple of podcasts recently and one of them is about writing for children’s magazines. It’s only about 15 minutes long, so I take the time to listen to it. Imagine my surprise when I discover that they’ve chosen my question to answer on this podcast! I listen to my question and then rewind and listen again. Then I call in my family to listen.(Really, I did not know! We are keeping church and state separate. Yes,my posts may be edited for clarity, but I write from my heart, and I am simply another ICL student.)
“I’m famous!” I shout. “Listen, they used my question about how you know if your piece works for the age it’s aimed at.”
They laugh at me, but I know they’re proud. As soon as I finish listening and sharing my notoriety, I take out my writing notebook and listen to the Writing for Children podcast again but this time I take notes. I learn so much about what will work and what to be sure to include. I download the show notes and read the articles they recommend to go with the podcast.
I also consider the rule of three, something I learned when I was in college. The rule of three is one of the oldest writing techniques. It states that events should happen in groups of three. These events should follow this pattern: establish conflict, build conflict, resolve conflict. Or they can follow this pattern: similar, similar, different. You’ll see this pattern again and again in classic tales like the Three Little Pigs, The Three Bears, and The Three Billy Goats Gruff. This is not a coincidence. This is what helps build up a story. So I went back to my work and used this rule making sure my character made three mistakes before she solved something and, by golly, it worked! My story sounds better and stays focused. I can see that I’m learning and this makes me excited for my next lesson.
As part of my magazine research, I head to a bookstore and buy every children’s magazine I would love to write for: Cricket, Highlights, American Girl, Ladybug, Click, Muse, and Babybug. I read through each issue and can’t help but notice that I’ll never read an article the same again. There’s a section in Assignment Two called Read Like a Writer and I get it! Now that I’m writing and thinking so carefully about it, I’m bringing something different to the pages I read. It’s exciting! I can see what I like about each article and where a writer made great choices.
One of the things that is interesting to me about this course is how it’s always on my mind. There is nothing I do anymore that does not feel connected in some way to my writing for children. I’ve heard about this with writers, but it’s different when it happens to you. I find myself wanting my notebook with me all the time. I’m also thinking about using the notes app on my iPhone. I can sync that with my computer and then when I take notes about what I see or am thinking, I’ll have it available to me on all my devices.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m thinking about it too much, you know? But I can’t help myself! I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire: a few early reader drafts, a completed chapter book that needs revisions, and now a couple of magazine articles to think about selling. Looking at my writing helps me feel like a writer. It reminds me that I need to keep up my learning so that I grow. I need to remember I’m still a beginner. I wonder if all writers feel like I do right now? I’m a writer and a beginner because there is always more to learn and that makes this one of the most exciting opportunities.
Kimberley Moran's site
Kimberley Moran is a gifted and talented teacher and freelance writer who lives in Hampden, Maine. She has two children and one very nice husband.Kimberley would like her bio to make her sound brilliant, witty, and kind because she knows that when you write and read you get to be anyone you want to be.