Week Five - Writing for Children and Teens

The Difference Between Wordy and Concise

I don’t love what I’m writing, I love that I’m writing.

 

July 5, 2016

 

Writing for children is not what I thought it would be. It’s much harder. I am working harder than I have in my life, but it is also a joy. Sometimes I read my words and I love what I’m writing. Even when I don’t love what I’m writing, I love that I’m writing.

I’ve now submitted two assignments to my course instructor and received two edited and annotated assignments back. Mr. ICL Instructor says I am too wordy. He fears it’s because I’m rushing. It takes me two days to recover from this opinion but I know he’s right. He suggests I read a few more children’s writing samples from my course materials. 

I read them and I think I know what he means, but I’m still mired in the misery of the phrase “too wordy.” I love words; I talk a lot. So I think it makes sense that my writing is wordy, but now I must discover how this is hiding my good writing. I do a little research. A few articles come up in Google when I search for “what is wordiness in writing.” They all say the same stuff: cut the verb “to be.” That means no: I am, you are, we were, etcetera. Also, the sentence structure should start off with a noun followed by a verb for the most part.

Wordy: There was a big round yellow sun shining down through the fluffy white clouds.

Concise: The sun shone through the clouds.

I think I was taught this differently. I distinctly remember teachers telling me to use as many adjectives as possible. Right? Are you with me? 

Apparently this is not good writing because we don’t really talk this way so it doesn’t represent what would actually happen and doesn’t take the reader into the story but rather, keeps him at a distance. As in, “those people talk funny.” Also, though, wordiness takes away from the story. My instructor says if it isn’t about the story, it shouldn’t be in it. I had a main character plus three brothers and a stepfather in my second assignment story. My instructor writes, “why three brothers and a stepfather? Can’t you accomplish what you need to in this story with just one brother and the stepdad?” 

Then he tells me what he thinks the story is really about. When I read his thoughts, I am indignant. He doesn’t know. I’m writing the story. 

But guess what? He’s right. The more I let his words sink in, the more I realize he has identified what I thought I was saying but wasn’t! Why?  Because, dare I say it, I was being too wordy. So now I am working to revise that story which he says he will happily read and comment on (even along with my third assignment).

I move back into research mode. In my first level of research, the author of Elements of Style, Will Strunk, is quoted incessantly:

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

Further research into a book by Roy Peter Clark called How To Write Short shows me an interesting idea for not being too wordy. He looks at the Strunk quote above and finds it, humorously enough, too wordy for our current times. He then discusses character length and compares this quote to the 140-character limit on Twitter. He breaks the quote down into a Tweet, moving it from 386 characters to 137 characters.

“Write tight. A text needs no extra words as a drawing needs no extra lines. A sentence can be long with detail but every word must tell.”

Clark goes on to explain that while this does accomplish the job of removing unnecessary words, it also takes out the Voice of the author. There must be a happy medium. I agree, but I’m also excited to work on removing words that don’t tell the story especially for a generation who will be used to texts and tweets where every word must count. I think this research helps me see how important each word is to a story.

My next struggle to consider is how I rush to hand in each new assignment. I work hard on the assignment but after the first or second draft, I am stuck. Deeply mired in how to change it to make it sound better. I don’t even really know what I’m looking for. If I thought it was bad, I wouldn’t have written it. I do some serious reflecting on this and started noticing what I do when I write other things in my life. I have a blog called Written Reflections where I write about my time as a teacher. I also have a blog on my website. I write at least once a week on both blogs. Sometimes I join other teachers or writers in writing about similar things and then we visit each other’s blogs to read and comment on each other’s writing. It is as I considered this that I realize what my issue is. I am used to writing and getting immediate feedback. Part of the joy of an online community is that people comment on your writing in a (usually) loving and supportive way. They are not there to critique your writing. I know this and so I don’t worry about how great my writing is. I mean, I put time into it because I love the adulation when I strike a chord with someone. Good writing along with good stories tends to move people more, but I also know that it doesn’t have to be my best writing and I’m not going to revise the blog post to make it better.

This kind of writing that I’m doing with the Institute of Children’s Literature is different. I do want to revise. I’m asking for critique. I need to figure out so much of it on my own because there isn’t going to be immediate positive feedback. In education, these are some of the factors that are considered good teaching:

-Self-reflection

-Mild pressure

-Mild competition

-Good modeling

-Transition from scaffolded to independent learning


It’s great for me to be studying under an exceptional learning model because now I can also use this experience to make sure my students get the same thing. When I teach I get so irritated when kids come up to me and say, “Is this okay?” Now I see exactly why they are doing that. It’s a tough process. We need to sit in our own thoughts––confusing though they might be––and fight our way out. It’s work to be sure, but good old-fashioned hard work, elbow grease if you will, will garner the best possible outcome.

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.

This brought back so many memories of when I took the course in 1999. I experienced the same doubts and fears. So happy I completed this course and took another, Beyond the Basics, and have never regretted that decision. Writing is joy I'd never want to be without.

––Christine Carpenter Collier

Great Read!

By Mara Kim Amazon review, Verified Purchase

"This is another great read from [ICL]... When I saw this particular one, I grabbed it immediately ... This book is a great addition to a writer's (whether published or not) shelf ... I highly recommend their writing courses. You receive feedback on your work from published authors. You will be encouraged but also pushed to make your story from good to great."