Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Lessons Learned from Young Writers – Part 2

Lessons Learned from Young Writers – Part 2

When last we left our student-authors, they were struggling with the concept of editing versus checking for errors. This is the conclusion of my blog on my experience with 8th-12th-grade authors.

As the school year draws to a close, Mrs. Ray and I have made a decision. There will be no book this school year. Our current plan/goal is to get the premier anthology, Sci-Fi High - First Days of School, out before Halloween. This requires more editing by this year’s authors, most of whom will be returning to the project. See below.

In a perfect world, we’ll have Volume 2 ready by April. But, we shall see. The book will not go to print until both Mrs. Ray and I are in agreement on the worthiness of the edited manuscript.

Only one of our authors is a Senior this year. She already knows her schedule for next year at college and will be able to come to some of our sessions as we finish editing go to press. So she will have her story included in Volume 1.

What follows is a series of observations, comments and suggestions gleaned from this experience. They are in no particular order. Feel free to rank them yourself.


The book’s cover. We were fortunate. Mrs. Ray was looking at art pieces at the school's Career Expo.  She thought one artist's work was amazing. When it was time for the book cover, she asked the artist and found out she was interested in our Sci-Fi High project. She created a cover with the promise of it just being an addition to her portfolio.  In the end, she earned 1 credit in the process. Here's what she came up with after a couple of meetings.


It’s not the final draft, but you get the drift. Pretty cool.

Things we will change. First, we are establishing non-negotiable deadlines early on in the process. We allowed too much discussion and verbal explanation of the stories to occur between the authors without requiring completion of specific pieces of writing. As a result, many of the stories ended up being hastily completed.

Transitions between plot points were problematic. Our authors were most proficient with essay writing. Many tried to morph that style into an iteration of science fiction writing. Those morphs were not successful. We will do directed study of short stories before writing begins anew in the Fall. We have plans for “hands-on” experiences with marking plot points and identifying necessary edits early on.

TeachersPayTeachers. Mrs. Ray and I are meeting this summer to produce a product for Teachers Pay Teachers, an online “warehouse” for teaching materials. I have 27 products up in my store there. But they are science-oriented, or at least non-English/Language Arts-oriented https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Chuck-Downing.

Teachers look first within their discipline for ancillary materials. Mrs. Ray is an English teacher. She’ll be starting her own store with our Sci-Fi High writing/production process as her first major product. This will maximize our exposure to the target audience.

Grammarly & Hemingway. Students work best when they have exemplars at key points in whatever process they are engaged in. Grammarly is a free web-based program that goes a step beyond MSWord’s grammar check. It’s far from perfect, and it costs money to see the “advanced” errors it discovers. But, it directs any writer to what might be problem areas in their manuscript. We will require students to use this at each stage of the production process.

Hemingway is purchasable editing tool. It points out common issues in manuscripts of any sort. This makes it a great tool for fiction writers. I use it to limit the convolutions that easily arise in my writing. Short sentences with few adverbs and passive voice statements are the goal of the app. They are my goals, too. We will recommend, but not require, our authors to use this tool as well.



Life lessons as part of the story development. From the beginning of the project, our authors were instructed to include a life lesson—think moral—in their stories. This was one aspect of the project that was not misunderstood and was refreshingly clear in almost all the stories submitted. This will continue to be a requirement next year.

Think about volunteering your time to work on a project with young writers. You don’t have to find a school to volunteer at to help students with their writing. That might sound like the quickest way of involving yourself, but all schools have some vetting process for volunteers. Be prepared for what might be a plethora of hoops through which to jump if you don’t have a child enrolled at that school. Public libraries have volunteer programs that might qualify. The YMCA, Boy’s Clubs, Girl’s Clubs, and other such entities offer after-school programs for students.

Bottom Lines.
  • Every student-author exuded a missionary’s zeal when talking about the book/class/project and their part in it.
  • Mrs. Ray was most gracious in allowing me to work with her and her students in this project. Our maiden voyage was exhilarating. It was also frustrating. It was also incomplete.
  • We both agree to give it a second shot.
  • Word about the class/project spread throughout the school. Close to a score of students filled out applications to join our Author’s Guild—my euphemism for the Creative Writing elective course. Armed with what we know, now fine-tuned by what we learned, we’re forging ahead in September of this year.
  • I’ll post periodic updates on the Sci-Fi High Project as the year progresses. I’ll also post the link to Mrs. Ray’s Teacher’s Pay Teacher store sometime this summer.


Next blog: Pre-Readers and copy Edits

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My website is: www.crdowning.com


e-mail: crd.author@gmail.com

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