Monday, February 7, 2011

PENCIL TIPS WRITING WORKSHOP: SALT IN THE SOUP OR HOW I LEARNED TO WRITE

by Jacqueline Jules

The more I work with student writers, the more I think about how I developed my own writing skills. When did I become careful about punctuation and spelling? When did I start making a conscious effort to add sensory details or to build a story arc with a satisfying conclusion? Looking back, I see that I learned to write the same way I learned to cook—by testing recipes and listening to advice.

As a young bride, I remember my mother-in-law tasting my soup and pronouncing it too salty to eat. You can bet that I followed the recipe more carefully the next time. I also remember a professor, my first year of college, who wrote in red ink, “Don’t bother passing in a paper with this many typos again.” My embarrassment over both incidents has changed to gratitude. Now I measure how much salt I put into my soup and I proofread my manuscripts carefully. Editors at publishing houses frequently admit that stories submitted with grammatical errors are tossed without reading. If I had never listened to that professor, I wouldn’t be the author of twenty-two children’s books today.

The first book in my Zapato Power series, Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Takes Off, is dedicated to my writing group. Dedications like this are not uncommon. Authors frequently pay homage to the critique groups who made the suggestions that transformed a mediocre story into a publishable one. Editors are often thanked as well. Every time I read my Thanksgiving picture book, Duck for Turkey Day, I am grateful to my creative Albert Whitman editor, who gently but firmly guided me into writing an important new scene for the book.
      
Contemporary writing curriculums all urge educators to teach the writer, not the writing. While I understand that this advice is to discourage teachers from overwhelming young writers with too many suggestions at once, I still find the distinction puzzling. In my own experience as a writer, I know I have learned a great deal from the revision process of a particular piece, often guided by others who pointed out places in my story that didn’t make sense or fell flat. And I have seen my students come up with absolutely brilliant ideas for revision when I have questioned a sentence that confused me. I trust that my students will find that the lessons learned from fixing one story will carry over to the next. It is the recipe that guided me and most of the authors I know to publication.

Jacqueline Jules

1 comment:

  1. Jackie, your recipe for writing is top notch. I feel very fortunate to be one of the newer members of the talented, insightful group of women who compose your critique group.

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