What I Learned This Weekend

Sometimes I feel like I need a weekend to recover from my weekend. But this time, I really want to go back to Saturday and just spend all day hanging out with everyone from the PAWLP (Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project) again.

This PAWLP conference was about the Six Traits of Writing, a concept developed by Vicki Spandel, and designed to help create a common language for students (K-12) to learn how to write. The Six Traits (Ideas, Organization, Voice, Sentence Fluency, Conventions, and Word Choice) all help students learn the components of good writing outside of the previous standards of “learn to write a five paragraph persuasive essay and I’m grading it and all writing is for a grade and everything is terrible” <= my general opinion of writing for class when I was in grade school.

I came early and attended the breakout sessions alongside the teachers. I went to Sentence Fluency first and then to Organization, two things I’m particularly interested in and ones where I see my freelance editorial clients struggling the most. The Sentence Fluency was really lovely. I really liked the idea of cutting up sentences from books kids are actually reading (not OUT of the book. Write them in MS word and then print then cut up by clause) and asking kids to rearrange the pieces until they get the sentence from the original text. It’s a lot of the work that we writers do do, in our heads, or by hand as we’re working out tricky sentences and it teaches you to listen to the cadence and space inside each sentence. It was a neat exercise!

In Organization, we talked about different types of openings and how students know that they’re moving towards intentional organization versus just winging it. That was also really cool and it had me thinking about the And Then versus But/Therefore idea in pacing. The South Park writers had an online class where they said that the beats of a story should be connected (invisibly) by the words But or Therefore, not And Then, and that’s totally revolutionized how I edit and how I write. And I think you can see this in kids’ writing too. The move toward But/Therefore pacing and storytelling is a move toward more organized storytelling.

Then I sat on the author panel with a few other local authors and it was a blast. We talked about our own journeys and our own processes. And I basically only ever want to do panels with Frank Murphy ever again. He is a RIOT. And then we chatted for over an hour and a half afterward, including talking about a picture book idea that I actually did go home and work on! Love being inspired by other writers.

I find myself several days later still thinking about the Six Traits and how I can work those into resources for adult beginning writers too. Some of my freelance clients are on their first or second book, or simply haven’t read a lot about craft and struggle with some of the language I’m using, like arcs, pacing, or the idea of a three act structure. It’s possible that instead of trying to explain my language to them, I need to find a more common language for these writers and breaking it down into these six traits could do it. At the same time, I certainly don’t want to be treating my editorial clients like they’re fifth graders still learning to use verbs properly. It’s something I’m mulling over and thinking about adapting.

In other news, I know the news today is sad, and it’s been one after another lately. If you can’t talk about it or you need to take a break, that’s okay. Self care always comes first. And in case you need it, here’s my fluffy cat being cute this morning. coracat

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