In working on the third rewrite for a homeschooling article this past week, I learned (or re-learned!) an important lesson, one that I'm going to make sure I teach my daughter...that of really organizing your thoughts before you begin writing.
Sounds pretty elementary, I know. Most language arts or writing programs we use in the homeschooling community teach this. But I've seen again in my own writing that while you may think you know where you're going with a piece, you can quickly find yourself in a mucky swamp of words, not sure where you're headed or how to get out of the mud.
So I'm going to use a master checklist something like this from now on, both for myself and for my daughter's assignments. I want to make sure this analysis will include both pre-writing and post-writing editing.
1. In a sentence or two, state clearly what you are trying to communicate to the reader. (A "nutgraph" for your writers out there.) Narrow it down as far as possible.
2. Describe who your audience is--who you're trying to influence or persuade. Then talk to them.
3. What will your tone be? Playful? Serious?
4. What point of view will you be writing from?
5. What format will you use for this piece--an essay? A story?
6. What anecdotes, quotes, and references will you use?
7. How long will your piece be?
8. Have you done an outline? Include intro/hook (what type), all sub-topics, conclusion.
Writing books will tell you that the real craft of writing happens in the editing phase after your first draft. I wish it weren't true but it is. Rarely--if ever--will you come up with something really stellar the first time around. This is the hard part with kids; they don't want to work and rework their words.
So when your final draft is ready, it's good to sit on it for a couple of days. Then go through and check:
1. Did you promise something in the intro that you didn't deliver on?
2. Have you used smooth transitions to lead the reader from one thought to the next?
3. Can you change any passive verbs ("was") to active ones?
4. Have you used colorful, sensory descriptions? Metaphors?
5. Reread each paragraph carefully. Does it follow the topic sentence/supporting sentences format? Does anything need to be put elsewhere or in a new paragraph?
6. Did you show us, not tell us?
7. Have you done a grammar and spelling check on the piece?
8. Do any of your facts need to be double-checked?
9. Have you had another pair of eyes read it for an objective view and input?
I'm sure there's more but these are some key things I have to walk myself through in my writing. It's hard to keep all this in mind at once! But I think it will come easier with practice, as with most things.