Says Avi, “Read your first draft, and, if you think it’s good, you’re in trouble . . . The more you rewrite, the better your writing will be.” For many kids, though, the top writing priority is getting the thing done—often measured in length rather than quality. Hit the required number of words or pages, redo it in ink or on a word processor—and the story ends unhappily with poor grades and lots of “I hate writing.” That’s the time to step in.
First piece of advice to share: avoid such words as nice, good, and great, as they’re overused, as in nice day, looking nice, being nice . . . Same with good and great. Next on the cut list: unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. Instead of: She is a very pretty, really attractive woman, just call me gorgeous. In their place, use strong verbs and nouns. For instance, replace “Susie drank her soda very quickly,” with her gulping, guzzling, chugging, or inhaling a Pepsi. Your child should also avoid overusing pronoun sentence starters like I, she, we, they, etc. Ditto for overdoing linking (am, is, was) and helping (has, have, would) verbs. To check on these, he folds a sheet of paper in half lengthwise, labels the columns, “First Word” and “Verbs,” and lists the first word of every sentence and every verb (including helpers) in the piece to uncover unfortunate patterns. Then continuing with revision, these questions require answers:
1. Does my lead sentence draw the reader in? If not, Barry Lane suggests rereading the whole piece, underlining the best line, and then starting the next draft with that sentence.
2. Have I supported my main idea/theme with enough supporting details and/or facts?
3. Is the piece well-organized, with a logical beginning, middle, and end?
4. Is my ending satisfying, a natural outgrowth of the piece, or is it just tacked on?
5. Can I eliminate any unnecessary adjectives and adverbs?
6. Did I use strong verbs? How about too many linking and helping verbs?
7. Do numerous sentences start with the same word or two?
Now that the language and details of the piece are taken care of, it’s editing time. In other words, double-checking grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Here’s the run-down:
1. Divide words only between syllables: one-syllable words can’t be divided.
2. Stick to one tense–either past or present throughout.
3. Make sure every sentence has a subject and a verb, or it’s a fragment—except in
dialogue, as in “Ready?”
4. Avoid run-ons, inserting either a period or semi-colon between two complete
sentences, or a comma and conjunction (and, but, so).
5. One main idea and its supporting details per paragraph.
6. For dialogue, start a new paragraph whenever someone new speaks—and use only as
much as needed to move the story along.
7. Correctly use apostrophes to show possession: child’s doll; women’s clothes; the
Smith’s, Gus’s, or Harrises’ house
8. Use capitals for proper nouns and adjectives, to start sentences, plus all nouns and
adjectives in titles—not the prepositions (A Wrinkle in Time)
9. Read the piece backward to check for misspellings.
Once you’ve shared these tips, the rest is up to your child. Only after repeated revising and editing sessions—and after she’s read the piece out loud several times and loves it—do you enter the scene. And, instead of making any corrections yourself, just place a light checkmark in the margin of the line that needs language, grammar, punctuation, or spelling reworking. One checkmark equals one error, and so on. That’s it: the short take on revising and editing—the mainstays of the writing life.