Monday, August 11, 2008

Writing Monday: Small Is Better

When The Writer was preparing her lessons for her creative writing class this summer, she wanted her students to walk out at the end of six weeks with something they could submit. She also wanted them to learn to focus. The answer: writing small.

Their assignments seemed simple: a nonfiction article, a personal experience piece, a short short story, and a short story. Most of the pieces were no longer than 800 words. The short short story was 300 to 500 words. It was hard. The Writer urged her students to choose a small topic. This would enable them to narrow their focus.

How does this translate to writing longer projects? Every day when The Writer sits down at her computer, she writes small. Even if she's working on a novel or a research project, she writes small. She breaks the tasks down into manageable chunks. Heather Sellers, one of The Writer's favorite writing teachers (Page After Page, Chapter After Chapter) calls this putting a frame around your work. Frame the part you want to work on and focus in tightly.

Writing small steered The Writer's students from starting big sprawling projects, like a YA fantasy trilogy, that they had no hope of corraling in six weeks. At the end of the term, everyone walked out with at least one piece that was ready for submitting to a children's magazine, and some students had four pieces. The Writer was very proud. She hopes when her students work at home, they will remember that small is better.

What's all this small stuff? The Writer didn't take her own advice. I noticed she was bigger when she came home. She'd put on a few.

You're one to talk.

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