WRITERS ARE COLLECTORS
If you can read, you can write. To write books or stories that people will want to read, though, you need to have something to write about.
Most writers are collectors. They collect words, phrases, and ideas in their minds or in written files. Nonfiction writers also collect facts. There are more than 900 facts and images in my ideas’ file. (I just counted!) It’s easy to see how some of them may fit together in future books. For other facts and images, I have no idea whether they may work in future books, but they are cool enough that I don’t want to forget them. The name of my ideas’ file is “Too good to lose." Cool Animal Names came from a collection of animals named after other animas that I had been keeping for more than ten years!
Why don’t you start your own collection of ideas, images, and facts? Think about the last food you had with friends. Was it sweet, spicy, or salty? Did the cheese on the pizza stretch thin until it snapped against your nose? Consider yourself a detective. Notice how many times strangers smile at each other. Do people’s voices change when they talk about something they like? Listen carefully to animal sounds at night. Which words make you laugh?
Once you have started your own collection of ideas, images, and facts, ask yourself a question about everything on your list. Why is pizza cheese stretchy? (Look it up!) Do strangers smile at each other in every culture? What kind of owl or cricket makes the sounds you heard outside last night? What are some synonyms of the words that make you laugh? If you cannot find information that answers your question, ask a librarian — research makes them happy. Add the details you learn to your list.
When it’s time to write, look through your collection for ideas. Keep your list forever. I was surprised to find a description of one of my sons talking up a storm in baby babble to the full moon shining through his window. Could this image be the start of a non-fiction book of how babies see the world? Or maybe a fiction book about thousands of aliens from the moon hiding on earth as babies? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just a nice image about a cute baby that I don’t want to forget.
WRITING TRICKS FOR STUDENTS
I lied. There aren’t any real writing tricks. If you want to write well — either to get good grades in school or to connect with readers — it takes work. Some parts of that work can be a lot of fun. Other parts can feel like you’re walking through miles of quicksand. Some of the ideas below may help.
Finish your assignments early. If you don’t finish early, you will not have time to make your writing better. Sentences and paragraphs and essays get better by re-writing them.
Read your writing out loud. When you read your writing to yourself, your brain sometimes “fixes” problem places. When you read it out loud, you will find yourself slowing down or tripping over the problem places.
Play the word count game. Before you start re-writing, count the words in your piece and write that number down. (You can get an app to do the counting for you.) As you read through it, look for places where you can cut words or phrases without changing the meaning. For every word you count, give yourself one point.
Pretend you’re the teacher. When you are editing or proofreading your work, pretend you are the teacher reading another student's paper. This sometimes makes it easier to find problems. Your teacher has probably given you a list of writing errors that he or she often finds in student writing. (If your teacher has not given your class a list, nicely ask him or her to make a Top Ten Problem List and post it in the classroom.) They always look for misspellings, wrong word uses, wordiness. Teachers are not big bad wolves. They just want your writing to get better.
Read! You cannot be a good writer unless you are a good reader. Every hour you spend reading helps develop your internal editor, which makes it much easier to find and fix problems in your writing.
Write! If you want to write, you have to write. You can't just think about it. Keep a diary. Send postcards. Volunteer to help a younger student. Re-write stories from a newspaper in your own words.