Planning Your Writing

In teaching, as in other areas of life, there are sometimes moments of great awareness that make me draw in a sharp breath and think, “Aha!” This usually results in rethinking the lesson I am in the middle of presenting, going in a completely different direction.

Today we discussed the difference between writing on demand, which I hate (see On Demand Writing), and writing for NaNoWriMo, which is spectacular! I intended to show them the difference between a short story written in one sitting of a couple of hours, and doing multiple drafts of a much longer piece. I started by asking them what they knew about On Demand Writing.

“You don’t plan on demand writing,” a student offered.

I gaped at her, my chin scraping the floor in shock.

We teach the writing process at my school, and that always includes planning. Students learn to outline expository paragraphs and expand them to essay outlines. They plan persuasive arguments and counter-arguments. They learn plot roller coasters for narrative, as well as story sketches, that include beginning, middle, and end. They plan dialogue, internal thinking, and action. They plan characters and setting. The entire month of October is spent planning for NaNoWriMo!

Clearly, the message is not getting through to students. Sometimes I require that the outline be turned in with the final draft. Even so, I have seen students completing the plan after they finish the piece. Or they turn in a plan with blanks for some of the paragraphs they’ve written.

News flash: Teachers can tell if a piece of writing was planned or not. If your thoughts wander across the page like salt and pepper sprinkled on your potatoes, it is obvious you didn’t take the time to plan what you wanted to communicate. If your story ends right after the major action, then you didn’t plan an ending.

In life, people sometimes speak without thinking. This often embarrasses the speaker or hurts the feelings of the listener. In writing, not planning is like writing without thinking. It results in bad grades while you’re in school, and unpublishable material when you are an adult. No publisher will accept a wandering article for a magazine or a book without a good ending for their fall list.

The importance of planning what you write, as well as thinking before you speak, increases as you get older. Adults are expected to be able to do this well. Students are expected to learn it. Start planning every word, written or spoken, today!

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