Tips on Writing from my Five-Year-Old

One day, my daughter wanted to know more about the progression of school. Was first grade after kindergarten? Second after first? I took her through each step of the process, from elementary school all the way through graduate school. She was pretty blown away by the mere volume of school. When you’re five, eight-year-olds seem schooled and worldly, so the 22-year-old college graduate or the (in my case) 39-year-old graduate degree recipient is literally unfathomable. She told me in no uncertain terms that she would not be perusing master’s degree because she already knew how to write books.


And she does. In her class, they write books all the time. She started with fiction. Next, non-fiction, consisting of how-to books and chapter books. Arguably, despite my MFA in Creative Writing and my as yet unpublished debut in fiction, my daughter has more experience writing books than I do.


I’ve written one, a Contemporary YA and I’ve started a second. She’s written a book about a trip to New York City, a book about her family, an all about cats book, a how to draw a butterfly book, and others. I like to think I’m beating her in the word count category (one would hope), but definitely not in the number of books produced. So what does my prolific writer know about writing? Not as little as one might think. Her teachers have given her guidelines to follow in her writing, a few of which include:


  1. Writers write and get busy. Well that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? That’s a very polite version of Dorothy Parker’s famous quote, “Writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat.” Nearly every writer who’s written a craft book, teaches, lectures or even talks at all about writing, usually cites this as law number one. You’ll never have a book if you don’t sit and do the work. Well, my daughter knows that, too.
  2. Be a brave writer. By this, they’re asking kids not to worry if they don’t know the exact way to spell a word, or the best way to say a thought. Brave writers write, no matter what, and they learn as they go. This is awfully familiar to the silence your inner editor rule. It’s something that’s brought up again and again in writing books and courses. Don’t start editing while you’re writing, because only one should be done at a time. In fact, Writer’s Digest just published an article on this titled How to Shut Up Your Inner Editor. It’s also a good reminder to make brave choices. Write what needs to be written, not what you think others will want to read.
  3. Have a strategy for “oh no” moments. I have many types of strategies for “oh no” moments because I have so many kinds of “oh no’s.” There’s the “oh, no, I can’t even write basic sentences gracefully, how am I ever to make this dream happen” moment. The “oh, no, I’m not disciplined enough” moment. The “oh, no, I have as much confidence as a placemat right now” moment. Or the, “oh, no, I don’t have time to do everything I need to do” moment. And, of course, the “oh, no, there’s something majorly wrong with my book, it’s a problem with character/structure/setting/pacing/POV, etc.” moment. I’m not sure what my daughter’s strategy is, although it would be interesting to ask. Some of my strategies: to write through the problem (i.e. write and the right words will come), to take inspiration from the masters, to take a break from the book and write a short story, to forgive myself for not being perfect, to remind myself how far I’ve come, to do whatever it takes to fix the problem and never give up, no matter how ludicrous it seems.


But I think that now my favorite strategy, which I’m just teaching myself as I write this, is to keep it simple. If my kindergartener can do it, so can I. Maybe the right words aren’t coming because I’m not saying it simply enough. Or the book is long-winded because I haven’t stuck to the core story. Or I’m looking at myself as an artist rather someone who’s simply sitting in a chair, getting the job done. To make all these things more precious than they really are is to add unnecessary complexity, and to self-sabotage. So the next time I sit down to write, I’m going to write like my kindergartener, with simplicity and confidence.

LitReactor Class Seems Legit

I’ve been signed up for LitReactor’s newsletters for a while, but I’d never taken a class with them. Then I had another of my bad mornings (which happen often) where each sentence I write feels akin to torturing a robot. On these mornings, I struggle with how to put together good sentences and marvel at the fact that after 5 years of serious writing and an MFA I can still manage to write sentences that could’ve, should’ve been written by a 4th grader. Oftentimes I’ll need to crack open someone else’s beautifully written book to remind myself how it’s done.

So on one of these mornings I get a notification about a class Craig Clevenger is teaching that is supposed to help with just this: the mechanics of writing good sentences. And even though I’m only one day in, this brilliant man has already posted four lectures that have blown my mind. And restated things I’d heard before in a way that was easier for me to process. Plus, it turns out that he hangs out with my former professor Rob Roberge, which makes him extra cool. If the next few weeks are as eye opening as this first day, hopefully I’ll banish these mornings, at least for a little while, anyway. And if I still keep writing like a 4th grader, at least I’ll know how to go back in and fix things later. Thanks, Craig and LitReactor!