Monthly Archives: May 2012

Leave a reply

Recently, I ran my dog in his first flyball tournament. If you don’t know anything about flyball, it’s a dog sport where two teams of four dogs race against each other in side-by-side lanes. As you might guess, flyball is fast, exciting, and noisy. How the dogs stay  focused on their job of racing down the lane, jumping four hurdles on the way, stepping on the flyball box to catch a ball, making a sharp swimmer’s turn, then running back over the jumps and passing the next dog nose-to-nose, is truly amazing. But they do stay focused. Even my novice dog did great.

Now I think there’s something we writers can learn from flyball dogs, especially this time of year. It’s spring, and the atmosphere is alive with activity. Outside, kids are laughing, birds are singing, lawn mowers are humming…how can we possibly sit at our desks and churn out work? Yet we have a job to do. It doesn’t matter if we have clients or just ourselves to answer to. We’re writers. And in order to write, we have to stay focused.

I think my dog would have loved nothing more than to veer off his lane and check out the other dogs at the tournament. Better yet, why not chase them or the loose balls or even run off the course altogether and visit the spectators? But he didn’t do any of those things. He stayed on task because that’s what he’s trained to do. That’s what makes him successful at this job.

So when I feel like veering off path (and, believe me, that thought enters my mind frequently this time of year), I think of my dog. I think of flyball. And then I hit the space bar on my keyboard. As I watch my computer screen come to life, my focus returns and, like my dog, I charge straight ahead.

(Image by Jaye Whitmire)

Leave a reply

Every once in a while, my kids will ask me to take a look at a paper they're working on for a class. Sure! I'll say, as I eagerly pull out my editing pen and prepare to mark up the pages. But experience has taught me not to get too ambitious with their request. Unlike me, who prefers a thorough, detailed edit, kids are a little more sensitive.

For them, there’s a fine line between editing and overediting—and in fact the latter can do more harm than good. Too much red marking doesn’t just upset kids, it can confuse them, undermine their confidence, and turn them off to writing altogether.

So how can you help a child write a better paper, especially if it needs a lot of work? Should you—as their “editor”—let some mistakes go?

Actually, yes. It’s a good idea to point out errors that kids should know based on their education level. But think twice about those problems of style, grammar, and consistency that come with age and experience. Nit-picking might be okay for a high school senior but not for a ten-year-old. In either case, a paper doesn’t have to be technically perfect to be good.

Instead, concentrate on the bigger issues. Does the paper do what it’s supposed to do, like answer a question or present an argument? Is it organized, with an introduction, body, and conclusion? Are the style and format appropriate? Does the paper meet the length requirements? Be sure to point out the paper’s strengths, too. Knowing what they’re doing right can make all the difference to developing young writers.

Finally, stress the importance of revision. Even professionals rarely finish a piece without going over it multiple times and making changes. Revision is an essential step to good writing. And the earlier that truth is learned, the better.

(Image by Janos Feher)