Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Writing Pyramid

Last month I had the privilege of attending an author event at our Church. Author Sigmund Brouwer spoke on how to encourage our children to write. What stuck with me the most from his talk was his warning to not edit our children's work, but rather encouragement creativity and not let the editing start until they are in middle school, well after creativity is fixed in their soul. I love this advice.

Brouwer went on to state what we hear all the time. Story trumps all. With that thought, doesn't it make sense to just let our children run with their creativity, not stifle it by imposing grammar rules. I think even as adults some of us need to go with this method to truly create stories that stick.

I really liked how Brouwer divided writing into a three-tier pyramid. The base, the largest part, is story. Without the story, a writer has nothing to work with. The second most important element for a writer is word choice. So once we have the best story down, then a writer's job is to manipulate the words to create the best word choices to polish the story. And at the very top of the pyramid is grammar. Only after we've created a winning story and chosen our words carefully to create just the right ebb and flow do we venture into the mundane task of making it grammatically correct. And, thankfully for those of us like me who are horrible with grammar, there are professional editors out there to polish our work with grammar as their main focus.

With this in mind, when next your little one presents you with a story, what will you do? Will you praise his/her creativity, encourage a brainstorming session to enhance the story if it runs a little flat, or will you be marking up the page with comma's, question marks, periods, etc., tap them on their heads, and smile at their accomplishment?

Surrendering to Him,

Eileen

38 comments:

Tabitha Bird said...

Well, from a teacher's perspective I'd have to say that advice is spot on :)

I taught in the US for a year and the school I was teaching at had this rule that every piece of writing had to be taken through the entire writing process, which included polishing and publishing. I found it hard to get my kids to write anything because they knew that whatever they wrote would have to be taken right through this 5 step process. I argued that not all writing is for the purposed of publication and that a great deal of what we write is n fact for fun and creative purposes. I wanted to just let the kids write, without the pressure h=of having to polish each and every piece. The school argued back. In the end I went ahead a did what I thought was best for the kids. There seemed to be such strick control over how you could teach kids in the US. Teachers weren't making the choices, it was the school or the school district. Is this the norm or did I just luck out with that school? Just wondering. Teaching of writing here in Australia is a very fluid thing. children are free to write as many 'rough drafts' as they like before settling on a story they feel strongly enough about to turn into a 'published' piece. Is that how things are done in the US? Just curious. I guess there is no 'right' way. But some ways are more restrictive than others. I thought anyway.

Rebecca Nazar said...

Unlike her self-editing mother, my youngest writes tomes rife with allllll sorts of no-noes. Luck kid.

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

Me like editors, too. :D

~ Wendy

Natalie said...

I'm glad grammar is the least important thing, because I stink at grammar!

My English teachers always (from first grade to college) focused on story, which is probably why I stink at grammar.

Carol J. Alexander said...

That was really encouraging, Eileen, for me as a homeschooling mother and for me as a writer. I think I'm going to use his advice for my kids, but also for me.
Blessings,
Carol

Joanne said...

There's lots of wisdom in this advice, and what I especially like is that it teaches children (and us) that writing is a process. Many steps are involved getting to that finished story, each step necessary and effective as we move through them.

Faith said...

I don't have kids, but that seems like pretty sound advice!

But what I'm really here to say is: Sigmund Brouwer! Wow! I'm sorry I missed it, what a great opportunity you had to hear him speak. That's fantastic! I've been a huge fan of his wife's music (Cindy Morgan) for YEARS.

Anna said...

This was fascinating to read! Thanks so for passing it along... :)))

Tamika: said...

I like the pyramid. Story, Word choice, grammar. I can work with that.

My children create stories all the time, it's fascinating to me to think they could one day pen a novel too.

T. Anne said...

I'm no grammar queen so this is welcome news to me. I'm having a really rough time with my new plot and I wonder how I'm going to iron things out. Don't you wish there was some magical way to obtain fully fleshed out plots? I'm really struggling here.

patti said...

What a marvelous post! LOVEEDD reading Tabitha's answer!

Wow, we have some pro-child folks at Eileen's place. Praise God!!!

(My 24-year-old FINALLY allows me to proof her papers!!!) And they resonate with both realism and grace!

Thanks, Eileen.
Patti

Jody Hedlund said...

I like this method. Creative writing time is for just that, being creative. Since I homeschool, I focus on spelling and grammar during the appropriate times, but when it's writing time, then we write. Sometimes with prompts and structure, sometimes not. But always with the freedom to create. Then later, when they're done, we go through and polish it up and apply what we've learned from other subjects. But not during the creative time.

Nisa said...

That is really cool. I'm glad you got so much out of it!

Susan R. Mills said...

I love this! It's so true. My daughter and her friend decided to write a book recently. They've been having me read it as they go. I'm going to keep this pyramid thing in mind. I need to praise their creativity. Thanks for sharing this.

N.Turner said...

I did NaNoWriMo this year and found myself falling in love again with the process of creating a story. It was freeing to write without self-editing. That's something I need to remember with my children, who scream when I pull the red pen out of my desk.

Susan Anne Mason said...

Sounds like a fascinating talk. How wonderful.

Thanks for sharing, Eileen!

Kara said...

Oh I love this. Sometimes my husband looks at my 4th grader and 2nd graders writing and asks when I'm going to teach grammer (which I do) and I'm forevering explaing to him that this story wasn't a grammer lesson but a creative lesson. I'm going to have him read this post:)

REG said...

The best advice I ever got was from my Spanish teacher who said that the goal was to make yourself understood. If you are able to get your point across, but the grammar isn't right it didn't really matter.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Eileen -

Thanks for the great advice. While I don't have any kids around my house, one or two kids from church are interested in writing. I appreciate having some guidelines on how to encourage them.

Blessings,
Susan :)

kathrynjankowski said...

As a former teacher, I'm appalled at this advice. Wait until middle school to teach grammar? Is that how this author learned to write?

Grammar is the foundation of good writing. Knowing the basics of written language frees you to create. Dancers learn rudimentary steps, singers scales. Writers learn grammar. In order to communicate effectively, you need to understand how language works.

Grammar and creativity are not mutually exclusive; they are, in fact, complementary. Together, they
build sentences that soar, paragraphs that flow, create meaning where none existed before.

So, when your children compose a story, by all means, congratulate them on their achievements. But don't neglect to help them do even better by identifying areas where they can improve.

Give them a solid foundation and watch them rise.
;-)

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I totally understand what you're saying, Kathryn, but I get what Brouwer is meaning here. Too often children are swayed away from creativity because grammar is pushed at them full force in schools/home and they don't see that there is a difference between creating and structuring sentences, etc., all they see is that when they try and create they do a bad job of it because of all the red marking.



Brouwer is of the mind that there is a time and place for everything, I think, and he's thinking that we need to get our kids excited about creating and not stomp on that too early by making them follow grammar rules. I get his philosophy because the way teachers mark up everything around here, it totally destroyed my young girls want to create. To me, grammar can come later when the child is able to discern the difference between creating and polishing that creation. Just my opinion, though.

Terri Tiffany said...

Great point!! It is all about a great story--:))

Jessica said...

LOL! This reminded me of something that just happened. My five year old wrote me a sentence and spelled almost everything wrong. I wanted to tell him the right way, but since it was a special present from him and he'd done it on his own, I squelched the overwhelming urge to correct his spelling. Heehee. Now I'm glad I did!
Very interesting post!

Julie Dao said...

That sounds like it was a fascinating talk, Eileen! Glad you got to go hear that :) What an interesting way to look at a story. I would definitely agree that the story makes up the base of the pyramid - a good solid foundation in the plot makes for a good solid novel. However I have to say that characterization and setting are more important to me than word choice. I'd probably stick word choice up on top with grammar - both extremely important but more icing on the cake compared to the other elements. Thanks for sharing!

Eileen Rife said...

As an author and creative writing teacher, I appreciated this fresh reminder to focus on the content first rather than the mechanics. I'm one of those weirdo women who actually LIKES grammar! To me, deciphering the best grammatical technique is like playing a detective game. However, when it comes to my own writing, I need the encouragement to get the story out of my head and not worry about every little grammatical infraction as I go along. Guess that's par for the course when you're obsessive compulsive. :)Thanks for this post, Eileen. From another Eileen (Rife), author of RESTORED HEARTS www.eileenrife.com

Crimey said...

Eileen,
I don't have any children, but I do think that the author's advice is spon on too! I've got a younger brother who's an artist and I tell him all the time to enjoy creating whatever it is that comes to his mind, isn't that what art is about?

Amy Tate said...

I love this advice and I think it's good for adults too! I have the hardest time writing outside of editor mode long enough to keep the creative juices flowing.

Warren Baldwin said...

Excellent suggestions for writing! These comments also work well for speaking/preaching. This is good overview Eileen, thank you.

Mary Campbell said...

I made the mistake of editing my 8yo's work. He wrote a story that had zero punctuation and I could barely read it. I hope I didn't discourage him.

Shmologna said...

This is a wonderful post. I sometimes get down myself when I am critiqued...but I forget that between the red, my story still makes people happy. I'm an English major and even I struggle with grammer!

Hooray for kids who write! May we all have a childlike heart when writing.

Georgiana said...

Great advice! As I go forward with my kids, I shall keep it in mind. With my oldest, her creativity is expressed through music, and I'm in no way qualified to critique that, so no troubles there ;)

Lily Robinson said...

Excellent advice! I can imagine that a child would quickly grow tired of story writing if they had to go through the same editing process we do!

KelliGirl said...

What a great event to have at your church! What a blessing for the kids...and parents! His advice taught me a thing or two as well. I never thought to break writing up into more discreet steps.

Kat Harris said...

This makes sense.

I think the best way for anyone to start a story is to let go of the rules and letting the story (characters) speak for themselves.

*jemima* said...

Koala Bear Writer said...

Sigmund is one of my favourite authors and teachers - lucky you getting to hear his talk! I like his advice about the pyramid, even though I'm one of those editors who gets stuck on grammar. :)

Laura Frantz said...

Hi Eileen, Just checking in. You've been on my mind and I just wanted to say I'm thinking of you:) Praying your reading and writing and equestrian stuff is going wonderfully well!

kanishk said...

Grammar is the foundation of good writing. Knowing the basics of written language frees you to create. Dancers learn rudimentary steps, singers scales. Writers learn grammar. In order to communicate effectively, you need to understand how language works.

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