The Mark Blog

Everything I Need to Know I (Re)Learned in Kindergarten

Last week I went to my son’s midyear parent-teacher conference. I was prepared to take notes and discuss his work. What I didn’t anticipate was a mini-writing workshop–– a refreshing twist to the usual discussion. To teach writing to the children, my son’s school utilizes a method Lucy Calkins developed. She is the Founding Director of the Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

Being an elementary school teacher myself, I have heard positive buzz about this methodology, although I haven’t received training with it. By the time I left the conference, I marveled about the way the Lucy Calkins program can be applied to adult writers. Here are some of the major points: 
1. Plan, plan, plan: Plan out parts of a story before diving into it, otherwise you may get lost halfway through. There are some well-known writers who would disagree with this tip. However, at some point planning and sorting things out can help avoid confusion.
2.  Work hard and try your best: My six-year old added this one when I asked him what he thinks is important when writing. This seems as if it should be a given, because we’re all human after all. I recently read Call Me If You Need Me: The Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose by Raymond Carver. In his essay “On Writing,” Carver says, "'It would have been better if I had taken the time.' I was dumbfounded when I heard a novelist friend say this… But if the writing can’t be made as good as it is within us to make it, then why do it? In the end, the satisfaction of having done our best, and the proof of that labor, is the one thing we can take into our grave.”
3. Slow down: Sometimes you can be in such a hurry to get to the punch line, you forget about detail. When you’re writing, slow down, take your time, and think about what details might be important and enriching for your story, before charging ahead.
4. Revise, revise, revise: Make sure the writing is clear. Make sure people can understand it. Then ask yourself if you added enough detail so other people can see what you see. Carver sums up the idea this way: “Maybe I revise because it gradually takes me into the heart of what the story is about. I have to keep trying to see if I can find that out.”
5. Be fearless: When it’s time for the Share in my son's class, students are encouraged to just put it out there and let others see their work. All writers should be so brave: whether the other kids like it or not, detach your ego from it and just let it be—you can always go back and revise if needed.