WRITING TIPS FROM THE BIG BAD WRITER
by Pat Miller
One day, Little Red Writing Hood realized she needed some writing tips. She heard that Granny W was a prolific writer, so Little Red packed a basket of treats and decided to visit her.
When Little Red Writing Hood knocked on Granny W’s door, a gruff voice invited her in. Little Red was shocked to learn that Granny W was a wolf!
She started to say, “Hi Granny W, I need some writing advice…” But her train of thought was derailed by Granny’s appearance, and she blurted, “What big ears you have!”
“Yes my dear,” said Granny W. “And those big ears help me get a lot of my ideas. Keep your ears open—some of my best ideas came from overhearing the TV or a conversation at the Critter Café. But don’t forget about your internal ears. Those are the ones that pick up ideas that flit through your dreams or your imagination. I have a notebook with me at all times, in my pocket, by my bed, even one in the shower! Listen to me: you will not remember unless you WRITE IT DOWN!”
“Good point,” said Little Red Writing Hood. “May I borrow some paper to jot this down?” Granny W motioned her to the desk, which was covered with notebooks.
“Grab a notebook,” said Granny W, “I’m just getting started.”
Little Red wanted to ask Granny how to fix a story once she had the first draft. Instead, she said, “What big eyes you have!”
“I do,” said Granny W, “The better to do my rewrites. First, I read my draft looking for ways to punch up the details. You gotta show—use your eyes—instead of tell! Do that by painting a word picture. What would the reader see? Hear? Get my drift?”
“Right,” said Little Red Writing Hood. “First, you make sure you create visuals.”
“Next you have to squint your eyes up and get tough with that story. That’s when you look over every sentence, every word. Is it doing its job? Does it add to the story? Can I cut it out without hurting the story? Then you gotta slice out the lazy words! Scratch off the dull sentences!” Granny punctuated each sentence with a swipe of her claws.
Little Red’s pencil flew over the paper. She wanted to ask how Granny got the gumption to write every day. “What’s your secret for writing every…” before she finished, she was startled by the proximity of Granny’s pearly whites. She couldn’t help herself. “Granny, what big teeth you have!”
“Big teeth, maybe. But I also have tenacity. Know what that means? It’s the ability to bite into my story every day and not let go until it’s finished!” said Granny W.
“But how? I try to write every day, but it gets overwhelming and then I resist even going to my desk,” said Little Red.
“Small and steady is the secret,” revealed Granny. “Tell yourself you only have to write for 10 minutes a day. Just ten! Now how can you resist sitting down for that little dab of time? After 10 minutes, you can quit for the day. Celebrate. Give yourself a gold star for accomplishing your goal. Of course, you might find yourself writing for more than 10, but that’s not a must.”
“I can write for 10 minutes,” said Little Red Writing Hood. “That’s not scary at all.”
“Do it every day—it adds up quickly. Plus, you feel good about yourself for meeting your goals. Small is better than nothing. Tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to show you my Star Chart.” Granny W pointed to a cabinet. Open that door and see what’s taped inside.”
“Wow, that’s a lot of stars! What are the two faces for? They aren’t happy or sad,” said Little Red.
“Well, I learned that no matter how big my teeth, how determined my intention, life gets away from me sometimes and I can’t even make my small goal. But I don’t beat myself up. I just draw a face that means try again tomorrow.”
“Got it,” said Little Red. “Take a Bite Daily.”
Little Red started to say something else when BING! a story idea popped into her head. Quickly, she jotted it down. “Granny, here are some goodies for you. But I’ve got an idea burning a hole in my brain. Gotta run!”
As Little Red Writing Hood ran out the door, she heard Granny W say, “What good instincts you have!”
1. Fiction Prompt The best question to ask is “What if?” Choose a folk or fairy tale and turn it on its head.
What if Cinderella didn’t want to let the prince try on the glass slipper because she had such ugly feet?
What if the three Billy Goats Gruff had the little one go last, and she bested the troll because she was very good at tickling?
What if instead of a gingerbread boy it was a mischievous three-year old running from his mother, his babysitter, his preschool teacher, etc.
Make a list of five tales. Next, figure out not one, but three different ways you could twist the story. This is an excellent way to free your imagination from its confines. Then choose one of your 15 ideas to write about.
2. Nonfiction prompt: Your inciting questions are the 5 w’s and how. Go to Important Dates in American History: or Origins of Everyday Things. Make a list of several events or people, and come up with questions for each.
1886 Geronimo surrenders – Why did he surrender? Who did he surrender to? What happened to him?
Next, choose one you know least about from your list. Do ten minutes of Internet research. Based on what you learned, what hook could you use to tell children about it? One possibility, Geronimo was an American prisoner of war for 23 years. How does that compare with how America treated its prisoners of war in the Civil War, or in one of the World Wars? Another hook: In Geronimo’s formative years, the Mexican government offered $25 for an Apache child’s scalp. How did that affect Geronimo’s outlook on life?
- Big Teeth: Use this Star Chart to keep track of your own ten-minute tenacity. Choose your favorite color each day you write for 10 minutes. Use the non-judgmental face if you don’t. Just don’t give up! [Ten Minute Tenacity Chart]
Pat Miller has been writing since she was a kid, but started getting paid when she began writing on the side as an adult. At the time, she was the mother of three young kids and worked full time as an elementary teacher and school librarian. SO MANY BOOKS!
She now works full time writing children’s books and teaching adults about writing. She is also a certified Master Gardener, and gets some of her ideas while pulling weeds or watering her gardens.
As a freelance writer and contributing editor for LibrarySparks, Pat has published more than 200 professional articles, 20 books for school librarians, and a number of books for children. Three of them are Substitute Groundhog (Junior Library Guild book), Squirrel’s New Year’s Resolution, and her upcoming nonfiction book, The Hole Story of the Doughnut (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2016)
She and her husband have twin sons, a daughter, and six preschool grandkids, including twins. Reading to them and buying them books are two of the joys of being a grandmother. She lives in the Houston area and has an illiterate Jack Russell terrier that lies by her feet when she writes.
NF 4 NF: Children’s Nonfiction Writing Conference
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2015 Summer Sparks post:
- Family Celebration by Tracey M. Cox
- Back Where I Come From by Tracey M. Cox
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- Sun Burst by Tracey M. Cox
- Writing Tips from the Big Bad Writer by Pat Miller
- Get Out! by Tracey M. Cox
- Pieces by Tracey M. Cox
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