Since my daughter Pam has gone back to college to finish her degree, she has sought my help with her schoolwork. I never went to college so what would I know, right? At least that is how I felt. What did I have to offer my straight A student? My daughter finds writing essays as enjoyable as white water rafting in a tornado. It has been years since she’s been in college. Her first term paper stress level turned into a panic-attack. She focused on her shortcomings and the strengths of the younger students in her classes. Asking me for help was an act of desperation, I am sure. She has exceptional study habits. However, Pam has seen the value I place on critique groups and input from others. I have asked her for her feedback. Her observations were always spot on. My example gave her courage to ask for help.
What I taught my daughter
- Vomiting on the page
The first thing I shared with her was the vomit concept. Writing out everything you want to say on the subject no matter how lame. Once it is on paper, keep what works, correct what is needed and delete the rest. Implementing this one thing reduced her anxiety levels.
After her paper was written, she asked me to proof-read it. Being the intelligent woman she is, she resisted my suggestions. I smiled and walked away. Walking away gave her time to consider all the red marks on the page without feeling the need to defend her work. How many times during a critique had I resisted the suggestion of others? I would forget that they were seeing my work with fresh eyes and didn’t have all the background information that I did. Her final drafts never cease to amaze me.
- Unnecessary words
Continuing our journey together as wonderful, intelligent college student and writer mother, I have encouraged her to remove all unnecessary words such as that and just. I introduced her to the find and replace button on the computer toolbar to save time in scouring her work for these kinds of repetitive words. We discussed using stronger nouns and avoiding adverbs.
- Deleting sentences
Her essays at first were strong in the middle with weak openings and flat endings. Crafting better essays is often as simple as deleting the first few sentences or paragraphs and the last bit of the essay.
- Oral discussion
Most of her papers are on things I know nothing about, but knowing the subject matter proved unnecessary to helping her craft her words. We have taken to discussing weak areas. As she verbalizes her knowledge of the material, creating the new sentence becomes easier. Peppering her with questions brings clarity. Inspiration comes from our shared dialog.
- Use fewer words
Less is more has become my mantra for her. It is so easy to repeat a thought three ways in the same paragraph when one well-plotted sentences says it all. Sharing with her that two adjective rule helped sharpen her skills. For example if the subject was horrible and terrible (which have the same meaning) delete one or choose a different word such as horrendous. You reduce the power of your sentence with too many adjectives.
What my daughter taught me
It is such a joy to encourage my daughter in the thing I love and not be intimidated by the lack of a degree. This opportunity has encouraged me that what I know has value, too. Taking the imitative to grow my writing knowledge by attending seminars, webinars and conferences, taking online classes and reading writing craft books has equipped me with tools I can pass on to others.
Pam continues to maintain a 4.0 GPA, and her writing skills continue to improve. Working with her forces me to take a more critical look at each word I write. Her trust in me has eliminated my feelings of intimidation. I have shared her emotional battle of comparison and am reminded to refocus on my writing goals instead. I will continue to learn, share and grow in my writing journey, and that is an awesome feeling.
How has sharing your knowledge of the writing craft encouraged your own writing journey?