Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Amy Makes an Educational Poster

I went to talk to a classroom of sixth graders last week. Afterwards, I noticed a cute little poster on the wall illustrating “The Writing Process.” It broke writing into seven nice, neat steps, like the Water Cycle or the Scientific Method.

And I laughed.

When one of the kids asked me why I was laughing, I pretended it was at the cartoony pictures illustrating the steps so I didn’t have to explain myself. Maybe you’ll understand why when I describe the poster.

It went like this: 1. Brainstorm. 2. Rough Draft. 3. First Draft. 4. Share. 5. Edit. 6. Final Draft. 7. Publish! (And, yes, there was an exclamation point next to the last one, even though the illustration implied that publishing was something like putting the writing in a binder with the author’s name written on the cover in magic marker.)

If I were to re-do that poster….

(Did you hear that sound? The entire school-supply-motivational-poster industry just shuddered. How cool is that?)

Anyway, if I were to re-do that poster, it would go something like this:

  1. Get A Brilliant Idea While In the Shower or About to Fall Asleep. The illustration would be of the second one, in case you were wondering. Let’s keep this kid-appropriate.
  2. Research. Actually, most people don’t do this here. They do it after step 11. This is not a good plan, however, so because this is supposed to be instructive, we’ll put it here. It can mean market research (especially what publisher/publication you would send this to), or general research that you would need to get the facts straight within the story itself.
  3. Writer’s Block. Insert a picture of a writer staring at a blank screen or about to throw a laptop out the window.
  4. Death. Not of the writer, but of the manuscript, as shown by the illustration, one of those graves that you saw in old-school computer games of Oregon Trail. Most aspiring writers end the writing process here. Rest in peace. The following steps would be underneath in much smaller print, with “Optional” next to them.
  5. Rough Draft. The only change here would be that the author wouldn’t hold it up, beaming. He would be staring at it with an expression ranging from mild disgust to outright horror.
  6. Edit. The cartoon will show a red-eyed writer about to pull her hair out.
  7. Edit. Might as well use the same picture.
  8. Edit. Same.
  9. Share. Instead of a baton-relay kind of illustration, with both parties beaming happily, this will have the author quaking in fear while the editor whips out a pen dripping with blood…er…ink.
  10. Edit. Same picture, except the manuscript is now full of red markings in someone else’s handwriting.
  11. Edit. This time, the writer can be collapsed in frustration, just for a little variety.
  12. Submit. This can show a cartoon writer going to a writer’s conference (the norm), or submitting a query through the mail.
  13. Waiting. Show impatient writer.
  14. Rejection. A bit of a downer for an elementary school poster, but let’s stick to reality here.
  15. Dogged Repetition of Steps 12 – 13 Until The Work is Accepted.
  16. Publication! (Now that I think about it, I like the exclamation mark, so it stays.)

I think I’d need to design this poster so you could hang it up on the top of the blackboard, stretching lengthwise so all of it would fit. Like those alphabet borders in kindergarten rooms.

There’s only one problem with this poster (yes, only one): it’s not very encouraging. Put this version up in elementary schools, and we wouldn’t inspire very many of the next generation to become writers.

Or maybe we would. Maybe, for those few kids crazy enough to decide they want to play with words for the rest of their lives, the long list of steps wouldn’t intimidate them. Maybe they would keep going anyway, simply because they love to write.

Maybe. But let’s not take any chances. The 7-step poster will have to do for now.

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