May 17, 2020: Writing Traits for Writers
The Six Traits of Writing, (or as they now say, The 6 + 1 Trait) is a staple for teachers and educators. These are the research-based components that go into a piece of quality writing. The six things that braid together to produce that essay, story, poem, or narrative that works. Ideas, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, Organization, Conventions, Voice, and finally Presentation. Understanding these traits helps students to strengthen their writing skills and helps teachers mentor and coach students as they grow as writers. But do the traits have a place outside of classrooms? Does focusing on these traits hold any value for us as professional writers? I believe they do. I also think it is critical to think of the traits in terms of where they happen in the process of writing.
This is where we begin our work as writers, and this is where we need to pay special attention to the traits of ideas and organization. Here are some important questions to ask yourself in relation to these trait:
- While we all certainly get inspiration from the world around us, including other literary works or movies, are my ideas for this piece of work different or unique enough to set it apart?
- Do I have a different perspective or insight that will come through in my work?
- How do I envision this piece being organized?
- Is this going to be told in first person or third person? Will there be flashbacks?
- What will the story arch look like in this piece? This is where I give thought to the story structure.
- How do I want the events to be sequenced?
The heart and soul of writing. As we actually begin to bring our story to life, it is also important to be flexible enough to realize that the ideas and organization that we worked so hard on during the planning, may change as the story grows and matures. We also need to focus on voice at this point, which may arguably be the most important trait of all.
- How can I make sure my piece has the tone and flavor that I envision?
- Does this piece sound authentic?
- Does it elicit the kind of emotion I want it to elicit?
- Is the mood I want the story to have being created?
The rigorous labor of writing. This is where the hardest part of the work takes place. And this makes it the perfect time to look closely at our word choice and sentence fluency.
- Have I selected vocabulary that is vivid enough to truly paint a picture for my reader?
- Are the words used authentic for the time period and characters in my story?
- Are there any words that come up too frequently? Am I repetitive?
- Are the length of my sentences varied or do they all have about the same number of words in them?
- Is my sentence structure varied as well, or do I use the same subject/predicate structure throughout?
- Does the sentence structure and length match the story arch and emotion? For example, are longer sentences used during times of reflection and deep thought while shorter sentences are used during times of high emotion or stress?
While many student-writers think that revision and editing are one in the same, professional writers understand that they are very different steps in the process. Only after we have revised our story multiple times, and are in the polishing stage, are we ready to give total attention to conventions. Obviously during every stage we are correcting any errors we find, but this is the stage when we go through the text with an eagle-eye. Then it is time to focus on our presentation as we get our work ready to go out in the world.
- How is my grammar, capitalization and punctuation?
- We all have our ‘Achilles heel’- the area we know is not our strength. Focus on that.
- Is all dialogue structured and cited correctly?
- Have we used too many parenthesis or semi-colons?
- How are we going to share our writing? For student-writers, it usually means producing the final copy to turn in. For us, it means making sure it fits the guidelines for whichever contest, agent, or publisher to which we will be submitting this piece of work.
- Word document? 12pt Times New Roman Text? Emailed?
By thinking about the traits of writing in tandem with the stages of our work, it can help us to look at very specific aspects of our writing. This allows us take a very complex process and product, and focus on one or two very narrow aspects at a time. Thus making our time spent on our craft much more productive.