Writer’s Camp

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Writer's Camp

A ten-lesson course to let a parent or teacher help a kid improve his or her writing.


Here is a hard-learned truth: nothing so quickly singles out a student to a teacher as a powerful first sentence. Teachers read ten, twenty, thirty, fifty papers at a time. One after another. Each more boring and carelessly written than the last one. Teachers are dying of boredom. The substance of the papers can’t sustain them, and worse they are often all on the same topic.

Imagine reading fifty papers on moths. Imagine the hideous suffocating flannel of boredom blanketing over your teacher when he or she reads paper after paper that begins, The moth is a member of the phylum mothorus which can be found in the genus mothra. Reading about moths is a hard and desperate business. Your teacher would eat a spoonful of moths if that would mean the rest of the papers would disappear.

But then, every few years, the incredible happens; buried in the stack of moth-droppings there is a paper on moths that does something different. The teacher reads the first line: The first moth that came to California did not expect to find mothballs. Or A moth is two thirds of mother, with wings. Or John Gardiner collected butterflies with a net as white and delicate as a petticoat, but when a moth had the poor judgment to come upon his porch, Gardiner wielded a rolled-up San Francisco Chronicle like a mallet.

 And with just that one sentence something profound occurs. Your dying teacher perks up! What is this? Who is this? What about the genus and the phylum? Hazooo!! Hurrah!! You have not just written a passably strong sentence, but you have singled yourself out – your writing! your thinking! You! – from the great pool of moth dusted students. With one sentence, you have done the impossible: you have left your teacher wanting to read more!

 That is the job of a writer. Make them want to read more.