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Spring Cleaning…erasing some old lessons!

By Dana Mentink

I’ve got a very weird job, I’ll admit it. Oh not the teaching gig (I teach third grade) though that can be strange at times too. Recently I went to school dressed as a green crayon, but that’s a whole other blog post.) I meant the fiction writing thing. It’s funny to me how much of my writing time is spent flagrantly “unlearning” the lessons I imbibed as a child during writing time at school. Though I’d never admit it to my eight year olds, I’ve been putting my mind recently to a couple of those lessons I had to “unlearn” about writing and life.

Rule #1: “Don’t daydream.”
Awww man! I heard that one all the time as a kid. Short attention span. Way too much time lost in books. Head in the clouds, thinking unimportant thoughts. I totally understand why the teachers over the years tried to break that habit. One shouldn’t be drifting to imaginary places when being given a lecture on fractions. Now, however, I get paid to daydream. “Give us something new and fresh,” my editors say. I spend quite a number of waking hours lost in la la land. While walking the dog, I’m wrestling with a way to save my characters from a tornado. Sitting through a boring movie? Hmmm. I wonder what would happen if the hero was suddenly visited by a brother he didn’t know he had? I had the best time brainstorming a life or death escape from a hospital rooftop for my latest book, Dangerous Testimony. You see? I’m a professional daydreamer. My former teachers would cringe!

Rule #2: “Spell everything right.” The second rule I heard growing up was that you should spell things correctly when you’re writing. Nope. You absolutely have to spell things correctly when you’re editing and revising and that final copy had better have some impeccable spelling and grammar, but the time for that is not when the writer is in the middle of a creative explosion. As a matter of fact, concentrating on perfect spelling while you’re drafting stymies the creative flow and slows down the work. I’ve seen my little students paralyzed because they couldn’t figure out how to spell a word. I tell them to write like crazy! “Circle the word if you think you’ve botched it and MOVE ON!” To this day, I cannot seem to spell the word rhthm? rythm? Rithim? Errgh! It defeats me, but I don’t let it stop me. I soldier on and make sure that the final product is going to be spelled correctly (once I have the rhythm down!)

So what do you think, readers? Did you learn any lessons in school that have proved unimportant or even downright wrong in your later life? I would love to hear what you have to say! (And by the way, has anyone found a practical use for Algebra? KIDDING!)

Dana Mentink is a two time American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award winner, a Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award and a Holt Medallion winner. She is the author of over forty titles and is pleased to write for Harlequin’s Love Inspired Suspense and Harvest House. You can visit her on the web at danamentink.com where you can find out more about Dana’s books, her spiffy quarterly newsletter, as well as info about her speaking engagements.

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5 Responses to Spring Cleaning…erasing some old lessons!

  1. Haha on the algebra comment! Couldn’t agree more, says this math slouch.

    The rules I had to unlearn:

    • Don’t start a new paragraph until the subject changes. (Not true in fiction. White space is your friend and short paragraphs work to keep the reader turning pages.

    • Don’t use sentence fragments. (In fiction, as in poetry, sentence fragments can bring beauty, reality, and a deeper POV to your writing. We all THINK in sentence fragments!)

    Great post, Dana!

  2. Dana says:

    For sure, Deb! Good lessons! I spend SO much time working with my third graders an avoiding sentence fragments which is ironic since I use them all the time in my fiction writing! Gotta learn the rules to break them, right?

  3. Rule #3 – Don’t lie or make up stories. Really?

  4. Dana says:

    Good one, Cynthia!

  5. Carol says:

    Before reading this post, I finished a lesson in the fiction writing course I am taking. My make believe character is a daydreamer, and I mentioned in her bio that her teachers did not like her much cause she was always daydreaming. She also wanted to be a writer……

    Rule # 1 made me chuckle and hope my mentor got a chuckle too
    Hey Kim, are you out there?

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