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Counting ‘good’ edits, failing at science, and sneaky writers

The books we make with White Water Writers help the writers get better at writing and feel better at life.

I’ve always believed that part of this was the time spent on checking the work – two whole days at the end of the week is nothing but checking.

Or so I thought…

We’ve been gathering information to create a research paper on White Water Writers. The ‘feel’ bit is mostly done – the writers answer questions at the start and end of the book about how they feel, and the school gives us year-long results later on.

Working out the changes in ‘writing’ is much harder. Nobody can turn a poem or book into a (helpful) number.

I did think that we could look at our younger writers and see how much of a change ‘checking’ caused. Some or our writers are 11 years old, and so they make the sort of errors that a computer can see: like writing “He will goes to the shop”.

I’ve been working on this for a couple of days and have to say that my idea of using the computer to do this has run into the sand. I’ve written code that looks at each book at different points in it’s history and takes a note of unknown spelling and if a word is in present tense when it should be in the past.

I’ve come up short – I’ve got lots of numbers, and I could tell you about the ones that were really good, but I like to think we do real science here and the truth is that this method doesn’t show the changes that we see in our writers.

It looks like we can show the changes, but only by going through each page and marking them by hand.

There is some good news. The work I did for this has also been added to IMPS, the software that runs our writing camps, and our camp leaders will be able to use it soon to notice if one writer is writing in a different tense than the others.

Back to the “two whole days at the end of the week is nothing but checking.” part.  While I was writing the code, I also noticed that the books were growing a lot more than they should during the ‘checking’ part of the week. It looks like some of our writers are trying hard to add more words rather than polish the ones they already have. I understand why they do this (and it means they really do want a good book), but we need to guide them to make the best possible book, not the longest. I’ll be looking at the best way to sell our young writers on that in the coming weeks.

(the young writers seem to manage this even when I’m at a camp in person, and working with them all myself – I’m kind of proud that one group snuck 8000 words past me while I thought they were checking their work over on paper)

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