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Counting on Words


Why This Title?


In third grade at the Roslyn Village School, Miss Foster’s big red Xes through long columns of 2-digit numbers in my arithmetic workbook convinced me I could not add. I knew I could spell. My spelling tests came back with a big red “All Correct”! Also, I could tell stories, write stories, and read any book in the school library.


Numbers couldn’t amuse me, distract me from worrying about my mother in the hospital, or make me proud the way the words in my stories and books did.

I could count on words and have done so ever since.


Counting on Words has a new meaning since my Winter 2023 Creative Writing class started. I can’t wait to share this, so I’m starting right here! The first Creative Writing assignment was to write a complete short, short, very-short (!) story in 100 to 500 words. Students were encouraged to start out by writing a longer version and edit it down.


To my surprise, many tackled the very-short 100-word story! And they succeeded! In fact, when some read both their longer version and the shorter version, in every case the class preferred the shorter one. Why? Being forced to use only the best, most effective words draws on vocabulary, yes, but also image-making. You have to visualize the very short story and then find the most efficient words to convey meaning. In one story (112 words) a phrase about heavy rain hitting the windows in the first paragraph, became the window holding back the rain near the end. That repeated image was very effective because the story was about grief, and how it felt to have to hold it back. I had never thought of that technique, an image slightly altered, to convey emotion, but it worked.


We will be doing a lot more short fiction in class from now on. Telling my own short stories in 100 words will require me to count words as well as counting on them!

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