Does your child love to write? How can you encourage her passion without turning writing into a chore?
As I write this from a writers’ retreat in Lost River, WV, I’m reflecting on what’s helped my writing, from making up my own stories as a young child until now, as a Master’s candidate in Fiction at the Bennington Writing Seminars. Here are a few tips for encouraging your aspiring young writer.
- Be engaged. Ask to read their writing (or better yet, have them read it to you). Offer positive affirmation and constructive suggestions (eg. I was really interested in X and would love to learn more about that, or I thought that part was so exciting and I can’t wait to learn what happens!). Ask questions. Show you’re interested in the work they’re pouring their hearts into.
- Give them a journal to jot down their thoughts, hopes, and frustrations. Respect their privacy and only read it if they offer.
- Create a quiet space for writing time. Encourage your child to write in a place without distractions or background noise. If possible, help them customize their own writing space with good lighting, pens/pencils, and whatever else might inspire them.
- Share your own writing. Let them see you writing, offer to share it with them, and encourage them to share their work, too.
- Is your young writer stuck? Offer writing prompts. Scholastic Story Starters has some fun suggestions. So does VT’s Young Writers Project (geared more towards teens). You can also help come up with ideas by encouraging your child to make a list (e.g. of places, characters, traits, actions), and ask questions (e.g. What could happen? What might that character do?) to help get their creative juices flowing.
- Challenge your young writer to write the next book (or chapter) in a favorite series. If the book ends with a cliff hanger, have them imagine what comes next. I remember writing my own Junie B. Jones stories (unpublished; total copyright infringement) because I loved reading Junie B. Jones books as a child.
- Challenge your young writer to write in the style of a favorite author.
- Write to favorite authors. Is there an author your child loves? Have your child write to her, explain what he or she likes about the book. Proofread the letter together to help craft a thoughtful, well-edited letter, and send it to the author, if living (most authors will have an address listed on their website. If you can’t find that, try sending it to their publisher).
- Act out their stories. If your child likes to write plays or screenplays, help them act them out, along with friends, siblings, or cousins. You can record it on your phone and even upload it to YouTube, if they want to share it with a wider audience.
- Does your local library have a writing group or special writing activities? Search for camps, clubs, or other opportunities for your young writer to connect with other writers.
- Help them find an audience (if they’re ready). PBS Kids has an annual writing contest. Young Writers Project publishes student work daily. Find other publications in your area that may publish kids’ stories. Don’t pressure them to publish if they aren’t ready, but if they feel pride in their work and want to share it with others, help them find ways to do that. Their teacher or librarian may be able to help.
- Make books together. Help your child put his or her stories, poems, or musings, into a book format. You can use construction paper and twine or staples. for the binding. You can also have them bound at Staples or other office supply stores relatively-cheaply, for a professional look. Have your child illustrate it. Siblings or friends can help. You can also make books from stories you come up with together.
- Ask to see the next draft. And the next. One of the most important lessons for any writer is how to revise. Young writers may feel frustrated that their work isn’t perfect the first time. Remind them that no one’s is, and that the books they love went through many, MANY drafts to become what they are (This is something CLiF presenters talk about often in their presentations). Without giving strict deadlines that feel too much like homework, tell your child you’d love to see the next version, then let them know how far it has come. Point out specific changes that work well. They’ll start to feel pride in their revisions and strive to make the work even better to share with you next time.
- Encourage them to read as much as possible! Writing begins with reading. Ask your child’s teacher or librarian for suggestions of books that your child will connect to, and that will inspire her writing (e.g. if she loves writing fantastical stories, ask for suggestions on age/level-appropriate fantasy stories). Writing always begins with reading.
What other suggestions do you have for encouraging your young writer?
Erika Nichols-Frazer is the Communications Manager of the Children’s Literacy Foundation, as well as an MFA candidate in Fiction at the Bennington Writing Seminars. She lives with her husband and animals in Waitsfield, VT. She can be found on Twitter at @enicfraze or @cliforg.