Monday, June 25, 2012

Raising a Writer

For many families, including ours, summer is a more laid-back time where students have fewer classes and ongoing assignments, and thus more time to devote to activities that might be squeezed out during the traditional academic year.  For many families, this is a good time to explore creative writing, since creative writing, particularly for young and emerging writers, often blossoms better in an environment with fewer deadlines and distractions.

But raising a writer is not an obvious thing.  What can we do as parents to help encourage our children to write?

This blog post has some fantastic suggestions by M. Molly Backes, who works in a writers center in Chicago and has just published her first YA novel, The Princesses of Iowa.  It is all about giving our children space, freedom, permission, and love--which, really, is probably the way to raise children period.  But it is a lovely and beautifully written post, so I won't ruin it by summarizing it for you--you'll just have to go check it out yourself.

One thing I can add to Ms. Backes' advice, however.  She advocates giving children journals and a really nice pen, and letting them go to it.  And while that will undoubtedly work for many children, it (like any educational technique) will not work for all.

I may be wrong about this, but it seems to me that journal writing is something that is more attractive to girls than to boys.  Certainly, the idea did not go over well with my son when I suggested it several years ago.  However, we found something that worked better for him--blogging.  Writing a blog was more attractive to him because:

  • it was physically easier for him to type than to hand write
  • it has the "computer cool" factor
  • it has the ability to incorporate graphics and videos and other media files
  • it allows other people to read your content and post comments about it (which my son LOVES)
So, obviously, blog writing is very different than journal writing.  It is usually not going to encourage the heart-felt dream-making, the honest self analysis, the often painful search for one's identity and one's own truths that is often the task of journaling.  But again, not that I want to be sexist, but in observing my own son and his peers and talking to other moms, I don't find a lot of boys who are doing that kind of writing, although it seems a number of my friends have daughters who do.

Ideally, students would do both, especially if they really have a dream to be a writer.  But if the quest for more writing is coming from you at this point rather than them, give them a choice.  If you've been trying to get them to journal and they refuse try, see if writing a blog is better received--and vice versa.

It has certainly worked for us.  When my son started middle school, I asked him to start blogging.  And, as I've stated before, since I don't believe in giving my son assignments that I wouldn't or haven't done myself, I started this blog at the same time.  We have both really enjoyed it and grown and developed tremendously.  It has been almost two years now and my son has written hundreds of posts--varied in length and quality, of course, but written consistently and usually fairly well.  It has improved his writing, his spelling, and his grammar.  And it has turned out to be a way for him to connect with his grandfathers and aunts and uncles who live far away and don't get to see him on a regular basis.

Of course, there are those who don't approve of encouraging middle school blogging.  I thought this blog post and resulting comments on Why Should Middle School Student Blog? was an interesting exchange about the pros and cons of blogging.  But for us, the experience has DEFINITELY been a great area of growth and learning.

Finally, I would say that my son was not a reluctant writer.  But if your children are not self-starters when it comes to writing, you may need to give them writing prompts, regardless if they are journaling or blogging.  There are many, many sources for writing prompts, but I'm liking the ideas being posted daily (during the week) on Pinterest by Atlanta-based writer Anjali Enjeti.  I find them varied and interesting, and the whole Pinterest thing is novel for digitally-aware students like my son.  Plus, by being on Pinterest, they are more visual, which I think make them more attractive to visual learners like my son.

If anyone has any other great resources for getting young adolescents and teens to grow as writers, please post them in the comments below.

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