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So Your Kid Wants to Be a Writer?

Maybe your child realizes his aptitude in writing, or maybe he doesn’t–but you do.  What are some things you can do to foster that talent and help open doors for him or her?

1. Fear the Lord.  Probably the number one mistake I have seen in writers generally is a misjudgement that writing is either an art or a science, neither of which require wisdom from the Lord.  I think about stories I read as a YA that taught me that writing was a kind of prophetic art–stories like Anne of Green Gables or Little Women, in which writers seek their own hearts and finally find there a profound vision of beauty.  Of course, on the other end of the spectrum, I’ve met a lot of right-brained folks who think of writing as finally and merely a science, a cutting and pasting of words and images, to be weighed only by its practical usefulness or whether it meets some objective, critical standard. Again, we don’t need wisdom here–just data and methods and a hand crank to run the generator.

Against both of these views, the first requirement of a writer is to seek the Lord, early and often–and to come under His Word.  For we are told clearly that wisdom, so critical in both the art and science of writing, begins with the fear of the Lord. (Psalm 1)  It is the Lord who blesses our writing (or not!), opens our hearts and minds to Truth (or not!), carves out an audience (or not!), and preserves or doesn’t preserve a writer from being destroyed by the many temptations within the profession and life generally.  If you have a young writer under your tutelage, the most important thing you can encourage in her is a vibrant relationship with the living God of the Bible.  So, of course, pray, pray, pray!

2.  Help them read widely.  It is a sad fact that while it may take a good writer (and her editor) more than a year to complete a good novel for kids, a motivated child can read said book in one or two rainy afternoons.  (Ah, what toil, what thorns….)  Parents will inevitably run out of books to feed their hungry readers, which is where we hope this blog can help.  In the meantime, here are a few ideas of how to find your own good, hidden books.  First, coffee table books.  They often have unbelievable pictures and the kids can just read the captions if they aren’t interested in all the details; or you can read parts of it to them, and I often enjoy reading them our coffee table books more than our kids’ books.  One in particular that I highly recommend is The Art of God by Ric Ergenbright.  It’s a book I want my kids to grow into.  Second, old books.  In one of C.S. Lewis’s oft quoted lines, he notes,

We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.

One older series I’ve given to my nephews is the Lamplighter books.  I’ll admit, they seem awfully triumphant at times…In particular, I found the account of David Livingston facing down a lion with a hand-held pistol shockingly wonderful and unbelievable.  But it’s the sort of heroic, manly storytelling our culture shies away from, and it’s a literary well I want my kids to draw from.   At least some of the time.  And third, consider stories from other lands.  We’ve just started a series on folktales from foreign cultures, so be sure to check that out.  You’d be surprised all the great stories you can dig up if you’ll just google “japanese folktales” or “african folktales for kids.”

So, finally, as you’re choosing a reading diet for your young writers, try to think outside the box.  Stretch their horizons with the best literature you can find, even off the kids’ bookshelf at your local bookstore.

3. Don’t Forget the Life Experiences–My mom was a speech pathologist, and she worked with children who had all sorts of mental and physical challenges.  She was adamant that the main difference in good readers (and thus writers) and kids who struggled could be summed up in two words: life experience.  Kids who had never been to a farm, who had never been to a zoo to see an elephant or a monkey, had never been to a birthday party or had to clean up their rooms–these were the kids who were intellectually disadvantaged in the classroom.  Most of them could be taught the principles of phonics fairly easily.  But if the content of most kids books was as foreign to them as the content of a car repair manual is to me, that’s a far greater stumbling block.  So, if you want your kids to read well, and to be able to imagine new places and situations in their writing, give them a variety of life experiences.  Good readers get out and live a little!   (It’s funny, our school board certainly wouldn’t count the death of my mother and attendance at her funeral as an educational event—but I did.  My girls ability to empathize with characters in stories who are sick or lose a family member has increased remarkably.)

4.  Mimic Good Writers.  Our culture has moved away from the idea that kids ought to apprentice under adults before setting out on their own.  We want out kids to express themselves; that’s all right and good, but we often don’t give them anything to express and barely any tools to express it with!  In contrast, I think good writers naturally apprentice under authors they like.  Just as a budding artist tries his hand at a number of art styles before settling into one, so a young writer will benefit greatly from trying to write like his heroes.  A parent can foster this process by encouraging kids to write their own stories like so-and-so.  Like Dr. Suess?  See if the two of you can make up your own Dr. Suess rhyme.  Is your kid into the Boxcar Kids?  Ask him to try telling his own boxcar story to you while you’re making dinner.  As they get older, challenge your young writer to mimic the voice of different writers or characters–what would John Wayne or Harry Potter say if their mothers asked them to clean their rooms?  Write a one page monologue about it.  This sort of mimicry will actually give them more tools as writers and help them develop a more unique writing style later on.

5.  Don’t encourage too much…or too little!  Easier said than done, right?  If you think your child may have a gift for writing, tell him that.  But also make sure you convey that it’s not a laurel wreath that makes him better than others–we all have gifts, and they will require sacrifice and hard work, not just glory.  Yet there is a glory in following the path that God has called one to, a glory of sharing in the good works He has prepared beforehand for us, and in so doing, participating in His glory.  (“He that glories, let Him glory in the Lord.” 1 Cor. 1:31)  And that is the best encouragement any child could hear–that God has a plan for him, plans to prosper him and not to harm him (Jer. 29:11) whether or not he is ever successful by the world’s standards.

There is so much that could be said on this topic, but time escapes me.  Maybe you guys can fill in the gap…Have any of you found ways to encourage a love of writing in your kids?  I’d love to hear your ideas!

For more writing tips, see Janie’s thoughts on Raising Writers and my review of The Book Whisperer.

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6 Comments

  1. I don’t have kids yet, but I do my best to ecourage my little brothers to write and read. My 12-yr-old brother, Joshua, dislikes writing because most of his experience with it is the required writing for his school–that makes it seem like a chore, something to complete, something where he often “falls short” according to his grade. So I’ve been trying to help him get around that. I do “Story Clubs” with him and my 7-yr-old brother, where we take turns thinking of prompts (“It has to be set on a mountain” or “It has to have a math lesson included in the story”) and all writing to them. I bought them notebooks, and having their very own notebooks just for writing seems to excite their interest. And because Joshua has a hard time reading to himself, and doesn’t like it a lot, I read a lot of books aloud to them. I also look for “easier” reads with lots of action to hold their interest(like the Brixton Bros series, which was a huge hit) for them to read on their own when I want to read to myself for a bit. Sometimes I preview a book that seems silly or poorly written to me, but if it’s appropriate at least, I let them read it and they get to judge it for themselves. I have to look past the “bad writing” and just let them read. They’ll work up to the deep stuff, I hope. But for now I feel happy just getting them to read and enjoy it! One last thing that seems to encourage them to read and write is that me and my sister read and write a LOT. So they see us reading and enjoying it, and they want to read too. And I actually got them to write last November by participating in NaNoWriMo with them. They worked together to write a short novel in a month, and I gave them tips and tried to work on my own novel. They were really excited when they got “Winner” T-shirts for reaching their word count. 🙂

    • Jess,
      You might want to look at my Wordsmith books, especially the middle one (Wordsmith: a Creative Writing Course For Young People. It’s specifically designed to encourage reluctant writers. Congrats to them on reaching their NaNoWriMo word count, though–I haven’t been able to do that yet!

  2. emily says

    Jess, I’m so proud of you and your brothers! By the time you’re out in the workforce, you will have developed so many teaching and writing skills that you’ll be ahead of some of the veterans out there!

  3. Thank you, Emily! 🙂 Janie, I’ll definitely check those out when I get the chance. 🙂

  4. Charlotte of Kansas says

    Emily,

    Thank you for realistic and helpful insights to guide parents whose child or children have the desire to write. Well done!

  5. emily says

    Really appreciate your encouragement, Charlotte. Guess I appreciate it as much as young writers! 🙂

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