academics / reading, writing, rithmetic

just write, they say…

Is it really necessary to teach kids the mechanics of writing?

You might not be surprised that I’d say yes. I kind of value writing. It’s a means of creative expression, of connecting, of encouraging. It’s certainly a means of learning what I think, and why I think what I think, and being fearless in expressing it.

When I hear someone’s clever story, I think, There, that’s your book! That’s the story you should write. I assume that they’d also like to WRITE their story.

Often, the thought didn’t dawn on them. Oh, there are plenty out there that spend money on fancy pens and journals like me, but also many who think Facebook posts are too vulnerable.

Whether you like to ‘rent tables’ (purchase coffee) at your favourite café to tap tap on your Toshiba, or just want your kids to know how to communicate clearly, writing will always be necessary.

Ultimately, writing is the transmission of what’s inside my grey matter to what’s inside your grey matter. And if I want you to understand me, I’ll need to learn to communicate. Putting that communication on paper helps to clarify what I want to say and how to say it.

“Writing is the painting of the voice”. Voltaire

The basic five that I teach my kiddos are to just write, show, don’t tell, don’t use adverbs, use the five senses, and write often.

1. Just Write

Try to come up with something clever before you pick up that pen and you might not write.

Write crap, the established author spoke at a conference, and though I prefer using ‘crap’ in only a holy way, just write isn’t an absurd suggestion.

Somehow the magic comes when the hands presses that pen into paper, or fingers tap on those keys.

Much to my kiddo’s chagrin, “write crap” is the first step.

But mom, you said to write crap!

Yup, honey, I did say that. But you don’t leave it crappy. As dog owners know everywhere, clean up the crap!

Real writers rewrite.

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have”. Oscar Wilde

2. Show, don’t tell…

An oft-repeated mantra in the world of writing, this is the basis for my teaching creative writing to my kiddos.

Create a picture, with words, and allow the nuances to surface. Show me what happened….don’t tell me.

I got up, made my bed, brushed my teeth and went to school. This, being an oft repeated diary entry when I was seven, is an example of telling.

After pulling my dirty blonde hair with the hard bristled brush into a pony, I snatched my toothbrush from the green cup and swirled it around my mouth a couple times. Enough. I gotta go. The bus is coming!

The preceding paragraph is an example of showing: painting a picture with words. Ultimately, they’re the same story. But one leads a reader to wonder what might happen next, while the other makes me wonder to whom I’m reporting.

“The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart”. Maya Angelou

3. Don’t use adverbs.

Everyone says this in professional writing, but if you think about it, adverbs are a lazy man’s form of describing anything, second only to cursing, which is the lazier man’s version.

He walked slowly. (Who cares).  After his mom told him to go make his bed; he plodded up the stairs.

She ate quickly. (Oh ya). Her mouth wasn’t quite closed, or quite finished with one bite before the next forkful was stuffed in.

She stomped angrily. (Suck it up). Pound, pound, pound. She didn’t want to leave this playground, and her mama wasn’t making her.

Adverb descriptions don’t elicit a reaction, except possibly a yawn.

I’m not sure why we’re taught adverbs in grammar if we’re not supposed to use them. But adverbs tell, they don’t show us how something is done.

4.  Include the six senses.

As an exercise, try describing food. Smell it, taste it, touch it, hear it (you can hear popcorn pop), see that brownie in all its chocolatey, gooey glory…

February 2014 009Taste it…

February 2014 088Hear it…

November 2013 113Touch it…

November 2013 143See it…

November 2013 080Smell it…

Now scan through your story and check to see if at least a few of those senses have been expressed. Writing feels real when you can taste it, touch it, smell it, hear it and see it.

But yes, I said six senses. There is, I am certain, a sixth sense. We all use it. We don’t all trust it. But when we do trust it, we can sense the aura in a room. We can tell when someone doesn’t like someone else. Or when someone walked into your house after yelling at her kids. That sixth sense brings a certain “je ne sais quoi” to writing that no other sense can. There’s an underlying belief that the character is real, because she feels things that we all know we feel. As the writers of the Mentalist know well…

5. Write often.

All inhibitions decline as we continue doing anything repeatedly.

I have become comfortable on ice–with sharp knives as balancing agents under a shoe-tightened embrace.

So you might wonder why I, a Canadian, can’t perform a triple axle, shriek to an ice spray halt or keep up to Canada Silver speedskater, Denny Morrisson–but surely hockey is in my blood? Sorry to slash the stereotype. I don’t care for hockey (and despite my travel to the Arctic Ocean, I’ve not seen an igloo either).

But I have been on skates once a week for the last few months, with my skating tutors (the children’s skating lessons have paid double duty), and I can now make bubbles going forward (still attempting backwards bubbles). And if you don’t know what a bubble is, well, that might mean you know technical terms and might giggle knowing that your four year old could skate figure eights around me.

But repeated effort as I have made, my inhibitions have declined and I’m even making intentional turns, or slowing down without slamming myself into the boards. I am making progress because I’m persisting.

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” Louis L’Amour

There are many aspects of writing that I share with my kiddos. And many more that I am still learning in my spare time, reading books like Writing Articles from the Heart by Marjorie Holmes, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, or Stephen King’s On Writing.

“But words are things, and a small drop of ink, falling, like dew, upon a thought produces that which make thousands, perhaps millions think”. Lord Byron

6 thoughts on “just write, they say…

  1. Reblogged this on An Unschooled Future and commented:
    I think that learning to write (I make no-claim at all to having mastered writing myself) is one of the most critical skills in life for just about anyone. Writing is at heart about clear communication and no-matter what you want to do in life, being an effective communicator will provide an advantage.
    I think that this, quite short, article communicated very simply and clearly some steps that we can take to help our children in learning to write better (and probably ourselves also).

  2. All very true. I find a lot of kids don’t free write enough. They don’t have enough opportunities in our schools and at home they are sometimes very busy. That is one of the most important ways to improve their skills is to write often. The next best thing is to read often.

  3. Thank you so much for writing this! I love it! I personally love writing and am learning from blogging that it’s not as easy as it looks but I’m totally up for the challenge because I love it. I’ve always struggled with teaching my kids how to write and maybe even how to love writing. We are just starting to homeschool without a curriculum and I’m looking for suggestions and tips such as this. I am hoping that once they get to choose what to write about that they will be at least a little more happy about writing. I will definitely be referring back to this post as a reference and resource! Thanks again!

  4. Not using adverbs, excellent advice.

    Although very young children can get frustrated when attempting to write at the same speed of their thoughts, typing out their stories and ideas for them to copy is a good exercise. Then they can change anything or add afterwards. I got this idea from another Mommy, I’m sorry to say I don’t know where I read it, but I thought it was great advice for starting free writing early.

  5. I’m going to share this with my budding writers – it’s great advice not just for kids learning to write, but for all the adults who are wanting to write but have been taught all those bad habits at school! Thanks.

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