I was privileged to teach a mini creative writing camp to children this past week. The budding Hemingways inspired me with their stories of twin sisters releasing coconut candles into the sea mist and man-eating blueberry muffins. These kids are brimming with creativity and I don’t want that to change, so I gave the parents a handout with tips on how to hatch a writer.
I thought other parents of scribes (as well as parents who write themselves) might enjoy these tips. Look for a post on creative writing exercises and online resources in the near future.
• Encourage your child to write. This sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes we may think we are encouraging our child when we’re doing just the opposite. Let’s say your child reads you a story that really doesn’t make logical sense. Or maybe your child always writes about a magical world and nothing else. It would be easy and tempting to point out that this or that doesn’t make sense or to ask your child to write about something different for a change. You might feel your words are innocuous, but if you keep pointing to things that are illogical or push your child to write about topics she’s not interested in, it could all backfire.
Kids are sensitive muses (oftentimes so are adults) and we have to be careful when looking at their works in progress. As I explained here, try not to get too focused on grammar, structure, etc. There is a time and place for editing, practicing spelling, developing cohesive and coherent thoughts, but not during a creative writing exercise. Consider having a creative writing time when he or she can write about anything and doesn’t have to worry about the way things are spelled. Then you can concentrate on composition, the art of constructing a paragraph, grammar, syntax, etc. during a different writing session. Your ultimate goal is to raise a child who loves to write because the more he writes, the better he will get at it, and writing well will help him in all facets of life.
• Your child is creative. Not all children are destined to be Shakespeares or Flannery O’Connors, but all children are creative – even the ones who seem to think in concrete terms at an early age.
While some seem to drift through life with their heads in the clouds where there’s no dearth of dreamy ideas, you might have to point your more “grounded” children in the direction of heaven. Okay, before you think I’ve really gone off my rocker, consider this: Barbara Ueland, a writer, writing teacher and the author of If You Want to Write, suggests that the creative power (or the creative impulse to be creative) that we all possess is actually the Holy Spirit.
The brilliant poet and artist William Blake said, “Imagination is the Divine Body in every man.” Of course, just as we sometimes begin to see the world through a secular lens and neglect the supernatural (AKA divine) forces in our life, Ueland says our creativity is “inhibited and dried up by many things – by criticism, self-doubt, duty, nervous fear which expresses itself in merely external action like running up and downstairs and scratching items off lists and thinking you are being efficient; by anxiety about making a living, by fear of not excelling.”
This brings us back to the first tip again: Try not to be so focused on what your child writes that you gloss over the fact that she is writing and trying to listen to her inner muse. Otherwise, she may start to think of writing as a chore instead of a means of listening to the Holy Spirit and a way of expressing her “creative power.” (One exercise that’s helpful is to have children write their own prayer to God. I still do this sometimes and occasionally, I’ll go back and read something I wrote and I’ll think, “Whoa! That was the Holy Spirit talking, not me!”)
• Use a timer with reluctant writers. If your child seems reluctant to write, tell him you’re going to set a timer for five minutes (or whatever time you deem appropriate given her inclination to write, attention span, etc.) and have him free write. This means your child should write whatever is on her mind. There are no rules other than the fact that she must write until the timer buzzes. She can make a list. She can describe the way the pencil feels in her hand or the weather outside. She can write a poem or a song or write a prayer to God like I mentioned above. What she writes isn’t nearly as important as the fact that she’s writing (again, what I said above). The more your child uses his creative power (by writing what’s on his heart and mind instead of constantly completing formal writing assignments), the more he’ll have.
Writing will also get easier. Think of creativity in terms of an athlete. An athlete has to train and warm up his or her muscles to play at the top of his or her game. Likewise, writing exercises like free writing will help your child strengthen his creative “muscles.” Of course, even the greatest athletes play a bad game every once in awhile. Writer’s block is sometimes inevitable, but your child can work through it by free writing or perhaps clustering.
If you’re not familiar with clustering, here’s how it works: In the middle of a blank piece of paper, write down your starting concept (any word your child wants) and circle it. Now, draw several radiating lines from that center, and put concepts relating to your starting concepts. Circle each of those. From those circles, radiate even farther out and put more relating concepts. The “cluster” of connected ideas starting from a central concept is your finished product. Kids can use these ideas as springboard for a story or a poem (or even a play). You can also cluster an individual character in your novel to learn more about her or even a setting or theme you want to explore.
A mini cassette tape recorder also comes in handy for writers. I use one during interviews and then often transcribe my notes. However, I also find it’s useful when I have an idea pop into my head that I don’t really have time to develop on paper or at the computer. I’ll “say” an idea into my recorder. This is particularly helpful for children who are still struggling with their penmanship. Maybe they write slowly and this frustrates them. Encourage them to “tell” their story first into a tape recorder and then to write it down after they have their thoughts organized. Similarly, a child who writes something but later has trouble ciphering her scribble might benefit from writing their story and then immediately reading it out loud into a tape recorder when the story is still fresh on her mind. Then she can re-write it perhaps more neatly later. Here’s a tape recorder that’s under $20 at Amazon:
• Read great works. By exposing your children to great literary works, you’re not only showing them what it means to tell a timeless story, but you’re allowing them to see beauty. This will not only help them to be better writers, but better human beings as well. Laura Berquist, an expert on classical education, says, “If children love the beautiful, they will love truth, as truth, when they are older.”
As Dostoyevsky once said, “Beauty will save the world.”
• Give them a space to write. Writing can take place anywhere. I encourage kids to carry notebooks to jot down ideas because you never know when inspiration might strike. That said, it’s also helpful to have a space for your aspiring writer that is his own – a place that’s off-limits to younger siblings and even to you. Maybe it’s her grandfather’s desk that’s in her bedroom. Or perhaps it’s outside sitting by a creek (as a child this was my favorite place to write). Ask your child where he or she feels the most inspired and allow him or her to write there in private.
Art Credit: DiscoverySchool.com