We’ve all heard young people say, "I want to be a writer!" And we’ve all cringed a little when they’ve said it. After all, we know how hard it is to make a living as an artist. So how can we support their ambitions, knowing that disappointment might lurk around every corner? And how can we help nurture their creative instinct without crushing their artistic spirit?
It was probably about fifteen years ago that I first started coaching young writers. I still remember their earnest efforts at storytelling, their frustration when they couldn’t quite paint pictures with their words the way they’d wanted to, their elation when it came out right. I remember it well, because it so perfectly mirrored the ups and downs of my own writing. I drew on my memories of being a young writer and helped the children in my care to cultivate their natural talents. And in helping the children to tell their stories, I learned a lot about how to tell my own.
So when parents come to me and ask me how they can help their children develop their writing gifts, there are a few things that I usually suggest:
Encourage your children to read – a lot! Reading has a multitude of benefits for young writers. It builds vocabulary, first and foremost. It also gives one an eye for plot, story structure, dialogue, all the elements of good fiction. And don’t worry if what your child is reading seems simplistic or “below their reading level.” Help to pinpoint what he or she can read easily and with enjoyment, then stand back and watch the pages fly!
Encourage your children to write – a lot! Did your son just make up a funny joke (or even not so funny)? Suggest he write it down. Did your daughter tell you a story about a unicorn who jumped through her bedroom window and started dancing around the room? By all means, hand her some paper and a pen! Whether they’re writing letters to grandma, creating fan fiction for their favorite movie, or chipping away at their twelve-volume masterwork, writers of all ages do one thing: they write. And here’s some inside info: they don’t have to finish everything they start! Every writer has a sock drawer full of half-finished projects. It’s just part of the process. So encourage your children to write, and don’t stress over whether or not they finish everything.
Which brings me to my next point….
Never criticize. When I write that, I’m not simply saying, “don’t say anything mean,” because of course you wouldn’t intentionally insult your child. What I’m saying is, “Don’t say anything negative. Ever.” This can be a tough one for parents, which is understandable. The nurturing instinct makes you want to hover, bite your nails, and offer helpful corrections and suggestions. And if you’re looking at a school project, of course you must help monitor the quality of your child’s work. But when it comes to creative writing, my advice is this: never ever criticize.
Why? Well for one thing, there are few things on earth more fragile than the creative spirit. You’d be amazed at how easy it is to crush a burgeoning artistic impulse. A well-intentioned but careless comment from you could easily put your children off writing for quite some time. For another thing, if your children decide to pursue a career in writing, there will unfortunately be many people who will take their work and tear it down, deconstruct it and pick it apart. It’s a less-than-lovely aspect of the business that we all have to deal with at one time or another. So from Mom, Dad, teacher, etc., they should get only praise and encouragement.
If you’re worried that giving nonstop praise will make them conceited, or set them up for disappointment down the road, my advice is not to be too concerned about that. Yes, disappointment is inevitable. But the best way to overcome that is just to encourage them to keep writing. The more they write, the better at it they’ll become, and the fewer disappointments they’ll encounter. As for being conceited, well, every great venture requires a certain measure of conceit on the part of the “venturer.” Help them to build pride and even a touch of vanity in their work; chances are, no matter how big their heads get, they’ll still be able to fit through the door!
Well, this is a subject about which I would happily write volumes, and in fact I talk at length about these suggestions and more in my workshop, Helping Your Child Find the “Inner Writer.” There are few things in life more gratifying than helping a child to achieve satisfaction and gain a sense of accomplishment and of his or her own self-worth. Do you have a story you’d like to share or a question you’d like to ask about working with young writers?
This blog was originally published on the Vanilla Heart Publishing Authors' Blog. For helpful and down-to-earth advice on writing, please check out their blog today!