by Susan Kaye Quinn
Getting my kids to write was slightly less painful than delivering them into the world, but a lot more frustrating. Because it goes on for years and years and years …
When I tell people that my son Dark Omen wrote his first novel at 12, and now at 15 is working on finishing the trilogy, they give me this knowing look, like, Well, of course! What did you expect? You’re a writer!
If they only knew.
None of my boys (ages 11, 13, 15) enjoyed writing when they were younger (in the case of 13 year old Worm Burner, we’re still stuck in the nooooooo stage of the writing experience). But I’m a patient mom (er, sometimes), and in the spirit of my Twelve Tips for Reluctant Readers post, I’ve pulled together Ten Ways to Get Kids to Write:
When the boys were little, we had a mini-easel that was chalk on one side and marker on the other. It spread chalk dust like crazy and we were always having to clean it, but having writing materials easily available (Way #1) meant we could stop and draw letters or cats (lots of cats) at any time. Later, when they were in school, there was lots of writing time during the year, but during breaks and summer, I stapled together pages of writing paper with a construction paper “cover.” This “book” was theirs to decorate, but they had to write a sentence (or paragraph or page, depending on the age) in it every morning, setting a regular time for writing (Way #2). Sometimes I gave writing themes (Way #3), like Christmas lights or going to the pool, but mostly I let them write whatever they wanted (Way #4), even if it was only “I hate writing.” (They thought this was the height of funny.)
When they were older and could write longer passages, I enlisted the help of writing workbooks (Way #5) – get the good ones, they’re worth it – with worksheets on grammar as well as narrative writing. To mix it up a little, I also gave them assignments (Way #6): write a letter (from a list of our relatives), write a poem, write a song, write a recipe. Here it helped to have a variety of writing supplies (Way #7), from index cards to fancy stationary. The most inspiring writing materials were consistently any notebook or writing material of an odd shape or texture or origin (Way #8), whether tiny spiral bound notebooks or giant sized, cardboard-latched binders. My boys even spent one hilarious night writing secret notes on the backs of fortune cookie slips.
As long as they were writing, I was happy.
Note: most of the time I was not happy because they were not writing. I tried to give them a journal (Way #9) – not a diary – but that was met with scorn. My final Way is not really a technique, but an attitude: cultivate patience and don’t give up (Way #10). Kids all develop at their own rates and it may take time (a lot of time, years worth of time) before they reach the milestones you want. But just like reading, writing is an essential skill that will wither if not actively encouraged.
Now, Dark Omen (15) and I often steal away for lunches to discuss story arcs or how many characters he’s going to kill in his latest book. He’s already planning how we can use our vacation to critique each other’s novels (since he’s also one of my best beta readers). Meanwhile, Mighty Mite (11) has an illustrated squirrel story going that has more action and peril than you might expect, and I hope to see more chapters from him soon, maybe during our driving vacation this summer. Worm Burner (13) is perfecting his sullen teenager act, and steadfastly refusing to write anything that doesn’t involve C++ or Java. Perhaps I’ll convince him to write a users manual… or maybe some amusing comments for his code.
One thing I’ve realized along the way away is that while writing is an essential skill, creativity can take many forms. If they’re playing music, drawing, engaging in performing arts like acting or singing or dancing… all of these feed the creative engine in their brains. I’ve also realized that patience is the key to almost everything – the steady presence of stories and writing in their lives has an impact, even if they’re not novelists like Mom. And if they are, that’s just a bonus on top.
Keep at it, keep encouraging, and you’ll be surprised what your kids will come up with.
May the Odds be Always in Your Favor.*
*Getting kids to write isn’t quite as brutal as the Hunger Games, but somehow the analogy seems apt.
What Ways have worked for you?
Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling Mindjack Trilogy, which is young adult science fiction. She writes speculative fiction for all ages, but her boys’ favorite is her middle grade fantasy, Faery Swap. She always has more books in the works. You can find out what she’s up to by subscribing to her newsletter (hint: new subscribers get a free short story!) or by stopping by her blog (www.susankayequinn.com).