You know that saying about the mechanic’s car always in disrepair? I believe the same can be said about most children of authors. As an author, I love what I do and usually get excited about what is going on in my fictional world. But how on earth do I translate this excitement to my children who hate writing so much it brings them to tears? How do I help a said tear-stained struggling child with his writing? I’m sure most of us recognize the struggle early on, but until we find a way to encourage them, they will be floundering, staring at a wordless piece of paper forever.
So how do we, as authors, inspire and teach our children to write without bursting into uncontrollable fits?
Easy. You have fun.
WHAT?! That’s blasphemy! You can’t have FUN when… you… write. Oh. Wait, you can!
Yes. You really can. Here is a prime example. My son’s third grade writing assignment said he needed to write three sentences. You’d have thought it had asked him to write a three page paper on economics the way he threw himself to the table and moaned. But no, the assignment simply said, “Write three sentences about a make believe super hero/villain and draw a picture to represent it.”
He sat there, I kid you not, an hour, staring at the blank sheet of paper. And this was even after I gave him some examples. Superman. Batman. Spiderman. Gru, etc. I wanted to strangle him. It was three lousy sentences. THREE! Yet there he sat, with pencil resting on the paper, head on the table, looking very defeated. That is about the time I realized the reason he wasn’t writing was because he wasn’t having fun. So I said to him, “Tell you what, you should write three sentences about the most disgusting, gross, sickening super hero or villain you can think up.”
He then looks at me like I’m nuts.
“You know, Captain Fart and his Booger crew.”
And then it happened. He laughed and picked up his pencil. And I didn’t stop there. “Or what about the clumsiest super villain Doctor Trips-a-lot, who tripped over his remote control and blew up his house and the nosey neighbors?” More laughter. “Or what about the super villainous Professional Whosy-ma-whats-it who went into a volcano and burned his nubbies?”
Then the most amazing thing happened. He said, “Okay, what if…” and then he told me his villain/hero story and begin to draw.
All it took was the option of fun! Now, most teachers will probably turn their noses up at such a set of sentences, but the directions DID NOT state the three had to stick to some unseen guideline. And quite frankly, if your child is struggling as mine was, the teacher will be flabbergasted he turned in any sentences at all. And if she knows your child well enough, the sentences will even make her laugh.
Another good tip I received from Andrew Pudewa (Founder of Writing for Excellence) recently was this: You can never help a child too much. Now I know this goes against EVERY ideal of homework. I mean, it is after all the kid’s assignment, and how will they learn if you help them? I once was a firm believer in this principal. I mean, really how can they learn unless they just do it? However, my views have changed on this subject, and now my mind is blown because it works.
When I extend aid to my child more than usual, it often only takes a few more helps for them to gain the confidence they need to continue on their own. Andrew shared an example of a child in one of his workshops. Much like my third grader above, a boy sat there doing nothing, staring at his paper, unable to put his thoughts down. Andrew gave him a couple suggestions, and the child still stared at him like he was an alien. However, when Andrew told him what to write, the child did it. I know what you are thinking. I thought it too. That is cheating! You can’t tell the child what to write. But on the story went.
He came back to the child and found him in the same place, staring at the paper having written no new words. Andrew gave him a few more suggestions and then told him what to write. The teachers in the room about came unglued, he claimed. They couldn’t understand why he would do such a thing as to essentially complete the assignment for the child.
The fourth time around the room something amazing happened. Andrew approached the child and found him enthusiastically writing on his own, eager to show off his results.
Ponder this for a moment. Either you have a child with a blank sheet of paper or one who’s been given enough support to find a bit of inspiration.
If your child struggles with writing, the best thing you can do is help. There is no such thing as helping them too much. Encourage them. Give them plenty of praise, even for the small victories (a sentence written on an otherwise blank sheet of paper). And don’t give up, even if it means you have to sit through the entirety of the assignment. Because chances are, the next time they need to write, you will only be needed for half of it, and maybe just as a cheerleader. Then the following time, maybe just an idea starter. And then, maybe they’ll complete the whole thing before handing it proudly off to you to read.
Writing can be exciting for children. And if all it takes is a little help, a bit of fun, and a boost of confidence, I don’t know about you, but I’m all in.
Eisley Jacobs lives in Shingle Springs, California with her three children and husband.
Eisley actively writes the characters that stroll through her head. The first YA Novel she completed was in high school, but some how got lost in the shuffle into real life. While studying at college, stories began to plague her mind and she tried her best to keep them at bay while she did more important things like... like... who are we kidding. Her grades suffered because the voices wouldn't stop. So instead of going insane, she wrote.
In 2010, a blue dragon named Deglan interfered in her attempts to finish the final book in the YA series and thus the series starter for DRAGONS FOREVER, BORN TO BE A DRAGON, was hatched and has found a home in the hearts of many children.
Eisley's first YA Sci-Fantasy, PIECES OF ME, is due out early spring 2013. To learn more about Eisley and her novels click here.