What makes a great writer? Is it mastery of the mechanics—knowing where to put all the commas and when to use a semicolon? Or is it passion, creativity, and a desire to get your ideas onto the page?
I vote for passion, creativity, and desire. Anyone can learn the rules. Writers are not necessarily the people who know the rules best; they are people who love to write. And while it’s easy to think of writers as a small group of people who were just born to love writing, I believe that all children are potential writers. You, as a parent, can teach your kids to love writing
Stories Are Everywhere
Writers are people who enjoy stories in all forms. If you want to inspire your kids to love writing, then give them a world filled with enjoyable stories. Luckily, stories are low-cost, durable, and easy to find.
Of course, you should read to your kids every day. But, do more than read aloud to them. Point out how many stories they come across every day that aren’t in books. Their favorite movies, TV shows, even video games! All are stories that someone wrote down at some point before they made it to the screen.
Your child may not get excited about writing stories like the kind they read in books, but they may get excited about writing the story for a video game or a movie. The point is, if you want your kids to write, you must give them options they can get excited about. The more options they have, the more likely you are to find the excitement trigger, which will teach your kids to love writing and good stories.
Eliminate the Blank Page
What writer doesn’t know the feeling of staring at a blank page, unable to think of anything to write? It’s awful, right? Eventually, your child will contend with that scenario, but they definitely don’t have to begin with it.
It’s okay to start small. Mad libs are an incredibly useful tool as you teach your kids to love writing. Most of the story is already there, and choosing a few words is much less intimidating than starting from scratch. Your child can totally change the meaning of the story just by changing a few words.
Of course, eventually you’ll want your child to do more than fill in the blanks, and this is where writing prompts come in handy. Start by asking your child to manipulate stories that are already familiar to them. For example, have them write an alternate ending to their favorite fairy tale, or ask them to write about what would happen if Alice from Wonderland found her way to Hogwarts and spent a day there. (Yes, that’s an early introduction to fan fiction.) What better way to teach your kids to love writing than to have them build on their favorite stories?
For some kids, just having pictures on the page can eliminate writer’s block. Try printing out comic strips with empty word bubbles, and let your children fill in the dialogue. There are also creative writing apps for kids that allow them to change the background and add stickers and pictures as well as words. Creating stories can be visual as well as verbal.
Make It a Habit
My favorite author, Stephen King, said “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” If you want your kids to become writers, then they must write. Regularly. Daily, if you can manage it.
That’s not to say that they should sit down and crank out thousands of words a day, but they should write fairly regularly. When they’re small, that may mean sitting down and drawing a picture with a word or two under it. For older children, keeping a journal or diary is a good way to make writing a daily habit. Tweens and teens might enjoy blogging or fan fiction when they’re not working on written school assignments.
Daily writing should be something your child can enjoy. But getting them into the habit of putting at least some words on a page every day or most days is as important to becoming a writer as regular healthy eating and regular tooth brushing are to having good health. If you start your children on daily writing as early as you can and make it a priority in your house, then daily writing will come naturally to them later, when you’re no longer hanging over their shoulder to remind them.
When your children have a passion for writing, teaching them the mechanics will be easy—they’ll want to learn how to get their ideas across with clarity. Make writing fun, accessible, and relevant to their lives and interests, and you’ll go a long way toward creating a budding writer.