How to teach children creative writing

tarika34 asks: My daughter has very poor creative writing skills; what can I do to get her to improve?

Hi tarika34 –

I’m really honored that you consider me a good-enough writer to give advice on this (most dogs aren’t known for their writing skills!).

Of course, just going to school should help your daughter a lot in her writing.  Hopefully she has smart, inspiring teachers, who will help her with the really tough stuff, like organizing her thoughts into clear sentences and paragraphs, and building her vocabulary (and, of course, the always-annoying disciplines of grammar!).

But when it comes to creative writing, what she really needs to develop are three things:  her own voice, her ability to write in other voices, and a vibrant imagination.  Truly, none of these things can be taught.  But they can be developed.  Here are a few thoughts on what might work for her; when it comes to creativity, there’s never been a perfect solution (after all, if there were, we wouldn’t value Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and Poe the way we do!).

–       The best thing your daughter can do, of course, is to read.  To read lots, to read a great variety, and to read the very best.  But I’m sure her school is assigning her what they think is important.  She also needs to read what she likes!  There’s not a lot she wouldn’t learn about developing her own voice that she wouldn’t pick up from reading the lyrics of her favorite singers, for example (Taylor Swift, Adele, and Katy Perry write with very strong voices!).  Reading the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling will give her incredibly great examples of how to write in different voices (Hagrid, Dobbie, and Professor McGonagall would never be mistaken for one another, just by the way they speak – more subtly, neither would Harry, Hermione, or Ron!).  And as far as imagination goes, that’s why I say variety.  She should read different genres, different authors, and see what stories excite her.

–       A great exercise for her to do is, then, to write something fully non-creative.  How about if your family has a conversation at breakfast, and she sits down afterwards and tries to tell it as a story.  Can she write how each person speaks?  Can she describe it in a way that has a clear voice (showing that she looks on her family with affection, amusement, or maybe furious frustration?!  Anything is right, as long as it’s clear!)?  And can she make it interesting?!

–       And that’s the most important thing, above all.  The great creative writers are absolutely fascinated by what they’re writing about.  Jules Verne and Phillip K. Dick were obsessed with their views of what the future might become.  Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Gabriel Garcia Marquez infused their senses of God and destiny into every word of their tales.  The writings of Jane Austen and Jonathan Franzen both show how affected they were by everyday conversations in their societies.  The more your daughter feels free to write about what’s on her mind, the better chance she has for her words to flow forth with the same unleashed energy I have when I chase birds on a beach!

I hope this helps.  As I clearly believe, writing is more than just an ability; it’s a joy and a privilege!  Here’s hoping she finds that too!




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ZORA - April 24, 2013 Reply

I suggest you make her practice on newspaper. When she copies the words with her own pen, she’ll write better.

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