Today’s guest post is from the incredibly talented Allison Tait. Allison is one of those bloggers who shares her knowledge so generously. On her blog Life In The Pink Fibro, she posts fantastic advice on writing for kids, freelance writing and working from home. Allison writes with great wit, so be sure to check out her facebook page as well!
When writers start talking about the beginning of their writing careers, many of them will have anecdotes about the novel they wrote when they were seven. Or the fact that they were telling stories to their dolls from the age of four.
I don’t remember doing that. Though there is some evidence remaining of my earliest works (namely the Anzacs poem which featured the immortal line ‘many of you lost a leg, just like Jake the Peg’… clearly I needed to listen to that song a little harder), writing was mostly something I did in class at school.
I do remember, however, being an avid reader. Still am. But if I thought about writing, it was a short story or a poem or a secret diary entry.
Today’s kids want to write books. And not just write them, but get them published. I know this because I lead a Writers’ Club at my son’s primary school. From day one, when we started out with ‘what is a character?’, all they wanted to know was when we’d get to writing the books. (FYI, 18 months into our club, we are still not up to writing the books. We have half an hour each week. We are learning to work within time constraints…)
What we do is work on writing. From the beginning, I told them that Writers’ Club is not a place of rules and regulations. I will not correct their grammar or spelling. There is no right way to do things. Writers’ Club is a place to write.
I think this is the biggest gift that you could give any child with a desire to write. To let them know that getting their thoughts down on paper is the first priority. That they can fix the spelling and the commas and the inconsistencies later. My aim is to give them a place to simply let their imaginations run free, to follow their wildest ideas. To show them that writing is not just for the classroom.
Sometimes it works better than other times. One day I set them loose on a story and three of my fourth-grade girls asked if they could write together. I said yes. And so began the epic of ‘Bethany, the saddest girl in the world’. They worked on the story of Bethany for the next three or four weeks, with Bethany’s life becoming progressively more and more soap-opera like.
Eventually I had to ask them why they were being so mean to poor old Bethany. They looked genuinely surprised. “Isn’t this what life is like for grown-ups?” they asked. Note to parents: Desperate Housewives may not be the best viewing material for 10 year old girls.
It’s not easy to find activities for a group of kids ranging in age from 7 to 12. But there are surefire winners:
- The writing prompt. Give them the opening sentence and see what happens. The most successful we ever used was “There was a knock at the door.” I was bowled over by the variety of characters and scenarios that waited on the other side of that door.
- If you were a superhero who would you be? Inventing super characters for themselves led us to create super villains the following week and then on to some comic-drawing fun, working on dialogue.
- Describe your favourite place. We talked about how description is not just what you see, but what you feel, hear, touch, taste and smell as well. We practise ‘five-senses’ description regularly. The best piece of feedback I got from my group was when several of them told me that they’d used my advice in their classwork and had received lavish praise.
Whatever you do, keep it simple. I made the mistake early on of trying to get them to think about characters of the opposite sex. “Imagine,” I said, “that you changed overnight. If you are a boy, you turned into a girl. If you are a girl, you turned into a boy. Now tell me what your day was like.”
They were genuinely bewildered. Half of them suddenly remembered appointments at the other end of the school. The rest sat and doodled and talked about the weekend. Note to self: stick with what they know. For now.
The one thing that stands out about my little group of writers is that few of them are what I would call standout writing talents. Oh, there are one or two who make my heart beat faster with their ideas and their imagination and their oh-so-perfect choice of words, even at such a young age. But for the most part, they are just kids who love reading and writing. Which is half the battle and most definitely to be encouraged.
Who knows, maybe one day when they’ve written the books and they’re famous, they’ll have a little anecdote about Writers’ Club to share. If you ever hear an author talking about Bethany, The Saddest Girl In The World, think of me…
Do your kids like to write? Do you?
Allison Tait is a freelance writer, author, and blogger. She spends a lot of time on Facebook and Twitter because they are both great places for procrastination inspiration. Her first novel is out with PanMacmillan in 2013. It does not feature anyone named Bethany.literacy