How to Raise a Child Who Loves Creative Writing
Overcoming a Creative Writing Allergy
Is your otherwise bright and imaginative child deeply averse to adjectives and backstory? Does your offspring offer deadpan stares at poetry or dreaded "poop face" grimaces at the mere mention of writing? If so, then it's likely that they have the same creative writing allergy that my daughter did. The good news, however, is that it's treatable.
Now a college student, my daughter has received multiple awards for her creative writing. But it hasn't always been that way. Her written assignments turned in for school were once anemic and minimalist. Painfully devoid of any detail, each of her sentences followed a taut subject/verb formula with little elaboration.
As she entered middle school, I recognized the ailing young writer needed a prescription for change. Here are some strategies we used for helping her to become not only a better creative writer but also someone who valued the medium for its power of expression.
The Importance of Writing Well
Creative writing opens a wormhole of discovery into a world that is as adventurous or conventional as your child images it. Anything is possible, and he or she can be anyone the imagination dreams:
- a stuttering pirate
- the first woman to walk on Mars or
- a polar bear undergoing an emotional meltdown as he sits on his rapidly melting iceberg.
Creative writing encourages the young mind to reach outside of the self, adopting a persona beyond one's current perspective. It requires practicing empathy and emotional self-expression while sharpening communication skills. Then, with feedback and encouragement—that's where you can help—the young writer's message becomes more artfully precise. He can compel others to action, inspire, entertain.
Most young people will not grow up to write professionally, but virtually all of them will need writing in their adult lives. Talk to your youngster about the impact that great books and speeches—yes, someone wrote those speeches!—have had on your development. Explain that someone wrote their favorite television and movie scripts before they appeared on screen. Point out adults who should know better who don't write well, and discuss how their poor writing skills make them look to others. (We're talking about you, celebrities and elected officials!) Provide both the rationale and the activities, then let your child come to their own conclusion about the value of writing.
Games, Skill Builders and Activities for Curing a Creative Writing Allergy
Help your child cure their creative writing allergy using games, skill builders, and other imaginative activities. Integrate language-rich pursuits into family life in fun ways. Here are examples:
Who doesn't like a good board game or group game? Make yours one that is built upon enhancing vocabulary:
- crossword puzzles and word searches. Although you could easily purchase these books, why not make your own printable word search or crossword puzzles easily online? Customize a puzzle on what interests your family: sports, the latest movie, a favorite television show, a hobby, or an upcoming holiday. Generate some excitement around the activity by offering a small prize for the first person who solves it. Alternatively, work together on the puzzle over dessert.
Encourage creative storytelling through improvisation and group participation. My family enjoys the "Fortunately/Unfortunately" game, in which one family member starts a story, then the next person picks it up by saying "and fortunately ..." or "but unfortunately ... ." The new storyteller continues the storyline until they are ready to hand it off to the next person. Storytellers alternate between telling "fortunately" and "unfortunately" storylines. Thus, if the previous person told a "fortunately" storyline, then the current storyteller must tell an "unfortunately" storyline, and so on.
A similar storytelling game is "And Then You Wouldn't Believe What Happened" which capitalizes on the outlandish. The twist is that a new storyteller can jump in at any moment with a change in plot simply by saying, "And then you wouldn't believe what happened."
Haiku Texting Challenge
Even the grandparents have a cell phone nowadays, so include everyone and sneak in some poetry writing. Use a haiku texting challenge (or email, if you insist) to bring the extended family together electronically, including those geographically separated kinfolk.
For relatives who pretend they don't want to participate, include them as bystanders in the group chat/email chain. People often decide it's fun after all and jump in late. This activity can involve kids, adults, grandparents, and relatives you see only at Thanksgiving ... or not at all.
Appoint a moderator and set a beginning and end time period. It's not a competition; kids are involved! Remind or teach family members what a haiku is and assign a particular topic for the haikus (e.g., Coronavirus, cats, summer). Branch out and do
- limericks for holidays
- Dr. Seuss-style nonsense poems to celebrate Dr. Seuss' birthday, March 2 or
- free verse poems for relatives' birthdays.
Before you know it, you'll have a family of poets on your hands! And who said they didn't like poetry?
Alternate Endings and Movie Reviews
When your child expresses disappointment regarding how a movie or book ended, have them write an alternate ending and read it to the family. If they're like most kids, they probably also get their fair share of screen time, so encourage your child to write a movie review (or book review). Who knows? He or she could become the next Roger Ebert!
Faces in the Crowd
This is a good way to pass time when you're bored in public (i.e., waiting to be served at a busy restaurant, stuck in a traffic jam). Pick out an interesting looking person or small group of people in the crowd. The point is not to make fun of them but to allow them to become the characters in your story. Describe each fictional character you imagine them to be, assigning a name and vivid background details. The other people who are with you can glimpse in your character's direction, but be careful not to stare. Tell the characters' story. Is it one of heartbreak? Conflict? Disillusionment? Betrayal? Are they running from the law? This often becomes a fun group storytelling activity.
Give your child new experiences to write about but also encourage them to write about common experiences. My family went hang gliding when my daughter was in middle school, an exhilarating opportunity that gave her a new perspective on what it felt like to fly. Talk about such experiences and what they mean to your child. Have them generate analogies to the natural and mechanical world (e.g., birds, planes) or to past experiences.
On a more down-to-earth level, we have also frequently explored the local riverbanks and found excitement in the everyday occurrences of turtles and an occasional snake basking in the sun. Ask open-ended questions and encourage their imagination. Allow your child to own the process of writing.
The Seven Books of Summer
Good writers are those who read a wide range of authors with various styles, in eclectic genres. Your child may prefer science fiction, mystery, or a particular author like J.K. Rowling or John Green. However, growth comes with exposure to books that challenge one's thinking. My child read the Harry Potter series more times than I could count, and for her own development, she needed to read beyond her comfort zone.
At the beginning of each summer, I therefore carefully selected seven literary classics and young adult titles, many of which were best sellers and/or literature award winners. In selecting books, peruse reviews, both positive and negative. Read the books yourself, if you have time. Solicit recommendations from teachers or your local librarian.
To introduce a surprise element, I wrapped each book individually in different gift wrap and presented them all at once to my daughter. (Who doesn't like to open a present?) She chose a book to read at random and let me know which one she had unwrapped. (I required that she finish one book before unwrapping the next selection.) Because I had already read most of them, we could discuss plot, characters, theme, conflict, and anything she found important.
Her reaction to our Seven Books of Summer project was so over-the-top enthusiastic that she implored me to repeat the concept during Christmas Break. She loved the excitement of not knowing what book she was going to open next, being exposed to different story topics and genres, and being able to discuss the books with me. Just as book groups entertain discussion topics, we were able to talk about issues that came to mind for her, in addition to matters such as:
- If the author seemed to have rushed the ending, how should the book have concluded?
- What were the main character's flaws? At what points in the book did those flaws become significant problems for him/her? Did the character fundamentally change or was it only on the surface? How do you know?
- Can you identify different parts of the book plot: background, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution? How does knowing the background help you understand or enjoy the story better?
Perhaps the biggest surprise for us both was that the book she liked the best from this project was , a New York Times best-seller, 537 pages long, and written entirely in verse. This was a child who hated any mention of poetry. The controversial book about a straight-A high school student's addiction to meth is required reading in some high schools and drug court programs. It provided an ingenious platform for the two of us to discuss the impact of drug use. Years later, my daughter still refers to the profound influence of this book. Crank
25 Mystery Envelope Writing Prompts for Teens
Introduce the element of surprise into your student's writing with mystery envelope writing prompts. In each of 25 unlabeled, blank envelopes, place one writing prompt. Then seal each envelope and shuffle the pile. Sample ideas are below, or you can write your own.
Frequency of Writing Prompt Exercises
Negotiate with your teen an advance schedule for writing prompt exercises. Although my daughter wrote daily, Monday through Friday, throughout the summer, that may be too intense an undertaking for your child. Feel free to adjust the frequency level (e.g., once or twice a week) depending upon your student's needs.
Instructions for Teen Writer
Select one of the 25 unlabeled, sealed envelopes from the pile of blank envelopes and let your parent know which you draw. Each writing prompt is identified by the number inside each envelope. Some writing prompts will appeal to you more than others, of course.
If you especially dislike a writing prompt, you may discard only TWO prompts overall. If you decide to "pass" on a prompt and select a replacement option instead, no explanation is needed as to why. However, let your parent know which writing prompt was passed over. Give your best possible effort to spelling, punctuation, word choice, grammar, and storytelling. Use spellcheck and consider using a grammar checker like Grammarly.
Suggested Writing Prompts
- You are a 65-year-old traveler who pulls over on the to pick up a hitchhiker. By the end of the trip at least one of you is not okay. Write a creative short story describing what happened.
- If you could possess any superpower what would it be? What is the value of this talent (for either good or evil purposes)? How would you use it on a practical basis?
- You are struggling to hatch from your egg. Use your five senses to describe the experience of entry to this world.
- Imagine that brain transplants have become a new reality for people with dementia. Only people who are extremely important can benefit. You have been notified by the Global Committee for Societal Advancement that your brain is a match for an internationally significant leader suffering from dementia. Although the donation will cost you your life (sorry about that), your family will NEVER have to worry about money again. Your donation is voluntary. However, people like you who are identified for donation almost always take advantage of this generous program. The Committee has therefore scheduled next Friday as your donation day. Time is of the essence, and we will gratefully proceed with your donation unless you can write a convincing enough letter of appeal. The Committee looks forward to your kind gift in the name of making ours a better society.
- A fly is floating in your bowl of soup! Write a story from the fly’s perspective.
- Ask your parents, grandparents, or another long-term married couple how they met, and then weave their accounts into a vivid written narrative. Interview them separately and take notes. What did each person first notice about the other? What were their first impressions? What was their first conversation about? Describe their first date. How has each person changed over the years? Add any other questions you want them to answer.
- Write about your first name. What does it mean? Does it fit you? Is it the name you would have selected for yourself, and if not, why? What would you have named yourself? Why was the name chosen for you, and who selected it? What other names were considered by your parents?
- “They peeked through the fence, wide-eyed, holding their breaths, hearts pounding. They knew they should not be there but could not look away.” Write a story about what they see.
- If you buried a time capsule today, what objects would you put in it and why?
- You think you are alone in a pitch-black, empty house when there is a mysterious sound. Write a ghost story that will have the hair on your reader’s arms standing straight up.
- “When I look in the mirror, what I see looking back at me is… .”
- You take a vacation to another dimension only to discover that you have brought with you everything that really irritates you. Describe your adventure, what you’re surrounded by, and what you do to return home.
- Create your own humorous fake news article on any topic
- You and two other coal miners have become trapped underground in an abandoned mine. Unfortunately, you have no food and only enough oxygen for two people. Write a short story about your ordeal and your plan to survive until help can get to you.
- What would you pack in your suitcase if you could never go home again?
- You sit down for a talk with God about racism and the Black Lives Matter movement. Write the direct dialog between you two.
- Describe your most embarrassing memory from the perspective of someone who witnessed it.
- Years from now, you may be a parent who is raising a teenager. Provide parenting advice on the do’s and don’ts of raising a kind, responsible, self-reliant young adult who feels good about themselves.
- What person in your life do you wish you had a better relationship with? What could you do to improve that connection?
- “His hands trembled as he ripped open the envelope and read the letter. He knew that whatever it said, its message would be life-changing.” Describe the situation, then write the letter.
- Look at recent obituaries either in the newspaper or online. Imagine the life of that person and write a story about them.
- What problem or issue do you struggle with the most?
- Think of a person from your past who really deserved a good scolding but never got one. Write a fictional account where you tell that person off in a clever or intelligent way.
- Describe the life you expect to have in 10 years. Be as specific as possible.
- Select a quote that summarizes your personal life philosophy. Describe what it means and how it applies to your life, using examples.
Ongoing Prescription for Change
Transforming a child who is allergic to creative writing into one who values and excels at the medium won't happen overnight. It won't always feel fun. That's okay. However, with your feedback on grammar, sentence structure, and other elements of language, your child will become a more confident writer. Provide encouragement and support for their ideas, help them find their own voice in their writing rather than controlling it, and always remind them how being a more adept writer can take them places.
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