Is the ability to write well something that kids are born with? While talent does plays a part, are there things we can do at home to help our kids become good at this very important skill? In this article, Ryan Ong from Monster Under the Bed share with us and explains the various elements that must combine to create a good writer.
What is a “Good” Writer?
The term “good writer” is a treacherous one. Whenever parents and teachers use it, I start to get nervous.
See, everyone has their personal definition of what “good writer” means. To some students, it means scoring in composition exercises. To most adults, it means just being published. To an established writer, it tends to mean a seven digit advance or the Nobel Prize for literature. So just for the sake of clarity, here’s the scale I’m using for this article:
- Undeveloped – Can functionally write (e.g. compose a decent e-mail), and meets expectations with essays and compositions.
- Potential Writer – Consistent, above-average scores in essays and compositions.
- Proficient Writer – Can write opinion columns, short stories or reviews, and get them printed. Can start to make a living from writing.
Beyond that are the literary heavyweights (Umberto Eco, Jorge Luis Borges, James Joyce, etc.) Bear in mind the level of quality I’m defining as “good”.
It’s beyond scoring in school tests or winning writing competitions. By the time someone’s a “good” writer, high scoring compositions and winning contest entries are foregone conclusions. The question is, how does one get to that level?
Talent and opportunity are key. But besides those two, most good writers tend to have most of the following at home:
- Parents who read
- Parents who story-tell
- Ritualized reading time
- An appropriate library
- A learning culture
- Unplugged games and toys
- Someone involved in a literary endeavour
1. Parents Who Read
We learn what to like at a young age.
So if you play a lot of sports, your children will be inclined to think sports are fun. If you read a lot, they’re bound to show interest in that. Check out the biographies of writers like Virginia Woolfe or James Joyce: Most good writers come from reading families.
Parents should be seen reading, and discuss what they’re reading with the family. This drives home the point that books are interesting. By constantly reading, you also develop a sense of what works (or doesn’t work) in writing. A lot of parents are unable to properly critique compositions or stories, because they have no literary grounding.
2. Parents Who Story-Tell
Your children can’t understand Hamlet from the text. But they can if you re-tell the story in simple English.
Storytelling provides a tremendous advantage later on. When your children need to start composing stories, they’ll already have grasp of the “beginning-middle-end” structure that’s required. With the right stories, they’ll also have a sense of character development, pace, and dialogue.
Grammar and vocabulary are just a question of practice; children pick it up fast. But story sense is far more difficult to develop. There’s a reason even some adults can’t conceptualize whole plots. So the sooner you start nurturing that the better.
3. Ritualized Reading Time
Time for quiet reading is important. If every corner of the house is constantly covered by the blare of a radio or TV, it’s less likely (not impossible) that a child will curl up there and read.
This reading time should not be part of the homework routine. The last thing you want is for your children to associate it with work. In fact, the ideal reading time is after homework’s done, when parents can sit with their children and read.
Routine and ritual are a key part of this. Try to keep to the same days or times, and accompany it with other rituals (e.g. drop by the local Han’s in the library before going home to read a new book).
4. An Appropriate Library
Students have to read from the best.
When young writers emulate a literary style, it’s seldom because they want to be the writer they’re imitating. They imitate because it occurs to them that “This book is awesome. It is the best and most reasonable way to write.” Which is great if the book in question is a classic, and disastrous if it’s Twiight-esque garbage.
A good library doesn’t just have to be packed with classics. But try to include a good mix of fiction, both the accessible and the highbrow.
There is a difference, by the way, between having your own library and using the public library. First, the books are on hand, so there’s less to stop you or your child from picking it up. Second, everyone feels compelled to read a book they’ve bought.
5. A Learning Culture
Don’t know the meaning of a word? Look it up. Don’t understand what the writer meant by something? Open Wikipedia.
Most good writers come from families where ignorance isn’t tolerated.
6. Unplugged Games and Toys
By “unplugged”, I mean sports and board games (Scrabble or Settlers of Catan maybe, but not Monopoly or Snakes and Ladders).
Unplugged games promote social interaction and negotiation. Both are skills that reinforce grammar, vocabulary, and creative expression. As a bonus, these games (like Diplomacy) encourage the analytical thinking a writer needs. It makes us ponder why someone would perform a particular action.
This is vital to writers: Our craft requires penetrating insight into human motives and behaviour. Without that, our fictional characters tend to be flat.
7. Someone Involved in a Literary Endeavour
If someone in the family is a writer, journalist, etc., there is a better chance that the children will aspire to be the same.
I’m not suggesting you quit your job and be a writer. But even if you run a little family or you write your own family plays to stage in the living room, you’re contributing. And if you allow the children to take part in literary endeavours, their attention will be engaged. Even if all they do is giggle when the masterpiece is read aloud.
This article was originally posted by Ryan Ong, on 15 Jul 2013, on MUB. All rights belong to Monsters Under The Bed.