Friday, March 29, 2013

Finding or Creating an Audience, or Who's Going To Read This, Anyway?

If your writer-in-hiding is anything like mine, he will start with, “What's the point of writing this?” and continue with something like:
  • “I already know everything I would write.”
  • "I just told you everything I would write."
  • “Writing it down would just be repeating what I just said.”
  • “Weren't you there when it happened/I read the book/did the research? Didn't we just finish talking about it?”
  • “Who's going to read this, anyway? No one!”
Um, well. He does have a point.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Quote of the week

Will probably not happen every week. But here it is.

I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountaintop, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten--happy, absorbed, and quietly putting on one bead after another.
--Brenda Ueland

Isn't that beautiful?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Seven Minute Journaling

All good writer say--and I also believe--that the only way to get better at writing is to write. There are lots of games you can play together to help a writer emerge, and to make writing a playful rather than painful process—but ultimately, fluency comes from practice. Lots of it. Putting words on the paper or screen on demand gets easier only if you do it often. And sometimes that's hard and painful. But there are ways to make it easier. And it's good practice.

The idea is to write without stopping, without correcting, without really even thinking twice about what gets put on the paper for seven minutes. It's important for this to be a regular practice—three or four times per week, no matter what. Because otherwise it's not a practice, amirite?

This is great practice for perfectionists like mine, who cannot get started for fear of making a mistake, or because they hate to see the purity of their vision ruined by their clumsy attempt to express it. (More on that another time.) It is also good practice for kids whose brains take a while to warm up. Heck, it's great practice for anyone. Which is not to say it's easy, because it's not. It's hard. And sometimes painful. So with that in mind:

Ways to Make it Easier so that you won't have a full-scale mutiny on your hands:
  • Seven minutes can seem like an eternity if you're doing something you don't like or feel like you can't do, so for Tai, I started lower. Five minutes. (Two or three could even work, I guess) Then after a while, we made it a goal to write for six, and worked our way up. (What a great way to model goal setting!)
    • But they have to try to write pretty constantly—it doesn't count if they sit and stare at the screen/paper for two minutes and then write a few words in the last 30 seconds. 
    • Quite frankly, 
  • Another way that sometimes makes things a little easier for Tai is to first draw something that represents what I've asked them to write--or choose something to draw and write about it. This will gave him something to write from. It's like brainstorming ideas. Tai used to like to draw spaceships and then write about each special feature. He created pages that looked sort of like those DK Encyclopedias. It wasn't paragraphs, or even full sentences sometimes, but it was writing. And great practice for writing informational text, actually.
  • Sometimes I have Tai make lists: top ten movies; dream jobs; foods he loves; foods he wishes were as healthy as vegetables; things that are orange; words that start with the letter "L"; things that smell better than they taste; everything they can see/hear/smell/taste from their chair; tv shows, movies, or games that he wishes he could inhabit...
    • Some lists have more potential than others: Tai's list of movies was three items long.
    • More fluent writers can add details, or reasons for each item on their list.
    • The great things about lists is that you can use them later for longer pieces—they can incorporate a list of details into a descriptive piece; they can choose one or two items from a list to serve as jumping-off points for a story or an opinion piece; they can just practice adding details to each list item.
  • Sometimes Tai needs a sentence or two to get started. Provide your writer with one: “This morning I woke up in a strange bed. It was egg-shaped, with covers like cotton. I looked out the window and the sky was green.” 
  • Sometimes the wording of the prompt makes a difference. “Tell about an exciting day you had this week” is so vague. “Make a list of everything you wish you could eat for each meal today”  is much easier to manage.
    • Speaking of prompts, there are a lot of websites out there with long lists of prompts which, quite frankly, I think are not very effective. So another post later with effective prompts, and good resources for prompts.
  • Try to have prompts prepared ahead of time. That way you're more likely to have an effective one. Don't be afraid to re-use a good one, and don't be offended if your writer doesn't like the one you've created/chosen. Maybe have a couple ready just in case.
Did I mention that this is good practice? And that it might be hard? Your writer may balk and whine and protest. Mine did. Let them (gently and kindly). Tell them (gently and kindly) to write their protests on the page. They will most likely not want to. But they might present you with a paragraph detailing just how miserable they are, and how monstrous you are. If they say that they cannot write a single thing, then let them write “I don't know what to write” or “blahblahblah” or “I hate this” over and over. It could be torture for you--I still end up resorting to naggery when I see that that resentful/catatonic stare, or a list of "blah" on the page--but maybe you can turn it into an experiment: how days will this happen before your writer can think of something to say?

I can hear people thinking, “But making a kid write will just make her hate writing even more.” Which, to be honest, I sometimes think myself. But I've been finding that it has not made my writer hate writing. In fact, it has been getting easier and easier over the months that we've done this. Tai isn't writing more, or better necessarily. (Whatever "better" means) But he is writing more fluently.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

Really Writing: Ice Cream!

In a future post, I will address the very important concepts of purpose and audience, but for now, one reality-based writing project that provided an initial purpose--a little kickstart--for my reluctant writer (whom maybe I'll call writers-in-waiting, to be positive). Not to mention a great side benefit for all involved: ice cream.

Ice Cream Parlor Field Trip (and Review)
We made it our mission to find the best ice cream parlor in our area--we visited a bunch, then evaluated them and wrote a couple of reviews.
  1. Choose a few great ice cream parlors (or throw in a mediocre one, just for kicks).
  2. Decide on a few criteria on which to rank each shop.
  3. Go and take notes. Practice observing and recording details. Take pictures and videos (Tai's idea) for future reference, or for posting. 
  4. Eat. Have lots of tastes. Chat up the servers. Take more notes.
  5. Write. Turn your notes into paragraphs, maybe based on your criteria. Assign stars (or ice cream cones, or scoops) if you like.
  6. Send a draft to Auntie Joan and revise so that her questions are answered.
  7. Publish. Send the reviews to future out-of-town visitors. Start a Visitor's Guide binder. Post to restaurant review sites like Yelp, Urbanspoon, Tripadvisor. Or post on your own blog.

  • Before we went anywhere, we read a few sample reviews: we checked out blogs, articles, and Yelp, and went over their attributes together. We look at rating systems, criteria, how the writers organized their information. We asked ourselves: What features do these reviews have in common? What makes a good review? What do we want to include in our review?
  • Then we brainstormed a list of criteria or attributes that we wanted to evaluate: ambience, service, ice cream quality? Number of flavors? How many free tastes you get? Seating? Lines? Price? Toppings? We put them on "note-taking paper" so you have a way to organize field notes. Another option would be to put each criteria on a separate index card.
  • We brainstormed a list of descriptive words to help talk about the criteria we chose. Then I added a few, just in case: creamy, luscious, sweet, mild, bitter, heavy, grainy, rich; cluttered, homey, sleek; indifferent, genuine, snobby. You can get advanced and go for nouns and verbs, too: stretch, crunch, gleam. This helped my kid get beyond "I would give it 4 scoops. It was really good."

You can do this for bakeries (who makes the best chocolate croissants?), pizza places, public swimming pools, beaches, movie theaters, arcades, food trucks...the list goes on and on.

Any improvements you can make? Any great variations? Let me know.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Reality Check and Writer's Block

Of course, the day after I launched a blog full of wonderful ideas and strategies to help parents of reluctant writers, my own reluctant writer launched a full-scale war against what I thought (and still think) was a great idea: a screenplay of an episode of his favorite show, The Clone Wars. We fought on and off for an hour over it and it has ended up with him not doing one lick of writing.

The problem is not the project. The problem is the problems he's encountering: he has realized that parts of his plot don't make sense--how would one group of bounty hunters know to be on the lookout for another group of bounty hunters if the first group thinks it's operating in total secrecy? Why would the lookout be on a hill where she could see the intruders arrive, when she is supposed to be guarding the entrance of the building? How would she know who they were and what they were up to without sophisticated spy gear that she wouldn't be able to carry with her?

All great problems. Great opportunities for thinking, for brainstorming, for creative solutions. But for my son the perfectionist--perfectionism, by the way, can block creativity--they pose a major obstacle, and now he's stuck as stuck can be. How To Deal With Writer's Block. Great future topic.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Reluctant Writers

Reluctant doesn't even begin to describe it. Let's check the thesaurus:

Obstinately Averse?

That would be more accurate, if you're talking about my son. He hates to write.

You wouldn't know it from watching and listening to him. He has always been a voracious reader. He has a deep and varied vocabulary and speaks in sentences that are positively Joycean. He'll talk your ear off--stories, arguments, descriptions of his Minecraft world, you name it. He's a language fiend. My great uncle was an author and poet, my other great uncle was a published theologian, my brother is a sports journalist, I am a writing teacher. When Tai was little, I could see another writer developing before my eyes. I was so excited to have another writer in the family.

And then he went to school and learned to write. And I watched my vision of a writer-son crumble before my very eyes. Put a pen in his hand and my language lover turns into a lump of clay. A resentful lump of clay. With nothing interesting to report about anything, if you take his word for it.

So here, once a week for the next year (that's my goal right now), I will record and hopefully share everything I am doing to turn this lump of clay into a writer. Or at least into a boy who doesn't hate to write.