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.  

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