How to Encourage Young Writers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALately I’ve been receiving a lot of messages from parents and teachers who have kids or know kids who love to write.

Other enquiries I get are from people who know kids who have great ideas for stories, but don’t know how to get them down on paper.

Here are some things that have worked for me:

1.  Read with the young writer and pick a character, a scene or a setting from what you are reading – something they would like to write about – and get them to write it.

2.  Look at this blog post by Susan Stephenson, which has various ideas on how to get a story started

3.   Brainstorm with your young writer. I used to do this with my kids. We’d pick a word for instance, chocolate, and I’d make up a story about chocolate and they’d either continue with my story or they’d think up an idea of your own. To encourage them I’d ask questions like “What if… this happened?” and “What happens next?” and “How did that happen? Why did that happen? Who did that happen to?”

4.  If the idea of a whole story is overwhelming, take it in stages:

– Decide who the character is

– Decide what the character’s story problem is

– Decide how the character plans to solve it

– Decide what obstacles will get in the way.

5.  Encourage the writer to create a story based on a favourite character from a book, movie or tv program – encourage him or her to try to imagine what it would be like to be that character.

6.  Don’t put limitations on the length of the story. If the child wants to write a 30 word story, that’s okay. If they want to write 300 or 3,000 words, that’s okay The only word count limitations they should have to follow are if they are submitting for a competition or publication and a word limit is specified in the guidelines.

IMG_12007. Always use encouraging language and don’t push the writer to do more than they are comfortable with.  If you have constructive suggestions on how they can improve their story, always focus on the good things about it first, and be encouraging with your suggestions. Always use positive language.

8.  Don’t take over. If the story isn’t the way you would have written it, don’t interfere. The child needs to follow their own creative direction. You will stifle their creativity, dampen their enthusiasm and wreck their confidence if you try to take over their story.

9. If the writer isn’t great at spelling, don’t let this be a deterrent. They can still be a good writer, they just need an editor to help them. Getting the child to dictate the story to you or to type it themselves, will encourage their storytelling and develop their confidence and stop them from worrying so much about the spelling. This is definitely an area you want to help them improve, but try and keep it separate from their story writing. Jackie French is the Australia National Children’s Laureate for 2014 and 2015. She’s the author of over 100 wonderful books, and she also has dyslexia. She is living proof that one of the most important qualities you need to be a writer is to be a storyteller.

10.  Endings are hard and many young writers don’t complete their stories before moving on to the next one – this is perfectly normal. Have realistic expectations. Writing endings is one of the hardest parts of creating a story. It’s something that writers often find difficult into their teens and even adulthood.  Particularly when writers are young, they are exploring where the story is going rather than planning it so it might not have an ending – and it doesn’t matter. I started writing novels when I was about nine.  There were boxes full of my half finished stories at my parents’ house. They were experiments – me learning to be a writer.  Allow your young writer to explore their creativity without pressure. There is no right or wrong way to be a writer.

If you have keen writers in your house or at your school, look for ways to help them get published – through school blogs or newsletters, or holding a writing competition at school. Find out more about hosting a writing competition here.  If your school wants to run a writing competition, I’m happy to donate prizes.

I also run online writing classes for kids who love to write. Lesson plans that you can use in your classroom are available here.

I hope you found these tips helpful. If you have any additional tips, please feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)



One thought on “How to Encourage Young Writers

  1. Great Post, Dee. I’ve sort of always written stories in my head. When I finally learnt how to spell, I gripped my pencil in a paroxysm of joy, because now I could WRITE — if only I knew where to start!

    I think my first story was something like, “A cat made a hat. And the pony ate a dinosore.” Okay, I was six and dinosaur was a long an complicated word! But in my head, anything could happen, even dinosaur eating ponies. Picture I drew (badly) was some sort of flowered hat on a cat with bunny ears, and a horse with glasses eating a T-Rex. My mother wanted butterflies and flowers (she got them in the picture). She wasn’t being pushy, she liked flowers, and didn’t understand your tips up above. I didn’t tell her I kept writing until I was in my teens. Then when I got married she encouraged me to write a short story, which became my first novel. To the day she died I don’t think she understood my writing, or that writers are serious about their craft, even when they are very young.

    I like what you wrote about not worrying about endings. You are right, early writing is about exploration, not endings. I have been writing professionally over 30 years and still hate endings! Wrapping stories up with a bow and a bit of lace (or happily ever after, however it works in the story) is difficult. I’m not good at wrapping Christmas packages, either, but that is completely beside the point.

    I like beginnings better, and they are just as difficult. Would you write to something about beginnings? The white space on a page can be as tricky as the endings.

    Have a great week,

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