they change the world into words. ~ William H. Gass
This is my tried and true approach to raising a good writer.
- Make words a fun, happy, safe, communal thing in your home. Play with words (knock-knock jokes, Mad Libs, magnetic poetry, any of dozens of genuinely fun, noninstructional card and board games, etc.). Point out clever phrasing when you notice it. Read great (fun!) novels and interesting (fun!) reference books together. Talk about how ads in magazines and signs on businesses are worded and why it might or might not generate any business. Laugh together over words and about words.
- Love words yourself and let it show.
- Fill your home with paper, notebooks, a large variety of pens and pencils, computers with word-processing software and access to the Internet. These are toys for writers! A trip to the office-supply store is bliss.
- Learn to distinguish between writing (content), handwriting, and adherence to rules for spelling and grammar. They are very different things, and a person can be great at any one of them without having any special talent for the others. Also, real writers have keyboards and editors; your child can rely on that, or get through life with spell-checkers and grammar-checkers like most of the known universe.
- Never, ever, ever point out spelling or grammatical errors in a young person's writing. Some people's passion for writing will stand up to this kind of abuse, but it shouldn't have to. Keep in mind that using creative spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure is a natural phase of early writing. Most of us do eventually learn where the period goes and that "cat" is spelled with a "c." Trust.
And meanwhile, focus on content. Share your natural enthusiasm for that, and be cognizant of the fact that by sharing his writing with you, your child is bestowing an honor. Appreciate it!
Note: There is one time when it's okay to offer yourself up as proofreader and that's when your kid is submitting his writing for consideration in order to meet his own goal: winning a prize, getting published, gaining admittance to college, things like that. Otherwise, wait to be asked.
- Protect your child's creativity from writing curricula and well-meaning friends and relatives. The approved essay format, with its rigid structure and counted sentences and paragraphs, can stifle creativity. And Aunt Martha's kindly meant comments to your seven-year-old about subject-verb agreement might serve only to dampen a budding writer's joy in all that is wondrous about writing. Step up and step in, if for no other reason than to show your child that she has choices.
- Respect every writer's privacy. The things your child writes are his to share or not share as he chooses. In the absence of an invitation—and, no, that paper or journal left in plain sight is not an invitation—do what you have to do to control your urge to peek.
- After creating a home where writing is valued and considered fun, check to see if your kid is a writer right now. She might not be, and that's okay! If she is, you will know it; writers write and nobody has to make us do it.
If she isn't, repeat steps 1 through 7, not with the goal of making her into a writer but because words are a playground you can enjoy as a family.