Parent toolkit for Kid Authors #2: Tips for Writing

Imagine you have a kid in your life who loves to write. She comes up with story ideas, writes them down, and longs to hold in her hands a book that she’s written, with her name on the cover. She loves how she feels when she reads a good book and she just knows she can evoke those same feelings in others with her own story.

She starts to write, but it’s not as easy as she thought it would be.

Her attention wanders and there’s a significant challenge in being able to focus. What’s happening? She loves reading and writing stories for fun, so this should be easy, right?

The truth is, writing is really fun and coming up with stories is great – until we introduce the idea of other people reading it.

The second we decide we’re going to create something for publication, something that other people will see, read, and goodness knows, have an opinion about, writing becomes much more difficult.

This is just as true for kids as it is for adults. There’s a big difference between a kid writing a book report, a summary of a story they’ve read, and a kid creating an original story. The original story is usually much more stressful. The tricky part is, with Kid Authors (KA’s), they can’t always articulate this sense that the stakes are higher and it freezes their story-telling ability. We can help them with simple strategies to keep them moving forward with their writing project.

At the end of the day, taking action is the only thing that will help. Feeling like progress is being made is more powerful than other antidote to procrastination in the face of fear, whether it’s conscious or subconscious.

For the rest of this blog, we’ll look at practical strategies we can use with our KA’s to help them stay focused on their writing projects and keep moving forward.

It’s worth noting there are writers, both adults and KA’s, who are able to move forward with their writing without being concerned what others will think of their work. As humans, most of us come face to face with deciding what impact the opinions of others will have on us. The experience of writing for publication is a wonderful way to give our kids an interaction with this part of life. We can also give them tools and support for moving forward despite any anxiety that may pop up.

Look at your calendar with your KA and really think about the time you have available for writing. I like doing this once a week on Sunday afternoons for myself. With clients, we talk about what the plan is until our next session together. This plan usually includes how many days a week the KA will sit with her writing, which specific days, and a target amount of writing time for each day.

Be sure to consider school, homework, other extracurricular activities, downtime, etc. The most important element here is to be honest about the time realistically available.

When will writing fit into your life? In many cases a KA is a member of a family. Do you have a KA that can sit by herself and make progress? Does she need an adult to be close to her to keep her focused? That might determine the time of day and the length of time you spend writing.

Try to come up with a goal for the week, or the month. Maybe it’s going to be writing every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoon for 20 minutes, and for 10 minutes Tuesday and Thursday. Maybe it’s just going to be Monday and Wednesday.

Whatever the plan is, put it into your calendar, set alarms if needed to remind your KA that it’s writing time, and do your best to stick with it.

Notice if the KA is struggling with a certain time of day. Perhaps writing right after school is really tough, but after dinner seems to work well. Then you can adjust your plan. Countless discussions in the realm of priority management declare having a plan you can adjust is better than having no plan at all.

In my personal experience, the most valuable tools I’ve found to keep the writing moving forward are those that incorporate a number. It could be time, number of pages, or word count.

Time. Using a timer is a wonderful way of driving focus. I tell this to my college students – set a timer for a small chunk, 15-20 minutes, use it for focused study, and then take a break.

When working with KA’s, sometimes that small chunk of time is all the writing that will happen for the day. Put the smartphone in another room. Turn off the wi-fi on the computer. And just write until the timer goes off. Then, get up and wiggle around. Maybe read over what you’ve written and decide if you have the time and energy to go for another timed round of work. It’s always possible to set the timer for a brief five more minutes. Play with it and see what works for your KA.

Another option to aim for is number of pages. The KA might pick a goal of writing one or two pages and commit to sitting until those pages are full. Fair warning: this option can be tough if it’s a day the “I don’t know what to write” syndrome is happening. In this case, adjust the plan. Maybe switch to a timer and see what happens.

Word count is a great point of focus especially for older writers working on a chapter book project. They don’t need to be perfect words. 500 okay works are better then no words at all.

Tracking your writing practice. I highly recommend a system to track progress that is easy to use and lives somewhere visible. Your KA will like the visual evidence of progress and so will you! On the family calendar in my kitchen I add a happy face to each day that I sit down and write. I love seeing those happy faces while I’m fixing breakfast or packing lunches – and it’s a good reminder that I need to stick to my morning writing routine after I drop the kids off at school.

Another option might be a one page print out for the month your KA hangs on a bulletin board or bathroom wall. Or it could be a note in a daily planner. Whatever works for your KA.

I recommend all KA’s keep a writer’s notebook. This is a special notepad or journal used to capture ideas for scenes, language that would make great dialogue, or even observations on human behavior that might contribute to her book. In the first blog post of this series, I mention the importance a system for capturing the distracting ideas that might pull your KA from the story she’s working on. A section of the notebook could be designated for new story ideas that are added here.

The importance of a writer’s notebook is to keep ideas in a safe place and to have a portable system for KA’s to capture new ideas. I can’t tell you how many times I stood in line at the grocery store checkout, would overhear something fabulous, and wish I had my notebook to write it down. When I finally established the habit, I find I use it frequently. Everything from wanting to record the details of a conversation to a smell from outside that must go in my book.

Eventually, your KA will have a treasure trove of ideas to pull from for adding detail to the story.

Choose a different tool to capture the story. Sitting still in one spot can be a real challenge for some kids, especially if they’ve spent all day at school. The story is there and wants to come out, but the focus isn’t there. It’s almost as if trying to sit and write is taking all the energy out of them.  Invite your KA to stand up and talk instead of sitting and writing. Whip out the smartphone, voice recorder, or an old tape recorder from the attic and let her tell the story she’s been thinking of out loud. She can pace in her room or wander the hallway or even walk up and down the street, talking into her recorder and capturing her story.

With one of my clients, I sat on the sofa in her living room while she did laps around me, talking the entire time. Luckily I could type fast enough to keep up with her ideas. Before she started moving, she was struggling to keep her attention on her story and the words weren’t coming. As soon as she started moving, the words flew out of her mouth.

After your KA gets an initial round of ideas out, have her sit down and transcribe her own work. This can be handwritten or typed; leave it to personal preference and shift the story onto the page or screen. A recording can be stopped and started as many times as needed to get the words down. This process helps her to connect with her story and maintain a sense of ownership and responsibility, which is my goal when I work with KA clients.

When drafting a story, especially a first draft, it’s important to keep moving forward. Kids are taught all sorts of rules about writing in school – and most of them are important. But…there’s no need to harp on them at the very beginning of the process of writing an original story.

If your KA is typing her story or even writing by hand, there will likely be a habit of adding punctuation and even checking spelling. If that happens, just let it happen, but I strongly recommend if you, the parent, see errors during the drafting stage, don’t call attention to them just yet. There’s plenty of time to edit before publication.

This means, do not cross things out, just make notes off to the side if your ideas change. Circles and arrows work to indicate you’d like to move a passage. The point is wait to cut until you’re finished with your first draft.

Breadcrumbs. End each writing session with a sentence or a few notes that capture the idea of what needs to be written at the next writing session. It might be a scene or a piece of dialogue or even a note to research important details.

Breadcrumbs can also be in the form of a prompts or a warm up question to kick off the next writing session. KA’s can leave a question or sentence starter on the page to use as inspiration for next time. It can be something silly, like “try to use the word banana peel” or it can be specific: Where can I fit in a red pair of shoes and why would they be important?

The breadcrumbs can become part of your writing routine. A sample structured writing practice for a KA might be:

  • Write with a timer, a page or word count goal
  • When finished with writing time, write a small note to remember what to work on during the next writing session
  • Mark the visual reminder of progress (calendar or list of days in the week or month)
  • Outlining. There’s a good chance your KA learned this in school. Most students have been taught the concept of a graphic organizer, which can be useful when getting started with a story. What we sometimes forget is they can be useful in the middle of a story too. A graphic organizer or outline is a great way to refresh what has already been written and then mark the outstanding scenes or points left to make. This can be used as a checklist for going forward too.

Implementing a reward system is a powerful strategy to get a writer’s pen moving. My own kids respond well to the promise of a play date with a friend, watching a movie or favorite show, or even doing something they don’t often get to do. After you’ve completed your first draft we’ll plan a family camping trip. That kind of thing.

What would get your KA moving? Play time with a friend? Getting to choose what the family has for dinner? A trip to the bookstore?
Rewards are powerful motivators. We as parents/coaches/teachers have to decide how to use them most effectively for our individual KA’s. Just like planning, rewards can be tried, feedback collected, and then modified as needed.

The next blog post in this series addresses how a KA can approach her story, answering the all important question: do we have to start at the beginning? Click here to check it out.

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