The Reluctant Writer
The Reluctant Writer: sees writing as a punishment: it is hard, boring and pointless. They need to learn that writing can be fun, expressive and powerful.
Are you Raising a Reluctant Writer? (part 1 in 5-part series)
The reason I started teaching creative writing workshops ten years ago, was because I was raising a Reluctant Writer.
My child, who once was filled with silly stories, declared that he hated writing after being dealt a boring writing topic for a school assignment.
No matter how much I prompted with questions or offered tidbits of ideas that might motivate him to write, he was done. Writing was boring. It was hard. And it was physically painful. For real.
The Reluctant Writer may have a fantastic imagination and even have a knack for telling stories, verbally, but they are afraid of and frustrated with the actual task of writing.
Topics usually assigned in school are boring and kill any creativity your child may have. They need to shake things up. They need to allowed to be silly, and even a bit rebellious.
In coaching young writers over the last ten years, I’ve learned there are five methods for breaking the Reluctant Writer from their boredom and pain, and even invoke a fire in them for crafting stories.
Five Methods for Inspiring the Reluctant Writer:
1. Fun & Games (writing prompts and games take the “schoolness” out of writing)
2. Writing Tools + Writing Spaces (set the mood for creativity)
3. Word & Story Love (collect and consume words that are unique and story lines they love)
4. Observe + Dissect (watch the world from a writer’s POV and feel the power that comes of keen observation)
5. Keep a Writer’s Journal (list thoughts, ideas, character sketches, headlines, overheard conversations)
Today we'll talk about Method number one:
1. Fun & Games
My best method for motivating a reluctant writer to start writing anything is to get silly with fun and games. Anything that feels unlike school with their restrictions and grading and formats.
Not knowing where or how to start is the biggest obstacle for the Reluctant Writer. They don’t know the rules, they don't’ know what to write about and they don’t know how to start their story.
Guess what?" I tell my Reluctant Writers, " there are no rules."
This piques their interest a bit. When we sit together for the first time, my Reluctant Writer is naturally on defense - ready to balk at the page goal and roll their eyes at the sound of “narrative” or “theme” or “topic sentence.”
But we don’t do that here in writers’ workshop.
In here, we follow our own curiosity, we borrow from other ideas and images, we write out of order and forget all about grammar and punctuation (for now.)
Guess what else?" I tell my Reluctant Writers, "I’m going to show you how to find a ton of ideas and let you decide which one sounds like the most fun to write.
Huh? Freedom of choice?
I don’t know, might be hard. What do I even do with the idea once I decided?
That’s the fun part! You play games.
Let’s start with the most asked question I get from young writers:
“How do I find ideas / What do I write about?”
For some writers, it helps to think about what they like to read or watch. What are their favorite books or TV series? Find a pattern, a theme. Do they gravitate towards strong heroines in magical worlds or more realistic stories about everyday life?
For a writer who likes a bit of reflection first, here are some phrases they can ponder on. Have them sit quietly with these prompts and think and write and write:
“I want to tell a story about…”
“I like to read or watch stories about…”
List of topics that interest me:
Create a Love List (words, sounds, foods, movies, books, people, settings, etc.)
Create a Hate List (annoying habits, sounds, smells, attitudes, seasons, traits, music, etc.)
Sometimes the itch to write is strong, and the young writer just needs an image or a word or a situation to get their ideas flowing.
For that, here is a list of story prompts.
Pick a prompt. Grab a notebook, set a timer for ten minutes and let your child(ren) write as fast as they can -- no edits! Don’t worry about spelling or grammar or punctuation. They’re just writing down the pictures in their minds.
Here are some other places to find story prompts:
Add a game.
After your Reluctant Writer has written a short paragraph or so of an idea, the next step is to throw them some obstacles. Not the writer, their characters!
Have your child read what they just wrote. Now, under their writing, ask them to list the words “What if?” down the page, five times.
Give them another ten minutes* to ask “what if?” and write down the most absurd things that could happen in this story.
For example, let’s say your Reluctant Writer chose this image as their story prompt ( a car stuck in the sky between two trees.) Now, what are some crazy things they can come up with?
1. what if the car was being driven by their dad?
2. what if the car started out as a motorbike and grew into a car as the tree grew taller?
3. what if it was the principal's car?
4. what if the tree came alive and trapped the car between its branches?
5. what if it started to rain hot dogs?
See? Silly! Writing can be fun.
*setting a timer for Reluctant Writers is key to getting them writing quickly before they can talk themselves out of it, and it breaks up their writing time, so it doesn’t feel like a long, drawn-out English Composition class. Yawn!
Tomorrow, in part 2, we'll discuss how to motivate your Reluctant Writer with the right Writing Tools + Writing Spaces.
In the meantime, please let me know if you tried any of these fun + games and what the results were. I love to hear success stories!