How to Improve Your Child’s Writing at Home By Ms. Lenore Look
Whenever I want to improve my writing, which is always, I read.
It’s widely understood that our best writing teachers are the books that resonate with us. Good writing is an open roadmap to an author’s process, offering in every word and turn of phrase, and even in the placement of commas – instruction – if not inspiration – for how we might tell our own stories. Unlike cooking, in which the best recipes can be kept secret, literature is unfailingly, the blow-by-blow DIY manual.
Enterprising souls have even distilled the process into steps and formulas and taught them with labels such as “The Hero’s Journey,” or “argumentative,” or “expositional” essays. These are templates that beginning writers are often told to fit their ideas into. As a writing teacher, I’ve taught these rules to my students, sometimes with fairly good results, and other times with dismal ones. In general, they’re not a bad way to start because exam and term papers must follow the “academic” formulae, and so they’re quite useful in that sense. As a writer, however, I observe none of them. I make no thesis statements. I offer no evidence. I avoid conclusions.
Genius, as everyone knows, lies in breaking the rules, making your own rules, and inspiring others to follow suit. This is the history of art, literature, music, religion, anything that builds culture, society, and nurtures the inner life of human beings. Books break the rules, or at least the really good ones do. And real essays don’t follow any rules except one – to wander, or “assay” – in your thoughts. Digress. Make discoveries. Connect the unconnectable. Surprise. Shock. Transport. Transform. Use up everything you’ve got. Finish when you’re wrung out. Leave the essay a different person than the one you were at the beginning. Leave your reader changed too.
So in a time of remote learning, when the classroom and the teaching of formulae and rules are diminished to a tiny screen filled with other tiny screens and constant, surreptitious toggling between the ever-changing-OMG-did-you-see-that from social media feeds, and pop-up screens, and notifications, and adverts, and DM and IM, and pings, and other very important, urgent, liminal and subliminal messages, see it as a good thing.
Stuck at home? Read.
Bored by online classes? Read.
Can’t hang out with friends? Read.
My students who say they have no ideas are those who don’t read. It’s a law of physics, I think – no input, no output, plain and simple. They read for school, but outside of required reading, they never crack open a book.
The other type of student who says they can’t write, and truly can’t, are those who haven’t developed any interests outside of getting good grades. This brings me to my second point.
Whenever I want to improve my writing, I go outside.
I try new things. I do something I’ve never done before. I live.
Henry David Thoreau once wrote that one cannot sit down to write until one has stood up to live. This is true for me, and it’s true for my students. When a certain one of my private students first started studying with me, he had nothing to say. Each week, he would give a verbal monosyllabic reply to my writing prompt, then sigh. He said he had no hobbies. Maybe he said he played video games, so many of them do, but I don’t remember precisely. Then a year ago, he started swimming. He went to swim practice twice a day. He got faster and more competitive, and he began writing about it. Regardless of what we were reading, he turned every essay into one about swimming. Fine. He was writing! And it was about something that mattered to him. Recently, he got involved in theater. Now, he’s on fire!
So in this time of remote learning, when the classroom is diminished, let life become bigger. And let reading explode our boundaries and limitations.