Tuesday, April 10, 2012

3 Tips for Writing With Kids

I sat here for a few minutes pondering what my first post on this new space should be. Do you find "first" posts as intimidating as I do? As long as I've been in the blogging business, you'd think it wouldn't be a big deal, but that big blank blog template with no other "previous" posts to bolster it always gets me a little anxious.

Should I write about writing for kids? What about writing with kids? Both are a big part of my daily life these days and if I do it correctly, both will be a big part of this site. So where to start?

Well, a few weeks about I got to be a part of a local Writers in the Schools (WITS) program here in Alaska and I spent an entire week in various classrooms teaching fiction writing to kids. It was an awesome, life-changing experience and I walked away learning more from it all than I had planned.

Funny how life works like that, isn't it?

The more I thought about that time working one-on-one-on-one with so many different kids with various levels of ability and interest, the more I realized I'd come away with a few techniques that I didn't have going into the classroom.

Here's what I came up with.

1. Manage Your Expectations (And Theirs)
I deal with this regularly now, the more I try to work with my own children on their writing. Are you expecting a 20 page masterpiece with multiple plots and character arcs? Or should you narrow your expectations to a more reasonable level? I keep pushing my own son to go deeper, but really, he just wants to write about an Orc's walk to the Zombie King.

That's it.

No more. No less. The more I see the intrinsic value in just that small effort he wants to put forth, the more he'll be willing to expand next time.
Let them start small and, to the best of your ability, do not dampen their spirits when their first efforts are less than Tolstoy-ian. They're on their way, and so are you.

2. Be Flexible with Who Comes to the Party
I worked all week with the kids on fairy tales and their elements. (I love Fairy Tales. So. Much.) When I explained the activity that we'd use to develop characters and get to know a little of their backstory, I set them free at their desks and waited in anticipation with who they'd come up with. Imagine my shock when at least three Spongebobs, Lilo and Stitch, and Perry the Platypus found their way to the pages. That was NOT what I'd had in mind and my first instinct was to correct them and send them back to the proverbial drawing board to come up with original characters. But these were third graders.

 And though they hadn't developed their own characters, they were excited with story ideas for the ones they did write down and I knew that poo-pooing the momentum at that point would work against me and would discourage my young writers. So, when it comes right down to it, be flexible with what your young writers come up with. It's a start and that's always the beginning of something beautiful.

3. Put Yourself Out There
Kids are discerning and its my guess that they can tell right away if you're holding back. When I teach adult workshops, I start with a toe in the proverbial waters. As they warm up to me, I warm up to them and I expose more and more of my personality and my own details about my writing career. When you're working with kids, you need to hit the stage warm and completely open. Be as silly and "present" as you can make yourself and understand that "stage fright" is not a forgivable personality tic. If you're soft spoken and shy, you won't make that crucial connection. Bottom line: they may take a minute or two to warm up to you, but you're not given the same luxury. You love them just as they are the moment you meet them. It's a good lesson for life, really, though I'm not always so great at that when it comes to meeting other adults!
Light Template | ©2012 Designed by Jackie's Design Studio