As a writer, it can be remarkably helpful to spend time around kids. When I’m not doing my own writing I work with kids ages 8-18 on everything from short stories to college essays, and at least once a week something happens that takes my breath away.
Young kids—eight to eleven-year-olds— who love to write, REALLY love to write. “Writer’s block” is an unknown concept; they’re open about sharing their work; they delight in other’s work; they laugh a lot. Adolescents are trickier. Some are so shy they barely speak during workshop, but then they write vivid, bold, incredible stories. Others can’t wait to tell you how wonderful their writing is, but then their stories are tentative, stilted. They are all incredibly brave. You know how hard it is to share your writing as an adult? How vulnerable it makes you feel to have your soul there on display? Right. Imagine doing that as a 14-year-old.
Here are three of the best lessons I’ve learned about writing from kids:
Don’t be afraid to play. A big part of working with kids is playing writing games. Writopia, the non-profit creative writing organization I work with, has its own games, but you can easily search for “creative writing games” online and find dozens. Playing writing games pushes kids to write scenes and stories and characters outside their usual comfort zones, often with surprising results. I play every game along with the kids, and it’s pushed me outside my comfort zone, too. One student of mine wrote very serious, deeply philosophical fiction. (He’s 13 and reads Albert Camus “for fun.”) One day I had students write down a single “Aha!” moment that could happen to a character (I learned to tell the truth, I understood parents make mistakes) and then write a character and scene leading up to that moment of insight. But first I had the kids swap “Aha!” moments, so they had to write something based on another student’s idea. My very serious student had to create a story leading up to the insight “I stopped believing in Santa Claus,” and wrote a delightful, sharply funny piece about a little boy walking down the stairs expecting to meet “the Fat Man himself” only to run into his father. “This is nothing like what I usually write,” the student kept saying. And he smiled the entire time he was writing. [Read more…]