I’m in the process of creating a series of children’s writing workshops, part of an ongoing writing group that I have at the boys’ primary school. In my dreams, I turn up each week to expectant faces, ready to soak up whatever writerly wisdom I throw their way, a whole lot of ‘Captain, my Captain’ ringing in my ears, inspiration hovering like a buzzing cloud above our heads.
The reality can be quite different, particularly when I start saying things to them like ‘this is a great idea, but part of your job as a writer is to ensure that the reader can actually read what you’re writing’.
Everybody is keen to fling ideas about and read their work to great applause. Nobody is that keen on listening to me bang on about the correct use of a quote mark and the importance of legible handwriting (I know… given the appalling state of my handwriting, I am a fine one to talk… but I can type).
I know that I should be going with the inspiration. Teaching them to follow their dreams, get their wild ideas down, and hang the consequences. And I do – but, you know what, I’d be doing them a disservice if I did only that. You can’t fully explore the beauty of the English language unless you have an idea of how it works. Nobody will get to the essence of your inspired story if they can’t understand what you’re trying to say.
So we do the quote marks. And I mention the importance of the spelling. Not every time. Not over and over. Writing group is a place to write, not a place to be bogged down in grammar. But I do mention it often enough that they know it’s important.
Three other things that we talk about regularly:
1. Use the best words you know in your descriptions. We do an exercise every week where I give them a word (tree, sand, road, green, nose, hair) and they must write down three words to describe that word. The results are always very interesting – and the third word is always better than the first one they come up with.
2. A fragment is not a short story. Aim for a beginning, a middle and an end, even if you’re writing 200 words.
3. Writers write. Each of the students has a journal, and, to keep their place in the group, they have to write in it at least once a week. I don’t read it unless they ask me to (and they usually do). I just check to see that it’s done. The point of the exercise is to create a writing habit. Some of them are writing ongoing sagas in their journals. Some of them write a three-line description of their weekend. Both of which are fine.
Once we’ve got through doing what writers do best (talking about writing), we also write. There’s nothing like a five-minute writing sprint to open your eyes to the truly inspiring thing about a writing group like this one – I can give the same opening sentence to eight children and the eight resulting stories will be completely different. And always surprising.
Now, that’s inspiring.
Would you love more writing advice for kids? Check out my Creative Writing Quest, a 12-module online course with the Australian Writers’ Centre that takes kids, step-by-step, through the process of creative writing – from idea to producing an edited story, with personalised video feedback from me on their final story. All the course details are here.