Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Nurturing Young Writers

Not long ago, I found a piece of paper in my 9-year-old daughter's room. I glanced at it to make sure it wasn't homework and discovered instead some notes about a mermaid. When I asked her about it, she said, "Oh, that's just an idea I had for a story." I was so excited that if it hadn't been for the clothes and shoes covering every inch of the floor I would have done a cartwheel right there! Later, my 7-year-old son asked if I wanted to write a story with him. Um, YES! We wrote about slime monsters and slime balls. Maybe not my first choice of topics, but it was so fun to see him get excited about putting his ideas on paper, with his impish cackle as he wrote that the slime balls landed on Mom's head. I loved every minute of it - and was glad that it was fiction!

Which all got me thinking about the beginnings of my own love of writing. I can't remember the earliest story I wrote (though I do still have some of my kindergarten poetry), but by fourth grade I had written a short "novel" about gymnast enemies who become friends. Getting to edit my book with a local author and then selling it at a school book fair marked my first foray into publishing. I was hooked.

In junior high, when our notoriously tough English teacher asked for a persuasive paragraph, I turned in a four-page essay. Not to suck up, but because I loved researching and writing. Not incidentally, I credit that teacher with nurturing and developing my love of writing - and my grasp of the basic structure of language and grammar (thanks, Mr. Krueger!). Although I continued to receive writing encouragement throughout high school, no one ever approached me with the idea that writing could be a viable career option. Real people got real jobs - they didn't sit around and write all day. Although I tried to ignore the pull of the writing life in college, soon afterward an editorial job led me to make the leap to writing full time. Thank goodness!

Now, as my own kids are getting to the age when they can read and write on their own, I am beginning to wonder what it is that makes some people love to write, while others would rather chew off their own fingers than put pen to paper. Part of it, I suppose, is just who we are - our inborn personality. But another part of it, I think, lies in the messages and encouragement we receive. I am thrilled that at my children's school, students begin participating in writer's workshop in kindergarten. They learn that all people are writers and that they can write about whatever they want. That freedom gives them confidence to tell their stories, whatever they may be. They don't worry about self-editing or making it perfect. The point is just to tell a story. And they love to share their stories; there is no self-conscious wondering if they did it "right." What matters is that they did it. I can only hope that they continue to receive this kind of encouragement throughout their school years. And they will certainly continue to receive it at home. It may not lead them to a career in writing, but I hope it leads to a lifelong love of the art of creating. Speaking of which, maybe I should go see if anyone wants to write another story with me.