How can you encourage reluctant teen writers when they feel stuck? What should you tell them when they can’t seem to get started writing? What advice can you offer when perfectionism rears its ugly head and they have trouble accepting their own mistakes?
Typically, you can’t say or do much—especially if they’re already in a funk. But if you can bite your tongue and sit on your hands till a teaching moment arises, they might be willing to consider one of these ten truths.
1. It’s not just you. I promise.
Writing isn’t always easy. I’m sure you think you’re the only one who suffers from writer’s block, but it might help to know that even famous published authors will agonize over a word, a sentence, or a paragraph.
2. There’s no penalty for a bad first draft.
“The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” ~Robert Cormier
3. If you’re stuck, explain to someone what you’re trying to write.
My adult son is a former reluctant writer. But even to this day, as a Ph.D. student, he’ll call me from time to time when he hits a writing roadblock. Often, I do nothing more than listen and offer the occasional “Mm-hmm.” But the act of thinking aloud and tossing around ideas can open up the floodgate, and he finds that the log jam of words will finally loosen.
4. Set a timer.
Having trouble getting started? Grab a kitchen timer and set it for 15 minutes. You can do anything for 15 minutes, right? And some days, you may not even hear the beep.
5. To write well, it helps to read well.
Reading teaches you how words work. You can become more attuned to detail, imagery, voice, and sentence construction. There’s no guarantee that being an avid reader will automatically make you a polished writer, but reading certainly lays a foundation for writing in many ways.
6. Style comes with practice.
Writing may not be second nature to you, but you will learn to develop your own writing style over time.
7. It’s better to write poorly than not at all.
You can always improve your rough draft. Don’t get hung up on perfection. Everyone revises!
“The first rule of writing is to write. The second rule of writing is to rewrite. The third rule of writing is the same as the second.” ~Paul Raymond Martin
8. Don’t write and edit in the same sitting.
I can’t tell you how many little errors I catch when I revisit a piece of my own writing even one day later! I know it’s tempting to just “get it over with.” But really, you’re much wiser to let that essay marinate for a couple of days. When you come back to it, you’ll be more likely to see it with fresh eyes and be willing to make changes.
[Of course, this means you can’t wait till the last minute to write your rough draft. ‘Nuf said.]
9. Learn to edit your own work.
This is one of the most valuable writing skills you can acquire. The more adept you become at self-editing, the less you have to rely on others to point out flaws. Before you turn your paper over to your parent or teacher, proofread and revise it first.
- Am I being too wordy?
- Repeating myself?
- Making my point?
- Varying my sentence structure?
- Using descriptive detail?
- Punctuating properly?
Your writing will always benefit from a second set of eyes, but learning to edit your own work is a lifelong skill every student needs to develop. While you’ll never be completely objective about your own writing, the ability to self-edit is equally important as having another person do it for you.
10. Edit your writing as if it were someone else’s.
Take an emotional step away from your paper. Imagine that it was written by the kid who flips burgers at McDonald’s, and begin to look for ways the writing could improve. It’s much easier to be objective when you pretend that your composition isn’t actually yours!
Copyright 2012 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.
Photo by Jessica, courtesy of Creative Commons 2.0
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