How to help a child with writer’s block is a big concern for homeschooling parents.
Some kids identify writer’s block as those fleeting thoughts and ideas that tease around the edge of the mind but never find their way to paper. Others know it as the panic that wells up any time pencil and paper are involved.
Though many stumbling blocks litter the road to writing success, perfectionism—the biggest contributor to writer’s block—is the mother of them all. Perfectionism can hold kids back from doing their best by seizing them with fear. The ideas they scratch out on paper just don’t seem good enough.
Your Kids Are Not Alone
Once asked about the most frightening thing he had ever encountered, novelist Ernest Hemingway replied, “A blank sheet of paper.”
When kids are in a stare-down with that blank page—and the page is winning—it’s easy for them to believe they’re the only ones who ever wrestle with writing down a thought. Perhaps they can take comfort knowing that everyone—even Hemingway—has suffered from writer’s block at some point.
I love these quotes from other famous authors who really understand!
“Don’t get it right, just get it written.” ~James Thurber
“People have writer’s block not because they can’t write, but because they despair of writing eloquently.” ~Anna Quindlen
“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” ~Margaret Atwood
When perfectionism or writer’s block grinds your kids to a halt, one of these suggestions may help them gain their footing again.
1. Start Small
When you bake a cake, it doesn’t pop out of the oven ready to serve to the birthday girl! You have to begin with a plain cake and build from there, adding frosting and decorating with icing flourishes and colorful sprinkles.
It’s just as unrealistic for your child to expect a brilliant composition to appear on paper the minute he starts forming words. As with the cake, it helps to start with a few plain sentences he can add to and embellish later.
For example, he can start with something like this:
I am on a baseball team.
Yesterday we played our best game.
I drove in two runs.
Gabriel scored the winning run.
It was a close game.
Our coach took us out for pizza.
I am on the Red Rockets baseball team with my friend Gabriel. Yesterday we played our best game of the season against the Mud Ducks. In the bottom of the sixth, I hammered the ball and drove in two runs to tie up the score. During the last inning, Gabriel slid into home plate and scored the winning run. What a close game! Afterwards, Coach Dan took the whole team to Sammy’s Pizza to celebrate our victory.
2. Write Now, Revise Later
A rough draft is a place to test out ideas and play with words. Getting those unpolished ideas onto paper is an important part of the process.
If your child realizes this sloppy copy gives him permission to be imperfect, he’ll be more willing to allow himself the freedom to make some mistakes. Urge him not to do any editing at all during the rough-draft stage.
The first draft will eventually need some tweaking; there’s always room for improvement. (Even revered authors such as Tolkien, Steinbeck, and Rowling have faced the task of revising their work!) This is the time to encourage your kids to rework their paper so it shines.
- Younger children shouldn’t labor over a revision. It’s enough to add a few details, substitute stronger words, and polish up spelling and punctuation.
- Teens, however, should expect to rewrite a draft several times before it passes muster, beefing up arguments, supporting with additional facts, embellishing with description, and improving both word choice and mechanics.
3. Write Out of Order
If the “perfect” introduction eludes your student, let him start writing a different section of the paper. He can always come back and add a topic sentence or develop an introductory paragraph.
4. Write to Music
Put on some music during writing time. It could be lively or calm, jazzy or symphonic, classical or contemporary—as long as it’s instrumental. Poke around Pandora or Spotify till you find a station that appeals to your child, and then encourage him write as the music inspires!
Even if you’re assigning a specific topic, background music can focus your writer, helping him to get “unstuck.”
5. Use a Writing Prompt
When ideas languish in the corner of your student’s mind, a writing prompt could be the very thing that blows him out of the writing doldrums. A text prompt is a word, phrase, or short paragraph that provides a springboard to writing about a specific topic.
As an alternative, an interesting or unusual photo—with or without accompanying text—might be all the inspiration your child needs to break out of his slump.
- Hundreds of free writing prompts for kids and teens, including some fun photo prompts.
- National Geographic Photography features stunning images of landscapes, weather, animals, people, and more. Any one of these amazing photos could set your kids’ pens on fire!
- WriteShop Writing Extras offer hours of writing fun. Download and print your favorite StoryBuilders, Story Spinners, Journal Prompt Calendars, and more!
No one is immune to writer’s block. See which of these ideas knocks your child out of the doldrums!
Photo: Cillian Storm, courtesy of Creative Commons.
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