Help reluctant teens embrace the writing process
Quick! Take this survey:
- Do your teenagers complain about having to edit and revise their compositions and essays?
- Do they hate having to spend several days on the same writing topic (brainstorming, writing a draft, self-editing, and revising)?
- Do they become apathetic and lose steam by the time they get to the final draft?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, I have good news: Your kids are completely normal! But short of dragging them across broken glass or hot coals, how can you teach them to embrace the steps of the process as a natural, expected part of writing?
Writing Is Hard Work
If you’ve not used a formal writing program before, it’s possible that the writing process is new to your students. Regardless, they’re not alone. I wish there were a magic wand I could wave over them to help them like it better, but in truth, writing is hard work, and it takes time and discipline.
Unless they’re making lists, journaling, or emailing a friend, most writing does require planning, drafting, editing, and revising. This would be true whether you use WriteShop, some other writing program, or simply create your own writing assignments.
Typically, students want to write a paper once and be done with it. They don’t want to brainstorm, and they certainly don’t want to rewrite it. But whether or not these steps of the writing process are built into the curriculum (as they are with WriteShop), it’s really important for your teens to come to terms with the reality that this is how writers—from students to professional authors—write.
So . . . how do we go about helping reluctant writers grasp the importance of the writing process?
A Look at the Writing Process
There are three main parts of the writing process: brainstorming, writing, and editing/revising.
The student who just sits down to write without having first brainstormed will either stare at the page with a blank look, unable to think of anything, or she’ll write in a fairly disorganized fashion, repeat herself, include unnecessary detail, or omit key ideas. Even in timed-writing sessions, students are encouraged to dash out a quick outline to help them focus on what the question is asking and to keep them from drifting off-topic as they write. Simply, brainstorming focuses a writer. It helps her choose details, plan and organize her story or report, stay on track, and avoid tangents.
Writing is done in stages. The first draft serves to get those rough, new ideas onto the paper. By its very design, the first draft is meant to be revised later.
Editing and revising
Whether or not your child agrees, every paper benefits from revision, and editing gives her a chance to make some modifications. Even this blog article was edited and revised many times before I posted it. I don’t just try to catch typos; I also want to make sure my answers are complete and clear, my thoughts are organized, and my tone is professional yet conversational. This self-editing process tends to be subjective for most of us because we feel an emotional attachment to each and every word. That’s exactly why your student needs to turn her work in to you for objective feedback: She needs an outside opinion in order to write a more polished final draft
Helping Your Student “Get It”
OK. You and I agree that the writing process is important. Yet the $20,000 question remains: How do we get our kids on board? Again, there are no magic answers, but I can offer a few ideas:
Show your teen she’s not alone.
Your student may feel as though she’s the only one who has to plan, write, and revise her compositions. Discovering that the writing process is universal may help her back down a bit. For fun, you might ask her to do a Google search for the term “writing process.” I bet she’ll be surprised to find over 28 million results!
Give freedom to a creative student.
It’s natural to expect a negative response from a reluctant, resistant writer. But if a student who normally loves writing fits this profile too, maybe she feels her creativity is being stifled when she is asked to brainstorm or make changes to her text.
First and foremost, give such a student the freedom to write for the sheer joy of writing—plays, stories, poems, whatever she loves! Separate these experiences from her writing lesson by not requiring her to plan or revise these stories. For her, use the writing process to teach skills in the same way that math drills, piano lessons, or other repetitive activities teach, reinforce, and offer practice. Let her write to her heart’s delight in her free time, but also require her to learn discipline through the structure of the writing process.
You’re a parent, so I’m sure all this makes sense to you. The hard part is communicating it to your student. I find that analogies can help explain things so that she can get it too. Here are some past blog articles that deal with the writing process. Several offer different analogies that compare the writing process with things like gardening, cooking, scrapbooking, and spelunking (caving). See if one or two of these analogies spark understanding in your reluctant student.
- Your child’s writing: Garden or weed patch?
- What’s your favorite part of writing?
- 6 simple truths
- How is a writer like a spelunker?
Point to the future.
Students who choose to go to college quickly discover that the writing process is taught there as well. And as much as they may grumble and complain, it’s to their benefit to plan, draft, and improve each piece of writing.
Among curriculum sites, public schools, universities, and professional writers’ blogs and websites, the writing process is regarded as key to success. To help your teen see how vital these repetitive skills are, even at the college and professional level, here are a few outside sources that further explain the purpose and various stages of the writing process.
- Vanderbilt University | The Writing Studio
- The Writing Process
- Effective Business Writing: The Writing Process
Starting Young Is the Key
In the end, there’s no shortcut to bypass the writing process. Planning and revising are as important to a composition or essay’s success as the actual writing. The best way to avoid arguments, head-butting, and apathy is to train your children while they’re young, perhaps using a program like WriteShop Primary or WriteShop Junior. If they grow up with the writing process, they’ll be more likely to accept and value it, even if they never learn to love it.