I’ve received several emails asking me about learning to be a writer when you’re a kid. There are so many different paths to becoming a writer, particularly since we all have our own way of doing things, that I can only talk about my journey.
Some of the best things I did to help me become a writer when I was a kid was to read and write regularly. I believe that’s the foundation of being a good writer. Reading heaps and practicing. It’s important to not only read for enjoyment, but to read for understanding. As a kid I’d often read a book that I loved two and three times so I could understand how the author created the story. I started using this technique in early primary school, probably around the age of eight, and still sometimes use it.
It’s also important to do things other than just reading and writing. Things that will give you experiences to draw on for your writing. Experiences gained by both participating and observing. I have to thank my family for dragging me out of my world of books and writing to go places. Holidays, swimming, visiting friends and family, camping, fishing, sailing, parties… all with a book in hand of course.
Another habit I developed early was to write down my ideas and keep them somewhere safe. By the time I had my own computer in my early twenties, I had pages and pages of notes and numerous notebooks. It took me days to type them onto my computer. I probably would’ve been a lot quicker if I hadn’t needed to spend so long deciphering some of my handwriting. I currently have eighty-six single-spaced, word document pages of ideas, with some of those ideas only taking up five lines. More ideas than I’m ever likely to be able to write in a lifetime.
One thing I would’ve liked more of when I first started writing was honest feedback. It was something that was really difficult to come by. People were willing to read my stories and tell me how well I’d done, but very few actually gave me constructive criticism. I didn’t want to only hear that I wrote great for my age. I wanted to know how to write better. To be as good as an adult writer. But, that’s me, not every kid appreciates having their writing problems pointed out and can often find it daunting. I guess it must have been tough for adults to look down at a kid staring up at them with hope in their eyes and say, “Look kid, I think you might be onto something here, but you really need to work on this issue.”
Something I would’ve loved to have done when I was a kid was join a writers’ group. In every town we lived in I searched notice boards and asked librarians, but sadly there were none. These days even if you can’t find a local writers’ group there are plenty of online ones. It’s good to have people who understand what it’s like to be a writer and can commiserate with you when things aren’t going to plan and cheer when they are.
I also tried a lot of different writing styles as a kid. Different points of view, different genres, and different formats. Poetry, journals, plays, epistolary, descriptive and narrative. I did a lot of experimenting until I started to learn my own style and find my writing voice. I still like to write in a lot of genres and even different formats. Not everything works but I usually learn something new, which is always good.
It takes twenty hours to learn a new skill and ten thousand hours to master it. I’ve long since passed those ten thousand hours, but I still feel like I’m learning something new with each book. You can do a lot of workshops and courses, which I’ve done over the years, but the best thing I’ve done to become a writer is to practice. To write each story until I reach ‘The End’, put it aside and start the next one and so on. Then after that first story has been left to sit alone for three months, six months, a year… whatever it takes to gain distance and a different perspective, look at it. Read what you’ve written and see how it can be improved. Then repeat. Lots!
If anyone else has advice for aspiring young authors, I’m sure it’d be appreciated.
3 thoughts on “Laying the Foundations”
Thank you so much for this info to help our young writers grow! I agree that constructive criticism is hard to come by for kids. Everyone just wants to encourage them and they avoid talking about flaws in the plot or writing. But all writers, no matter how young, want their book to be great. One piece of advice I have for giving constructive criticism to children’s writing is to wait until the right time to give it. Wait until they have put the book down for a while and are ready to review and rewrite. I know my daughter is exhausted by a book when she has spent what feels to her like forever working on it. She is more sensitive to hear anything but praise at that point. Once she has had time away from the book and is ready to tackle it again, she is more open and even eager to hear ideas and suggestions. They learn to appreciate honesty once they see how much better the book is in the end.
I have a question about what specifically to have them pay attention to when studying an author’s writing style. Do you mean pay attention to how they develop characters, describe situations, balance action with dialog, etc.? Or are you talking more about actual sentence structure and wording?
All of it, as well as other things such as pacing and what techniques are used to evoke different emotions. It’s a lot to focus on all at once which is why I sometimes read a book several times focusing on different things each time. It also depends on why you’re rereading the book. For example, if a book kept me on the edge of my seat then I’d try to figure out what in particular the author did to create that sense.
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