Permission to Write

One morning – early morning – I was speaking to a mom about how I get the kids to write.  I wasn’t very lucid – it was one of those mornings when my brain is proceeding at a glacial pace despite the activity around me – and I’ve been mulling over my reply for the entire day.  I thought I’d share it with all of you.

The first step in getting the kids to write is the expectation that they are going to write.  They’re in a writing class.  We’re going to write.  Shy.  Bold.  Confident or not.  Writing is going to be our thing.
The next step is to get them to see themselves as writers.  That’s pretty easy because I start out telling them about the oral tradition of storytelling and asking them to tell us about their day, thereby proving they are natural storytellers.  Most kids are truly relieved at this realization and believe me without hesitation when I tell them if they can tell a story, they can write a story.
It’s my firm belief that only the most self-assured of us can relax and write when we’re in a judgmental environment.  I’ve met very few adults with that sort of ironclad ego and no six-year olds, so next we lay down the ground rules for our class.  The rules stress respect as we create an atmosphere that’s conducive to a willingness to take chances with our writing.
Then we’re just plain silly as we make up a zany story as a group.  We go around the room with each child adding something and following where it leads – which is usually to some bodily function or the death of the protagonist!  By the time we’re done with that, the kids are ready to try a story or some other sort of writing on their own.
The final step is to give them a nonsensical prompt and tell them they have three minutes to write as much as they can.  That’s the part that surprised the other mom because she thought the time pressure would make it impossible to write.  I find the time pressure is liberating.  No kid thinks they’re going to write anything perfect in three minutes with some woman cracking jokes at the front of the room.  More to the point,  no kid thinks a woman cracking jokes at the front of the room is going to expect them to write anything perfect in three minutes. They all write feverishly, about the prompt or whatever they prefer, because they’ve been given permission to write.  At the end of the three minutes, very few of the kids are ready to stop and generally beg for more time.
Invariably, the three minutes stretches to about fifteen minutes.  At the end of that time, I’m always thrilled at how many of the kids ask if they can share their work.  There’s such a transformation that’s taken place in the room. They’ve gone from being a group of kids that wasn’t very sure of one another and hesitant about writing, to a group of writers who is excited to hear each other’s work.
As each kid finishes sharing we applaud.  Of course.  What author doesn’t like their work to be well received?

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