Archive for the ‘Writing about Writing’ Category

In defense of the writing process

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

A little love for the old Battle Axe

TheWriter'sJungle

When I began Brave Writer (Jan 2000), I had one goal—help parents help their kids to write without fear. My initial scribbled outlines of possible directions for The Writer’s Jungle had notes about paragraphing, descriptive writing, narrative versus expository writing and more.

One morning, I got up to read my notes and wilted. I knew that wasn’t what was needed and I certainly didn’t want to write it. Kids weren’t struggling with writing because parents had yet to read the definitive explanation of what constitutes a paragraph.

Parents weren’t frustrated by their children’s childish errors in spelling, punctuation, handwriting, and grammar because they didn’t know how to correct the mistakes.

Rather, parents were frustrated because all those explanations in the programs they already owned weren’t resulting in lively, enthusiastic writing from their kids, with visibly improving mechanics. Tears, anger, boredom—a lack of confidence about what the results meant (were their kids writing well enough?).

Meanwhile all the books I read about writing for my adult writing life had helped me become a much better writing coach to my own children.

I realized: The murky process of generating writing had not yet been adequately addressed for parents at home working with their own children.

The manuals I read showed “sample paragraphs” that weren’t even well written (organized, yes; but dull, lifeless). They taught methods like “Here’s a sentence in three words. Now add an adjective to make it longer.” Some of them gave such a long script of instructions, any chance for the child’s natural voice to show in the writing was gone before the pen hit the page.

As I wrote more and more about writing and parenting, it struck me that this new writing resource ought to enhance the empathetic connection between parent and child (creating emotional safety for writing risks) while giving the parent-child team tools to help them excavate the inner life of the child and get that to paper.

The Writer’s Jungle is my earliest attempt to express all that information—those goals. I wrote it in my late 30s at a point in my writing career where I was working with non-writers every day—growing and expanding their writing for publication. I spent a lot of energy helping adults find their writing voices. I never once explained what constitutes a paragraph to them.

I didn’t envision The Writer’s Jungle being a “curriculum” in the traditional sense. I assumed parents had scads of writing prompts in their various homeschool curricula for English and history, or school assignments they needed to supervise and support at home.

These parents needed a set of tools (like a corkscrew or can opener) to access the language living inside their kids, without prompting tears, resistance, and pain. I imagined a parent reading The Writer’s Jungle a chapter at a time, even moving around it like a reference book, if they wanted to, using it to help them help their kids write their assignments!

This piece needs revision; I’ll flip open the chapter on revision and work through the suggestions with Charley.

Mary’s vocabulary seems to be evaporating when she goes to writing. Maybe the chapter on word games will help us free some words for writing.

I know the revolutionary war period is too big for writing. We can use the Topic Funnel to scale it down.

It never occurred to me that anyone would find it a challenge to use The Writer’s Jungle!

It was designed so simply!

  • Read, do; read, do.
  • No required time frame.
  • No expected pace.
  • Processes to be used again and again, morphing and changing to support any kind of writing you might explore with your kids, or that might be assigned to them!
  • Chapters that could be used in a variety of sequences.
  • Injunctions to grow as a homeschooling parent by reading for pleasure, too, so that everyone in the family became more and more aware of quality prose and language use.
  • A detailed guide to the developmental stages of growth in writing instead of scope and sequence.
  • Sample schedules of writing projects for 10 months a year, all ages and stages.

When anyone suggests that the “program” is not “organized,” it startles me a bit.

Teaching writing is not a program.

It doesn’t follow a specific set of steps. Programmatic writing instruction is the reason so many kids don’t like writing, and so many adults still lack confidence as writers!

Imagine teaching kids to speak via “program” or “schedule.” Imagine helping a child learn to walk with a curriculum, or learn to sew by tackling a pattern and working through each skill without having ever used a sewing machine!

Writing grows organically first, as would-be writers are introduced to processes that help them learn to express themselves.

Play with the processes; grow as a writer.

Once a writer is freely self-expressing, applying those skills to writing projects is as natural as giving an oral report once a child is a fluent speaker.

It’s been 16 years since I wrote the first draft of The Writer’s Jungle. It deserves a revision (fingers crossed: within the next 2 years) if only to add all the amazing writing and experiences our families have shared with us!

Ultimately Brave Writer has widened and deepened over the years—our offerings are vast and there is so much GOOD FREE information on the website and blog, you can get really far with us without spending a penny!

I felt a need to write a little apologetic for our old battle axe: The Writer’s Jungle. Even though there are passages in it that I’d rewrite in a hot minute (clunkers and overstatements, humor that was funnier in 2000 than 2015), my message hasn’t changed.

Writing is not a linear process of step by step instructions.

It is first and foremost an interior look—pairing language with thought. Writing is about becoming able and facile in this process—with greater and greater linguistic dexterity. It’s exploring the murky, non-linear process of committing ideas to language and language to paper.

Writing benefits from partnerships—with parents or teachers or friends or editors who give content-centered feedback with the heart and goal of enhancing, enriching, and expanding what is there.

There are pain-free processes that support that partnership. These are in The Writer’s Jungle, all of our products and classes, and 100 other writing books written by other writers, not specifically written for homeschoolers.

It’s my hope that you will spend your money and time wisely—taking advantage of all we offer through Brave Writer for free—purchasing what helps you feel brave and competent to facilitate this non-linear process with your kids.

If we can help you in any way, let me know! I still love the heart, message, and methods of The Writer’s Jungle. I stand by them.

Cathy Duffy’s review is one of my favorites. She influenced my homeschool when my children were coming up. I’m honored to be in her list of recommended resources.

To all of you who advocate for Brave Writer and The Writer’s Jungle out there in homeschool discussion board land, thanks for helping to get the real message out. You humble me and move me with your stories.

To sum up—The Writer’s Jungle is a compendium of processes and wisdom to help parents partner with kids and to help kids find their writing voices. That’s it!

I appreciate you. Happy planning! Happy writing!

Julie

The writing will come

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

Relax: The writing will come

It’s easy to put pressure on your kids. Parents are notorious “nudges.” We expect our children to make measurable progress in each area of life every day of the year…or we’ll comment on it, or nag about it, or gently sweetly explain its importance again and again. We measure our own success as parents by how well our children grow up!

Writing doesn’t thrive under those conditions. Nagging, reminding, explaining, nudging – these create anxiety which thwarts the creative process. You need your yogic-self when embarking on writing. Calm, low expectations, quiet, space.

These are conditions that support writing.

Stressed parents make stressed children. You must master your own perfectionism and anxiety first, before freewriting.

In fact, some parents even make freewriting feel like a rule-bound writing excursion. There’s the “right way” to freewrite, which includes obvious mistakes and flights of fancy and urgency. What happens when a child is uptight, careful, and tedious in her clipped short dull sentences? Does that mean freedom in writing failed?

Think back to “free.” Freedom means “not bound.” In this case, not bound by anything! Whatever your child offers in the freewriting excursion can be valued and honored, accepted and appreciated.

Relax. Be there for your young writer as he or she is.  Try again another day. One day, writing will come and flow and all of you will be amazed that it was just behind Door #2 all along.

Image by Rhys A. (cc cropped, text added)

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Focusing on the interior

Monday, May 4th, 2015

Focusing on the interior

Kids speak in paragraphs. Paragraphs are not magical formulas. In fact, most programs teach the life out of them and we wind up with cardboard boxes of tedious sentences.

What we want—what we aim for—is LIFE in the writing. Paragraphs are the result of indenting when the mood or content shifts—like learning how to stick shift a car. You don’t stare at the gauges, you get a feel for when it’s time to shift. Paragraphing is similar and it’s not difficult to learn once your children feel free to express their natural vocabulary about a topic. You can always read it to see what’s missing or needs to be moved. Far better than preparing the writing by dictating what sequence the ideas must proceed from the mind to the hand (sure to bottle up or rob the writing of its power).

So—in Brave Writer, we focus on that life in the writer—the interior. We help kids discover how to find the writing voice within. As they age, we introduce “containers” for all that robust self expression—sometimes a lapbook, sometimes a journal entry, sometimes a freewrite, sometimes a report. We allow the content to help dictate the shape.

By high school, kids who are used to self expression and exploring their mind lives in writing are ready to learn about the academic containers for writing—the essay forms and research papers. But remember: these only get used for about eight years of anyone’s life. The rest of life requires all sorts of writing!

Kids who grew up knowing that writing was as available to them as speech generally can meet any writing demand with confidence and competence. Kids raised on formats tend to feel they don’t know what to write when confronted with a new “container” for writing.

So that’s how we do it! Every project in our program is one I’ve done with students or my own kids. This process works beautifully. You can trust it.

Originally shared on the Brave Writer Lifestyle Facebook Group.

Image by ND Strupler (cc cropped, tinted, text added)

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Content then meaning

Monday, March 16th, 2015

Content then meaning

Writing Tip:
The Trick is to Focus on Content First

How do you correct errors without provoking tears?

The trick is to focus on content first. As we say in the biz, “Content is King!” Someone asked me what was “Queen” and I said, “Meaning.” So do it like this:

1. Start with content. Focus on the topic, the insight, the great ideas or explanations or details that deliver the idea to the reader. You want to say words like:

“You know so much about roller coasters! It was surprising to read that the Raptor was so tall! I had no idea that the speeds got up to ___ mph. I could feel like I was on the coaster when you talked about the ‘wind whipping’ your hair. Great use of the ‘w’ sound.”

Notice that every comment is on the content – finding what is good in it, noticing it, remarking on it.

2. Now focus on meaning. Notice if the writing makes sense, if it is conveying what it hopes to convey. So, make comments more like these in the “meaning” portion:

“I’m reading along here, and I notice that I got a little lost when I moved from this idea to the next one. Did you want it to read like this (read the run-on sentence all together with no stopping or pausing) or more like this (pause where a period should go to make it make sense)?”

When your writer chooses the second, you comment like this:

“To help the reader really get what you’re saying, a period here will make all the difference. Let’s put one in.”

This is how you work through the whole text. Punctuation is not just marks on a page, but a way to ensure that the reader gets the right, accurate understanding of ideas that the writer wants conveyed.

For weak language, you can say,

“I can tell that you think the ride was ‘awesome.’ The reader might want to feel what that is like. Can you think of more to say to unpack that word?”

And so on.

If a step in a process is missing, you want to note it conversationally:

“Oops! I got a little lost. Is there a step missing here? I don’t want to miss what you really want me to know.”

So start with content – be prolific in praise.

Then move to meaning – be conversational, friendly, and helpful.

********

Do you wish someone would give you a free Daily Writing Tip like the one above so that you keep yourself fresh with ideas and the right attitudes?

You’re in luck! I provide a free daily email (five days a week) to email subscribers. There’s no cost to you (it does occasionally feature ads for other homeschool products).

Sign up here (and get FREE Writing Lessons too!)

Daily Writing Tips by Brave WriterBottom photo: thedailyenglishshow.com (cc daily tips image added, text added)
Top photo: woodleywonderworks (cc cropped, text added)

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Why journaling helps people

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

Why journaling helps people

When I lived in France as an exchange student, I wrote over 1000 pages in my journal. When I lived in Morocco, I wrote dozens of journals. I’ve kept some semblance of a journal since 4th grade—writing more some years than others. I always know when I’m “going through something.” Journaling pops back to the forefront of my life.

This study is fascinating to me. It clarifies why journaling helps people. Writing helps us tell our story back to ourselves. It helps us put the emotions and experiences into a meaningful context.

You might try this with your own children. I remember how Noah struggled with big emotions after particularly meaningful experiences in his life (sleep away camp, performing in a play, a great vacation). He’d get swamped by the feelings and didn’t know what to do with them.

I suggested he keep a “special occasions” journal. He could write his memories while they were fresh and then reread them any time he wanted to revisit those precious experiences. It worked…and he still has that journal to this day.

Image by Emma Larkins (cc cropped, smudged, text added)

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Writing with Teens: Don’t miss these 5 blog posts

Monday, February 9th, 2015

Time Capsule_Writing with Teens

2015 marks the 10th anniversary for the Brave Writer blog, and to celebrate we’re revisiting helpful posts from the past.

These five address writing with teens:

Writing Starts Off the Page: Saturation and Incubation

You don’t want to ask for writing before your kids are good and ready to spill over onto the page. All of those writing books that give your kids topics are a waste of time (unless you happen to be one of the lucky ones with a child who loves to write and just needs a gentle nudge and away she goes!). Topics don’t generate writing. Having something to say does…

Writing with Teens: How to Begin

Without an essay guide, you might feel you can’t even begin to teach your students to write them. Hogwash. Let’s look at some ways that you can start essay training right now…

Essays: Not Just a Gateway to College

The word essay means “to try.” It comes from the Latin root. (In French, the word “essayer” is the verb “to try, to attempt.”) I think it helps to remember that an essay is an attempt, it’s your “best shot” at looking at the materials and giving a reaction (sometimes a strong opinion, sometimes an exploration of the issues, sometimes how that material relates to your life and background, your experiences and beliefs)…

Brave Writer’s Guide to Writing for Exams

I remind students to make a plan, follow the plan and stick to the plan because initially it is tempting to run off after some mental flurry of activity and think that is the same as good writing. It usually isn’t. Clarity and organization trump flights of fancy in timed assessment essay writing…

Why Academic Writing Doesn’t Come Naturally

Essay writing is like learning a brand new sport while playing the game. There are steps to take that make the process less daunting and that will prepare your kids to be successful with less stress. The actual format itself is not difficult to teach or understand. Learning how to bend the essay to the writer’s purpose, to make the essay form work for the writer instead of against him is something all together different…

Enjoy!

Also, check out Brave Writer’s Help for High School. It’s a self-directed writing program for teens that both teaches rhetorical thinking in writing, as well as the academic essay formats for high school and college.

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To “risk” self-disclosure in writing

Monday, December 29th, 2014

Snowy_treelined_road_Lahiri_quote

A local writing organization in Cincinnati shared this quote by Jhumpa Lahiri and I thought it was a wonderful summary of what it means to “risk” self-disclosure in writing. There is no point at which writing stops being a risky act, which is why it is critical to support the writing our kids are brave enough to do and to share with us!

“It was not in my nature to be an assertive person. I was used to looking to others for guidance, for influence, sometimes for the most basic cues of life. And yet writing stories is one of the most assertive things a person can do. Fiction is an act of willfulness, a deliberate effort to reconceive, to rearrange, to reconstitute nothing short of reality itself. Even among the most reluctant and doubtful of writers, this willfulness must emerge. Being a writer means taking the leap from listening to saying, ‘Listen to me.’” —Jhumpa Lahiri

Background image by Ali Inay (CC.O)

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“A beautiful mess”

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Snip_and_Pin_Natalie_blog

Earlier this week we shared Jot It Down in action. Today it’s Snip & Pin!

Snip & Pin Technique: Type your child’s writing into the computer. Print it out with one sentence per line. Then cut it up into individual sentence strips (or individual paragraphs, if that works better). Put the strips on the floor or on a table top and start moving them around to see what order makes the most sense or delivers the most surprise.

Brave Writer mom, Natalie writes:

Julie,

My daughter, Rachel, has been working on a paper for her Chemistry class this semester. She has been frustrated by the process of organizing all this material into the required seven page paper. As we read through her rough draft, it became apparent to me that the best course of action would be the snip and pin revision. She didn’t recall doing this before, but I assured her it would help.

I followed your directions to get it started. She saw all the strips of paper and was unsure how this would help. However, after an evening of moving sentences around, she is now a believer. It has been a wonderful way to work together and make her paper shine.

I’ve attached a picture of the process. It is a beautiful mess.

Thanks,
Natalie

The Snip & Pin Technique is thoroughly covered in The Writer’s Jungle and is also taught in our Kidswrite Basic class.

Image (cc)

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Once they catch on, look out!

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

Image by Carre 1 -blog

A theme that is coming through Facebook, email, and phone calls is this:

“My kids are getting it!”

What are they getting? That what is going on inside (their mind life) deserves a home on paper. As parents hear their children’s thoughts expressed in oral language and help those thoughts get to paper, more and more kids take the risk to cut out the parent-step and try it for themselves.

It’s crazy, really. We spend all this time explaining how important writing is, we tell them to follow X model or imitate Aesop or just write three lines, and they show us their sad, uncooperative faces instead. The brilliance of their quirky personalities is hidden behind attempts to sound like someone else, and they look to us to tell us what is still wrong with that effort. Everyone is demoralized.

Yet if we flip the script—start hearing what our kids are saying in that spontaneous not-school moment, jot down what they say out of our own enthusiasm to preserve the insight, thought, joke, or snatch of story—they perk up.

This is what you wanted me to write? is the thought.

You think what I have to say is important enough to write on paper? is the next thought.

Young children, especially, will respond with, “Well in that case” behaviors. They will scratch images and misspelled words onto sheets of paper laying around the house, trying to impress you again! You will be impressed. This child who “didn’t know what to write” suddenly has things to say… on paper!

The spelling, punctuation, and capitalization of the words will seem so much less important (and rightly so) when you see the child taking such initiative. Your only task is to fan the flame! Enthuse, supply cool writing utensils, create little booklets (paper folded in half, stapled between a sheet of construction paper), and READ the results aloud to the child and anyone else in the family who will listen.

The momentum this process creates is entirely different than required writing at a desk every day.

A couple necessary caveats:

1. For reluctant writers who don’t trust you (because they feel the weight of pressure coming from you), adopt a bored gaze (this is for parents whose kids get suspicious when they effuse too much). When you hear them expressing, show enthusiasm and jot it down. But when they write on their own, simply acknowledge it matter-of-factly and then ask hours later if you can read it. Ask plainly without over stating how proud you are so there is room for this child to enthuse or even dislike his own work. Then, when you do read it, praise the content by engaging it—”I love how the princess gets out of trouble” or “I didn’t know that about amphibians.”

2. Writing programs that teach kids to copy (imitate) other writers, if used too much, sometimes stunt the writing voice. Initially your young writer may look like he or she is imitating a style more than showing his or her natural writing voice. Time will heal this, the more you support and encourage the natural speaking voice to show up on paper by capturing and recording it.

3. Pictures are writing too! Any attempt to symbolize language is writing. So if a child is writing “picture books,” without words, affirm the child as writer! As we know, there are loads of wordless books on the market (we find them in libraries). Ask your child to “read” the book back to you. You’ll discover so much thought life and language happening in those pictures. As the child gains skill, words will begin to emerge too.

4. Passion for writing comes in bursts. It’s a creative activity. A child may write 16 little books in a month and then nothing for 6 months. Do not treat writing like an onerous task. Treat it like the creative outlet that it is! You can always gin up more enthusiasm for writing by changing the setting (write somewhere else, use new utensils, add brownies, change the time of day to write).

5. Read what they write during the read aloud time. Put the finished products in the library basket and read them each day. Most kids love this! Those who don’t, honor their choice to not be read aloud.

Above all: value what your kids express and get some of it into writing.

Image by Brave Writer mom, Carrie (cc) cropped. Cross-posted on facebook.

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Your secret weapon

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-mother-daughter-together-image16977735

You thought I’d tell you what it is in the first sentence? Oh heaven’s no. You will have to read a bit to find out.

You know how you have kids who don’t want to “do school” or resist a new curriculum or say they hate assignments or projects? You know how you keep telling them that at some point they will just “have to learn to write” or they “can’t write fiction forever” or they “can’t play all day”?

It’s one of those things where you kinda sorta freak out a bit when that resistance really gets going—in the form of fights, tears, refusal to even write one sentence, a willingness to outlast you.

So, are we on the same page?

The tendency is to view yourself in those moments as a teacher who deserves respect and authority by virtue of being the home educator. You think you have the right to expectations because you are in charge. You can’t understand why that sweet little munchkin is becoming such a curmudgeon!

Here’s the thing, though. You’re at home. You’re the mother or father. Your kids know that there is negotiating space. That’s what home is. It’s the one place where “have to’s” have less power. Home is supposed to be a relief from the stress of the outside pressures of life. Enforcing “school” at home feels so contrary to the natural untidiness, lack of schedule-ness that home is supposed to represent in life.

You need to embrace home as a home educator first—really allow yourself to notice and enjoy its properties (you know, like waking up when you want or wearing pj’s until lunch, or cuddling with a blanket on the couch for read aloud time).

For those formats and practices and programs you wish to see flourish in your home, then, you need to embrace them through that lens.

You ready? Here’s your secret weapon:

Stop talking, start doing.

In other words, if you want a child to write in a new form, stop telling your child to write in that form.

Wake up, gather paper and pencil, and after breakfast, without a word (that’s the key here), start writing. Write the kind of thing you are expecting your child to write. You might be writing a thank you note. You might be writing a short essay on paper dolls. You might be copying a quote from a book you love. You might write a non-fiction paragraph about Pocahontas.

Simply start.

Your kids may hover around you saying, “What are you doing? When do we start math? Mom, can I have more orange juice?”

You might respond: “I’m writing about Pocahontas. In fact, I can’t remember: does anyone remember the name of her tribe? Can someone get me the book we were reading?”

Keep writing.

Someone asks, “Mom what am I supposed to do while you are writing?”

You reply, “I don’t know. What do you feel like starting with today? I’m going to work on this. You’re free to help me. Or you can get going with math. But I’m doing this.”

Then do it. Keep going.

You’ll be shocked. Some will join you. And because YOU are doing the assignment, you will discover just how difficult it is, too. You’ll have some raw direct experience of just what it is you are asking your child to do!

At some point in the next few weeks of doing a couple of these, you will see that your kids start to participate. You don’t simply flip over to telling them to take over, but you can say, “If you want to work on your own version of this, I’m happy to help you while I complete mine.”

Be open to collaboration, to multiple children doing one project, to everyone helping you with your project. This is HOME. Not school. Not about grade levels. This is about giving your kids a chance to watch a process before they have to engage in it or learn how to do it. This is your chance to model and lead by silence, rather than lecture and enforcement.

Try it!

Stop talking. Start doing.

Cross-posted on facebook. Image © Sergey Khakimullin | Dreamstime.com

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