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.

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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).

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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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