Archive for the ‘Writing about Writing’ Category

Preparing Your Child for Academic Writing: What about Structure?

Brave Writer sometimes gets accused of being a “creative writing” program, which is code for “Brave Writer doesn’t teach writing formats or structure.” Which, to be honest, is absurd. All writing is creative—even a Ph.D. dissertation!

To write means to draw on our insights and ideas to create (craft) a piece of writing that takes the appropriate shape for the intended audience. Sometimes that shape looks like freewriting or journaling or writing a tall tale. Other times that shape is a report or expository essay or a research paper.

Structure in writing is not confined to academic papers either. Graphic novels and comic strips have a kind of structure that is unique to those formats yet no less clear and defining than the structure of a Master’s thesis.

To have a better sense of how a child goes from freely expressing self in writing to the well-defined structure of academic writing later in life, take a look at this brief video, “What about Structure?”

Because Brave Writer aims to support writing at every stage of development, we begin with writing that appeals to a “pre-reader.” That means, the writing the youngest of our children do will be expressive of self and appealing to a child’s interests. Yet the process they engage is similar to what they will do when they are old enough and skilled enough to write long form essays for college.

Our writing project programs follow this path that leads to a natural aptitude for academic writing by the time your child is in high school and leaves for college.


Need more help? Check out writing projects my kids did at different stages:

Structure in Writing: Examples


If you’d like a downloadable PDF copy of the “What about Structure” slide deck to refer to again and again, grab yours here.

The Challenge of Teaching Writing

The Challenge of Teaching Writing

No matter how many miles I travel, every group of home educators I meet can talk a noisy blue streak about how challenging it is to teach writing.

They say similar stuff:

  • it’s too subjective,
  • their kids’ hands hurt,
  • they lack confidence in their own writing so how can they teach it?
  • there are tears,
  • their kids can’t think of anything to write,
  • the parents feel appalled by messy handwriting or so many spelling errors.

On and on goes the list.

Often when I’m speaking, I invite parents to share with each other, and suddenly the room erupts in animated conversation, laughter, and commiseration!

It’s worth asking: why?! Why is this the case? Does it need to be? I say an emphatic “No” and then we talk about it.

If you find teaching writing difficult then you’re not alone, and you’re in the right place! Here are some suggestions:

Take advantage of the Brave Writer website, blog, and YouTube channel. They’re filled with helpful tips and resources. If you’re brand new start here.

Download our 7-Day Writing Blitz for an introduction to how painless teaching writing can be!

And feel free to email us (help@bravewriter.com) with any questions.


This post is originally from Instagram and @juliebravewriter is my account there so come follow along for more conversations like this one!


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How I Found My Writing Voice

Finding Your Writing Voice

by Brave Writer student, Finlay Worrallo

What does it mean to find your “writer’s voice”?

Different writers write in different ways. Some use short, snappy sentences, using only a few adjectives; others write in a great torrent of colour, using all five senses. Some write as though they’re chatting away to an old friend; others write like they’re addressing an audience. The particular way a writer chooses words, puts sentences together, and expresses ideas to the reader is known as their writing voice.

When I was younger, I spent a long time finding my writing voice, and most of that time was spent copying my favourite writers. I wanted to write wild fantasy stories, so I looked at my literary heroes and followed their examples. So I wrote about bears named after places (like Paddington Bear). I wrote about a flat planet on the back of a giant turtle (like The Discworld). I even wrote about a school of witchcraft and wizardry (can you guess what I was reading at the time?).

A lot of my earlier stuff is…a bit embarrassing to look back on, but it was an important part of my development as a writer and helped me find the voice I wanted to use—colourful, humourous, informal and (I hope) easy to read. Nowadays, I write more than just short stories, but my poetry, articles, and fiction all have that underlying writer’s voice.

If you haven’t isolated your writer’s voice yet, it’s worth doing. It will give you more confidence, will make your work more distinct, and will generally make writing more fun.

Here are some tips you might try:

Read

Pay particular attention to the voices of your favourite writers. What sort of voice do you like to read? Do you enjoy lots of jokes? Do you prefer long or short passages of description? Do you like being personally addressed by the writer or do you find this distracting?

Bear this in mind when you’re writing. The voices you enjoy reading will often inform the ones you produce. For example, I love reading beautiful descriptions, clever jokes and unexpected twists, all of which I at least try to achieve in my own work. Not sure how often I succeed.

Imitate

It might sound counter-productive but if you’re still discovering how you work as a writer, there’s nothing wrong with noting how other writers do it and then trying out their voices to see how they feel for you.

Experiment

If you always use long sentences, write a page where you only use sentences of nine words or less. If you usually write comedy, write with no jokes at all—or use a lot more if you tend to write more seriously. It’s through trying out different approaches that you discover what works best for you.

Pay Attention

Make a conscious effort to notice the voice you adopt when writing. Do you sprinkle adjectives liberally or use them sparingly? How many senses do you normally use? Do you use much slang and informal language?

The more you write and experiment, the more confident your voice will become. You’ll be able to isolate exactly what you want to say, and how you want to say it. But if it takes you a while to find your voice, don’t worry. Some writers don’t like the idea of “finding your voice” at all because it’s a process.

My writing voice changes just as much as my speaking one. New styles and verbal tics surface and take the place of old ones. I find myself using more dialogue than in the past, when I preferred writing description. And I’m sure my writing voice will continue to evolve. Maybe in ten years time I’ll look back at the way I write now and wince, just like I look back at my younger self and wince at the adventures of a bear found at Wembley Stadium.

If you love writing, and keep on doing it, you’ll create the voice that’s perfect for you sooner or later. Write as much as you can and explore all the unexpected paths you find yourself on.


Do Formats Hush the Writing Voice?

Pressure and Motivation

The Difference Between Pressure and Motivation

Evaluate these two comments:

“This paragraph has so much potential!”

“I can’t wait to find out what happens next!”

In an attempt to give compliments, sometimes a parent exerts pressure when what she wants to create is motivation. Take the above example. If when you read a paragraph your child has written and you see its flaws, but want to convey that you appreciate the content, you may be tempted to say:

“This could be a great paragraph if…” or “I see a lot of potential here” or “Except for the mistakes, your paragraph is really getting there.”

Each of these statements focuses on the paragraph as something to evaluate, not as something to be read and understood.

I’ve said versions of these at times to my kids. Because they feel safe with me, they immediately fire back, “Wait, don’t you like it? Why are you focused on what I didn’t do?”

Which made me defensive: “Hey I gave you a compliment! I think it’s a great paragraph! It’s just that it will be even better when you fix x, y, and z.”

What my kids heard, however, was pressure. They weren’t worthy of my full admiration until they had presented me with error-free copy. They were deflated! It was as if I was only interested in the paragraph to demonstrate a mastery of the mechanics or expanded detail. My focus was on the potential of the piece, not the actual.

The second example showed my true interest in the purpose of the paragraph: to engage me, the reader (not for my evaluation as teacher).

The communication:

“I read your paragraph, and now I want to know where you are going with the story or information because it was compelling.”

No evaluation of its potential—rather, a focus on the actual:
the impact of what is already on the page.

This kind of response to a person’s writing is often experienced as “motivating.” It validates what has been offered while inviting more. It gives the writer permission to add to the existing piece rather than requiring the mess to be cleaned up before deserving a compliment.

When we look at writing, pressure is the key reason so many kids lose heart. They feel pressure to write more than they offered, they feel pressure to not misspell any word they’ve ever once spelled correctly for fear they will be reminded that they KNOW how to spell it so why the mistake?

They feel pressure to move the story along in a clear linear pattern, to never ramble, to use proper punctuation, to write legibly. They worry that unless they coordinate all these skills, the meaning and thought they have put into their writing will not be “heard.” Until all the pieces are lined up, they don’t get to hear: “That story is so good, I want to find out what happens next.” Motivation comes from the desire to get a positive reaction again.

If your child puts out two or three sentences that are misspelled and poorly punctuated, sincere parents will believe they are providing motivation by extolling the child’s capabilities like this:

“You have such good stories to tell! I know you could make them even better if you just checked your spelling first. You have the best handwriting when you take your time. I see great potential here for you!”

This “back-handed compliment” feels like pressure to the child—to do better.

Yet even poorly spelled and punctuated writing can be read for its entertainment value.

If you notice the thoughts, ideas or story, you might find that
the desire for mechanical accuracy has space to grow.

You might say:

“I was reading along and I became amazed at what you know about trebuchets! I didn’t quite catch this word (pointing to it)—can you tell me what it was in your head? Oh! ‘Launcher.’ I get it now! So you are saying that the trebuchet is a kind of launcher. What great language! What would you launch if you had one?”

If your child experiences your curiosity about a misspelled word as your desire to really understand the meaning of the piece (not as a correction for not living up to his potential), he is more likely to take your comments as motivation to care about his spelling.

This is true in every arena! The goal of teaching isn’t to remind our kids of how much they could do well if they only just ___ (fill in the blank).

The goal is to be a mirror to our children who are taking learning risks—to show them all the ways those risks are showing up in the world and that we value them.

Motivation is internal—it’s a felt need to produce/risk for personal satisfaction. We create a context for motivation when we are amazed by who our kids are today, not who they could be tomorrow.


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Header image by Brave Writer parent Sheetal

Help Your Child Bring Feeling into Writing

How to help your child bring feeling into writing without asking for writing that shares feelings.

I tell parents not to ask for feelings in writing. We don’t actually want feelings (these are usually label words that don’t get at the heart of the experience). We usually ask for feelings because what we are reading feels wooden or dry. What leads to better writing is a more expanded address—addressing the topic by showing, rather than telling.

So instead of “It makes me feel sad to think of Jews being killed in concentration camps,” write about the conditions of the concentration camps so that the reader is moved to sadness—to the experience of sadness.

What mostly happens is that a child will write: “6 million Jews were killed in World War 2” and a parent will say, “Write more about your feelings” because what the parent really wants to read is writing that evokes feelings (totally reasonable).

So to get there, a better set of questions might be:

  • Tell me more about these concentration camps.
  • Can you describe the conditions?
  • Can you explain how the killing took place?
  • Can you write from the point of view of a person standing in line for a shower?
  • What might that person be thinking, wondering?

Like that.

This is how we bring feeling into writing without asking for writing that shares feelings.


Brave Writer’s online class, Essay Prep: Dynamic Thinking, helps students apply their unique flair to the academic task.

Essay Prep: Dynamic Thinking