Real Writing: The Theory of Generativity

Real Writing: The Theory of Generativity

A mom wrote to me to say that she liked what she had heard of Brave Writer and would probably buy The Writer’s Jungle, however, what should she use to teach “real writing”?

Real writing?

Real writing is advertising copy and novels, essay exams and poetry, short stories and journals, research papers and newspaper articles. The quality of the writing varies which is why ads get thrown away, but remembered (even against our wills), whereas some novels are given pride of place in a bookcase, but are rarely read.

The contrast this emailer wanted to make, though, is familiar to me. There’s an idea that writing can be separated into two primary categories: creative writing and academic writing (or research writing, or format writing). Because of Brave Writer’s emphasis on writing voice and freewriting, some moms think that Brave Writer teaches “creative” writing (fiction, poetry, journaling, short stories, playful writing exercises) while another program can be used to teach the “real” kind (essays, reports, research papers, narrations, summaries).

The truth is all writing is creative. It takes as much creativity and cleverness to write a cogent, powerful essay as it does to write a short story (perhaps more). However because the word “creative” is usually associated with the arts, we tend to view creativity through a lens of “not as real” or “not as challenging” or “not as academic” as some other form of writing.

If the word “creative” trips you up, use the word I like to use in Brave Writer materials and classes: “generative.” Brave Writer materials teach processes that help kids to generate words, language, images, associations, thoughts, ideas, metaphors, impressions, memories, facts, and information. Once words are generated, then we can do lots of things with them. They can be used to craft a three point expository essay or a poem or a story or a written narration.

Where many kids get stumped is that they have been led into this wonderful world of writing through the free exercise of their creativity while they are young (under 9 or 10). Yet somewhere around 12-13, these same kids are told that creative writing is no longer what they need to be doing. They need to get serious and produce academic writing products. They’re given the models or formats (sometimes, not even that much help) and are told to follow them. Yet the resulting writer’s block is a mystery to parents and teachers.

There should be no mystery here. Kids need to be told that the same processes they went through to create wonderful journeys into imaginary places can be applied to help them write reports and essays. They can still wallow in complexity, saturate themselves with material, freewrite, imagine, draw on personal experience, enrich their knowledge with facts, and throw words around on paper that entertain them. Once those words are out, they can be shaped into a format. But the format does not tell kids how to dredge up language from inside, how to pull words out of their guts. That process must be cultivated over time and grows individually.

As the child gains confidence that he or she has something to say and that child learns how to access the words inside, introducing a writing format such as an essay or research paper is no different than following the rules for writing a poem.

Our classes and materials are designed to lead your kids into successful academic writing. Our aim is to produce competent, confident, creative adult writers. So yes, Brave Writer teaches creative writing because all writing requires creativity. Writing requires writers to draw on their personal power to generate the words they need for whatever writing they do.

Creatively yours,


P.S. Help for High School is designed to aid kids in the transition from early writing to academic writing using the Brave Writer principles of “generativity.” The Writer’s Jungle helps you, the homeschooling mother, to lay the foundation that will give your kids the tools to do all kinds of writing, not just “creative” writing.

Image by Brave Writer mom Shannon

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