Whatever works for you, do it!

Image by Diane

You know your kids and your personality. You get to decide what you like or don’t like, what programs work or don’t work for your family. Anyone who knows me or has spent time with Brave Writer is well aware that I’m not out to convince you to change what you are doing if it is satisfying and working for you.

This page exists to promote a specific vision of writing. It’s not the only vision of writing. It is my vision of writing and it’s one I’ve cultivated for 30+ years. It comes from a wide variety of sources (academic and professional, personal and exploratory). I’ve worked in the popular writing market and I’ve had success in academic writing contexts, both. I’ve spent countless hours (thousands) working with families and adults who want to be better writers.

The main purpose of Brave Writer, all the way back to before the beginning, has been to give parents tools to bridge the gap between their children’s lively conversation and their stilted writing results. This exasperating experience is common to all writing instructors. Entire educator conferences are devoted to finding ways to solve this dilemma in the classroom. Writer’s Workshop is one of the most well known educational tools/programs that approximates the kind of work Brave Writer teaches, but for the classroom (which has its own peculiarity since there are other subjects to teach, student-teacher ratios are higher than parent-to-child ratios at home, and there are academic achievement measurements to satisfy).

Still other programs take a more step-by-step approach, believing if they provide tools and skill in the mechanics first, thought will flow more freely due to confidence in transcription skills. Imitating great writing, applying a set of concepts to the writing (talking about sentence variety and how to raise the eloquence of the “speech-like” drafting to the more sophisticated sound of written language), putting spelling and grammar programs first, are seen as tools that provide a scaffold to a child—these tools, they argue, help the child to write without anxiety.

For many students and parents, the relief that comes from being told what to do, step-by-step, is enormous after failure and insipid, weak drafting. I’ve seen some families thrive or blossom through this approach. It is not morally wrong! It is not objectively bad. For many, it is a way forward and for some (particularly for natural writers), it’s a joy to play with the puzzle of writing in new, directed ways.

If this approach were sufficient, however, schools and writing programs would all adopt it and our children would happily apply those steps and concepts and become the writers we hope they will be. But that isn’t what happens. A large number of children (and adults) are unhappy writing that way. They are not able to connect their personhood to the writing—writing feels external to them in that system. Some children may weather the tedium/challenge of the step-by-step approach to get to the “good stuff” where they find their voices. But a large number don’t get there. In fact, they feel stifled and bored, angry and tearful.

How do I know this? I work with these kids. We’ve had countless families come to Brave Writer when their children are at the end of their wits—so blocked and resistant, they don’t ever want to write again. For some reason, the attempt to make the writing process easier through understanding the mechanics first doesn’t create enthusiastic writers for many many kids (and adults).

Lots of them need to know that what they are writing is meaningful to them before they care about the structure, forms, or mechanical details. To risk the mess that comes from attending to the inner life of a child first takes courage! Parents worry that they will encode bad habits and poor spelling, or that they will teach their children that forms and editing don’t matter.

But what turns out to be true is that when kids get excited about their ideas and thoughts, when they know that what lives inside is worthy of the page, it is far easier (in many many contexts) to be interested in the mechanics and structure of writing. That’s what I’ve found. That’s what professional writers know. That’s what loads of academics are now saying about how to teach writing in college…and on down as the insights trickle to the lower levels of school.

That’s what many of you have told me.

That’s what lots of parents have discovered.

Do you have to jettison the writing programs you’ve already purchased? Of course not! Once you discover how to nurture and nourish your child’s writing voice, you may find numerous ideas and tools to help enhance and enrich the output. I use a wide variety of tools myself when I write, not just one. Being able to adapt to different teaching styles is also a valuable experience for teens, in particular, as they prepare for the variety of demands of college professors.

The bottom line is this: I will promote and protect this space for the writing philosophy that Brave Writer advocates. That philosophy is too often misunderstood or critiqued as not being rigorous or being for ‘creative writing only.’ Parents who take the risk to embark on this program need support so that they can trust the process and not be waylaid by guilt or anxiety that they are “doing it wrong.” Usually the thrill they experience when their formerly blocked writers take to the page is sufficient, though. Happily.

Even so, you must be brave to follow this philosophy when everyone else is following systematic programs with rubrics and rules. I want to reassure you that we address it all in Brave Writer (grammar, format, creativity), just in a different order than traditional models.

Not only that, I want to add: we live in the 21st century, in a globalized world of published writing (twitter, Facebook, comments on news articles, blogs, online journals, texting, and more). Writing strategies have necessarily evolved—we live in a world that requires us to value all kinds of writing voices, even less educated ones, even ones with an “accent,” even ones that fail to spell correctly or type beautifully, even ones that hold diametrically opposed beliefs and values to our own.

To me, the most gracious thing we can do as readers is to hear the content before we rush to judgment over form and format, grammar and spelling. Let’s give each other that gift and make the world safe for writing risks.

Image by Brave Writer mom, Diane (cc)

Cross-posted on facebook.

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