A good writer is first a good reader . . .
William Faulkner once said, “Read, read, read. Read everything trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out.”
Introducing children to the world of literature is one of the greatest gifts you can give them, regardless of whether or not writing is in their future. Before they can read, read to them, help them fall in love with words.
“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” Sir Richard Steele
Books captivate and spark imagination. Once they begin to read, they begin to learn, let the masters be their teachers. When I was six years old I read The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, I was enraptured by the tale and soon sat down to write a story of my own. Some children seem to be born with a story within them, just waiting to be told.
“The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as that between lightning and the lightning bug.” Mark Twain
Teach them to speak properly. If they are to write, they must know how to speak, and speak well. The proper use of words and a good vocabulary will only serve to enhance every aspect of their writing as well as their future relationships and employment opportunities. This is something you can do from the time they are babies, baby talk can be fun when it’s time to have fun, but I’m a firm believer that children need to be spoken to in the way we want them to one day speak.
Encouragement will foster confidence; too much encouragement can lead to disappointment, reserved honesty is sometimes best. I would never tell my children something was wonderfully written if it were not, instead, I would find the good in it, then offer suggestions for the parts that could use some attention. Read what your child writes and tell them you want to read more, your enthusiasm will fuel their own.
“There is only one trait that marks the writer. He is always watching. It’s a kind of trick of the mind and he is born with it.” Morley Callaghan
Teach them to see the world around them, help them become constant observers. Inspiration comes in many forms; sometimes the most insignificant of things will lead us to the most significant thought. It teaches them to be aware of themselves and all that surrounds them. It teaches there is so much more to be seen than most people realize, they’ll learn to see what others may not, they’ll experience so much more of life when they learn to look beyond the ordinary.
Two of my four children are writers, amazing writers, they are all avid readers and eloquent speakers as well. When they were young, one of their favorite pastimes was Mad Libs. Without realizing it, they were learning with each silly story. Before my daughter was five she knew what adjectives and pronouns were, she knew the difference between a verb and an adverb. They learned new words and how to spell them through family games of Scrabble.
I often sat with them, pen and paper in hand, and we wrote stories together, taking turns, paragraph by paragraph. Here they learned the proper usage of grammar and punctuation, they learned to be creative. They learned to show, not tell. They found their own voices within the words they penned to the page. Looking back on their earliest writing brings both smiles and tears, their innocence spilled upon page after page, they are some of my most treasured possessions.
“Advice to young writers? Always the same advice: learn to trust your own judgment, learn inner independence, learn to trust that time will sort the good from the bad including your own bad.” Doris Lessing
I encouraged them to keep journals, it’s important to have a place to write anything and everything. To me, it is in the pages of a journal where you learn the most about who you really are. There can be no self-expression without a sense of self.
I taught them to never throw away what they’ve written, even if they thought it wasn’t the greatest, I urged them to tuck it away and maybe someday revisit and rework, or at the very least, look back on to see how far they’ve come. One of my greatest regrets as a writer is the loss of work I deemed unworthy at the time.
As teenagers, I encouraged them to write often, offering critiques and advice along the way. Constructive criticism can be a difficult thing to take in the beginning; they learned to grow from it. They found online writing groups and sought out those teachers willing to take time and become a part of their journey as they wrote their way into each new chapter of their lives.
Now, as adults, they continue to write as they pursue other dreams and opportunities. Their ability to express themselves in both the written and spoken word is remarkable and rarely goes unnoticed. It wasn’t my intent to raise writers, my goal was to teach them the importance of words, language, and expression. The words we say follow us through life, they can open doors or they can close them.
I place great value on words, they are how we let the world know who we are, what we stand for, what we desire, need, and cherish in life. Their worth is immeasurable. Teaching a child the wonder of words, not just how to say them, but how to feel them and bring them to life, is as I said, a gift.
Crystal R. Cook