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Writing Guidelines

Once your child has gone through the process of finding a topic, brainstorming, and developing an outline, you are now on to what is often the most difficult part of the writing process -- the actual act of writing! I honestly wish there was some easy way around this, but the bottom line is your child now has to sit down and get those ideas on the page. The following are some suggestions on how to empower your child to start writing and stay writing:

How to Start Writing

  • Be open to dictating and typing: I spent my high-school career dictating my papers to my mom. If this works for your child, go for it. Try dictating or voice-activated software. Also, there is absolutely no reason why kids should not be allowed to use a computer for their writing regardless of age.

  • Remind your child of the process: It is tremendously important that when your child starts writing the first draft that you remind him of all the work he has already done. Tell him that he has done the hard stuff, and now it is time to get the words out. Also, remind him that this is just a first draft, and that it is OK to make mistakes.

  • Censor the self-critic: We all at times have a voice that comes up and criticizes everything we write. You need to help your child prepare for this voice. Help her understand how this voice might manifest itself. It could be a feeling of dread; it could actually be a voice that says "your writing stinks." Once you have identified how this voice comes up, help your child develop a response. In my life, I have had to literally tape a sign above my desk that says, "Dump the voice."

  • Free-write: One of the best ways to help your child start writing is to have him sit down and start free-writing about anything that comes to mind.

    How to Keep Writing

  • Create a "to-do" list: Writing is best approached in incremental pieces, not as a huge whole. Help your child create a small and manageable to-do list, no more than a few paragraphs at a time. Tell her that when she finishes each list, she can take a break. Often you'll find that she keeps right on writing after she finishes her to-do list.

  • Turn off spell and grammar check: Often computers underline misspelled words, an obvious distraction for anyone driven to distraction. Turn this automatic spell checker off.

  • Let your child keep moving and talking: Many kids need to move and mouth words to themselves as they write as a way to access a motor memory. If that is the case, buy yourself some earplugs and let him make as much noise as he needs.

  • Encourage your child not to correct: Too many kids spend way too much time writing and then crossing stuff out. Remind your child that rewriting is for the rewriting stage. All you care about right now is getting it out.

  • Skip writing transitions, introductions and conclusions: Often kids get hung up on the superficial aspects of a paper. Transitions, conclusions, and introductions are often things that are better left to the rewriting process.

  • Take breaks or switch gears: One of the worst things your child can do is sit, trying to write for an hour straight with nothing coming out. If the words are not flowing, help your child take a break or switch gears. Have her keep a writing pad near her desk that she can doodle on -- often doodling helps the brain switch gears and have a new perspective on the writing. Lastly, a five-minute break never hurts anyone, unless it turns into fifty.

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