The Care and Feeding of Your Young Writer (9 Ways to Encourage Them)

How to raise and encourage your young writer

This is my husband Jeff's second post in his series How to Raise & Encourage Your Young Writer.

Welcome back to our series on How to Raise and Encourage Your Young Writer. This week I’d like to address some writing idiosyncrasies that non-writers may not understand.

I'd also like to remind parents that in this series I’m teaching you how to encourage a child who already loves to write and might be considering publishing their works someday. I won't be giving tips on how to coax a child that doesn't want to write or doesn't enjoy the process to become a writer. I also won't be addressing how to write for school assignments. These posts are to help you encourage the creative writer in your household.

Please also keep in mind that at no point am I advocating that you allow writing to take precedence over your young writer’s responsibilities—whether they be school work, chores, or other duties they might have. What I am urging is that you become your young writer’s advocate, their biggest fan, their most loyal supporter. Writing is a lonely business, so the more encouragement you can offer, the more they’ll be able to accomplish.

Here are some ways to encourage your writer.

9 Ways to Encourage Your Writer

1. Supply your writer with books they love.

To become a great writer, one must be a voracious reader. Encourage your writer by buying them books they love to read. Spend the time to take them to the library often. Spend the money necessary to buy them books to read. Give them gift cards to Amazon or their favorite book store.

Consider spending the money to buy them an ebook reader—perhaps a Kindle or an iPad—and keep it filled with great books. (I would caution against buying a Nook since Barnes & Noble may be pulling the plug on it soon, not to mention that B&N itself seems to be in a bit of trouble and may not survive the next decade.)

2. Don't be overly pushy about spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

I’m not saying you should stop teaching the mechanics of language, but please keep in mind that the mechanics do not by themselves produce good writing. These mechanics are tools in the toolbox of a writer that can make writing both more rich and more clear, but there are other aspects of writing that are far more important.

Help your writer become a storyteller. Help your writer boost their vocabulary. Help them learn more about developing interesting plots, convincing characters, evocative settings, and realistic dialogue. Help them discover how to be descriptive without producing information dumps. Help them learn how to create tension, conflict, and resolution.

Keep teaching the mechanics in school, but realize that spelling, punctuation, and grammar issues can be corrected in the editing and revision process. But mechanics are not really all that important during the creation and first draft stage of writing.

3. Don’t critique your writer during the creation stage.

When your young writer asks you to read something they’ve written outside of school, do not attempt to critique the piece as if it’s a school writing assignment. It’s not.

Forget about grammar and punctuation and comment on what you liked about the piece, offering positive reinforcement. If you absolutely must, gently point out spelling errors, but remember these things can be corrected later. This is a work of art your writer has crafted, and you should feel honored they trust you enough to share it with you. (I’ll have more to say about the issue of critiquing in a separate post.)

4. Don’t assign their personal writing efforts as schoolwork.

One of the surest ways you can kill a writer’s creativity is to make it an assignment. You’ve suddenly turned something they want to do into something they must do. Please don’t do this to your writer.

Yes, if they’re serious about publishing someday, they’ll have to deal with deadlines and expectations, but those are worries for another day. If you feel they need to learn how to meet deadlines, use something other than their personal creative efforts to teach it.

Having said all that, feel free to count something they’ve written and completed on their own as credit for school. This is a great way to encourage them to write more.

5. Gently push your writer to challenge himself or herself.

Again, don’t try to turn this into some kind of assignment, but find ways you can stimulate your writer to stretch themselves. Here are some quick ideas:

  • Set a daily word count goal.
  • Set a deadline for the first draft of a story.
  • Set a goal for a minimum amount of time spent writing each day.
  • Attempt to write outside their preferred genre.
  • Use writing prompts to start something new.
  • Do some timed writing sprints (where you write non-stop for 10, 15, 20, etc. minutes at a time), either individually or with a group.

6. Give your writer time and space to write.

Provided your writer has met all their responsibilities (school work, chores, etc.), do your best not to disturb them once they’ve sat down to write. Sometimes it takes time to get back into the proper frame of mind to continue a story, and once the writer is there, it doesn’t take a whole lot pull them out of that world.

Help your writer minimize distractions and teach the other members of the household to leave them alone when they’re in a writing frame of mind.

Treat your writer’s time the same way you might if they were practicing an instrument. Would you interrupt them for any simple thing, or only something important?

7. Create a physical space for them to be creative.

Along the same lines, set aside a place in your house they can claim as their own when they want to get some writing done. Buy them a desk to sit at with a comfortable chair, or perhaps a lap desk for their favorite spot on the couch.

Consider buying them a good set of headphones so they can drown out all the noise around them and better focus on their writing.

Perhaps a special chair all their own might be in order, something they can put in their room to get away from distractions.

If they write with pencil and paper, make sure they’ve got plenty of light. Buy a good lamp, or make sure the lighting in their favorite room is sufficiently bright.

8. Realize that writing droughts happen.

If your writer is suddenly not writing on a regular basis, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve given up on writing or become lazy—they might simply need a break. It could be their muse is temporarily uninspired. They might be mentally, emotionally, or spiritually fatigued.

Sometimes a writer can be working out a plot or story idea in their head in preparation to write. Do your best to be loving and encourage them to get back at it as soon as they can. Ask them what you can do to help them.

9. Invest in their writing—literally.

Spend money on the resources they need to write. Some writers still do it the old-fashioned way and need an unlimited supply of notebooks and pencils.

Buy some proper writing software, or perhaps invest in their own personal laptop.

Purchase some great books about writing, or a good writing curriculum or creative writing classes.

Some writers like to talk their stories out and transcribe them later, so a digital voice recorder would be a fantastic gift idea.

What are some ways you’ve found to encourage your young writer? Have you ever tried any of the ideas listed above? Let me know in the comments.

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  1. Laura W says

    Thank you so much for posting this! Your advice is practical and "spot on." There is so much more to encouraging writing in children, than plugging in a curriculum and marking up papers. These have a place in the process, but they are not, in the end, the things necessary to produce a good writer. I'm looking forward to reading your "Teach Writing Without a Curriculum," piece. It's refreshing to hear a philosophy towards writing that mirrors my own. I think I'll print this and laminate it!


  2. says

    These are great tips. So glad I found these. I am the dad of aspiring writers and work with young writers in my vocation as well. I'll be sharing your article for sure.


    Jeff M. Miller Reply:

    Hi @Brian, thanks for reading. I'm gratified to hear you found them helpful. Please let me know how things progress with your students and children. I'm interested in hearing ways we can improve this series of tips going forward.


  3. says

    I have my older boys follow the same as Point 5, where you say "Set a goal for a minimum amount of time spent writing each day." They have to spend one hour in the morning, before breakfast time, writing or researching for their writing. Every once in a while, they over-research or get stuck finding a focus, so that's when I step to discuss what they can zero into and encourage them to start typing something regardless. That's in reference to writing for their blogs, not their novel. For their novel work, they follow a separate scheduled time for OYAN.


    Jeff M. Miller Reply:

    @Jonathan Harris, it can be easy to get stuck in research mode, can't it? Another concept I'll expand on in the future is the idea of "just write." Turn off the analysis, tell the inner editor to be quiet, and simply write.

    Writing sprints are a good tool when I get bogged down. When I tell myself I have to have 500 words written in 10 minutes, that really kicks me into a higher gear.


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