by Anne Mazer
Years before I read Julia Cameron, I was doing artist dates with my kids. It was called “writing with mom” and for years, it was a nightly ritual. Like many good things, it happened by accident, almost unconsciously, and without any intimation of how important it would become in our family life.
Writing with Kids
It began with my six-year-old son watching me at the computer. I don’t remember what inspired me to say, “Want to write a story? You tell it to me and I’ll type it up for you.” But my son immediately began to dictate a story that borrowed heavily from his favorite television show. I was astonished by his ability to play with and embellish a structure, to juggle ideas in his head. And he came back the next day to dictate more, picking up seamlessly where he had left off. Short pieces turned into story cycles, starring his classmates. His little sister also dictated some very memorable poems and short stories. Sometimes we wrote with their friends. Eventually, years later, one of my son’s best friends became his writing partner, allowing me to “retire” from my role as typist.
Here are the basics that made this work for all of us:
1. Respect their authorship.
Your kids have the right to explore their ideas in any way they see fit. Unless they asked (which they usually didn’t), I didn’t suggest endings or approaches, or try to direct their imagination. They were in charge of their own stories.
2. Feed their imaginations.
We read lots of books together. I was fascinated to see how my son incorporated ideas from them. For example, we all loved Sid Fleischman’s McBroom books, which inspired him to begin a whole story cycle of tall tales.
3. Celebrate their stories.
I always printed out their stories, so they could see them typed up like real books and illustrate them, if they wished.
We also shared the stories – giving copies to friends and relatives, reading them out loud, and bringing them to school.
And here are a few more ideas to get started…
- Try an “I Dare You” from Spilling Ink: A Handbook for Young Writers, or check out one of the free downloads at www.spillinginkthebook.com
- Make it special! For my kids, “special” was writing on a computer like Mom. But “special” could also mean a designated writing notebook, or a favorite pen or a cozy writing chair.
- And make it fun. Your kids might like to pretend to write in blood (red ink) on a scroll of parchment, or on charcoal on a large piece of drawing paper. Or in colored chalk on a sidewalk. Or write on napkins. Or on a large white t-shirt.
- If your child gets stuck in the middle of a story, ask questions. Recap what they’ve already written and ask them what happens next. Be curious about the world they’ve created.
Bio: Anne Mazer is the author of 44 books, including The Salamander Room, The Amazing Days of Abby Hayes (series) and the Sister Magic series. She co-authored Spilling Ink with her friend Ellen Potter. Her kids are adults now and they’re both fabulous writers.
Melissa’s Note: Wow! Thanks, Anne! I’m going to try the t-shirt writing this week — my girls might not like the blood one but I bet I have some students who would! Thanks for mentioning letting kids be totally in charge of the story, even if it’s from a t.v. show or needs some work. MANY times I need to remember that. Sigh.
Spilling Ink, Anne’s book with co-author Ellen Potter, is an amazing resource for all ages and levels of writers. Read my review and enter to WIN SPILLING INK!