Teaching Children to Write by Aiming For Fluency, Not Perfection

So how do we teach children to write without dominating their work? Learning how to homeschool well means tackling this prickly problem. We are so eager for our kids to succeed, that we can't keep from sticking our fingers into their pudding, but we do so at great cost--their creative expression and any hope that they might enjoy writing. By following a few basic principles, we can free our kids up to express themselves in writing and maybe learn to enjoy the process. What we need to do is to aim for fluency, not perfection.

Practice Free Writing

First, we must allow them to write freely as often as possible. That means lots and lots of rough drafts, with no need for multiple rewrites and a final, "good" copy. Whose idea was it for children to correct and recopy every word they write? Talk about tedium! If we cut back on the rewrites, they could write twice as much. A steady diet of free writing is essential. Every professional writer that I know has some sort of journal for this type of writing.

Avoid Over Correcting

Parents can be sticklers for over correcting children's work, but homeschooling well means motivating kids to write, not teaching them to hate it. We wonder why children write as little as possible, use short, uninteresting vocabulary and hate writing, Here's why: the shorter the piece, the less there is to correct and rewrite. Smart kids use short, boring words to reduce the chance of making errors.

A boy I knew once asked his mother, "How do you spell octopus?" She replied, "Just write fish. At least you can spell that." What a sad lesson he learned that day! An overemphasis on correctness of spelling, grammar, neatness and punctuation will destroy creativity and will teach a child to write less. The more they play the game of pleasing adults instead of freely expressing themselves, the sooner they will learn to hate writing.

Provide More Time for Experience

Why do we insist on chaining our kids to a desk and pencil? Instead of spending precious time recopying text, an activity that serves little purpose, they should be running, playing and exploring--gaining experience from which to write more powerful and authentic stories, poems and reports. Experience is the raw material for writing so the richer one's experience, the more that person has to write about. And experience in recopying text is not the stuff of great works of art!

Aim for Fluency, Not Perfection

Professional writers know that the more we write, the better we write. Parents and teachers often haven't figured that out. If we would first encourage fluency in their writing by letting them write whatever comes into their heads without second guessing their ideas, without worrying about how to spell it, punctuate it or write it neatly, imagine what they might create! Why not only require them to edit one out of every ten pieces? And how about if they don't recopy any of it? Let them write the original draft on every second line, make a neat stroke through the word that they are editing and write the new word above it. Then on with creating!

Compare Learning Writing to Learning to Talk

When they learned to talk, we adored their babbling. We didn't bother to correct their baby talk, and wonder of wonders, that babbling eventually turned into well-structured speech. Let's apply the same principle to writing. They need to babble a lot on paper to learn to write well. They don't need constant correction; rather, they need the freedom to explore their language. If they read good books, are read to regularly and do a lot of practice writing, they will eventually develop their own style and will learn to correct their errors. How, you ask? That takes me to the topic of editing, which I will save for a future article. For now, please step back and let your children write. For their sake, aim for fluency, not perfection.

Publication Credits - How to Build Up Your Bio (Super Fast) For Your Cover and Query Letters

Many new creative writers are often frustrated when they don't have any publication credits in the biographical section of their cover and query letters. "How will literary agents and editors at magazines and journals ever take me seriously if I don't have any publishing credentials?" writers ask. Many writers feel there is a catch-22 situation in publishing: writers must be published to get published. So how can you break the cycle?

First and foremost, writers who are serious about publishing must develop good writing techniques and an effective, habitual submission strategy. There is no substitute for true publishing credentials: seeing your byline in a reputable print magazine or literary journal is valuable not only to your morale, but to your reputation. But if you're in a pinch and you'd like to pad your writing bio while you're waiting for the acceptance letters to start coming in, here are some techniques you might use.

Join a national, reputable writing organization. By joining a professional organization of writers in your genre, you are demonstrating that you are worthy of being among those writers and that you are serious about your writing. You are creating associations between yourself and that professional, established, reputable group. If you are writing romance novels, join Romance Writers of America. If you write literary work, consider the Association of Writing Programs. You will need to spend some money on the registration fees for these organizations, but it will be worth it if you can indicate that you are a member in good standing within specific writing groups. You'll get to include their name on your query or cover letter; you'll get access to great resources and a network of writers who may be willing to help you; and you'll demonstrate your own professionalism. The credentials in your bio will show that even though you have few (if any) publication credits now, it's only a matter of time.

Join a small, local organization. If you can't muster up enough money to join a professional writing organization, you can often join a smaller local organization for free. If you can note on your cover or query letter, "I am part of a writer's group that meets every month," you'll show that you're resourceful and devoted. To find a local writing group or organization, visit your local library and ask around. Or you can find them by looking into social networking sites. Just take the necessary precautions to stay safe. The professional bio in your cover letter will look more writerly and your writing technique is bound to improve with your new commitment to critique and discussions of craft.

Volunteer. Writers and readers love people who volunteer with literary advocacy groups, and literary agents and editors are no exception. When you volunteer for a literacy organization, you look good because you're doing good. Not only might you discover that your publishing credentials look better when you volunteer your time, but you may also learn that you enjoy sharing your passion for all things writing. It's a win-win situation for all parties involved.

Take classes. Research local schools or find local writers who teach classes. Studious writers are perceived as serious writers. Plus, being able to write that you "studied at the University of ABC" or that you "worked with award-winning novelist Joe Anybody" does a lot for your credibility. If you can't get to a school, check out online classes available through your local colleges or other national writing schools.

Go to a writing conference. If your time and finances allow it, go to a writing conference. Not only will you be able to learn and network with literary agents, editors, and writers, you'll also be able to note your attendance in your bio. If a literary agent or editor recognizes the name of the conference (perhaps he or she attended the conference in the past), it may work in your favor.

These are just a few ways you can quickly build the credits in the bio of your cover or query letter. You may not have stellar publishing credentials--maybe you haven't published anything at all--but by demonstrating that you are committed to your work and your craft, you prove that you are reputable, dependable, and devoted. Just remember, when it comes to your commitment to publishing, strong submissions and publications are the BEST way to prove your skill! Good luck.

*Writer's Relief (established 1994) is an author's submission service specializing in targeting (and preparing) submissions to reputable agents and editors. We help writers find the best-suited agents and editors for their writing.