Saturday, October 3, 2009

writing vs. Writing

Do your boys like to write? Most boys don't. Boys' fine motor skills tend to develop later than girls', and so for most boys, the physical act of holding a pencil or pen and creating words is frustrating and painful.

But what if I told you that's not writing?

Oh sure, it's writing in one sense. Call it writing with a small w: writing, tracing letters onto the page. The kind of writing I'm talking about is writing with a capital W: Writing, using written language to communicate.

There's a big difference between the two, and I'm convinced that focusing on writing inhibits Writing -- especially for boys.

That's not to say penmanship is not important. (Although I could argue that it's not. How much of your writing is done by hand these days?) As a writer, though, I believe that if you want you boys to write, you need to shift your focus from the mechanics to the content.

Give your boys room, freedom and permission to play around with language. Let them talk -- a lot. Read them stories. Transcribe their stories. Let them experience the natural flow of language before inundating them with things like grammar, structure and punctuation.

Ask any writer how to become a better writer, and you'll inevitably hear one word: "Read." Writing practice is important, but so is immersing yourself in a world of fine language. By reading -- or listening to -- the writing of others, one intuitively absorbs information about flow, pacing and structure. One learns what details make a story come alive and how to maintain interest. One learns that words have power.

So if you want your boys to Write, put away the pens and pencils for awhile. If your boys are like mine, their verbal storytelling abilities are far above their writing ability, and that's OK. Encourage them to tell their stories. Listen as they summarize their favorite TV shows and explain how to play Yu Gi Oh. Jot down their stories and let your boys see the written transcript. Without writing a word, they will be Writing.

It may be years before your sons' physical abilities catches up to their ability to Write. That's OK. So many parents and teachers insist that writing and Writing go hand-in-hand, but too many boys become frustrated and quit. Too many boys think that Writing is a girl thing. Too many boys stop after learning that teachers value friendship-oriented stories over action-packed adventures. Too many boys conclude that they can't Write, and their voices are lost to the world.

Don't worry about writing. Help your son Write instead.


  1. Thanks for "writing" what I had been feeling. I have let go of writing and have focused on reading to the boys and allowing them to tell me stories. I, too, believe that if I force them to write, they will become frustrated and ultimately be less inclined to become Writers.

    We have been making our way through the Warriors series by Erin Hunter, for a while now.

  2. Sounds like you are in the Brave Writer mindset. Are you using that language arts curriculum? We started this fall. Although I've been in the Charlotte Mason mindset for years about composition and using the brain for narration which basically is what we usually call writing minus the hand to paper part.

  3. Christine -- I'd never heard of Brave Writer before, but just checked it out. Interesting that it's by a writer as well! How is it working for your family?

  4. This is a great reminder to me. My boys are so full of ideas and enthusiasm for story-telling.

    My son, Matthew has horrible penmanship. But he is often enthusastic about telling me about his ideas and interests.

    I have often told him he really needs to improve his writing. I will try to focus more on Writing. It would be nice if the school system would put forth more toward keyboarding skills.

    As you pointed out, how often do we write by hand these days? I honestly find my thoughts flowing more freely through the keyboard.

    Hand writing was learned by necessity. If we really think about it, cursive writing was most likely developed as a means to make the act of writing more efficient. It made the flow of ideas from the mind to the page more fluid.

    With the development of the computer and word processing software, the act of writing has been made much easier and more efficient and frees the mind even more to focus on creativity.

  5. I love this post. Wish I'd had this in front of me many years ago. I think you are so right. Have you noticed a difference with your boys since using this approach? Perhaps you could submit this to a teacher's magazine or online forum.

  6. Here's what I'd noticed: When I asked them to Write/write, they a) complained and fought me mightily and b) produced sentences that were so beyond their mental capabilities. Anyone reading that Writing would have concluded that they lacked imagination, that they didn't know how to produce decent paragraphs (because inevitably they were as short as could be) and that they had very little understanding of whatever it was they were talking about.

    When I remove the physical act of writing and let them simply concentrate on Writing, what they produce matches their mental capability. It's a more accurate representation of what they know and what they imagine, and I can see that intuitively they understand how to structure a sentence, a paragraph or a story. Those are the hard parts of Writing, in my opinion. If they can do that -- and they can -- I have every confidence that the physical part will come.

  7. Nate,
    For what it's worth, many boys struggle with penmanship due to differences in fine motor skill maturity. Girls' fine motor skills tend to develop before boys.' And boys, I think, being the physical, active creatures they are, have little patience for the act of pushing a pencil across a paper.

    I wish the schools would let kids concentrate on Writing before worrying about writing. With my boys, I've noticed that they're ready to structure their thoughts long before they're able to physically put it down on the paper.

  8. I love this post Jen. My husband and I stumbled upon storytelling when our kids were preschoolers. After being read to every night, they loved hearing us make up a story on the spot. It didn't take long until they wanted to take their turn at the telling.

    I wrote about it for Scholastic's Parent Page a couple years ago.

  9. Jill,
    Do you have a link to that story? I'd love to read it.

  10. As a professional writer myself, I hate that my boys think they don't like to write. My older son really loved creative writing (making up his own stories) when he was younger but now considers writing his worst subject.

    The culprit? English teachers who've taken all the fun out of writing! There is certainly a need to teach proper grammar, punctuation, etc., but I can't tell you how many of my 15-year old's English teachers have given their students arbitrary rules they must follow in their writing assignments. His current teacher dictates how many sentences must be in each paragraph. For instance, she says the opening paragraph of their current assignment must have 12 sentences!! Twelve! So, my son is struggling to figure out how to make more sentences instead of focusing on how to effectively communicate his thoughts.

    I'm always telling my son that these silly rules are completely opposite of the rules of good writing in the real world. When I was in school, the rule of thumb was that a paragraph needed at least three sentences - whatever happened to that?

    You're probably thinking right now that you're glad your boys are homeschooled!