"For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her"
By Stephanie Lenz (Baker)
This winter, a friend of my nine-year-old daughter's told me about a short story she'd written. Then she asked me, "How do you become a writer?"
The short response was "You already are a writer."
I went on to tell her about how you can study writing in college but you don't have to. I told her to read a lot of books and see how writing differs from author to author, how it changes in different time periods, stuff like that. I said she can write things to show other people or just write for herself. I told her to write stories, poems, cartoons, everything and anything. I also told her that I would write an article for her so she can use it over the summer.
Sometimes you need an idea to get going. You can use writing prompts. There are a lot of writing prompts for kids out there; you can find them in books (including ebooks) and online. You might be better off looking for prompts written specifically for children, not so much due to content but because your daily prompt could be "use 'meretricious' in your first sentence."
But do you have to wait for an idea in order to start writing? No. There are writing-related exercises you can try.
Create a portfolio
A portfolio is a collection of your creative work.
Okay so you're ready to write a story, a poem, a comic book, a cartoon, a song… what do you do now? Well you can write on paper or on an electronic device like a computer or tablet.
When I was in fourth grade, I attended "College For Kids" (held at FAMU) and we were allowed to choose two "courses." My choices for these college course things (I did them in later grades, with other universities) were always (1) photography and (2) creative writing. I was really lucky to participate in programs like these and I know very few kids have access to these things (hence articles like these).
Anyway, the very first thing we did in the fourth grade writing course was to create a book. We used long sheets of recycled smooth paper and folded them in half. Then we stapled the center. We then created a cover out of cardboard, fabric and yarn. Our job over the course of the semester was to fill that book. We learned about some of the things that TC already has articles about: characterization, setting, and plot.
My book was a hodgepodge of poems, song parodies (writing new lyrics to existing songs), one-page stories, and one-panel or four-panel cartoons. Some kids wrote long stories that used the whole book. Some kids wrote a poem on every page. Some kids drew a picture on one page and wrote a story on the opposite page (like Great Illustrated Classics). There's no wrong way to fill your book. There's no wrong way to make a book. You don't even have to make a book. It can be a good idea to make a folder to put your writing in, whether it's a real folder or a folder on your computer.
Diaries and journals are also nice to have. You can find them in stores like Justice, at craft stores like Michaels, or in the school supplies (a.k.a. "stationery") aisle at stores like Target. Grocery stores also carry notebooks, composition books, and loose paper.
Anything can be a journal. You can write about your day (non-fiction), you can write a story (fiction), a poem, draw pictures, anything your pen or pencil can put on that paper. Some people hide their journals. Whether you want to hide your journal depends on you. If you have a very little brother or sister who might color in it or rip it up, you might want to store your diary (and other writing) in a high place like a closet shelf or cabinet. Ask an adult where a safe place for your folder might be.
If you have a place to be alone and write, close your door. If you don't have a private place, use a book or the board from a board game to make yourself a wall around your workspace. This lets your parents, grandparents, guardians, sitter, brothers and/or sisters know that it's work time for you. You can write in bed, on the floor, at a table, on the front steps, even in the bathroom!
If you don't finish, that's fine. Next time, you can continue (leave some space if you're writing on paper) or start something new.
You don't have to finish everything you start. And once you decide you're absolutely, positively never going to write any more of that story or poem, you can come back to it.
It can be fun to make yourself a "writing time." Set a timer for 10 minutes and create something. Maybe you're not sure what to write about during today's writing time. Try one of the prompts from the first part of this article.
There are a lot of places you can send your work to be published, if you're interested in that. Look for established publications (in print or online). You should not send anyone any money in order to have your work published. Lots of magazines run monthly contests, sometimes based on a picture or word prompt.
You can also print your work yourself. There are reputable companies that can convert your drawings and words into picture books. This is something an adult will help you research. Having things printed this way does cost money. You will probably only want one or two copies, depending on who you would like to give your work to.
You can also print things on your home or library computer. If you create copies of a book, have a book signing at home and invite people to come and hear you read samples of your work. Sell copies of your book and autograph each one personally.
Or you could just keep your work in your folder and enjoy it for yourself. There's no rule about what to do with your work. If you can keep it, do. It will be fun to reread it as time goes by.
I'm the grown-up here
You have a writerling at home or next door. You might wonder what you can do on that front, other than buying pencils and notebooks or giving rides to the library and schlepping bags of books back and forth. Here are a few things writers of all ages would like to get from those who care about their growth and passion:
This article is dedicated to Emily R, a writer in Pennsylvania.
Articles on writing, published monthly. Each article is accompanied by an exercise at A Pen in Each Hand.
All articles are copyright their respective authors.