The hum of creativity is audible in the Writers' Workshop of Paris-based Roaming Schoolhouse.

The hum of creativity is audible in the Writers' Workshop of Paris-based Roaming Schoolhouse.

It’s creative writing season again! (Isn’t it always?)

Young authors all over the greater Paris area are sharpening their pencils and collecting story nuggets in their writing journals in preparation for the:

2014 Young Authors’ Fiction Festival
co-sponsored by
Time Traveler Tours and the American Library in Paris.

The deadline for YAFF submissions is April 1st (no fooling!). Which means that many young Paris-based authors will have already moved beyond free writing. They may have committed to an idea already that they are now drafting into a story, from beginning to middle to end. Or perhaps they have finished their first story draft and are ready to type it out on the computer, thus moving into the revising and editing stages.

If this is the case, they’re probably asking for some guidance right about now, either with the computing process or maybe they want feedback on the writing itself.

If you are wondering how to help your young author, or even if you can, then this post is for you!
 

Can I, should I, help my young author?

The answer to this question is an unequivocal, “Yes.” It’s okay to offer guidance to your young author. Real working authors seek guidance all the time, from critique partners to agents and editors to family and friends. No writing can mature in isolation. So, please do feel free to help, however,

the key is to not do for your young authors,
but to guide them so that they may do for themselves.

Avoid the knee-jerk grab for the red pen (or any color pen for that matter). Don’t just correct the spelling errors; or tell them when their flow of ideas is illogical and should be moved around; or add whole sentences where thoughts may be missing. Instead, challenge yourself to make each call for support a Teachable Moment, that is, an opportunity for your young author to learn.

Meet them where they are in their own development as literate people, and move them forward from there, one step at a time.

And be ready to accept a “No” if your young author does not enjoy your point of view. The author gets final choice. End of story!
 

How should I help my Pre-Reader/Writer?

Admittedly, guiding rather than doing is easier said than done, it also saves time to just do. So join me below as I unpack the writing process, by age and writing stage.

This post is dedicated to our youngest authors: pre-readers.

In subsequent posts, I offer tips in how to guide your emerging reader/writer and developing reader/writer through the creative writing process, so that you may take advantage of each interaction as a Teachable Moment.
 

Pre-Readers

This young pre-reader drew her story about three princesses questioning the existence of mermaids first, and is now dictating her story, "reading" from pictures.

This young pre-reader drew her story about three princesses questioning the existence of mermaids first, and is now dictating her story, "reading" from pictures.

Receptive linguistic skills always precede productive ones, i.e., listening comes before speaking; reading comes before writing. So if your child isn’t reading independently yet, he or she isn’t likely writing with ease either.

But that doesn’t mean pre-readers aren’t bursting to tell their own stories. Here’s how to help children at this stage open the tap so that their creative juices can flow…
 

Draw it out. I find that kids of this age prefer to tell their stories in pictures. So, offer your young authors some clean paper and fresh markers or colored pencils, and have them draw their stories out first. Be warned, this could go on for days and pages. But once out, they will be ready to “read” their story.
 

I listen as this young author "tells" me her story, in pictures.

I listen as this young author "tells" me her story, in pictures.

Speak it out. Ask if they would like you to write their story down as they tell it. You’ll want to check first whether it’s okay to write directly on their pictures, or if they’d prefer that you draft their story on a separate piece of paper.

You wouldn’t want to spoil their art and stop the creative flow!
 

Write it out. As they dictate, write exactly what they express, grammar errors and all. It’s their story.

If they get stuck, ask leading questions to move them along, like: “And then what happened?” “What did she say?” “How did he know that?” This will help to model story structure and organization as well as the linear flow of ideas.  

Be careful in this drafting phase to accept their ideas and words, as delivered.

Don’t try to insert your own ideas. That will only end in tears of frustration, and block their creative flow. It may also bring an end to their motivation all together.

Also, write neatly, in block letters, and alternate each written line with a blank one. This way, it will be easier for them to read in the next phase of the process...

This young author shares with the group his story about a super hero with a mace for a hand, which he imagined first through illustrations, then dictated, then copied out following his teacher's guide.

This young author shares with the group his story about a super hero with a mace for a hand, which he imagined first through illustrations, then dictated, then copied out following his teacher's guide.

Read it out. Once the story is completely written out, you can ask your young authors to read their stories aloud to you “to make certain that you wrote it down correctly.”

What better way to acquire literacy skills than by reading one’s own story! Be prepared to help them out along the way as they work through your written version. While they “know” the story, many of the words will be unfamiliar to them.

You can also have each young author copy his or her story out, using your writing as a guide -- another reason for skipping lines in the drafting phase, and also a great learning exercise.
 

Revising (optional). Now that the story is out in the world and has been reviewed a few times by both you and the young author, it might be time to suggest making a few edits.

As you transcribed the story, the spelling should be 100%. But let’s say that the character wakes up in one sentence. Then, in the next sentence, she’s at school. Do we need to know what happened between bed and the classroom? Is it important to the story flow? Ask your young author.

If he has an answer, ask if he’d like to add that to the story. If he does, insert the new content – in his words – in the appropriate place.

Similarly, if there’s a sentence of action that doesn’t seem to fit the story, ask: “Is this idea important to your story?” If it is, maybe it needs to be fleshed out a bit further. If it isn’t, suggest that she remove it.

But remember, you are only the guide. The author has final veto power. Always. So if s/he says “no” to any of your suggestions, that’s that. Move on.
 

Editing and Publication. Now, with drafting and revising complete, pop your young author on your lap in front of the computer and type the story out, exactly as written. As you type, the odd ungrammatical sentence or passage will be flagged by your program’s grammar checker. In Word, for example, you’ll see a green squiggly line.

Point this out to your young author. Show him or her how you can ask the computer for suggestions. Read these out loud to your young author. Discuss them. Does he like the sound of another option better? Then grab it and insert it into the document. If she doesn’t, then leave as is. It’s her work. And you’ve taught her so much already!

Print it out and, et voila! We have a published author!
 

Submission to YAFF (Ile de France residents only). Once your pre-reading author’s story is finished and published, it will be up to you to handle the submission process. Please follow the instructions here. I repeat: please follow ALL instructions. We get more faulty submissions from adults than we do from the kids. It’s true. And it's all there, honed after many years of trial and error.
 

Keep your eyes on the REAL prize. Remember that the real point of all this is that your young authors enter into a creative process, learn valuable literacy skills, and enjoy themselves as they do so.

The point is not that they produce a perfect story. Or that they win a YAFF prize or mention. The point is that they are motivated to put pen to paper and create something of their own unique invention.

Any child with the desire to actually pick up a pen and complete a story from beginning to end is a winner in my book!

Engagement in the creative process is the real prize.
 

One Final (yet crucial) Tip!

Read to your young author, always and often. Remember that receptive linguistic skills always precede productive ones, i.e., reading comes before writing. The more you cuddle your burgeoning readers on your lap and read to them, the better readers and writers they will become. Guaranteed. It’s like magic!
 

For tips on the writing process itself, you and your young authors won’t want to miss this video:

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