Friday, December 20, 2019

The Challenge of the Blank Page

When professional writers sit in front of their computer or at their desk and are unable to write -- or to write the kind of content that they know they are capable of producing, they often talk about having writer's block. Some authors can go years without producing a new book or a magazine piece, even though they have had years of productivity in the past. 

This kind of difficulty is not just a problem of adult professionals. It can be hard for children to sit in front of a blank page -- on paper or screen -- and come up with a story or report on deadline. Certain kinds of writing may be easier for children. Book reports, for example, have a fairly standard format and the content can refer back to the book and its characters. Similarly, assignments with clear guidelines, such as a research report on an historical figure or event, can be relatively easy for a young writer to begin.

Open ended writing assignments can be more difficult for anyone and children can find it especially hard to get started. There are ways to help, however, and parents and teachers can use some of the following to provide the needed spark:
  • Help them record the story. Many children find it easier to "tell" a story than to write it down. Once they finish, they can play the recording back and serve as their own scribe, or have a parent or teacher help them, writing down what they had said aloud. 
  • Provide word banks. These can be found online or you can create them for a specific purpose. Having words in front of them that relate to the topic they are writing about may be all a child needs to begin to write. They can help create this word list, and then use all of the words in sentences. For example, a paragraph about spiders might include the key words “spider,” “legs,” “eyes,” “poison,” “bite,” “insects,” “web,” etc. 
  • Have the child start with a free-write. This can mean jotting down ideas, making lists, or putting words to paper in any form that feels comfortable. No structure, no grammar issues, and no rules apply. Once this free write is completed, it can help the child to jump start a more organized written product. 
  • Teachers can offer students alternative ways to tell stories. StoryboardThat enables students to create a storyboard, much like a screenwriter will use to create a film plot. Tools like Comic Creator can help children tell their story in a comic book format. Other "out of the box" ways to get children started with writing include having them write a skit or play, and perhaps acting it out, or to have them "report" a fictional event in a newspaper format. Storybird uses over 1,000 professionally created pictures to inspire writers of all ages - and children can read the stories of other children too (all carefully moderated).
Writing leads to more writing, so getting things started should be the goal. While proper spelling, grammar, and other aspects of good writing are important, they can be part of the editing process, once children come up with their ideas and the basic story. 

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