What would you say if I told you you’re a writer?
Would you laugh? Disagree with me? Would you tell me I’m crazy and launch into a story about Mrs. Smith from the seventh grade?
That’s what most people do. In fact it happened last Thursday when I finally got my haircut. The stylist was one I’d never seen before, and she asked me what I did for a living.
“I love the idea of writing,” she said, “but that was my worst subject in high school. I’d just draw pictures of what I wanted to say and turn that in. I failed every time.”
“You do know that’s writing, don’t you?”
She laughed. “No – I mean I literally could not write words on the page. I had great ideas, but all I could do was draw them. My teachers got so frustrated with me.”
Her face flushed, a mixture of long-held embarrassment and frustration climbing it’s way to the surface. I tried in vain to explain how she was, in fact, a writer, that the pictures she drew were a step in the process of translating ideas into language.
I don’t think she believed me, and honestly I can’t say I blame her. What I told her was the truth.
It’s also very different from what you learn in school.
The Great Tragedy of Modern Education
Authentic, organic writing instruction is dead, and modern education killed it. I know because I was part of the machine for years, first as a student, and then as a teacher.
It started out innocently enough, a reaction to society’s natural development. The advent of new technology like telephones and computers meant written communication gradually lost traction. Educators had to reach increasing numbers of students who lacked a working knowledge of literacy, so our generation faced writing as a “thing”: a prescribed structure and format that took precedence over anything else.
What did we end up with as a result? An entire generation of literary haves and have-nots: those who could write, versus those who weren too frustrated (or terrified) to put them into words.
Unfortunately, modern education has forgotten the true meaning of writing.
It is the act of creation – of making and doing, of thinking and expressing one’s thoughts. Writing is so much more than structuring sentences to fit on a page.
It’s reading, talking, singing, drawing.
Writing is as natural as living and breathing, and you don’t need a curriculum to teach you how to live.
What you need is the story of the life you are living: of the people you love and the moments you share. It’s a story every family can write together, regardless of the age or ability of your children.
Writing your family story – the daily ins and outs of the beauty of your world – is the process through which we build a culture of writers. In homes where composition is organic and authentic, writing is safe – not frustrating, stultifying, or scary.
Our children won’t face writing as an impossible task. Writing will be joyful, beautiful, meaningful, and our children will be better thinkers, dreamers, and doers.
How to Write Your Family Story
For those of us who grew up with writing as prescriptive, a return to the culture of writing I’m encouraging takes a bit of a sea change.
Start by Shifting Your Perspective on Writing
Writing doesn’t have to be structured, nor is it limited to the literate. Any child at any age can write – through the stories they tell, the pictures they draw, or the toys they play with on the living room floor. Writing is anything that makes meaning, and children make meaning all the time. Our role is to facilitate that as scribe and archivist, keeping record of what they do.
Continue by Reading Good Books on the Subject
If you really want to know how to write, read the work of the masters. I’m not talking about folks who develop curriculum. I’m talking about writers: the kind of people who know and feel their art from the inside out. Let Peter Elbow show you how to write without teachers. Let Anne Lamott help you develop an eye for detail. Let William Zinser show you the secret to writing well. Don’t go for scope and sequence. Go for depth and creativity.
Follow up by Making Writing Accessible
The key is to invite frequent expression with stations throughout the house. Don’t limit it to words: encourage artwork, discussion, debate, and play. Place fun pens and pencils in obvious locations. Give each family member their own personal journal. Challenge big ideas or current events at the dinner table. Make the process a normal part of your everyday life.
Stay Motivated by Finding Support
This approach to family literacy takes effort, but you don’t have to do it alone. Find like-minded friends and writing groups, or seek support online. You can even join my Facebook group for writing your family story. The more we encourage one another, the easier the shift will become.
Don’t let fear and frustration steal the joy from writing.
Maybe my stylist’s story is your story. Maybe it’s your child’s story. Maybe you love someone who has brilliant ideas, but is terrified of getting them down on paper.
I do. Both my girls struggle. But the more I make writing a normal, natural process, the easier it becomes. It can be the same way for you, and to help, I’m giving away a basket designed to help you write your family story, a prize valued at over $75! The Write Your Family Story Basket includes:
- The 25th Anniversary Edition of Writing Without Teachers by Peter Elbow
- Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
- Unjournaling: Daily Writing Exercises that are Not Personal, Not Introspective, Not Boring! by Dawn DiPrince
- A 12 pack of Write Dudes USA Solid Wood Pencils
- Set of 3 Moleskin Cahier Journals (with paperbag texture covers – great for decorating!)
- 40 Count Crayola Ultra Clean Broad Line Markers
- 50 Count Crayola Colored Pencils
- An insulated market basket from DII, complete with zipper and a sturdy metal handle
I’d love to keep this basket for myself, but I’m not. Instead, I’m totally excited to be sending it off to one of you. Be sure to enter below – and good luck!
This post is part of the iHomeschool Network’s Mother’s Day Basket Giveaway.