6 Ways to Raise a Writer
Easy things all parents can do to help their kids express themselves with the written word.
By Cathy Lamb
Have a kid who wants to be a writer? My parents did. But even if your young student has no immediate desire to be the next great scribe, having good writing skills can help her in just about any field she eventually decides to enter.
It so happens that I became a writer. Here are some things my parents did to encourage, support and give me room to write, in no particular order…
** 1. ****They put me outside all the time to play.** I spent my first ten years in California, and my brother, sisters and I lived outside. I chased butterflies, played hide and seek, climbed trees and tried to run my brother over on my bike. Kids need to be outdoors making up stories and games and running around with other kids. It fosters a creative, inquisitive spirit and early insight into people and relationships … and that helps grow a writer.
- ****My mother bought me tons of books. This was at a time when she had three dresses. Three. Total. That’s what she could afford when she had four young children. We did not get a lot of clothes, and if we wanted more as teenagers we were told to get out there and get a job, which we did. But books … well, that was another thing. You cannot become a writer without being a reader. Go to the library with your kids, buy them books. The world opens up to young minds as soon as books are open on their laps.
- ****They spent a lot of time with their kids. My parents were always there. Be there for your kid, listen to them and their stories, buy them journals to write in and neat pens, read the same book together, talk about favorite writers. Discuss why some books are so catchy, so interesting, and others are boring. Discuss the author’s voice, word choice, how the book ended, the overall theme. What’s the lesson here? What did they learn? It gets kids thinking about writing—and how to write compelling stories. People will says that some of America’s best writers had tragic childhoods. I don’t recommend this at all for your kid.
- ****They allowed me to be myself. My mother’s mother was a southern belle who gave my mother, via DNA, that same southern belle personality. My mother was an English teacher, kind, polite, absolutely lovely and hospitable … a magnolia with one of those spines filled with iron. I was a rebel. I had a mouth, I had a temper, I did things I should not have done, and I had a wild streak. My parents still loved me, and I knew it. They tried to trim the edges, smooth the feathers, teach the lessons, but they never squashed my spirit. That’s key. A squashed spirit will produce a squashed voice. A squashed voice will never write. Kids never work well when they feel boxed in. Writers, and kids who want to be writers, hate boxes.
- ****They did not spoil me, or any of my siblings. As teenagers, we worked. We did not expect our parents to fly in with anything fancy, in fact, it never occurred to us that they would. They let me take my knocks. Sulky behavior got me nowhere. Whining got me less. Sharp words were used when I was obnoxious. You do your child no favor by allowing them to become a brat. I saw this when I was a teacher. Grown up brats don’t listen, don’t take constructive criticism, can’t see beyond themselves. They lack compassion, empathy and understanding—crucial qualities for becoming a writer.
- ****They encouraged travel. I paid for three trips to Europe before I was 24 by working summer jobs and by working every term in college except the first one. That was why I was always broke. My first trip was for seven weeks with my sister hiking around with backpacks living in hostels. Writers need food for their heads. Traveling is one of the best ways to get that food.
I wish my mother had lived to see my first book published. I know she would have been delighted, but not because my name was on a book. She would have been happy because of the personal characteristics that got me to that place. She would have been happy because I was happy. She would have been happy because I had a goal and I made it to that goal. (Okay, there were a lot of tears and head banging along the way).
To be quite honest, one of the reasons my late father was so happy I published was because I didn’t break one of his most important, adamant rules: Never quit, Cathy. Never quit. Tell your kids that, too. Never quit.
Now go raise a writer.
Cathy Lamb is a women’s fiction writer and mom of three. She writes late into the night from her home in Oregon.
Visit her at cathylamb.org.