I’ve been wanting to write a post like this for a while.
My understanding of pupil conferencing (the process of talking and giving advice to children whilst they are undertaking their writing) has got much better, sharper and focused since I first wrote about it here. The list below takes in the most common and valuable advice I give to my apprentice writers. Some of the advice here comes too from Gary Provost’s book 100 Ways To Improve Your Writing. Like any good writer-teacher, everything below is advice I try and enact for myself too.
Anyway – I’ll leave you to read. I hope you find some of it useful.
50 Ways Children Can Improve Their Writing
- Read. Read a lot and read all sorts of things.
- Set up a writing club.
- Ask your teacher to become a writer-teacher so they can teach you how writers really work.
- Think about what you’re writing as you go about your day.
- Have a particular time in the day where you’ll sit down and write something.
- Copy something. Find some writing that you like and copy it, change part of it or re-invent it completely.
- Keep a journal but only write in it when you feel the need to.
- Talk to people about what you’re writing. Share your writing with people. Ask them what it might need. Importantly, find the bit they think is most interesting and focus on that.
- Always dabble and dabble often. Dabble around with little notes, words, phrases, ideas, pictures, lists, plans, descriptions and thoughts before you begin a draft or a plan.
- Know who you are writing for. Who might you be giving the writing to?
- Only write on ideas or topics you’re interested in. If you’re not enjoying it, abandon it and maybe you’ll come back to it another time or maybe you won’t. Either way, it’s alright.
- Find your diamond moment. In your mountain of an idea, find that one special diamond moment – the most important reason for writing what you’re writing and focus on it. Treat it with care, think about it a lot and make it shine.
- Don’t start too far upstream. Don’t start your writing too far away from the roar of the waterfall. Your diamond moment is often your waterfall. Don’t mention unnecessary boring things. If you do, make sure you cut it from your final piece.
- Try out different openers before picking your favourite one. Story openers can include: question, description, action, shock/surprise or monologue.
- Steal. Always be on the look-out for little phrases, characters, ideas you’d like to use as part of your own writing.
- If you don’t know what to write next, talk to someone. Tell them what still needs to be said. Otherwise, it’s often because you want to move on in time or place. You can do this by starting a new paragraph or by using a time or place opener. Meanwhile, over the other side of town, or After a few full moons.
- Get up out of your seat and perform your writing – act it out. Do this while you’re writing but also perform your writing once it’s finished.
- When describing a setting think about: the weather, time of day and the historical period. What could your setting be compared to? If your setting was a person, what would they be like and how would they behave? What is your character’s mood and feelings towards this setting?
- Stop your writing when you have nothing else left to say and don’t feel bad about it.
- Stop and listen to what you’ve written so far. Do this all the time! Make sure you read out loud too! Check for ‘sticky bits’. These are bits that don’t come out of your mouth too smoothly. Fix them.
- Write with a friend. Write as a team. Write with your writer-teacher. Write with someone at home.
- Try to write how you would talk to someone.
- Show, don’t tell. Sometimes cut out words like is, was, are and were as these are telling words and replace them by showing your readers what is happening instead. The boy is walking up the hill instead becomes the red-faced boy, heaving, complaining and puffing away, really struggles to get himself to the top of the hill. In this way you stop giving conclusions without giving your reader evidence.
- Remember, you are often painting a film in your reader’s mind. What do you want them to see on the screen? Use both wide views and close ups.
- Pretend you are a mind reader. Listen in to what your characters are thinking and share this with your readers. As the narrator, try not to get involved in the story.
- Provide proof by giving your reader tiny little details – little things that only you have noticed about your characters.
- The climax to a story should be there to prove something.
- Dabble a lot about your main character in a story. Answer some of these questions before you begin writing: What are you disguising your character as?What would you compare them to?Sight: What do they look likeSmell: What might they smell like?Touch: What is their mood like and what would they feel like to touch?Sound: What do they sound like and what might they say?Action: What might they do and how they might do it?
Taste: If your character had a taste, what would they taste like?
What do they spend their time thinking about?
What’s their reputation? What do other people think of them?
How do they live their life?
- Write down a couple of potential endings to your story – you don’t have to keep to any of them but it’s good to have an idea of how it could end before you begin. Strong endings include a message, feeling, action, uncertain or happy ending.
- Use hyperbole, exaggerate or even bend the truth completely when writing memoirs or prose poems.
- Use imagism. This is where you can’t say what you think or feel – you can only describe it.
- Be playful and silly with words. Use puns, alliteration and repetition. Don’t count your owls before they are delivered… Don’t cry over spilt potion and Terrible teeth in his terrible jaws? He has knobble knees, and turned-out toes or It rapped. It grated. It snarled. It scarpered. It shrieked. It growled.
- Compare a person, place or thing to something else. The teacher was a witch and A sea of chaos or Dark clouds raced across it like wild horses.
- Pretend that a place or a thing can behave like a person. The cruel waves screamed and swallowed the boat and Trees are scratching at the sky or I heard a plane threading the clouds high above us.
- Write using a variety of senses. What do you notice, hear, taste, taste, touch, smell and think?
- Remember, the first draft of anything is usually pretty rubbish.
- Think about and sometimes replace your nouns for nouns that pack more meaning into a small space. People becomes strangers, light becomes glare and beach becomes the water’s edge.
- Modify only one or two slots in a sentence. [The pilot] [took off] [his helmet] becomes [The battle-weary pilot] [struggled to remove] [his helmet].
- Use strong verbs. Sharpen what you actually mean when you use a verb by being utterly precise. Broke becomes shattered, hug becomes clutched and pushed becomes jostled.
- Give a specific image of something rather than a general one. Picture a cat. Now picture a black cat. Now picture a black cat with shiny silver paws. You can see the cat more clearly as it becomes more specific.
- Spend most of your time focusing and writing about your characters.
- Share your opinion. Say what you think. Share how you feel. Talk about what you believe.
- Use and share anecdotes. Share stories from your own life. Use these in your poetry, stories and non-fiction writing.
- Don’t use words you don’t know the meaning of and don’t use so many big words that your reader has to dash for the dictionary every five minutes!
- If you are going to share your opinion or an anecdote in your non-fiction writing – do it at the beginning or at the end.
- Spend time thinking about your title. Don’t put the first thing that comes into your head. Use your favourite line or create a title with a sense of intrigue.
- Re-read and improve. Some writers will re-read and improve their writing over a 100 times. You should give it at least a day though before you start. Never revise a draft the same day you finished it. Re-reading and improving can mean cutting, adding or replacing words, phrases, paragraphs or even changing the whole thing!
- Proofread your work at least four times using the CUPS technique. 1st for Capitalisation, 2nd for Use of vocabulary, 3rd for Punctuation and finally correct your Spellings.
- Write for the pleasure it brings you and/or for the pleasure of sharing your writing with others.
- Finally, don’t always listen to these tips. Writing is an art, not a science.