16 Tips: Building a Better Writer

Around here we obviously believe that a “writing curriculum” isn’t going to help your student learn to write well. We prefer more natural ways — ways most adults use — to learn to write. If you are looking for tips to help your child develop his writing, here are our 16 best tips for building a better writer:

1. Write something every day.

Really. If you want to become a better anything, you have to practice your craft. Encourage your children to write something each and every day.

The length of the writing can be age-appropriate so as not to discourage. The writing can be a copywork exercise, narration, dictation, work on a short story, booklet creation, or anything of the child’s choosing. But write each day, he must.

Like most things, writing is a habit. For that reason, some find may find it easiest to write at the same time each day.

As Dr. Beechick says, “Learn to write, write.”

Great writers write.

2. Read quality literature.

In You Can Teach Your Child Successfully, Dr. Ruth Beechick devotes 73 pages to writing. In this highly recommended book, she explains that writing is the other side of reading, it happens slowly, and that our children need to read, and write; read, and write.

This connection between reading and writing can be used to inspire our children to become better writers.

[W]hile you read or after you finish a book, if you have a personal response of some kind, and write, your mind grows even more. You clarify your thoughts. You develop new ways of thinking. This is education, ongoing. The read-write dialogue is of first importance. So keep your children reading and keep them writing.

Dr. Ruth Beechick, You Can Teach Your Child Successfully

What goes in, comes out. Nourish your student with a book list composed of the works of great writers!

Great writers are great readers.

3. Interact with what you read.

To use the connection between reading and writing you need to have your students read purposefully — not for entertainment. To put it another way, they need to interact with the literature they are reading in some way.

7 Ways to Mark a Book

In 7 Ways to Mark a Book, Mortimer Adler, How to Read a Book, makes the case for marking a book and explains the role this plays in activating the mind. Highly recommended (and free) read!

You can also glean ideas in our post on getting the most from your literature-based studies.

Great writers read purposefully.

4. Copy great passages.

Have your child read and reread those passages that exemplify writing you appreciate and he enjoys.

Have him keep a copybook in which to copy well-loved passages.

Great writers emulate other great writers.

5. Provide time to “be.”

Almost without exception, our schedules are far too full. It is very difficult to find time to be — to do nothing but think. Writers have to have time to process information, dream, innovate, create, mull, envision.

I remember walking by my son’s room once and seeing him doing, well, what appeared to be nothing. This wasn’t terribly normal for an active young man. But he assured me — “don’t worry, Mom, I’m writing.” Ah, yes.

Great writers think.

6. Keep a notebook handy.

Encourage your child to jot down any ideas he may have for future writing projects. This is made easier when he does understand that he WILL be writing each and every day.

Writers are huge idea collectors….

7. Write what you know.

Young people frequently don’t know what to write about. Ask them what interests them at the moment. If they don’t know enough to write about it, encourage them to research it until they do.

Great writers get the facts.

8. Learn Latin.

Want your child to be able to construct a better sentence? Encourage him to learn Latin.

Great writers use great grammar.

9. Develop a good vocabulary.

The more words we know, the better our odds of finding the right word to fit our purpose. And choosing the right word in the right circumstance is what great writing is all about!

Great writers choose the right word.

The Elements of Style {Free eBook}

Read Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. This is a writer’s favorite tutor that has withstood the test of time. An older version is even available free online.

Great writers practice great writing.

11. Consider using an outline.

Some need that initial structure to get (and keep) going.

Try having your child use an outline periodically.

Does his writing improve? Or does he find the process more stifling (and NOT because he doesn’t like writing outlines).

Great writers organize their thoughts.

12. Get messy.

Don’t bother editing until you have something already written down.

The “first draft” needs to simply get on paper before it needs to be corrected. Many times if we correct as we go we lose the flow of what we are trying to say.

Great writers let the words flow.

13. Edit.

As a homeschool mom, you’ll likely be your child’s editor. Rather than overloading your child with rules that have little meaning for him (at least until he needs to know those rules), provide him with exactly what he needs when he needs it. He will benefit from learning the information when it is most relevant.

There are a variety of materials on the market that can coach you through the editing process. There are also qualified online writing tutors available if you need extra help. You Can teach Your Child Successfully offers many tips and ideas for evaluating your child’s work.

At the end of the process, however, we want our children to become their own self-editors — at least for the initial edit (all writers need an final editor). As you learn how to edit, pass along what you learn to your student.

Great writers self-edit.

14. Show, don’t tell.

Encourage your children to show what is happening with words, rather than simply telling the reader that it happened.

If Johnny sweated through the exercise, don’t tell me “Johnny sweated through the exercise.” Show me by painting the picture in my head with words. For example, “beads of sweat rolled into Johnny’s eyes as he labored to lift the weights above the floor.”

Descriptive writing is what sets great writers apart from the crowd!

15. Invest in your writing.

While it is certainly best to avoid formulaic courses, there are good writing courses, tutors, and mentors out there. If you feel completely unqualified to tutor your child in his writing (or if he needs particular help) there is nothing wrong with investing in professional help.

One easy and relatively inexpensive option is to purchase Learn to Write the Novel Way by Carole Thaxton. This gem holds your hand as you mentor your child through the process of writing his own fictional story. If you are pressed for time or in need of someone to mentor you as you mentor your child, you may appreciate this year-long writing curriculum that results in a finished novel.

Learn to Write the Novel Way covers all of the language arts skills, while focusing on breaking down the writing process into easily manageable steps. Great helps for Mom. (Read our full review.)

Other inexpensive options are to read books by Ruth Beechick that cover writing in a natural way:

Beechick Basics

A Strong Start in Language
This book starts by pointing out that YOU are an effective language teacher. Think how much your child has already learned! Emphasizes the natural way of learning language including guidelines for all language components at each level.

Beechick Basics

You Can Teach Your Child Successfully
Dr. Beechick’s encouragement is outstanding: “You parents naturally know how to relate to each of your children and to help them learn. Your biggest problem is that so many of you are afraid that teachers or society or somebody out there will frown on your way of teaching…. It is the child you are teaching, not the book.” What a wealth of useful information — including 73 pages devoted to writing! Includes grade-level guidelines in a common-sense, easy-to-understand style. Very practical!

Beechick Basics

How to Write Clearly
What if writing was actually very simple? What if the key was — much as we learn to walk by walking, or we learn to talk by talking, or learn to read by reading — simply to learn to write by writing? Those familiar with Dr. Ruth Beechick will be quite familiar with this phrase and the natural method of learning to write it connotes. Many of her ideas on writing are summarized in this book. Read our full review.

16. Check back.

Keep samples of your child’s writing. Compare samples of his writing yesterday with those from last year. This is usually a very uplifting and motivating exercise!

Great writers grow.

Learn to Write.

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