Learning to write

To the chagrin of our family, good writing requires more than just coming up with a brilliant idea and putting it on paper or (more often these days) in a Word document. Good writing truly is an art form and a science. How do we help our children become good writers? Like everything else, it requires practice, but how and what should we practice? These are some of the questions our family asked as we started this newsletter.

Although neither my husband nor I are trained writers, we understand that communicating ideas and information via the written word is an invaluable life skill. Good writing is critical in most professions including the world of STEM. Scientists and engineers still share their findings and discoveries with the scientific community and the rest of the world through written reports and articles.

The newsletter has been our daughters’ first real experience with reviewing and editing their writing. Our 9 year old’s only prior experience at school was to neatly rewrite her “sloppy copy” and make sure she put a period at the end of every sentence. Even our 12 year old has not spent any significant time improving her essays and stories. She has received feedback on her writing from her teachers, but is never given the opportunity to edit and improve her work for additional feedback.

We knew that we needed something to help us and our daughters become better writers and improve our work through the editing process. We discovered the gem, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark which provides ways to improve writing technique with thought provoking ideas and easy-to-do actions. We already see the improvement even though we’re still working on the beginning Nuts and Bolts sections.

For example, the chapters, Activate your verbs and Be passive-aggressive, advocate writing active verbs rather than passive ones. You only use a passive verb if you have a specific reason. (If you don’t know the difference between active and passive verbs, you should definitely read the book.) I intentionally used the passive voice in a sentence above. Did you notice it?

Even if you’re not going to write for the KNE Newsletter and can’t persuade your children to either, make time to practice writing. It could be anything – a letter, a journal, a creative story, or a report about a topic of interest. Then test out some of the strategies in Writing Tools and write to us about your experience!

 Book Excerpt: Writing Tools

If you’ve never thought about how important the structure of writing is (we certainly hadn’t), here’s one of our favorite examples from the book about the power of sentence length, quoting Gary Provost:

This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals – sounds that say listen to this, it is important.

So write with a a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader’s ear. Don’t just write words. Write music.


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