Freewriting: The Key that Unlocks the Words

For most people writing from scratch is a challenge. For children, it’s daunting. Don’t expect the blank page and a pen to unleash creativity and fluid prose.

Instead, supply ample experience with the subject (engage the five senses, read several different perspectives, use various media, and take notes). Allow your child to spend time digesting and mulling over the content. Finally, encourage him/her to talk about the subject with several people. Once your student has a sense of ownership of the subject for writing, it is time to get some words on paper. Here’s how.

Guidelines for Freewriting:

Set the timer for ten minutes (five if it’s the first time). Rub your kids’ shoulders. Encourage them to wiggle, flex their fingers, crack their necks and adjust their papers and chairs.

Go over the following guidelines:

  1. Keep your pencil moving without stopping for ten minutes.
  2. Write everything that comes to mind, even seemingly unrelated comments like, “I hate writing. This is too hard. I don’t think I would have liked Columbus if I had met him.”
  3. Don’t self-edit. Allow for bad handwriting, poor spelling, grammatical errors, sentence fragments, lists of verbs, little arrows or quick drawings. Get it all down without worry about how it looks or whether or not it is right.
  4. Be outrageous. Use vocabulary and descriptions that sound overboard, silly or absurd. Make comparisons and connections to other subjects (even if they seem at first glance to be irrelevant or unrelated). Keep writing no matter what until the bell rings, and then stop.

After a freewrite:

  1. Take a break. Drink a glass of water, do ten jumping jacks, run around the block or take a break on the couch.
  2. Come back to your paper without a pencil and just read it.
  3. Do not let your mom or dad read it. You read it aloud to them. (Mom: Do not read the free writing before you hear it. You will undoubtedly miss the brilliance for all the spelling and grammar errors. Additionally, look for the continuity of thought, or the bursts of expression, or the flashes of insight. Do not think of this raw writing as the product.)
  4. Take a red pen and check for mistakes. Look specifically for misspelled words, thoughts that need expanding and vague descriptions. Don’t correct these yet; just mark them for later.
  5. Ask your mom for her feedback.

Guidelines for Mom:

  1. Now it’s time for your feedback. Begin by identifying the core elements that are strong. Find at least two. Example: “Virile is a very descriptive term.” or “I didn’t know you knew how a tank worked.” Be concrete and positive. The fact that your son or daughter actually filled several lines on a page with words is worthy of affirmation.
  2. If there is little real content, it may be an indication that you scheduled a free-write before your child has absorbed enough material related to the topic. If this is the case, notice it without disapproving of their shallow or insufficient results. Instead, say something like, “I see that we need to read a few more books about World War II.”
  3. If there is enough to work with, begin to lead your child to discover ways to expand and improve what was written. Ask questions like, “Which countries fought in the war?” or “Can you describe how the cocoa looked in addition to how it tasted?”
  4. Highlight these areas that need development. Take out a clean sheet of paper and begin to free-write some more about that specific area. This process can occur indefinitely in the generative stage of writing. Be careful, however, not to require too much writing in a day so as to keep the words fresh and prolific. Don’t tire out your young writer and thereby crush his or her enthusiasm.

Caution: When beginning to use freewriting in your home, skip the editing phase for awhile. Begin by affirming any work that is accomplished and filing it. After your child really believes that you value his content over the mechanics, you can introduce self-editing. We like to recommend that you take eight weeks to freewrite without any revision or editing. Then at the end of eight weeks, gather all eight freewrites together and ask your child to select one to take through the revision process. If you find revision challenging, The Writer’s Jungle provides thorough guidance.

In all things, be sensitive to your child’s process. Each child is different and deserves a tailor-made writing program.

Remember this philosophy

Your children’s feelings matter. If they resist writing, it is because there is a writing problem, not a problem of the will. Therefore have compassion for your child’s struggle and follow these steps:

  1. Your child’s feelings provide valuable information about your child’s relationship to writing.
  2. Create a strategy for writing that responds to the distress or enthusiasm.
  3. Honor the person by offering comfort, support and care while attempting the writing process.

Find more Friday Freewrite prompts on our blog.