Editor’s note: Whether your girl is shy or outspoken, writing can be a great way for her to express herself. Below are some creative writing ideas to get her started.
Does your daughter have a hard time speaking out? Expressing her feelings and thoughts can be particularly challenging for quieter girls, who may feel intimidated by more verbally adept peers. For many girls, writing anything—from journals to poetry to letters to the editor—can be a way to let others know “what she’s about” while also strengthening important skills.
When girls try writing something that’s for themselves and not just required for school, they’re often surprised by their abilities, says Susannah Sheffer, a writing coach and author of Writing Because We Love To (Boynton/Cook, 1992). “It’s wonderful to see a girl read her story and delight in her own work,” she says.
Of course, a beginning writer may not be impressed by her efforts. Encourage her to think of writing as self-expression rather than as a craft, particularly at first when she’s still finding a writing voice. “Writing encourages a girl to slow down and think more deeply about what she means, what she feels, or what she wants someone else to understand,” says Sheffer. Personal writing, which can include diaries or notes she writes to friends, is often a good place to start before taking on fiction and poetry. Journal writing also has a therapeutic bonus, Sheffer notes: it lets a girl “notice how feelings change over time, so it’s a way of giving oneself perspective.”
After a girl gets comfortable with expressing her thoughts, suggest she try revising to make her idea or feeling more clearly and deeply expressed. Remind her that no one’s writing comes out perfect the first time, says Sheffer, who leads writing workshops at North Star, an education center for home-schoolers in Hadley, Massachusetts. “One of the most helpful things we can do for young writers is show our own and others’ drafts and revisions to let them see how a piece can start out really rough and then get better over time,” she advises.
Be prepared for a girl to be too self-critical. One of Sheffer’s students, seventeen-year-old Annie Krakower, had stopped writing because she thought her poems were “lame.” After attending Sheffer’s writing workshop, she was encouraged by positive feedback from peers and adults. It helped her return to poetry, including a love poem she wrote for her brother’s wedding. “He cried when he read the poem, and they’re going to frame it,” says Krakower.
One way to encourage girls to write is to model behavior, says Sheffer. She suggests writing letters to your daughter, to friends, and to the editor of the newspaper. Help your daughter find others who can read her work supportively and critically, such as helping her form a small writing group or connecting with an adult mentor, advises Sheffer. And consider alternative approaches to writing. Sheffer worked with a fifteen-year-old who didn’t see herself as a writer until she used dictation to express herself and discovered she had a lot to say.
Whatever writing expression she chooses, Sheffer suggests supporting the process with these guidelines:
- If your daughter shows you her writing, ask her what kind of feedback she wants. Is she looking to see if the piece works on an emotional level or does she want someone to correct the grammar?
- Respond as specifically as you can, pointing out specific passages or word choices that worked (or didn’t work) instead of just offering praise. Identify the strengths of the writing before pointing out areas for improvement.
- No subject she wants to write about should be off limits. If a character is using drugs in your daughter’s story, don’t assume this means she’s using drugs. Express interest and use the story as a springboard for discussion of difficult issues.
- Give her guides to browse, such as New Moon Writing: How to Express Yourself with Passion and Practice, by the New Moon Books Girls Editorial Board (Crown, 2000) and Write Away: A Friendly Guide for Teenage Writers, by Peter Stillman (Boynton/Cook, 1995).
Ellen Birkett Morris is a journalist and writer based in Louisville, Kentucky. Her fiction has been featured in Alimentum.