Mary Amato’s Tips for Parents: How to Encourage Creative Writing
Discover more than a dozen ideas for encouraging your child to write, including creative and simple ways to get the whole family involved. You'll also find out how WOW stories can help unlock story structure for young writers.
Create a time and place for writing. Children will want to write if you make it a fun activity to do together. “Let’s write a story!”
Accept your child’s ideas. Your child may create a character/story you don’t like. Be open, and your child will want to keep writing.
Allow your child to dictate to you. Be a scribe, not an editor. Use your child’s words.
Allow mistakes if your child is writing. The goal is to increase creative fluency and make writing fun. Save the grammar and spelling lessons for later.
Ask questions if your child gets stuck. What is the story or poem about? If it’s a story, who is your main character and what does your main character want?
Talk it through one sentence at a time. If your child has trouble organizing or keeping track of thoughts, ask him/her to tell the story aloud one sentence at a time. Write down one sentence at a time. Model enthusiasm by writing your own creative stories and poems.
Encourage all kinds of writing. Stories, poems, jokes, riddles, comic books, cartoons, plays, songs.
Encourage your child to use his/her own voice. Rather than trying to “be poetic,” it’s important for a child to learn to capture his/her own voice.
Create venues for sharing writing. Have a “literary reading” when Grandma comes over, send poems and stories as gifts, help your child submit work to local venues.
Encourage your child to keep a diary. Don’t put pressure to write everyday. See Tips for Keeping a Diary for more info.
Try a “collaborative” diary or writing journal with your child or your entire family. Leave a notebook out, each taking turns adding to it.
Try a “dialogue journal” just between you and your child. Get a special book, write in it from time to time, invite your child to write in it, and pass it back and forth with your child.
Give the gift of the written word. Model meaningful writing. Write real, meaningful messages in your own voice to your child for special events. No hallmark cards. Say what is really in your heart. This will make a big impression.
Once a month, have EVERYBODY WRITES night: gather around a table, light a candle, and write a poem or a story or even just a thought.
For encouraging story writing, use my WOW story technique to get started.
What is a WOW story?
WOW is an acronym that I created to help kids remember a simple story structure.
- The story has a main character who Wants something. This is the beginning of the story.
- There is an Obstacle that gets in the way of the main character. This is the middle of the story.
- The main character either Wins or loses. This is the end of the story.
How to make up WOW stories
- Choose a main character. This can be a person, an animal, or even an object: for example, a boy, a grandmother, a soccer star, a sock, or a paintbrush!
- Decide what the main character wants. What might a paintbrush want? Some paint to play with? To belong to a famous artist? Try unexpected ideas. A grandmother might want to ride a motorcycle!
- Decide what will get in the way of the main character’s desire. Brainstorm lots of obstacles and decide which one is the most fun or engaging. Obstacles can be simple. A rabbit wants to eat grass on a hillside, but a tiger lives on that hillside. The tiger is the obstacle. A boy wants a new bike, but his father says no. His father is the obstacle. Obstacles can also be emotions. What if a girl wants to ice skate, but she is afraid that she’ll fall down? Fear is her obstacle.
- Decide how/if the main character will “win or lose.” Does your main character get what he or she wants in the end? How?
Write or perform WOW stories
Write or dictate your story: Write your stories on paper. Or make a book by folding pages and stapling them together. If your child hasn’t learned how to write yet, ask him or her to tell you the story and write it down word for word.
Act your story out: For reluctant writers, try acting out the story first. After you have brainstormed the basics for a specific WOW story using the steps above, act out the story. Choose a narrator who will tell the story and provide cues for the actors. This can be the job of the parent or a child. The narrator should be very clear and say “The End” so that everyone knows when the story is over. After acting out stories, the child may be more interested in writing them down.
About the author
Mary Amato is an award-winning children’s and YA book author, poet, playwright, and songwriter. Her books have been translated into foreign languages, optioned for television, produced onstage, and have won the children’s choice awards in Ohio, Minnesota, Utah, and Arizona. She teaches popular workshops on writing and the creative process around the country. Learn more at Mary Amato's official website.
Watch the Reading Rockets interview with Mary Amato, where she shares her strategies for teaching writing.