My daughter, Ms. Fourteen Going On Forty, is turning out to be the other writer in the family. Lord knows I've tried everything to put a stop to it -- hiding pens and paper, snatching books out of her hands, forcing her to watch television -- but she won't quit, not even when I tell her the really scary publishing stories. Damn my DNA.
Unless she's trying to persuade me to let her have something, Kat keeps her writing private most of the time. Which I understand and respect; I had no privacy when I was her age, and had to keep my writing pads at school or write things in Spanish to keep my sisters and mother from snooping around in them (last year Kat started writing her journals in her own code -- rune symbols -- to keep her brother from reading them, which frankly made me a little teary-eyed.)
When my daughter does decide to share something with me, it's usually one of her humor pieces, like this poem she wrote while waiting for me to pick her up from school:
Phish Fly Backwardsee
Oh, the stars on the earth,
The grass in the sky.
The wishing hole dies,
When the painting flies.
Trees with no branches,
Fish with no scales,
Nickel made of copper,
To the hobo the king hails.
Clockwork it is,
When water flows uphill,
When it rains lava droplets,
When the pickles aren't dill. (Oh no!)
The paper is made of bricks,
The clothes are made of wood,
Pulpy orange juice.
Ohmigawsh the giraffe is nude!
Birds swim in volcanoes,
Trees grow out of clouds.
Buildings built on the sun,
Mice are very loud(s)!!
All the world is nwodedispu
Even you and me
Chloroform + Arsenic + Hydroxide = Love
All I have left to say is...Phish fly backwards... ee!
She read this to me on the way home, and that second to last line made me laugh so hard I almost crashed the car. Anesthetic plus poison plus water equals love? I think the kid just figured out the chemical formula for all the mysteries of the heart.
If your child or a young family member does show interest in writing, it can be tempting to jump right on that and offer advice, critique their work and otherwise try to get involved. It can be helpful if your young one asks for it; my older brother gave me some writing advice when I was Kat's age (he had written a novel satire on Dante's Inferno.) But: I asked for the advice and voluntarily showed him my work. In return he was gentle with me and didn't pick it apart or rip it to pieces but offered constructive advice that didn't feed my doubts but built on what I was doing and was capable of doing.
Providing children with the means to write, such as giving them blank books, plenty of supplies, or access to a computer with a decent word processing program and printer is probably the most helpful thing you can do. The second is giving them the time and space they need for their writing. Letting them know you're there if they need some advice is great, shoving unsolicited advice at them is not.
It's also important to respect young writers as much as you'd respect a writer your age. Before I post anything Kat has written on the blog, I ask her permission. When she says no, I don't post it. It's also not a good idea to pass your child's writing around the family as an object of admiration without first getting their permission. If you can't understand why, imagine your spouse or partner doing that to you without asking, and you'll instantly understand how young writers feel.
You can invite your young writer into your writing space to show them how you do things, and if age-appropriate, you can also give your work to your young writer and ask them to critique it. Teaching them by example and by offering involvement in your process can give them new ideas on what to do with their own work.
Finally, if you don't have a young writer in the family, consider giving talks about creative writing at local public schools. Most children never have the opportunity to meet a real working writer in a classroom setting, and most schools have little to no curriculum that serves the needs of young writer. Any encouragement and insight you can offer may help some of those kids along the writing path, and that's the sort of investment in the future of Publishing that we all need to make on a regular basis.