6 tips to inspire children to write for pleasure

Published on: 17 June 2024

Author Julia Green shares her expertise on fuelling children's creativity.

A photo f Julia Green and the front cover of her book Ettie and the Midnight Pool

1. Read stories aloud

Writing stories starts with us being told and read stories, even long after we can read for ourselves. We learn the pleasure of listening to a story; we begin to 'hear' the shape of a story, the rhythm of words in sentences and paragraphs and chapters. The ups and downs of a story structure. Beginning, middle, end. We absorb these things unconsciously. This feeds into our writing.

2. Give children a sketchbook or a big notebook

Allow children freedom to write whatever they want. A sketchbook is a place for them to be messy and playful with words, ideas and images, to begin finding the stories they want to tell. It will help them find their own voice for their stories.

I always start my stories in a sketchbook. I explore ideas, images, characters; I play with words and pictures, to find what's inside my head. It's often a surprise! I ask myself lots of questions.

Gradually, my notes begin to form the beginnings of a story. Why not look at the examples of David Almond's sketchbooks on his website?

Writing is not just about the mind. It is a physical act. Writing with pens, coloured pencils, or pencils on paper, rather than typing on a computer, frees up creativity. The computer or laptop can be useful later, for editing and re-writing.

3. Use questions to start the writing process

Let the children jot down answers in their sketchbook – in simple words or pictures. Reassure them that there are NO 'right' or 'wrong' answers – that they should just write down what comes into their head. Build confidence in their 'first thoughts'. Work quickly at this stage.

This process works best when children work by themselves rather than in a group. Sharing ideas can come later.

  • Close your eyes. Imagine someone – a character – walks into the room. Who are they? What do they look like? What are they wearing? Colours of clothes, neat or messy? Shoes/boots/trainers/bare feet? What's inside their pocket? Are they carrying anything?
  • What makes them happy? What makes them sad? What are they frightened of? Any secrets? A special memory?
  • Do they have friends? Family? A pet? A treasured object? Something they've lost.
  • Give them a name.
  • What do they really, really want? What's in the way of them getting it? What do they need?

Getting to know your character will help you decide what they will do. How they'd react. How they'd speak. Dialogue will bring your story alive.

Now think about the place where your character might be - this will be the story setting. Is it real or imaginary? Write down some details about the place:

  • What can you see?
  • What can you hear?
  • What can you smell, taste, touch?
  • Is it outside, inside? Day or night? Now, or past, or in the future? Where in the world?
  • Give the place a name.

The physical details of place help to anchor the story and make it seem real. They can add an atmosphere or mood, too. For example, a foggy night can add feelings of mystery, danger, or fear. I use real places as settings, but I change them. Sometimes I draw maps of the story places.

A photo of school children writing with the words "Give them a story starter"

4. Give them a story starter

Ideas will be buzzing in their heads by now, so ask them to imagine their characters in the place.

Something has just happened or is about to happen. What's your character doing? Feeling? Start writing the actual story as if you ARE the character (as 'I") or as if you are watching the character ("he"/"she"/they") but very close to them, so you know what they're thinking and feeling.

I like to write in third person ("she") but very close up. Have a look at Ettie and the Midnight Pool to see what I mean. I want my reader to be immersed in the story, experiencing everything with Ettie.

Let your character take you on a journey... where will you go? Write quickly, trusting yourself to find the story. You can make lots of changes later. Most stories start with a moment of CHANGE. Something new happens, which changes things for your character.

You don't need to know everything before you begin. You don't have to plan the whole story. Writing is a process of discovery.

Give the story a TITLE at an early stage. You can change it later, but it helps you believe in your story. Design a cover.

Some stories are full of action and plot, adventure and mystery. Others are more about the character and their experiences and feelings. Write the sort of story YOU like to read.

5. Tell them they can rewrite

Write down the actual story words from beginning to end. You don't have to know everything – more ideas will come as you write the sentences and paragraphs. You don't have to get it right first time.

Write a rough draft and then go back and change things, edit and rewrite until the story is as good as you can get it. Read it through to check it all makes sense. Sometimes it can help to read it out loud to someone else.

  • Writing is a process. Worrying about spelling and grammar too early often gets in the way – this can come later, at the 'editing' stage.
  • Not all writers want to share their writing: don't make them read it aloud or talk about it if they don't want to. Some writers need quiet and privacy. Others like to talk and share early on.
  • Almost all writers need encouragement and a positive space to work in, rather than a critical, negative one. Feedback, if given, should be done in a positive manner. Simply asking questions about a piece of writing can give the writer space to think about it and clarify or improve it.

6. Model the process

Everyone has stories to tell. Write alongside the children, to model the process.

Julia Green was Course Director for the MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University from 2004–2019 and is an Emeritus Professor. She has written many award-winning books for children. Her new novel Ettie and the Midnight Pool is out now.

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