Evidence of my own mentorship.
Enough about teaching and standards and intiatives! Feel free to go raise muck in the intriguing comments of that last post if you’re still riled up; otherwise let’s move on to the fun stuff: mentoring.
As much as I want to prance into the hows of mentoring, I think we need to explore the whys a bit more, just as we looked into the why nots of teaching in my last post. I have a mentor in mind to mentor us in the ways of mentoring, and his name is Verlyn Klinkenborg. He’s a writer. I gushed on about his book Several Short Sentences About Writing in this post from last October. If you have time, you might revisit that post. Klinkenborg has excellent notions about what a developing writer might need.
Since you may not lead the sort of life that allows you to lark about in longwinded posts, I’ll share three of Klinkenborg’s gems and comment on what they can show us about mentoring a writer.
“With luck you were read aloud to as a child.
So you know how sentences sound when read aloud
And how stories are shaped and a great deal about rhythm,
Almost as much as you did when you were ten years old.” –V. Klinkenborg
The point: Children who grow up in language-loving homes intuit a great deal about writing. We dug into this in my last post, but I’ll repeat myself to push the point: you cannot underestimate the power of this. If you have faith in–and pay attention to–how much your child acquires about writing in the course of daily life in your home, you might feel less pressed to want to teach so much. Why teach what they’re already picking up painlessly?
A writing mentor exposes a developing writer to the wonder of words.
“The premise of this book is that most of the received wisdom about how writing works is not only wrong but harmful. This is not an assumption. It’s a conclusion…
What I’ve learned about writing I’ve learned by trial and error, which is how most writers have learned. I had to overcome my academic training, which taught me to write in a way that was useless to me (and almost everyone else).” –V. Klinkenborg
The point: Giving your child bad writing instruction might more harmful than giving them no direct writing instruction. Particularly if they’re picking up all that good stuff mentioned in Point #1. And unless you are a writer yourself, or you received exemplary writing instruction in school, what you know about writing is likely to be based on unhelpful instruction. It may not be the ideal stuff to replicate for your child.
Need convincing? Pick up any good book on writing instruction for adults. Any one. It will almost invariably instruct you to forget what you learned about writing in school, and to swat your sophomore English teacher from your shoulder where she still sits in judgment. Or something eerily similar. It will tell you to simply read good writers and write. A lot.
Traditional writing instruction mucks up those wondrous intuitions we just talked about in Point #1.
Something else you can do, if you need more convincing: Take up writing yourself. I’ve written about this before. If you work at writing yourself, you will have a better understanding of what your child needs to become a writer. You’ll be less likely to pass along the detritus of your own education.
A writing mentor allows a developing writer’s intuitions to develop, and doesn’t wreck the works with too much instruction.
“Don’t give in to the memory of your school writing,
The claustrophobic feeling that there’s only one right
order of arguing, proving, demonstrating…” —-V. Klinkenborg
The point: There is no one right way to write. In fact, the opposite is true: any single piece of writing can be approached in infinite ways. Every paragraph, every sentence, every word requires dozens of decisions from a writer. Writing is a creative act, even if what you write isn’t what you might call creative writing. It’s a practice of of making decision after decision about words, about ideas; kids should learn to make these decisions from the start. Why impose structure when your child ought to search for the structures underlying her own thoughts? Why begin with formula when your child would be better off unearthing his original, non-formulaic ideas–the very ideas that will make his writing engaging?
A writing mentor helps a developing writer see that writing is made up of choices, and helps the writer learn to make those choices.
That’s a start. I encourage you to read more Klinkenborg, either at my original post or, better yet, from his book. Although (or perhaps because) he writes for adult writers, he may help you understand what sort of support your young writer needs.
Though you’ve probably had enough of my nattering on about writing, I hope you’ll consider visiting the beautiful blog of Renee Tougas, FIMBY. Renee interviewed me on writing this week, asking some fine questions, particularly on that thorny topic of preparing kids for college writing.
So, what are you thinking about this whole mentoring thing, friends? I’d love to know!
You can read all posts in this series here.