Hank’s email got straight to the point. Here it is:
“My daughter says she wants to become a writer. How can I help her be a successful writer?”
Writing can be a great career. But, like any other career, it’s not for everyone. Your first challenge is to determine if your child really wants to be a writer.
Does Your Child Like to Write?
Lots of people, young and old, say they want to be a writer. That’s not really what they mean. They mean they want to be known for having written something.
I know many successful writers. We differ in a lot of ways, but we all have one thing in common. We enjoy the work. We like to write.
Does your child write a lot? Does he or she write something even when they don’t have to? If they don’t, steer them to another career. If they do, keep reading.
Help Your Child Get Good Inputs
You can’t be a good writer unless you know what good writing looks and sounds like. That’s your mental model of what good writing is.
You develop that model by reading a lot of good stuff. So, help your child read good things. No matter how old he or she is, there’s a lot to choose from. Help your child find the good stuff.
Widen Your Child’s Perspective
Help your child widen his or her perspective. It’s not enough to read one kind of good writing. Help your son or daughter find some good poetry, some good history, good cookbooks. Anything good helps widen his or her perspective and deepen understanding. All of that will help your child write better.
Help Your Child Learn the Craft
There are great writing geniuses. I’m not one of them. Most of us aren’t. For most folks who make a living writing, writing is a craft. You can learn it.
The most important thing is to help your son or daughter learn how they learn best. Some of us learn best in class. Others prefer books or other media.
Make sure your son or daughter learns the basics of grammar and usage. Many schools today don’t do a good job of teaching these basics. For the bulk of the population, that may not matter. It matters for a writer. It’s hard to write good prose and then revise and edit it into shape if you don’t know the basics of grammar and usage. You also need to know the basics before you start using online grammar checkers.
Remember my friend Rod Santomassimo’s signature line: “Don’t Kid Yourself. Knowing Isn’t Doing.” The only way to learn to write well is to write, get feedback, and use the feedback to get better. Give preference to any course, book, or seminar that gets you writing.
Help Your Child Develop Other Success Skills
If you want to be a successful writer, you must learn to do more than write well.
Help your child learn to handle criticism. Some of the criticism he or she will get will be unfair. Some of it will be mean-spirited. Some criticism will help your child improve. Some won’t.
If your child is going to make a career as a writer, he or she must learn about business. Help them learn about marketing and money management. Many authors I know spend most of their time marketing their work, not creating it.
Is your child writing? Does your child write for fun?
Help your child get good inputs.
Help your child read widely.
Help your child learn the craft.
Help your child develop other success skills.