Natural teen writers may write free-flowing poetry about everything in their lives—nothing apparently too trivial for them to ponder. They may write long, rambling letters to their distant cousins; they may fill journal after journal with deep thoughts on life and God; they may write adventurous plays or a 300-page novel. But though they instinctively express themselves through writing, natural writers still need to be challenged to grow in their writing and to use their gift for words wisely.

Writers-in-Progress

Teens who are writers-in progress show occasional flashes of brilliance in their writing, but they generally produce work that lacks any life or originality. They seem to find writing boring, and the boredom is apparent in their words. Often, these writers will complain that they can’t think of anything to write. They really believe they have nothing to say.

If you study the work of progressing writers, you will see that their writing only sparkles when they write about things that interest them or when they are somehow jolted out of their usual blandness and write with unexpected honesty about something that moves them intensely. Such purposeful writing needs to become intentional rather than accidental.

Non-Writers

These high school students think they can’t write. Perhaps when they were young, they weren’t physically ready to write, and their parents or other teachers hadn’t heard of the wonderful narration alternative to written composition. Some of these kids struggled with spelling and other technical aspects of English, and the prospect of writing at any length was intimidating to them. Finally, many non-writers took several years to learn to read fluently, and they often lacked the steady input of excellent writing during that time.

Some of these teens see themselves as mathematically, scientifically, or mechanically inclined, and they are resigned to the fact that they will never be “good” at writing. This attitude isn’t true or beneficial, though. These young people can learn to express themselves well and even to enjoy the writing process.

Room to Improve

Like every other area of life, there is always room for improvement. All teens can learn to write more creatively and more effectively. They can explore and discover what they want to share through their writing. They can take pleasure in finding and using their unique voice. The best part is that the methods that lead to this type of growth and improvement in writing are the same no matter what the starting point. The non-writer, the writer-in-progress, and the natural writer (and, surprise, even the teacher!) all need to follow a similar route if they want to excel in their writing.

Purpose

Don’t make writing just another subject you add to your teen’s already full schedule. Writing has to have a real purpose. That purpose might range from describing the town’s winter snowscape in a poem for the local newspaper to sharing the family happenings with a faraway, lonely relative to answering college application essay questions to competing in a national short story contest.

Let your high school students incorporate writing into the academics they are already studying and the passions they already have. If they are enthralled with botany, let them research famous botanists and their discoveries and then write about them in various ways, working to make their subject as interesting to their readers as it is to them. Do not make writing an artificially isolated skill. Teens should be writing about their lives and what personally matters to them.

Practice

Practice, practice, practice. Somehow it always comes back to that, doesn’t it? There is no magic pill to take, no special key that unlocks the secret door to “good” writing, no perfect curriculum that when finished unfailingly produces an excellent writer. It just takes practice. The more our teens write, the better they will express themselves and the more satisfied they will be that what they have written actually says what they want it to say.