6. Start With Things He Already Knows

Some kids just need to get into the practice of writing. Asking your writer to think as well as write is more than she might be ready for. So have her write things that are already thought out, such as a process that is already known to her. Here are a few examples:

• How to make a milkshake
• How to best make a bed
• What you see as you walk through Grandma's house
• How to tie your shoes
• How to cast a fishing line into the water

This type of writing is valuable in several ways. One is that the student has to think in succession, in a linear fashion. Two is that he is developing the skills of a technical writer. But three is that it simply gets him in the habit of writing, of knowing that he is capable of putting words down onto paper (or onto monitor). Later, once he is comfortable with the act of writing, you can begin to sneak in more thought requirements. But go slowly. Thinking can be a painful thing.

7. Thought Mapping

This is really a great exercise that is frequently used by businesses, design teams, consultants, and many other groups for generating new ideas. It's called "thought mapping," and it's really easy. 

You write your topic in the center of a blank page. Let's say you want to write a greeting card for Father's Day. The word Dad goes in the very center with a circle around it. Now you start looking for offshoots of this main idea. What kinds of things do fathers do? You draw one line off of the center, and at the end of that line you write Sports and circle it.

Off of that you start adding lines labeled with any number of sports that dads like: golf, football, basketball, and so on. Back to the center. What else do dads do? How about home repairs? Okay, another line gets drawn, starting at the word Dad and extending outward, labeled Home Repairs. Then you start listing various home repairs that dads engage in. Another line drawn from the center might be labeled Work. You get the idea. You start with the main idea and then branch out into sub-ideas. But the magic in this exercise comes in the sub-sub-sub-ideas.

When you start really breaking things down is when you get something new, fresh, and creative. Here's where the ideas really start to zing. 

8. Assign Something Daily

My children often whined when given any substantive writing assignment. They really believed the task was huge and that they couldn't possibly climb this mountain. One year I decided to conquer that problem. I started by informing them that a journalist is not given a choice on what to write about. He or she is not given days or weeks in which to write the assigned article. A journalist is given an assignment and sometimes just a few hours to produce finished copy. And it happens like that for him or her every day that he or she is at work. Journalists aren't permitted the luxury of "writer's block." 

So in our home we began a campaign. There would be writing every day. Just fifteen minutes. That's all. I would give them their topic. Before we would begin, we would recite our mott There's no such thing as writer's block! I told them I didn't care what they wrote. I didn't care if it was grammatically perfect. I didn't even care if it made sense. They just had to write.

At the end of each fifteen-minute period, we read aloud to each other what we had written. And yes, I wrote too. Somehow they were better focused if they knew that Mom was going through the process alongside of them.

I found writer's prompts online or created them myself. But the prompt wasn't important. Seriously. One day all they had to do was make sure their writing included mention of the color blue. Another day they had to describe their dream house. I wanted them to know that they surely had something to say about anything and everything at any time. (I knew from living with them that this was true.) What they wrote didn't have to be fully formed or particularly profound. But they had to say something. The goal was to develop the discipline of learning to write on demand. Three weeks of doing this removed their fear that perhaps they had nothing to say.