Teaching kids how to write

In any age, good writing skills are always an advantage for every individual. Its importance is even bigger in this era of social media, when we need to write brief and concise posts to convey our ideas. Good thinking is equated with good writing, and vice versa. This is the reason every parent should want to see their children grow up into good writers.

But unlike all other subjects, there is no formal course for teaching children how to write. In fact, the best writers didn’t learn their craft in the classroom. Teaching writing in the traditional sense of education doesn’t exist. There is no one method or approach to teaching children how to write.

I speak from experience. I’ve reached a point that I can fairly say that my writing skills would be proximate to excellent. At 60, I’ve probably written millions and millions of words, most of them in my work as a journalist. I was also a public servant (Provincial Administrator of Iloilo) for nine years. I worked in a bank for eight years. And as a parent, I’ve raised six children into becoming good writers.

I’m sure that my formula — if you can call it a formula — is similar to others who achieved a high level of writing skills and taught their children to do the same. It’s not a big secret. It is very simple.

In 1991, I had the privilege to attend a seminar at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, FL as a 32-year old Filipino newspaper editor. I spent a week with Dr. Roy Peter Clark, considered the guru of American journalism writing. I came to Poynter with a feeling of inferiority. I was at the Mecca of journalism, and I had vowed to bring home as much knowledge about writing.

Dr. Clark asked the participants to write a feature story. At the time, the Apple Mac was still a novelty. I had never laid my hands on an Apple Mac before. Oh boy, did I relish every moment writing on a Mac (I think it was Mac II with floppy discs). It was like being allowed to drive a Rolls Royce; that’s how primitive IT was at the time in the Philippines.

And so I saved my work on the Apple Mac II and waited.

After a day, Dr. Clark invited me to a small conference room for a one-on-one coaching session. My first question was: what mistakes did I make? Was my grammar atrocious? Was I an embarrassment to the institution which gave me an all-expenses paid trip to Poynter?

To my surprise, Dr. Clark was all praises for my writing. “Where did you learn how to write?” he asked. My lame answer was: “In school.”

Of course, that was an exaggeration. School didn’t really teach me how to write. But school was where I was introduced to reading. It helped that my aunts had plenty of old editions of Time, Newsweek and Reader’s Digest. These I literally gobbled up whenever I could.

Looking back, I realize now that this is how most of the great writers discovered their talent. At a young age, they devoured books. It became their introduction to a world of words. Every page that they read became a building block for their writing ability.

No writer who is now famous was given formal lessons in writing. As Dr. Clark told me, “you taught yourself how to write.” This is the same thing with all writers. Later in life, it helped that they had mentors. This is the reason journalism is one of the best ways to sharpen one’s writing skills. Editors teach us what to avoid and how to conserve on words to put across our meaning.

Having great writers as models is also a good way to develop your writing skills. When we read the great books, we come to see how their ideas are packaged in easy-to-comprehend sentences and paragraphs. I do remember a high school teacher tell us: “If you want to write well, just follow the three R’s: read, read, and read.”

So, if you want your children to learn how to write, encourage them to be readers at an early age. That will give them a big headstart in becoming good writers.

Do millennials still read the classics?

Not too long ago, book lovers always made reading the classics as part of their regular diet. One didn’t get to appreciate the full depth of literature without dwelling into the pages of books that, in the words of Italian writer Italo Calvino, are read and reread and reread. Classic books never fail to uncover new twists and turns for the reader, such that the experience provides never-ending satisfaction.

In fact, Dr. Charles Eliott, president of Harvard University more than a century ago, came up with a list of 50 classic books that he believed would provide individuals with the broadest education. The collection became known as the “Harvard Classics”. The human experience was lacking unless one got to read the Harvard Classics.

That was then.War and Peace jacket

Nowadays, the millennials — those born in 1981 and up — seem to have ignored the classics. In an article, Quartz Magazine worried that “millennials may be the death of classic books.” It’s not that millennials don’t read anymore. In fact, millennials read more, according to Quartz.

Part of the problem is that millennials have different reading habits. Most young people seldom read paper books. Instead, their reading is done with eBooks.

Secondly, the pace with which books are being published is twice as rapid as it was in the 1950s. Authors churn out books almost with assembly-line productivity. The classics usually took years of toil to write and publish, especially when there were no typewriters yet, and most of the books had to be written by hand. These days, with word processors performing editing chores with great efficiency, a book can be turned out once every six months and certainly not over a year.

With so many books competing for readers’ attention, best-selling books stay on the New York Times lists for not more than 20 weeks. “The path to the top of the best seller list is more crowded than ever,” Quartz said.

Definitely, no modern-day book can ever hope to become a “War and Peace” classic that has survived centuries of reading and still continues to be enjoyed today.


Embracing the fear of failure

The fear of failure is what stops most people from pursuing their dreams and achieve success in life.
But I am one of those few who learned to embrace failure. That’s because I learn and grow because of failure. This is a positive attitude that my experiences as a writer, journalist and sports enthusiast have taught me.
As a writer and journalist, rejection was part of the initiation into the craft. No writer has reached far in the profession without his/her share of rejection, of articles and stories landing in the trash can, or copy that comes back with so many editing marks the original is hardly recognizable.
The same is true with sports. I played chess, tennis, basketball competitively in high school and college. No athlete comes close to winning a medal in competitions on a smooth and easy path. Victory is the sweet product of defeat in the early stages of his/her development.