Writing is hard.
Finding your voice is even harder. For many students, it is the most difficult aspect of writing – one that all writers struggle with and search for. It requires looking deeply at who we are. A turning inward. Unfortunately being introspective is not an easy thing to do in a society that is always enticing us to look outwards. The external takes precedence over the internal. It can be tough to hear one’s voice amid all the noise of modern life. So many distractions, so little time.
Like most things, the key to becoming a better writer and finding a voice is practice. There is no substitute for hard work. Simply put, to improve at writing we have to write. Often. Every day if possible. It is a craft that needs to be honed. One that takes discipline. As Stephen King says in On Writing, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Simple and good advice for young writers. Setting aside time each day for students to write is a great way to develop their skill and find their voice. Give students the freedom to write about what matters most to them.
Unfortunately in schools, a lot of what students are asked to write about on a daily basis is nonsense. The writing tasks are dry and disconnected. They serve no real purpose. And they don’t offer real opportunities for students to develop their voice. The following example illustrates this problem: write a letter to a scientist explaining what you know about osmosis. Who would ever write like this? Why give students writing assignments like this? Prompts like this create an apathetic attitude towards writing. They remove the joy. No wonder students often dislike writing.
Many writing prompts also lack relevancy. They are busy work. And often the only person reading students’ writing is the teacher. When students are given an authentic audience, motivation then comes from the desire to share with others, rather than merely to complete an assignment. Blog writing sites like KidBlog provide students with a platform to share their writing with the world. Blogging makes their writing significant. Figment and Teen Ink offer students a popular forum to publish their writing and have their voice heard.
If we want students to value writing, we need to give them meaningful and important things to write about. They must be able to see and hear themselves in their writing.
We need to give them a real voice.