I have been writing all summer, but it’s mostly been the kind of writing that immediately pays the bills. Some of my recent bill-paying assignments have actually been stories – real stories with real characters, real events, and real meaning. Though I’ve been guilt-ridden about not honing my picture book craft as much as I should be (especially after my time at the Barn), I’ve fallen in love with this kind of storytelling, too. And I recently realized that kids might, too.
A lot of my freelance lately has been for Lehigh University. Amazing things often happen at great universities, and Lehigh is no different. The place is rife with remarkable people and fascinating stories.
Take this one, for example. It features an organic chemistry professor who is working to train the immune system to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This is very cool, potentially game-changing stuff. And I got tell the story.
Here’s the best part: It’s a science story. And I was an English major in college. People who know me are well aware that my working knowledge of science doesn’t often work.
But it’s a story, so I figured it out. I really like stories.
I also had the pleasure of writing this one, about a Ukrainian economist driven from his home country by corruption, today an expert in not only monetary policy but also bulletproof vests. He’s participating in a worldwide effort to crowdfund the Ukrainian army. I could have listened to his stories all day. And I got to share them.
Write what you know. Writers hear this all the time. It is, of course, easier to write about things with which you’re familiar. But sometimes it’s far more rewarding to write what you don’t know.
I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t know much about Ukraine until a few weeks ago. I certainly didn’t know anything about organic chemistry. But now I know a little. And I learned by asking questions and writing.
So, anyway, back to kids.
Kids love to write what they know. It’s comfortable. They get to be experts. Sports, video games, favorite books or toys – stuff they know.
But what if we encouraged them to write stories about what they don’t know as well? What if they wrote about the real people in their lives, people they know, but don’t know a lot about? What if they started to ask questions?
Just think of all the learning and getting-to-know-each-other bonuses that would come from this kind of writing!
Have your child give this a try. Help the littler ones, but try and let the older ones really take ownership.
1. Choose a person they know – a friend, sibling, parent, grandparent, someone they’d like to learn more about.
2. Develop questions to ask that person. They can focus their questions on a particular facet of the subject’s life or make them more general. It doesn’t need to be a biography (though that’s great, too!). For example:
· How his parents met
· What a parent does at work
· How her great-grandparents arrived in the United States from abroad
· His grandmother’s job when she was young
· An older sibling’s first day of high school
· A younger sibling’s favorite thing to do
3. Interview the subject and write down some answers. If your child wants to be fancy, let them use the voice recorder on your smartphone. They’ll feel very professional.
4. Write the story and deepen a relationship. Easy peasy!
I spend a lot of time creating characters and inventing events. But sometimes the real ones are just as exciting.
I love to write. I love a good story. I also love people. And I still like hearing stories about my grandma at National Biscuit in New York City or how my dad met my mom by telling her to get off the pinball machine he wanted to play or how our family’s cocker spaniel ran off to Hollywood (okay, so I don’t really think that one’s true). I am enamored with real-people stories.
I’ll bet your kids will be, too. We’re all material.
Here’s to writing, reading, smiling, and real people, outstanding and ordinary.