Does creative writing help children to enhance their ability to communicate clearly in writing?
We write to gather ideas, to think, to plan, to convey something important, why even to get something done. Yet the emphasis early on in school as well as writing workshops remains partial to 'creating writing' alone. Creative writing in terms of writing stories or poems, is simply a start but by no means an end.
A "Writing program" is really a way of life. (Atwell (1985))
Writing in the real world is about writing, planning, conveying messages and seeing our writing getting things done for us. Children however are hardly shown this side of writing apart from standard writing assignments that marked in tests and exams with hardly any connection with the real world. Writing is considered as purely an academic skill and not a practical life skill that one needs to survive in this big wide world.
Effective writing takes time. It takes thinking, planning and writing the first draft only to revisit the same to make any changes one may deem necessary. No piece of writing that is easy to read and understand simply emerges with ease from the writer's mind- even if the writer is an expert. It goes through several stages- thinking, planning, asking questions to find information as the case may be, writing as thoughts flow and then editing to complete the piece.
It takes thinking, planning and writing the first draft only to revisit the same to make any changes one may deem necessary. No piece of writing that is easy to read and understand simply emerges with ease from the writer's mind- even if the writer is an expert.
Children however are accustomed to jumping straight away into writing soon after reading a prompt in the exam. There is little time to think, plan before writing. They write what ever comes in their minds and then it is time. This process gets repeated over and over again with the only feedback being given- grades and marks. This pattern hardly serves any purpose in the real world. Why it hardly serves any purpose in school too where they need to write to indicate what they know and what they don't.
Writing workshops on the other hand are useful as they tend to follow stages and work towards an end goal. The problem that arises is the short duration and the need to finish something before a fixed date. Writing becomes an end in itself and no longer a process that is continuously evolving.
Reading and writing must go together
Bringing the aspect of writing as a continuous process is easily possible while reading anything, be it a story book or an article written in a children's newspaper. Discussions based on reading any text need not be restricted to the content alone but also how the writer chooses to present it. The structure that the writer has chosen.
Fiction gives ample room to discuss how the writer manages to add certain nuances in dialogues and descriptions that help make the reading experience enjoyable and impactful. A fit example here would be Ranjit Lal's book Tigers in the Taboo Valley. In this book he carefully describes just the right amount of the wild to enable the young reader to visualize the scene without getting too bogged down by detailed descriptions of nature. He also very tactfully lets the reader see the same scene from two different perspectives. For instance there is a scene in the book in which four tiger cubs are trying to kill a big boar and their plan goes awry. The smallest of the cubs is in trouble but her siblings have run away out of fear leaving her absolutely helpless. Left with little choice, unable to defend herself, the cub lets go and accepts the possibility that she could be killed any moment. The scene then swiftly shifts to another very important character in the book, their father who hasn't bothered to see them at all until this point and he happens to be there by sheer chance. The author skilfully makes the reader sit tense wondering if this majestic tiger (who is known to be arrogant and lacking in empathy) will do something to save the cub whom he has never seen or cared for. At this point, the reader's mind is likely to pacing with possibilities. What could happen next?
The scene could have been written from one perspective. Why did the author choose to write the same scene from a different perspective too? How did that approach create a different kind of impact? It could have become confusing. How did he deal with that? Raising these kind of questions in the children's minds and encouraging them to write down their observations probably in sticky notes or in their notebooks helps them take note of several nuances of the writing and appreciate the need for thoughtful planning, writing and editing later to make one's writing more meaningful.
This kind of analysis is possible with non-fiction as well. Non fiction can get dry unless the writer adds a little fun or an engaging story line to keep the attention of the readers. For example the news article titled, NASA calls time on the ISS, home to the Earth's astronauts since 2000 paves the way for questions not just about what the title means or what the abbreviations mean, but also why the author of the article chose to give the article this particular title. Does it make the reader curious to know more about NASA's decision? Why did they decide to do this? Answers to these questions when found in the article as we read further, brought the choice of title under a new perspective and we understood that the crux of the article has been cleverly summarised into one line without giving away too much at the same time. That is not easy to do. It requires several tries and thought to zero in on the perfect title. A title that would attract attention, provide the reader a gist and at the same time make the reader to be curious to read further.
When this kind of analysis becomes second nature, something that children are taught to do as a means of enjoying the book and not for a grade or external appreciation, it goes a long way in enhancing their written communication skills.
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