How to Grow Your Writing Skills: Advice from 5 (of 25) Experts

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  • What are the biggest problems young people have with writing today?
  • How do you think young people can improve their writing?
  • Do you think kids communicate effectively? If not, how could they do better?

We asked several people these questions, and you’ll see the answers in installments. We would love to hear your opinions.

Matt Armstrong, California high school English teacher

“Each young writer has different strengths and deficiencies. Broadly speaking, though, I find student writers don’t recognize the value in writing to explore and discover what they think and, right along with this, the value in revising through multiple drafts to distill clearly articulated understanding.  …It’s tough to combat this in the current academic environment (30 students per class, 180 students in the overall case load). But I emphasize that writing is a process, give students opportunities for low-stakes writing, hold students accountable for at least a rough draft (and ideally two revisions), and give them a couple specific revision strategies or resources for each lesson that we develop rough drafts into final submissions.”

Trey Speegle, New York, America’s foremost Pop paint-by-number artist and writer, http://treyspeegle.com/

“I think the biggest problems young people have with writing today are pulling off excellent sentence structure, forming cohesive points, and getting to the point. Many news stories written by young people tend to ramble and are wordy. I would suggest, don’t bury the lead and get to the point in the first paragraph. I don’t need a big set-up. Simplify. Also, to write better, find your own voice. Duh. This is obvious but not so easy to accomplish. I have a conversational writing style that is somewhat similar to my personality. Don’t give me too much personality, but this makes reading more fun by drawing the reader in with intelligent observations and a good finish to the story. Don’t just stop. You have to make your point plainly obvious in the last paragraph.”

Elizabeth Frost Knappman, Literary Agent

The biggest problem most young writers have is they fail to outline their essays. This orders your thoughts and makes it much easier to express your ideas in words. Remember, the ideas come first. Also, young writers should describe something important to them, such as a dog that dies, or the trip of a parent for a few days, or problems getting a date.

“Reading the work of others helps writers improve their works. Books, newspapers, and popular magazines can all serve as inspirations. Sometimes it helps to write a piece in different voices, first person or third person, or from the point of view of a main character and then a minor one.

“When I was young, it was difficult to pull my thoughts together, much less write about them. I was afraid of expressing my ideas to the wider world. Perhaps writing just for oneself at first can take away this fear of exposure. Or writing just for a close friend or parent. Let it all hang out on your first or even fifth draft. Then hone and polish until you get control over the shape of the essay. Remember, you can throw anything out after several drafts.”

Allen Shirley, Real Estate Consultant/Supervisor

“I’ve supervised many young people, and I think the biggest problem that kids have with writing is completing the phrase or thought. What I read seems more like abbreviated ‘versions’ than ideas that are well thought out and composed. One route to improvement is studying well-written books to get a better feel for good writing; most published writers don’t assume that their readers know what they are talking about even though they don’t take time to explain things. Essentially, I sometimes find that the speaking “shorthand” kids use today is hard to understand unless you are a Millennial. It probably stems from texting habits dominating their brains, but for those of us who are not in the loop of the jargon, it flies right by, largely misunderstood.”

Greg Munoz, Mediator/Arbitrator, Superior Court Judge (retired)

“If children struggle with writing, I notice that parents are quick to hire tutors and buy books. I think that the Internet has also redefined social contact by making it easier and less expensive. Texting and email make today’s kids good communicators because there they love electronics, and electronics allow research, information sharing, and recreation on cell phones. It is clear that today’s kids definitely are being challenged in school, and that is a good thing because their minds are moving so fast that most probably need greater challenges than teens did in other eras.”

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