Gifted kids have a tricky relationship with creative writing. They have big ideas and grand plans but have difficulty getting those ideas onto paper.
For some, the trouble begins as soon as they pick up the pencil. Fine motor skills are often delayed in gifted children, which means their handwriting skills are lacking. They hold the pencil awkwardly, push down too hard, don’t form letters correctly. For perfectionist kids, the writing doesn’t look the way they think it should and that’s enough to halt the creative process. In addition, some kids hate the way the pencil feels on the paper; I had one student who described the feeling as ‘a scratchiness that travels up my arm into my brain’. They have the ideas, but not the ability to physically write them down.
For most gifted kids, their ideas are so involved that they have difficulty translating them onto the page – their hands can’t keep up with their brains. A student recently described starting a story as ‘paddling up stream’. Beginning a story can seem impossible; if told to just ‘write about anything’ they have trouble picking one idea and sticking to it. “What if I pick the wrong idea? What if my idea is stupid?” Negative thoughts like these can paralyze them before they even start.
Recently at our program, we did ‘musical chairs creative writing’. The kids were all given the same story starter, then had two minutes to begin a story. When the music started they had to stop writing, stand up and walk around the circle until the music stopped. Then they’d pick up the story in front of them, read it, then continue writing it. The point of the project was to address the issues discussed previously. By providing the story starter, we took away the difficulty of picking an idea. By giving them only two minutes to write initially, they didn’t have enough time to worry about spelling and handwriting. If they didn’t like pencils, we had erasable pens to use instead.
As you can imagine, this project was met with mixed emotions. One child flat out refused to do it. Several were nervous about other people writing on their stories, and some were worried about not spelling things correctly. They were all mildly uncomfortable with the idea. However, we talked through it and got started with nearly all of the students (one still decided not to participate). After a few speed bumps and tears, the kids started getting into the spirit of it and laughing at the ridiculous stories that were being constructed. When we had finished, they were all eager to read what had happened in ‘their’ stories and share with the group. Several of them even chose to continue the activity after time was up by illustrating their stories or acting them out together.
They were uncomfortable with many aspects of this activity, but in the end they realized that writing can be silly, messy, collaborative, and fun.
Creative Writing Tips
For kids who have trouble forming letters:
- To practice handwriting, have kids write letters with their fingers or chopsticks in sand or shaving cream.
- Check out Dragon Software (https://www.nuance.com/dragon.html) – kids can tell their stories and the program writes it!
- Teach them to type as soon as possible – it’s less frustrating and quicker for most kids once they get the hang of it.
For kids who sit in front a blank page for hours:
- Have a bunch of ‘story starters’ on slips of paper and have the kids pull one out to get an idea going.
- Set a timer and tell them to write for x number of minutes. For some kids, the pressure of the timer will help them get started.
- Encourage collaborative writing. As a family each member can contribute a line or paragraph. For older kids, they can share a google doc with their friends and all write together.
For kids who get lost in the details:
- Let them tell you their story orally and take notes for them. When they’re ready to write, they’ll have the framework all set.
- Have them draw their story before writing it – sketch out the main scenes then fill in the details with words.
- Think outside the box: creative writing can be more than just paragraphs of writing. Comic strips, advertisements, plays – these are all ways the kids can express themselves and practice writing.
For kids who are sensory averse:
- Have erasable pens (https://www.amazon.com/Paper-Mate-3930158-EraserMate-Erasable/dp/B001E695C8) available instead of pencils. They’re smoother to write with and more fun!
- Cursive is a great tool for gifted minds: it is faster and more fluid, similar to how their brains are working. The smooth style is sometimes more comfortable than the start-and-stop of printing. Unfortunately most schools don’t teach it anymore, but you can teach them at home!