I am very lucky indeed to be able to hold my after school club in one of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what it is about that hour between 4 and 5pm here in Nairobi, but even if it’s ben cold and rainy during the day, the sun always seems to come out. Yesterday I witnessed the most magical scene and only wished I had my camera to record it…When I ask the children to do their individual writing after the group activities, I get them to split up and find a little corner of the garden they’d like to write in. Two of the girls decided to go and sit on stepping stones that cross the river at the bottom of the garden and it was such a wonderful sight, the two of them cross-legged on their stones, completely engrossed in their stories as the river rippled by and birds flew overhead (yep, no such thing as health and safety in my writing club ;))
I’m discovering more and more that it’s confidence (or lack of it) that prevents children (well, adults too) from expressing themselves on paper. One girl I noticed was sitting on the grassy bank chewing her pencil and I went over and asked her if she was ok. ‘I don’t know what to write,’ she told me. We had spent the session discussing and building up settings for our stories and I had stressed how important setting is, often as important as the characters themselves. So I asked her to tell me about the world she had built up from our earlier exercise and she very enthusiastically began verbalising her world. When I told her that she definitely did had something to write about as had just told me about it in great detail, this girl looked surprised and then busily started writing. The challenge for anyone, of course, is to translate and filter all these dozens of colourful thoughts we have onto paper.
But there is, of course, only one way to get through this and, like anything, it’s to practise. To stick with the craft and write even if you think what you’re writing is no good. Because out of all of this, words or phrases will start to gleam like diamonds in the earth and before you know it, you have the beginnings of a story. So many children think they can’t write. I honestly believe that every child has a writer within them, but the key is giving them the liberty to produce a lot of writing that doesn’t work as how can they know how to write if they don’t also know how not to write? Only when a child is able to work through this can they pull back their bow and start sending out authentic words into the world.