Children can strengthen writing skills by keeping a journal, reading

How do your children respond to the craft of writing? If you ask them to write a letter to a relative, do they answer, "I can't think of anything to say"? If they're assigned a creative composition for homework, do they say "Ugh"? Or perhaps you have a budding author who writes imaginative stories without effort.

Whatever writting ability your children have, it can improve with a parent's guidance and support.

Every child has something to say -- something that's important to him or her. Think. Discuss. Focus. This will help to center the writing on one specific topic. Often children need to narrow down their subject, to make it tighter.For example, "My Pet" might be changed to "My dog's Tricks," or "Swimming" to "My First Swim Meet."

Even when the most brilliant angle or topic develops, writing can seem like a giant jigsaw puzzle. An outline provides a structure to follow and can give orderly progression to writing. Without an outline the finished piece could still be a puzzle or a disjointed stream of consciousness. A noted newspaper editor once remarked, "It took me three years to learn that I had to write a good outline."

Now the real writing begins. Whether it's called a lead, topic sentence, or story beginning, the first sentence takes extra thought to make it catch the reader's interest.

Madeleine L'Engle, a Newbery Award- winning auhor, recently shared tips for young writers at a public workshop.

Although her books are filled with magic, there's no mystery to how she achieves success. "I always do a lot of research when writing a book," she confides. After reading aloud several pages about the playful, peaceful dolphins in "A Ring of Endless Light," she explains, "I practically lived with these creatures in order to get to know them."

Combined with research is constant reading, an essential ingredient for writers. "I read everythingm -- magazines, classics, and even cereal boxes if there's nothing else around!" Miss L'Engle says. "We're losing so much of our vocabulary," she adds. Reading, she feels, provides a way to strengthen one's vocabulary and also a chance to appreciate what others have written.

She emphasizes that one of the best ways for young authors to strengthen their writing is to keep a journal. The only kind is a private one -- not the kin you show to a teacher. Then each entry can be honest and private. "Writing helps you know yourself -- your strengths and faults," Miss L'Engle advises. She has kept a journal since she was 10 years old.

Among the things she knows about herself is that she is a listener. Along with the reading and writing, an author must listen, look, see, and then put it down.

Finally, a writer has to write. Obvious? Not really, since subtle distractions nag at the most dedicated. "I often sharpen pencils, even though I always use pens," Miss L'Engle says in jest. There's no substitute for diving in and letting the inspiration come. To Miss L'Engle, hard work and fun are synonymous.

The craft of writing has many facets. It's never too early to offer your tips to young authors. She has been writing ever since she was five year s old.

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