10 stumbling blocks to writing

10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing

Sigh. Once again, it’s “writing time” at your house.

During the past hour, your reluctant writer’s paper has become riddled with scribbles and smears. And e-v-e-r-y time he erases with frustrated vigor, a tiny hole appears in the middle of that gray smudge. As the hole grows larger, his mind freezes up and closes in. Then the laments begin:

  • What do I write about?
  • Where do I start?
  • How long does it have to be?
  • I’ll never think of something.

There’s so much frustration behind those blinked-back tears. And you know what? It’s not just kids who experience it—YOU struggle too.

Why Is It So Hard to Teach Writing?

Teaching writing is one of the biggest hurdles homeschooling families face. First, parents often feel insecure, inadequate, and under-equipped. For many of you, teaching writing ranks right up there with a trip to the dentist. Although we know the importance of passing on this skill to our students, so many excuses stand in our way!

  • How can I teach if I never really learned to write?
  • I don’t write—I’m just a math-science person.
  • What if I don’t know how to grade a paper?
  • Writing comes easily to me—but I don’t have clue how to teach my kids.

Second, children are paralyzed by writer’s block, fear, and perfectionism. Most students want to write a paper once and declare it done. They hope we’ll rave over it and accept it as a finished product. The smallest hint of suggestion from Mom sets off howls of protest: Why can’t I leave it this way? You never like anything I write!

Blank paper, reluctant child, and insecure parent—combine these three ingredients together and I pretty much guarantee that your hopes for teaching writing will be dashed on the rocks.

Let’s face it. It’s easy to keep pushing writing to the back burner with intentions of getting to it “someday.” And for many, “someday” has come and gone, and now you have:

  • a high schooler who can’t write;
  • a panicked mom burdened by guilt;
  • and the infernal blank page that taunts you both.

10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing 

We need to 1) recognize some of the most common stumbling blocks to writing that stand in the way of your child’s success, and 2) determine how your writing strategy can help. Take heart! These stumbling blocks are neither so heavy that they can’t be moved, nor so tall that they can’t be scaled.

Here are the ten stumbling blocks we’ll be looking at:

  1. Lack of confidence
  2. Lack of skills and tools
  3. Lack of motivation
  4. Limited writing vocabulary
  5. Perfectionism and self-criticism
  6. Laziness
  7. Procrastination
  8. Worry about criticism from mom or dad
  9. Wondering what’s the point
  10. Learning difficulties that interfere with the writing process

Over the next few months, I’ll talk about each of these in greater detail and give you some ideas of how to help your student overcome them. Most of my suggestions will be aimed at older students (5th or 6th grade through high school). Still, parents of younger children will find tips and suggestions that you can apply now. By doing so, you can begin to ward off some of these problems early on, setting your children up for greater writing success in the future.

Come back next week as we take a look at the first of these ten stumbling blocks and talk about ways you can help your student overcome each one in order to become a stronger writer.

Please share your thoughts: What’s your child’s biggest stumbling block?

2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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Photo: Tim Lucas, courtesy of Creative Commons.

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#1 THING 7B | Technology Rocks! on 10.27.09 at 3:31 am

[…] I have had a ton of fun with my google reader. One of the latest feeds I enjoyed reading was “Teaching 5th grade”  10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing. http://www.writeshop.com/blog/2009/10/26/10-stumbling-blocks-to-writing/ […]

#2 Joyce on 11.02.09 at 2:14 am

My childs biggest stumbling block to writing is she hates to write by hand. If I let her use a computer part of her issues go away. She still doesn’t want to be bothered with it though becuase it requires too much thought.

#3 Suzy on 11.02.09 at 2:50 am

slowing down enough to think through and write ideas down coherantly

#4 jyl on 11.02.09 at 3:40 am

My oldest sons biggest issue with writing is lack of confidence.

#5 Steph on 11.02.09 at 3:52 am

My daughter’s biggest difficulty is getting the ideas in coherent form on paper! She is so creative. . . yet getting that to flow on paper is nearly impossible without a bucket full of tears and much anguish. I’ve seen her, literally, sit at her desk for an entire day simply staring at her paper. . . as if she can WILL something to appear on it!

#6 Frances on 11.02.09 at 4:19 am

For a lot of students, a big stumbling block is that blank paper staring them in the face. Observation worksheets and breaking the assignment down into small steps helps to overcome that writer’s block.

#7 Isabelle Lussier aka Canadianladybug on 11.02.09 at 4:28 am

My oldest son biggest difficulty would be the lack of skills I think. Besides English is our 2nd language at home. So not only he has to learn to write in French but also in English. We find it is important for our kids to learn both official languages in our country – CANADA.

We are making progress though. After all he is only in 3rd grade!

#8 NC Mom on 11.02.09 at 4:59 am

Perfectionism is what is killing all 4 of my boys writing. I tell them it is a process and while they get it , they don’t. The rewrite phase is horrid and we never seem to get finished! HELP!!!

#9 Mary on 11.02.09 at 5:00 am

My son’s biggest problem with writing is that he hates to handwrite anything it takes longer than dictating to me or typing it. He has the same problem that mommy has he knows what he wants to say but his brain goes faster than he can write or type! So we simply dictate to me and I type or write for him. He is only in third grade (though he reads at high school level and comprehends at a high school level too!)

#10 Diane on 11.02.09 at 5:09 am

Confidence?…..Hmmm. I think that is my problem and not my children.

#11 Cassie on 11.02.09 at 5:25 am

One of my children has difficulty getting started and another dislikes the revision process.

#12 Shawn on 11.02.09 at 5:34 am

I believe my daughter has knowledge and desire to write but I feel I do not have the skills to teach nor grade her papers. This is where I may be failing her in areas where she should be led to improve her work.

#13 Rose on 11.02.09 at 5:34 am

For my boys it is a combination of things, one of them is dyslexic and he seems to get frustrated by trying to put thoughts down on paper. The other son has Sensory processing disorder and that makes it hard for him to focus on getting the words down onto paper. I’m hoping to get ideas of how to help improve this part of their homeschooling.

#14 Debbie on 11.02.09 at 5:35 am

” For many of you, teaching writing ranks right up there with a trip to the dentist.”

I honestly believe I would rather go to the dentist!

and ” The smallest hint of suggestion from Mom sets off howls of protest: Why can’t I leave it this way? You never like anything I write!”

My youngest is the one that struggles, he just doesn’t see a purpose for writing. What can I do?

#15 Sharon on 11.02.09 at 5:41 am

My child writes all of the time, only I am not sure how to evaluate her writing or what to expect from a nine year old. If I make a suggestion she says, “but that is what you would say.”

#16 Kelly on 11.02.09 at 5:49 am

The whole process of writing is upsetting to my son. He doesn’t know how to start or finish and I can’t seem to make him understand that re-writing and re-writing is a normal part of the process! He definitely likes to type it out instead of writing it out…but then I think I should make him write out some of them. Always a battle!

#17 Carrie on 11.02.09 at 8:05 am

Our biggest struggle is forming a topic sentence. Everyone freezes….including me! I don’t know if we’re overthinking or not creative enough, either way, we all get frusterated.

#18 Diane Allen on 11.02.09 at 8:27 am

My student struggles with auditory processing issues that make creating an organized composition difficult. In addition, or possibly because of this, she is hypersensitive to criticism.

Thankfully, Write Shop, has provided a framework for prewriting that helps or organize her thoughts.

I also found it difficult to teach the “how tos” of writing even though I do not find writing hard. Write Shop’s clear instructions have helped me explain the writing process.

Your comment about howling protests is spot on for my child — have you bugged our school room? The correction check lists are invaluable for grading the product and take some of the pressure of the parent for the final assessment.

Another thing that I am doing this year is trading with another Write Shop parent. She grades my child’s writing and I help her child with Geometry.

Diane Allen – NC

#19 Kim on 11.02.09 at 9:13 am

Steph, I think next week’s article will be helpful for you as we begin looking at some skills and tools that help struggling writers feel more successful.

#20 Kim on 11.02.09 at 9:23 am

Haha, Diane A.! Looks I’ve been caught red-handed listening in on writing time at your house! :o)

BTW, thanks for your kind words about WriteShop. I’m always blessed and encouraged by parent testimonials.

#21 Kim on 11.02.09 at 9:44 am

Debbie, Rose, Mary, and others: Many of your children’s personal writing woes will definitely be addressed in one or more of the upcoming “Stumbling Blocks” articles.

Carrie, Diane, and others: I’m also taking good notes so I can answer some of your questions in future blog posts, just in case they don’t get answered in the “Stumbling Blocks” series.

I appreciate every single comment, and I’m eager to see what others will add to the conversation!

#22 Kathy on 11.02.09 at 9:45 am

My oldest finds it difficult to write when he doesn’t like the assignment. My youngest is just painfully slow. Both write pretty well and have a pretty good attitude about writing.

#23 Kim on 11.02.09 at 9:48 am

Kathy, stay tuned! Stumbling Blocks #2 (and #3 in even greater depth) deal with topic choices. I’m sure you’ll glean a few good tips to help your oldest child.

#24 Patty on 11.02.09 at 10:01 am

Probably lack of effort. He just doesn’t want to do it. I guess he just doesn’t want to do the work. They all hate the idea of a rough draft and then having to re-write the whole thing over, neatly. This is my biggest hurdle with all the kids. That’s like doing the assignment 2x and more if they mess up on the final draft.

#25 Linda on 11.02.09 at 10:37 am

Your topic list describes my son! I look forward to learning some strategies to help him.

#26 Donna on 11.02.09 at 10:46 am

Thanks for this series. My son hates anything to do with writing. A pencil is like poison to him. My daughter, on the other hand, loves to write.

#27 Kim on 11.02.09 at 11:06 am

Thanks for your comments, ladies!

Donna, isn’t it amazing how different our kids are? My son was writing-phobic too, yet now he’s getting a Ph.D. There’s hope, even for our strugglers!

#28 Tammy on 11.02.09 at 11:52 am

My twin daughters’ main stumbling block to writing is the fact they don’t like a subject that makes them think. Writing takes time and energy that they would prefer to spend on other activities. Help, how can I make it an adventure? I have instituted the Storybuilders program this year. That has helped a little. They still aren’t excited when we have to work on the Writeshop lessons. They are in the eighth grade. They can’t drag on much longer in the reluctancy department.

#29 Kim on 11.02.09 at 12:26 pm

Tammy: You’re not alone! Many children just don’t like to think. Unfortunately, there’s no quick solution that inspires thoughtful writing, but some of the suggestions for future stumbling blocks may help somewhat.

Honestly, I find that this is less often a writing problem per se and more often an issue of character, e.g. laziness. However, maturity can also play an important role. Critical thinking skills don’t begin to develop until about age 13. It’s very possible your daughters just need to grow and mature a little more!

#30 Kimberly on 11.02.09 at 12:32 pm

Definitely perfectionism! I suffer from the same thing, he comes by it honestly. Sometimes those perfectionist tendencies can be paralyzing.

#31 Marti on 11.02.09 at 12:43 pm

My13 yo d is dyslexic. We have found that using Dragon Speak with Microsoft Word is a good combo. She just needs to start talking, and then she does quite well.


#32 Mary on 11.02.09 at 2:01 pm

I have used Write-shop in the past with success.

Writing is a hard subject for me to teach. I did not have to do much writing in high school. I also have five children to juggle subjects with; grades 11, 8, 6, 3, and 1st. Writing seems to slip through the cracks and doesn’t get done.

#33 Lynette on 11.02.09 at 2:45 pm

Laziness…wanting it to be right the first time…Etc. ad nauseum!

#34 Lourie on 11.02.09 at 4:54 pm

My seven-year-old loves to write, and, apart from schoolwork, has written several “chapter” stories just for fun. Her frustration is twofold: first, she has so many ideas, she can’t get them down on paper quickly enough, and second, she jumps to the next story without finishing the last.

#35 Kim on 11.02.09 at 5:58 pm

Kimberly, Marti, Mary, and Lynette: Thank you for taking the time to comment. I’ll be touching on each of these issues in future Stumbling Block articles, so check back each week!

#36 Kim on 11.02.09 at 6:07 pm

Lourie: Your daughter would benefit from using graphic organizers that help her think through her story and jot down main ideas. This will help her remember many of the ideas and details running through her creative mind and will keep her from taking rabbit trails.

In WriteShop Primary, we teach the children to think about beginning, middle, and end. This helps prevent stories with no conclusions. :)

Book C might be good for your daughter since she already loves writing. It offers many different kinds of graphic organizers for brainstorming and organizing stories and articles. It also helps children develop topic and closing sentences.

#37 DeAnna on 11.02.09 at 7:42 pm

Procrastination and perfectionism must be boy traits I’m reading about. My son has excellent writing skills if he will just start writing. He sits there doing nothing for the longest time! It’s frustrating!

#38 Danielle on 11.02.09 at 11:40 pm

my daughter is one of those that writes it as a first draft and thinks it is good enough (She doesn’t think to proofread it). If I try and have her brainstorm and plan, she freezes up and can’t think. She did well when I just had her journal about anything that came into her head…”I can write about anything?” and off she went.

#39 Dorothy on 11.03.09 at 1:39 am

My DD definitely needs a prompt or model. Her handwriting slows her down some, but she is still not interested in learning to use the computer to write. She is in 6th grade this year. So I feel the need to start more formal writing.

#40 Amber on 11.03.09 at 7:08 am

We find writing challenging as well. We are interested to read this series for strategies and encouragement. We believe writing is a high priority for our children and agree that character affects it as well. Great series!

#41 Cassandra on 11.03.09 at 3:34 pm

This is why we got Writeshop. I have an 11 yr old who now is getting more confidence in writing but can’t spell anything. He writes out his Scout merit badge worksheets and that is very motivating to him with side by side help. I am working on getting him to be independent writer but he will not spell anything by sound only if he knows how it is spelled. Any suggestions for that? My 8 yr old just doesnt’ want to hold the pencil the correct way.

#42 Kim on 11.03.09 at 3:50 pm

Cassandra: My own son was an abysmal speller until he was probably 16 or 17, when spelling suddenly became important to him. Until he was about 12 or 13, I found that working side-by-side with him and/or letting him dictate his stories to me encouraged him to choose the best words rather than the easiest to spell.

Still, there are ways you can work together with your child to actually practice spelling skills. Since there’s no room here in the comment section, I’ll try to put a few ideas together for a future blog article. :)

#43 Rochelle on 11.04.09 at 6:35 am

Pretty much all of the above apply to my son except for criticism from parent. I am in no position to criticize because I have the same stumbling blocks. For both of us there is no creativity which leads to staring at a blank page and me giving him each next idea to include. We both could use any help you post. Thanks!!

#44 Kim on 11.04.09 at 9:43 am

Appreciate all the comments, everyone–thanks!

#45 Tammy on 11.04.09 at 5:28 pm

The point that really resonates with me is that my son does not want to do something more than once. He wants to write it down and be done with it, even eschewing checking for spelling and punctuation. He has this mentality in all of his work; it’s a difficult thing for a child to understand but accepting this as the new “norm” will help him in alot of things as he grows older!

#46 Stacy on 11.24.09 at 6:25 am

The whole list sums us up! My child’s biggest stumbling block is ME! We’ve been unschoolers up until now (he’s 14) and we’re starting a more layed out highschool curriculum and we’re both lost! Frustated and unprepared…lack of motivation, panic, etc…

#47 Susan on 11.24.09 at 12:32 pm

My daughter’s biggest stumbling block is to stay on track. No matter what she is writing about, the story ends up having a horse in it, often where it doesn’t belong.
My son is excited at first, but doesn’t write enough in his stories. He just wants to get it finished.

#48 CE on 11.25.09 at 6:26 am

A huge stumbling block for us is grade-level marks. Our child insists on looking and/or asking what level a resource is for. This goes as far as determining the age a sibling was when s/he was when using it from the year written inside! We avoid comparisons rigorously, but this child is caught up in them anyway. Somehow a multi-grade co-op has worked out by the grace of God, a wonderful teacher, AND a tutor all working together – WHEW! A little progress for a non-writing high schooler!

#49 Claudia on 11.29.09 at 4:24 pm

Our daughter has always loved writing but now finds advanced high school materials leave little time for writing as often as she’d like. I still have problems explaining how to improve; looking forward to reading this series.

#50 Kim on 11.30.09 at 7:25 am

You’ve all expressed such common writing struggles. Thanks so much for taking time to share your thoughts, frustrations, and small victories! And if you haven’t posted a comment yet, it’s not too late to join the fun!

#51 Amy on 12.30.09 at 12:50 pm

Sadly, I think that I am my child’s biggest stumbling block! So sad. I haven’t inspired them to write nor even required it. However, writing has been on my heart over the last few months, not only to teach my kids, but myself as well… so, your posts are more than timely! One of my sons is just born to write I think. The ideas are always just spilling forth! I need to know how to guide him. I’m really glad to have found you through a link from jimmiescollage.com!
I’m looking forward to reading each post in the series… and commenting of course!
Thanks so much!
Amy in Peru

#52 Kim on 12.30.09 at 1:19 pm

Glad you discovered our blog, Amy! I think you’ll find lots of encouragement and help here. Please know that it’s never too late to inspire your kiddos to write. When we were teaching homeschool writing classes, our students ranged from 11 to 17 years old. It was not unusual for us to teach students who’d never had any formal writing exposure prior to our class, yet they all improved through simple things like short assignments, incremental instruction, objective input, and a great deal of writing practice. Follow the helpful advice you find from resources like Jimmie’s Collage, In Our Write Minds, and others, and it won’t be long before you see results!

#53 Emily on 01.05.10 at 9:05 pm

She has so many marvelous story ideas in her head and her handwriting and spelling ability is still so limited at age 5, so the real stumbling block is probably me taking the time to encourage her more by translating in print what she’s written in her own ‘begining to spell’ version of English, or to take dictation for her when her words come out faster than she could write it all down yet.

#54 Kim on 01.06.10 at 11:15 am

Emily, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Though most of the 10 Stumbling Blocks articles are aimed at junior high and high school, it’s good to think about the things that turn children off to writing when they’re younger.

For a five-year-old, writing down her words as she dictates is a perfect way to let her express herself! Her limited vocabulary and newly aquired handwriting skills will prevent her from putting all those wonderful ideas on paper, but by dictating to you, she can prattle on to her heart’s delight knowing her stories will be preserved for her. Keep it up!

#55 Marti W on 09.02.10 at 12:28 am

This is very helpful. Thank you.

#56 Kim on 09.02.10 at 10:17 am

Glad you were encouraged, Marti. Thank you for stopping by!

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