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The writing bug: why young storytellers love putting pen to paper

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Sharon le Roux, one of the mentors of this year’s Around DB and Life On Lantau Young Writers Competition, asks some young local storytellers why they love putting pen to paper.

These days, it feels like everywhere we turn children have their eyes glued to small screens, seemingly unaware of the world around them. With access to iPhones, tablets and Xboxes, adults could be forgiven for thinking that putting pen to paper to write stories is something children now consider old-fashioned, boring and a waste of time.

As a seasoned teacher and advocate of creative writing for young minds, I’m aware of the benefits that story writing offers; I know why children should write. I also have (in my bag of tricks) many ways of encouraging them to write. However, what I wasn’t 100% sure about until recently was – with their electronic ‘everythings’ always to hand – why children want to write. Why do they love doing it? To find the answer, I talked to some of my Lantau students at The Story Studio.

young writers competition

Performing magic

Author Christopher Moore says, “Children see magic because they look for it.” Unfortunately, these days, particularly in places like Hong Kong where the analytical and logical side of the human brain is deemed all-important, and infinitely more useful than the creative, playful side, we parents often feel a collective need to push our children into putting away their childish things too early. However, in doing so, we forget that we are first and foremost creative beings.

Unlike the other species on this planet, we are able to take something that doesn’t exist – except for the mere idea of it – and find ways to make it real. From microchips to skyscrapers, everything begins with creative thought – with the human imagination and its awesome power to give us ideas. Rosie, 9, feels, “Writing stories is like a form of magic, the ability to give birth to a new idea.” And she is absolutely right. We humans are magicians; we conjure things out of thin air, from thought to existence.

Children like Rosie understand that story writing helps us generate those all-important ideas. Illyas, 8, says, “As soon as my pencil touches my paper, my imagination is a-whizzing. I love the way as soon as I start writing my ideas start working, like a factory opening in the morning.”

Faced with writing stories, adults tend to search for ideas before they can begin, whereas children understand that the act of putting pen to paper stimulates their imaginations, and that their ideas come while writing, not before it.

young writers competition

Taking selfies

Children feel there’s intrinsic and personal worth in putting those thoughts and ideas down on paper; that in doing so those ideas become something of substance. Derwin, 10, says, “I get an extraordinary idea and I feel so excited, I have to put it down in my story.

Children love how writing allows them to share themselves, especially with their peers. Christian, 8, says, “I really enjoy writing together with my friends. I like it when someone is reading my story and enjoying it.”

Like anything children do, the more they do it, the better – and more confident – they become. Of the act of story writing, Arjan, 10, says, “It makes you believe in yourself.” Marco, 7, enjoys “knowing how to use better words… and getting better and better each time.” For Livia, 8, it’s an opportunity to “learn English, and be more creative,” and Perla, 9, believes writing “helps improve [her] literacy.”

For Janice, 14, writing is a way to examine real-life experience. “I like to write stories about it and change the names of the people involved in the story,” she says. Perla says, “Instead of saying my feelings out, I feel like making up a story and putting my feelings in it, so it gets a bit more clear. If I’m sad, rather than saying I’m sad, I’d rather give more information to what I’m writing.”

Ultimately, just like taking selfies, when children write stories they capture and express who they are. Writing is a lot like shaking a bucket of stones; the act of doing it brings the largest, the most poignant of our thoughts and ideas, emotions and opinions to the top.

The explorer’s journey

When asked if story writing feels like ‘work,’ the answer comes back loud and clear – story writing is “fun… exciting… a treat.” “I love writing, and I don’t know what my life would be like if I didn’t do writing,” Ilyas says.

Children see writing as something to experience. Deekshaa, 8, says, “I can really imagine strange and weird things, which makes me feel adventurous.” Coco, 8, agrees, saying, “When I start writing, time goes fast. It feels like I’m flying in the sky,” and Charlize, 8, says, “It feels like your mind has run away with your imagination.”

When they write, children feel they have the freedom to explore who they are, in a space that they can control and feel comfortable in. Janice says writing a story “feels like [she’s] in a comfort bubble.” When she’s writing, Mia, 8, is “happy and calm,” while Harry, 9, feels able to “switch off from everything else and relax.” Rosie says stories “give us a place to go when we want to escape from the outside world.” Kayla, 14, enjoys having “complete control over something;” she sees writing a story as “an escape from being trapped in the cracked, rusted chains of societal pressure.”

A taste of freedom

It’s clear that children do see writing as a form of freedom. Rosie believes writing stories lets you “be whatever you like, do whatever you like, be wherever you like.” Becky, 14, says, “When I write, I can craft anything I want; the only limits are the limits of my imagination,” with which Livia agrees, saying, “Writing stories makes me think openly, not bounded by what I see, without limit.” Kayla says writing allows her to “let loose,” and in doing so she feels she is being true to herself.

We are creative creatures, and story writing gives our children an outlet for their creativity. Ryan, 7, likes writing because he can create all his favourite fantasy stories. Kayla loves the act of “working words like weaving a tapestry,” and Becky enjoys “being able to manipulate the feelings of a scene with [her] words.”

Marie, 8, enjoys “choosing her character and building her own story.” Harry likes to “build a character and make a connection,” and Becky loves “making characters, and knitting the relationships between them, and getting to know them – all their quirks and habits.”

There you have it, in black and white – children love writing stories. Each and every time they set out to write, they begin a new adventure, as explorers of their own, unique and creative selves.

young writers competition

Sharon Lesley Le Roux runs creative writing classes for kids and young adults at The Story Studio, with workshops in Mui Wo, Tung Chung and Discovery Bay. You can contact her on 6341 3989, email [email protected], or visit www.thestorystudiohk.com.

Young Writers Competition

All secondary school students living and/ or studying in Lantau are eligible to enter the Around DB and Life on Lantau Young Writers Competition (YWC). Students are asked to submit an account of 600 to 700 words describing Lantau life in the future – in 2030+. From the articles submitted, our three mentors each select a winning story and work on improving it with the author. The three finished articles are posted on the Around DB and Life on Lantau Facebook pages for an online vote. Authors must submit their name, age, year group and school, along with their article, by March 7 to [email protected].

Images: Andrew Spires

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