The New York Times bestselling author and BookTrust Writer in Residence, Taran Matharu, shares his tips on boosting your child's writing skills and confidence
I started my first book at nine years old, and I haven’t stopped writing since. When I am asked why I started writing, I often think it was because I had never read my perfect story, the one that had everything I liked in one book. We all know what we think is cool, even at such a young age, and I wanted to read the coolest book ever, even if I had to write it myself.
Then there were the authors. I never met or wrote to any of my role models, but one author in particular was a huge inspiration, a young writer by the name of Darren Shan. He had also started writing at nine years old, and I adored his books. I don’t think I could have imagined writing at such a young age without his example to follow.
Perhaps the most unusual reason I felt compelled to write was that I wanted to read about a character who looked like me (there weren’t many, and there still aren’t, truth be told). In fact, I wanted to be the hero of my own story. The very first character I wrote was based on myself; black of hair and dark of skin, thinly veiled by the backwards-spelled name “Narat”.
So I kept writing, and now, lo and behold, I write full-time too. I even had the chance to meet Darren a few years ago, and it was the strangest feeling to meet one of my childhood role models on equal footing. It has been quite a journey, but I know I may never have reached there without the encouragement of my family, friends and even my English teacher (who made an surprise speech at my book launch last year!).
With all that in mind, below are my five top ways of encouraging a child to write...
Taran Matharu became a publishing sensation on Wattpad
1 Talk it through with them before they put pen to paper. Not only will it get them excited about their story, but it will help them flesh out their characters and have a plot outlined so that they don’t write themselves into a corner.
2 Read and review what they write, chapter by chapter. There’s nothing more encouraging than an audience. I found that out for myself when I serialised my first novel on the YouTube of books - Wattpad, garnering three million reads in less than six months. Their reactions to each chapter kept me writing, and I wrote 50,000 words in a month!
3 Have them write to their favourite authors. I lived in an age where authors were not on the other end of a Facebook page, or an email. But I wish I had. You’d be surprised how many authors will reply to every single message (I do!). It can be so encouraging to have that interaction with a role model. If I have one piece of advice, if you do send a handwritten letter to the publishers, include an email for a reply. Not every author has the time to post letters back.
4 Draw their characters together. I absolutely loved sketching my characters when I was younger; watching the world in my head come to life was very inspiring. It’s a fun activity to do together, and keeps a young writer thinking about their story from a visual point of view.
5 Share it on Wattpad, together. The website has a wonderful community, where Internet trolls and other malicious individuals are swiftly banned by the Wattpad team. Negative, non-constructive comments are not encouraged, but it’s easy enough to log in and delete any before visiting your child’s story together to read the comments.
Having genuine readers, perhaps from the other side of the world, can be a huge confidence booster. There may not always be many comments, but you’ll see a read count and information about where readers came from in the stats section. My top tip is to give the story a swift grammar check before uploading, and to read the free advice book on my Wattpad profile to get the most out of the experience.
Taran Matharu is the New York Times bestselling author of the Summoner series. Follow Taran during his six months as BookTrust Writer in Residence at booktrust.org.uk/books/writer-in-residence
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