Archive for writing

How do you get someone to read your messages? ( or how your child can build a following)

I interviewed Jack Reamer, a real world writing consultant for business people. You turn to him if you want to learn how to write emails that others will want to open and read.

Have you noticed how hard it is to get others to read the message in your mail unless you already have a very close relationship?

Most school curriculum and college prep courses will not teach you in a way that others will actually listen to what you have to say.

Traditional courses do teach you some very clever and sophisticated writing techniques, but those will not get you read.

But Jack says the mistake is to write too cleverly and too much in the first messages. 

Jack Reamer explains how and why a different approach to writing gets you to your goal of communicating and connecting to your intended audience of readers.

I asked him to unpack it in this recorded interview in a way that a young man or young woman who already has a talent (do you know what your son’s talent is?) could start building a following of readers by email.


Jonathan Harris

P.S. The show notes will link to Jack’s top recommended books that teach you how to write messages that get read. Visit here:

Stop this English Course Now

snapshot of horsehaven

Having a real reason to write can make all the difference for some young people. One of the best places to write with a purpose is on a blog.

We had an educational failure recently. It was not a big failure, but it reminded us to stay alert as parents. We had to stop an English writing course designed for middle-schoolers from causing any more consternation in our family. It was a great course as far as the content went, but it was putting our middle-school daughter way behind in the goals we wanted for her.

Here is the background on how we originally came to choose that course. My wife chose a company whose English curriculum had produced results for us in the past. Their high-school curriculum set aside the traditional approach of the five paragraph essay or the research paper and focused on a method that produced young people who were able to write original novels. As a matter of fact, we are still using their high-school course for young writers for one of our teenage boys. Then entered a particular need for one of my middle children.

My 13-year-old daughter has had great difficulty over the years in learning at the same pace as her brothers in the realm of reading and writing, no matter which method we tried (although we had found one approach that did allow her to make some progress). Around the age of eleven she suddenly seemed to finally discover some ease from her difficulties. Hurray! We rejoiced with her. Her old limitations were starting to disappear. Whatever the root cause, we then decided that maybe we could get a middle-school course for writing in order to catch her up to what most peers her age were able to do with writing. So when that company recently put out a systematic writing curriculum for middle-schoolers, we decided that it might be worth a try for just that particular child.

Within a month of use, we realized that experiment of using a traditional course was a complete failure for our daughter. Suddenly, we were back to the tears, confusion, frustration and constant parental hand-holding. The check list of things to know and things to do that you would expect in a traditional textbook were all in this course. Sure, it was wrapped in a better-than-average presentation format, but in the end, it fell far short of the ground breaking innovation that the high school English writing course had put out. Not wanting to admit at first that we made a mistake, we delayed a bit before making the decision that needed to be made. We swallowed our pride and cold-stopped the course, without any transition. We went back to the tried and true that has worked in our family.

With her brothers, we had, and still do, use blogs, writing e-books, and other public writing mediums to practice communicating clearly with regards to a talent focus or a specific interest. So that is the same method to which we decided to set her. Within days of switching to writing through a talent focus, my daughter was a happy learner again. Suddenly, my daughter was smiling again and writing like a maniac. It was as if someone had flipped on a switch. Now she has something she wants to say in her writing. She wants to know how to say it even better and is open to all sorts of writing corrections – and then understands the principle behind the corrections she is given!

Moral of the story: writing with a purpose has the power to overcome many weaknesses and psychological hangups. That purpose can be found in having your young person share his or her talent interest with the world.

Please go check my daughter’s blog at this address and leave her a comment:

If you want to jump-start your own child’s writing with a purpose in my mind, you may want to consider my e-course “Blog to Your Talent: Learn How to Showcase Your Talent in 42 Lessons


How Publishing a NON-FICTION Book Gets Done by Tom Woods

Sneak peek by “celebrity” Tom Woods on how publishing a NON-FICTION book gets done today. Economics and political analysis and teaching is part of that person’s talent and he has something to write about that others want to read. If you have a young person that hopes to one day write about his talent for book publishing, in order to support himself financially, listen to this very clear podcast.

Tom Woods reveals that the numbers are NEVER in the millions of copies, even when you make it to the best seller’s list. Set your money expectations accordingly. He explains the role of books opening doors for you in your overall strategy of providing your talent value to the world. It is part of a broad approach to your talent market, not a single strategy for supporting yourself (he even talks about a blog as part of his strategy!) He has had eleven books published so far. He knows what he is talking about as a successful author.

He covers these topics in this episode: 

How do I submit a manuscript to a big publisher?

Do I need an agent?
How do I find one?
What are the benefits of traditional publishing?
What are the benefits of self-publishing?
How much does an author earn from the sale of a book?
How many books do nonfiction authors typically sell?
What’s the indispensable ingredient for getting media exposure for my book?


The Answer to Your Question is: Blog

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Should your older child blog? Absolutely, unreservedly, yes!

Do you want your child’s talent to be discoverable even while still living under your roof?

Then the answer is: blog!

Do you want your child to be able to connect with experts from around the world in his field of interest?

Then the answer is: blog!

Do you believe that your child’s ability to communicate about his talent is as important as the talent itself?

Then the answer is: blog!

Do you want your child to learn to write with passion and focus about something that he cares about?

Then the answer is: blog!

Do you want your child to build a portfolio of hundreds, and eventually thousands, of documented evidences of his talent?

Then the answer is: blog!

Do you want your child to build his own unique voice within the context of a larger field of talent?

Then the answer is: blog!

If you want to get your child up and going on a blog focused around his or her talent within 42 days, then I recommend you buy and print out my “Blog to Your Talent” guide. Hand it off directly to your young adult to do it on their own. Also check out the full e-course to get even more personal hand-holding from me. All the techniques in the guide, I have applied to my own teenage sons.

Order the e-Course:
Blog to Your Talent: Learn How to Showcase Your Talent in 42 Lessons

How to Find Your Own Generous Heroes of Your Talent

bearded story


In the past few weeks, my fourteen year old son Caleb was able to reap still more rewards as a result of having originally taken to documenting his talent journey publicly. By doing this, I mean that he has blogged about his talent and he has been an active participant in an online forum dedicated to supporting a community of bladesmiths. In this community, professionals and serious amateurs encourage each other and share news of the the latest development in the craft and trade.

Caleb’s blogging started a couple years ago when he started to write about his interest in bladesmithing and about the progress in his learning. That consistency allowed him to convince the gatekeeper of the professional bladesmith forum that he should be accepted as a member. Since it is a serious forum dedicated to a serious craft, they understandably do not want people to join who are not going to contribute to the spirit and community of bladesmithers. That is where Caleb’s public blog acted as a calling card to open the doors. His blog was absolutely necessary to have as a young person, to demonstrate his commitment to wanting to learn. He was a novice in a field populated by adult veterans of the craft and without the asset of his blog, it was doubtful he would have been allowed in.

Once inside the forum, Caleb started learning as fast as he could the etiquette of engagement within that professional world. He also learned to ask the right kind of questions in order to make progress in his quest to becoming a better bladesmith. He dutifully read up on previously explained material when told to do so. Because of Caleb’s friendly, but respectful interaction (a couple of social mistakes along the way, from which he quickly recovered), he was able to find out many time-saving and money-saving ideas he could implement in his novice workshop without breaking his small budget. A couple of adults even generously shipped him some tools and resources to encourage him along, while others wrote him personal messages in order to encourage him in his pursuit. As a result, he started making significant progress on his knives. His interaction on this forum has been nothing short of amazing. Had he tried to acquire this level of interaction through the traditional means of networking, he would have broke his parents’ bank in trying to attend expensive summer workshops, flying to distant states, and going to specialized schools. That is even assuming that I would have allowed him to do so at such a young age, which of course I would not have.

Continuing the story of how Caleb recently reaped still more benefits from his online interaction with his talent, he was able to take advantage of an opportunity to accompany his grandparents on a European trip as a means to further consolidate his participation in a small, but vibrant world-wide community of bladesmithers. He boldly contacted four different bladesmiths from the forum that he knew lived in the Czech Republic and the Netherlands. I braced him for the fact that of the four requests that he might only get one true invitation. But clearly I was wrong. I had underestimated how strong of a bond there was in this online community. Not one, but all four professionals generously invited him to visit them in their private workshops on their home properties!

Caleb is still in Europe as of this writing, but he has confirmed to me that, with the help of his grandfather as chaperone, he has indeed been able to visit all four bladesmiths and was warmly welcomed. When he comes back next week, I and the rest of the family, can’t wait to hear a full account of his in-real-life encounters with some of the heroes of his talent world. Some heroes were tough with their advice, others more gentle, but all were generous to him in his quest to become better at his talent focus. This is the power of deciding to interact in the community of one’s chosen talent.

If any of you would like to know how to jump-start your own child on his blog, please let me know and I will be glad to share with you what works and doesn’t work. Contact me through the feedback button on this website and I will personally reply back to you. If you are already convinced that blogging is the way-to-go for your son or daughter, I would like you to sign up for the “Blog to Your Talent” e-course. This e-course is designed to walk your young person through a simple 42 lesson plan for starting a new blog related to his or her interest or talent-focus.


A Blog Can Work Miracles

Blogging about your talent and the projects related to trying to build your talent, opens doors for your child to be able to talk directly to the “big dogs” in his chosen field of focus. This is why I encourage every child to blog so he can create a living and growing portfolio that can be used starting today, not for when he turns eighteen or twenty one. In what other way could a young person still living at home use a resume to open doors for him to the experts in his field? A static resume on a white sheet of paper will do absolutely nothing for your child. But a dynamic blog can work miracles.

As a result, my son Nicholas, who is 12 years old, is featured at a Raspberry Pi conference in the UK. See him brought up starting up at the 11 minute mark in this clip. Your homework assignment: can you hear what this expert is saying that made it possible for Nicholas to be able to get through the noise to someone like him?:

Grades Matter But Caveat Emptor!

Ponder this excerpt of a blog post from the author Daniel Schwabauer. He is best known as the celebrated host of the online “One Year Adventure Novel” program for getting young people to finish their real first novel. He gives this cautionary bit of advice to aspiring writers about demanding and interesting, but in-the-end essentially irrelevant university degrees:

“I graduated from Kansas University with a Masters degree in Creative Writing, an experience from which I am still recovering. Not that I mean to disparage KU’s writing program. Science fiction notable and KU Professor Jim Gunn was one of the best instructors I’ve ever had.

What bothers me is the fact that I left KU having learned a lot about words, and very little about story. This is remarkable considering my experience with a wide variety of classes and teachers. I studied British and American literature, Shakespeare, drama, poetry, short fiction, novels, technical writing, ancient myths, medieval English, essays, even sci-fi. I studied every conceivable kind of writing. But…”

This candid reflection by a professional writer about college helps me to revisit this subject of grades in full context. Remember that in a previous post I disparaged the pursuit of good grades. Here I come back to add a disclaimer and clarification of what I mean. Good grades do matter, but in specific situations only. You need to be sure that your child fits that specific situation or you might be missing out on having your child construct a real life-long talent that will change your son or daughter’s life.

Follow with me the chain of reasoning as to why good grades do matter for some children:

  1. Your child getting good grades matters now if you are intending for your child to pursue a specific program of study at the university level.
  2. And you must have a researched plan that the university program is indeed preparing your child to do something directly related to his long term plan.
  3. And you must be convinced that the university program your child will pursue is the most efficient route to his success in the talent field he wants to be in.
  4. And some paths require you to go through university, such as to get medical training to become a doctor, and an engineering degree for certifications in order to be allowed to work.

However many children intending to go to college, do not fit the above criteria. Be careful as your child may find himself seduced by the idea of campus life as an easy answer as to what he is going to do with his first few years of adulthood. A talented young writer for example should probably do everything in his or her power to stay away from college.

If your child is already very good at producing work others want to read, universities will want to recruit your child to beef up their star status in hopes of recruiting other students who can and will pay full tuition. This come-hither inducement with scholarships and preferential tuition rates can be dangerous to your child’s talent development. Why? Because the skills acquired during the course of a university English degree are designed for consumption and analysis of the works produced by others – not for teaching your child how to create amazing new works. So unless your child is intending to become a high school English teacher, the college degree will set him back severely in both time and money. This time set-back is often serious enough that your son or daughter may never get back on track to the original aspirations. Caveat emptor!

Benjamin Franklin’s Method for Learning How to Write in the Style that You Want

Benjamin Franklin 1767

Do you know how to apply Benjamin Franklin’s method for learning how to write with style? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imitate Benjamin Franklin’s method for learning how to write really well in the style that you want.

I give you here my interpretation of how you can start applying his method in today’s modern context:

1) Select an article on a subject and written in a style that you already like very much. This will give you that emotional motivation to care enough about what you are writing and to recognize what would be boring to others who are as interested in the same subject as you are. Don’t go looking just for famous articles, instead focus on choosing writing examples that mean something to you and can be used to communicate in your field of talent.

This is how Benjamin Franklin (BF) describes his method: About this time I met with an odd Volume of the Spectator. It was the third. I had never before seen any of them. I bought it, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it. I thought the Writing excellent, & wish’d if possible to imitate it.

2) Break down the article into keywords. Do this by creating one or two keywords for each sentence and list the keywords on a blank piece of paper into one long sequential list.

3) After a couple of days, take your long list of keywords and, without looking at the original article, rewrite the article in your own words using the keywords to guide you.

BF’s method: With that View, I took some of the Papers, & making short Hints of the Sentiment in each Sentence, laid them by a few Days, and then without looking at the Book, try’d to complete the Papers again, by expressing each hinted Sentiment at length & as fully as it had been express’d before, in any suitable Words, that should come to hand.

4) Compare your article written in your own words to the original article. Grade yourself on how well you did in matching the author’s intent and style.

5) Change the sentences  in your article where you don’t think you did very well to the original intent.  Improve by giving them the same intention of thought (though not necessarily into the exact words) as the original.

BF’s method: Then I compar’d my Spectator with the Original, discover’d some of my Faults & corrected them.

6) Take the regular narration or prose from your article and turn it into verse or into catchy memorable phrases of your own.

7) Then after a few days, turn your poetic version of that article back into normal writing, without looking at the original article. After you are done, grade yourself as to how well you expressed the thoughts of the original article.

BF’s method: But I found I wanted a Stock of Words or a Readiness in recollecting & using them, which I thought I should have acquir’d before that time, if I had gone on making Verses, since the continual Occasion for Words of the same Import but of different Length, to suit the Measure, or of different Sound for the Rhyme, would have laid me under a constant Necessity of searching for Variety, and also have tended to fixthat Variety in my Mind, & make me Master of it.

BF’s method: Therefore I took some of the Tales & turn’d them into Verse: And after a time, when I had pretty well forgotten the Prose, turn’d them back again. 

8) For extra practice: Take your original keywords you had earlier assigned to each sentence and then jumble them out of order. From the jumbled list of keywords, rewrite the article in your own words and try to match the same order of presentation as you can remember. After you are done, grade yourself as to how well your order of the thoughts matches up to the original order of the article.

BF’s method: I also sometimes jumbled my Collections of Hints into Confusion, and after some Weeks, endeavor’d to reduce them into the best Order, before I began to form the full Sentences & complete the Paper. This was to teach me Method in the Arrangement of Thoughts. By comparing my work afterwards with the original, I discovere’d many faults and amended them;

9) To discover your own unique writing voice: keep rewriting the article to improve on both the expression of the original thoughts and on the order of of the presentation of those thoughts. Grade yourself as to how much better your re-written version is to the original article.

BF’s method: but I sometimes had the Pleasure of Fancying that in certain Particulars of small Import, I had been lucky enough to improve the Method or the Language and this encourag’d me to think I might possibly in time come to be a tolerable English Writer, of which I was extremely ambitious.

RE-READ that last paragraph by Benjamin Franklin. Did you catch what he said? He said he got BETTER than the original writers by this method!

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How to Become as Good a Writer as Emily Brontë of Wuthering Heights

English: Top Withens, said to have been the in...

Emily Brontë’s obsessive childhood practice and parental allowance for the time for her to practice were key to creating the talent that wrote  “Wuthering Heights” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you have a daughter who might actually become a very good writer, good enough for other people to really want to read her works? How can she become that talented if she is not born with that level of talent? There are two things you and your child can do to foster that level of talent growth. One depends on your child’s effort and the other depends on you as the parent.

Consider Emily Jane Brontë  who wrote the famous literary work “Wuthering Heights.” She spent her teenage years with her sisters re-writing and imitating the popular magazines stories of the time that came through her household. According to Juliet Barker, a curator at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Hawort, their childhood novella plots were overwrought and their spelling and punctuation was atrocious. There was no sign of genius. But as they continually worked through their stories, with the children collaborating together in their attempts at storytelling, they got better and better by sheer persistence, practice, and self-correction. What was also important was that their father was instrumental in their literary success by giving them the massive amount of time necessary in their younger years to fully explore their writing skills. Clearly the Brontë girls were not born with the the full talent for writing, but were born in a household committed to the practice of writing. They put in their 10,000 hours of talent practice.

For more interpretation on how talent was really acquired by the Brontë sisters, read:

(Affiliate) “The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born, It’s Grown. Here’s How.” by Daniel Coyle


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Online Writer Forum for Homeschoolers

I recommend the One Year Adventure Novel forum for homeschooled students who are serious about developing story writing skills as part of a long-term talent. The forum will do wonders for the son or daughter who no longer wants to feel alone in the serious pursuit of talent. You will not find a similar local writing club in your area composed of dedicated teenagers.

This forum is designed to young people who are writing their first novel and want a community of equally motivated peers to provide moral support and share writing techniques and tips. But in order to participate in this adult moderated forum for teenagers, you must sign-up and pay for the One Year Adventure Novel curriculum. The curriculum is designed to get your child to produce a real novel that takes advantage of their first-hand knowledge while following a strategic approach to writing, but the forum itself is more along the coffeehouse format of passionate young writers all sharing ideas with with each other.

To appreciate the magnitude of the support available for your child on this forum of almost 3,000 registered members, here are some the forum topics and statistics:

Character Development

Bring your characters to life.

  • 58 topics
  • 10,668 replies

Collective Novel

Join with other writers in producing a novel. One book by many authors.

  • 147 topics
  • 27,745 replies

Contests & Conferences

  1. NaNoWriMo

Links and information about contests and conferences open to young writers.

  • 153 topics
  • 8,767 replies

Ask the Teacher

Questions about writing you’d like to ask Mr. Schwabauer? Ask here.

  • 1,310 topics
  • 14,324 replies

The Writing Life

Thoughts on writing from Mr. S.

  • 10 topics
  • 479 replies

Story Ideas

Kick around story ideas that need shaping. Give and get help on a novel outline.

  • 1,173 topics
  • 18,404 replies

Novel Critiques

Post a chapter from your novel. Read and comment on the work of your peers.

  • 1,661 topics
  • 42,704 replies

Other Critiques – poetry

Writing something other than a novel? Get and give feedback on short stories, screenplays, poems, etc. here.

  • 1,935 topics
  • 23,389 replies

Book Discussions

Talk about books you love or hate.

  • 651 topics
  • 26,579 replies

Book Reviews

Review your favorite (or not-so-favorite) books. Check out what other people think about books they’ve read.

  • 261 topics
  • 8,017 replies

Movie Reviews

Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of various movies and how they were written. Focus on the Story.

  • 695 topics
  • 60,368 replies

OYANers’ Art Gallery

  • 474 topics
  • 37,096 replies

Knights of the Brotherhood of Narnia

  1. KotBoN Assignments

Royal Servants of the OYAN Realm

  • 7 topics
  • 851 replies

Easy Storyboard Format for Writing Stories

English: Technical Script with storyboard Espa...

For a child who is visually oriented, try having her sketch her storyboard first, and then write it out in words. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is a storyboard format that has really worked well with our twelve (12) year old daughter.

We have settled down over time to this short list of questions that has really worked for her. Other types of writing prompts simply did not work. She loves to draw, loves animal stories, and is far more visually oriented than her brothers. But this list of questions she uses has really gotten her to daily and consistently write her own short stories.

So if you have a child who is not the verbal chatty type, but with more arts-oriented skills, you might find this format very refreshing. Please feel free to share and print this list with others:

  1. What type of animal is your character?
  2. What is your character’s name? Explain and draw a picture of him.
  3. What does the character want to have happen? Explain and draw a picture.
  4. What’s a difficult thing that happened before the character got what he or she wanted? Explain and draw a picture.
  5. How did the character overcome the problem? Explain and draw a picture.
  6. How does the story end differently, but in a better way than what the character wanted to first happen? Explain and draw a picture.
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Blog with Emotion to Open Doors


How do you get the expert to open his door to your child? Hint: the answer is in blogging (Photo credit: Klearchos Kapoutsis)

At some level of his growth, your child will want to interact more with experts in his field of talent. The problem he can run into is that experts don’t have time to open the door to gawkers and will only tolerate those who are just as seriously committed as they are. How does your child show is he part of the committed ones? He shows it by documenting his performance, over time, through a blog that others can easily check. He also does it by writing in that blog with emotion and inquisitive engagement, and not just facts – that is how he will open up those doors.

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One Year’s Worth of Talent Essays

Caleb (13) blogging his 181st post related to ...

Caleb (13) blogging his 191st post related to his talent #unstoppable #10ktotalent #homeschool via Instagram 10ktotalent

Do you have a goal for how often you want your child to practice writing about his talent? It’s not good if your child is currently writing ten little essays or articles on any number of random topics for every one article on his chosen long-term talent. Instead of writing about such things as his latest vacation or a description of his team’s last winning baseball game, what if every one of those essays were replaced by an article describing an activity or principle of his talent? You can continue having your child practice all sorts of writing methods to satisfy outside requirements, but you can apply those methods in the context of your child’s talent. If you re-orient his writing focus, now how many essays do you think he could write up on his talent in one year’s time?

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A 2,000 fold Advantage

A powder snow avalanche

Starting a talent at a young age is like the power of a snow avalanche – your child will accumulate so much knowledge and practice before age 20 that he will sweep away all competitors in his wake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Part of the power of putting in 10,000 hours of deliberate focus on a talent is that it makes it very hard for those who adopt a talent late in life (such as right after college) to come anywhere close to out-performing those who develop their talent early in their childhood. Consider for example that if a child writes about some aspect of his talent, say WWII history, three times a week from age 10 to age 20, that he would have put in over 2,000 writings well before the average college student has even started on a major that has a similar historical focus. If your child majors in history with a WWII focus, he has already out-thought all the others on that same subject by a 2,000 fold factor! Where others don’t even know they could eventually have a unique voice, your child would come across as amazingly confident, dripping with conceptual and tactical details, and supremely at ease in his already well-developed voice. At that point in time, of all the student portfolios, who do you think a college professor or a prospective employer would rather have a second interview with?

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What to Do with Already Bought Curriculum

excellence in writing waste of time.jpg

What to do with already bought curriculum? Make it serve the talent your child is building in his life (or better yet, start a blog). Here’s an example of what this means in the context of a popular homeschooling resource published by Excellence in Writing. When you look at the table of contents, it lists the essays and articles it uses in order to demonstrate the course’s writing techniques and asks your student to use the same content for practice – it does not care what the content is about, only that you have something to demonstrate its method. If your child has a music focused talent, only one in all that entire list of articles pertains to music, with a largely useless one from the perspective of a talented musician, about Thomas Jefferson playing the violin to relax. This course represents about 300 hours of solid work with only 20 hours related to music. Instead of losing 300 hours, your child can gain an extra 300 hours of talent building by substituting each article in that curriculum with a serious one related to music.

Start Your Child Blogging Today with These Five Questions

Child 1

Gradually Flex Writing (Photo credit: Tony Trần)

Dovetail your child’s standard historical study with a blog post related to his developing talent as it was during that time period.

Start your child writing blog posts today with these five questions:

  1. Does the blog post focus on answering one basic question?
  2. Does it relate to his on-going focus in some way?
  3. Does it relate to the historical time-period he is studying?
  4. Is there a personal observation or interpretation?
  5. Is there something you can compare to that will help your reader understand what you are saying?

I gently ask those questions of my children every time they write and they gradually flex their writing accordingly. At this early stage, it is more important that they start writing something in their own words about their topic of interest then it is to delay because they don’t have an excellent writing style.