Kids’ Writing Workshop: Overcoming internal censorship and silencing your inner critic

Next week happens to be Banned Books Week, held nationwide in libraries and bookstores every year on the last week of September to remind people that restricting and censoring books that you might find “offensive” actually harms people because it restricts people’s freedom to read whatever they want.  All that follows is a less-informed, less-educated society, and who really wants that?

In light of this, I focused our monthly Kids’ Writing Workshop meeting on the critic that lurks deep inside all of us–the one every great writer has had to overcome, even before they had to overcome other people’s criticism and hostility.  In order to write that great book that expresses your deepest truths to the world, you first have to recognize the nagging, nasty little voice in your head that tells you that you can’t–or worse, shouldn’t–write it!  We wrote down what our inner critics say about us, and things that perhaps other people in our lives have said that make us doubt ourselves as writers.  And then we put those mean, harmful comments into bubbles and made a picture of a cruel movie villain saying it.  Then we silenced those villains with big fat red “NO” signs.  This is very cathartic and children are encouraged to hang this up in their room or by their desk or wherever they write when they’re at home, to remind themselves not to listen to that horrible little voice!

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We discussed other ways to silence our inner critic, such as remembering compliments and praise, and saying positive affirmations.  We each wrote down a few compliments that we have received in the past.  And I reproduced a few pages from a book tackling this subject very well:

silence critics

We also talked about how critics aren’t always right–in fact, they are often wrong and VERY stupid!  Here is a handout (with content I got from the ALA Banned Books website at http://www.ala.org/bbooks/bannedbooksweek/ideasandresources/display)  showing some of the stupidest reasons people have ever given for banning a book:

cruel stupid

Then we did a written exercise, writing five “secrets”–three lies and two truths about ourselves.  Sometimes it helps to take something real from your life and mix it in with a lot of fictional stuff.  It makes the opening-up process easier.  I didn’t ask the kids to reveal which of their five secrets was true.  I just want the kids to get used to writing about their lives in a way that honors their own experience.

I also asked them to “flesh out” one of their lies so that it is more believable.  For example, if their lie is climbing Mt. Kilamanjaro, talk about what the weather was like, if anything happened to you there, what wild animals you saw, what the air smelled like, etc.  Always good practice for doing more showing!

five secrets

I hope today’s class inspired the kids to write more, and write FEARLESSLY.

AnnMarie Kolakowski

I'm a youth services librarian working in the Children's Room at the Pasadena Central Library. I purchase juvenile nonfiction books for all sites, juvenile Spanish books for all sites, and juvenile DVDs for the Central Library. I do a lot of programs with school-age kids, including Lucha Libros, writing workshops, and STEAM/science programs. I also do 16 weeks of Infant/Toddler Storytimes each year. I love what I do, working with kids of all ages to inspire them to learn and use their curiosity and imaginations. Outside of my work at the library, I am also the author of a book on creative writing activities for kids.

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