Five Writing Activities for Reluctant, Anxious Writers • when writing prompts don't work • homeschool writingGetting started is the hardest part of writing.

  • What if I don’t know what to say?
  • What if no one likes what I’m saying?
  • What if I’m saying it wrong?

These fears can paralyze reluctant writers. That’s pretty much the case in my homeschool: while my daughter loves to read and tell stories, writing anything down tends to throw her into panic mode.

What’s a homeschool parent to do, then, when a child struggles to write? One common solution is the presentation of a traditional writing prompt: a question or intriguing statement that encourages a thoughtful response. This might work in theory. In practice, though, a traditional writing prompt can prove more problematic than triumphant.

Remember those questions I asked a minute ago?

  • What if I don’t know what to say?
  • What if no one likes what I’m saying?
  • What if I’m saying it wrong?

While a traditional prompt may provide ideas for writing, it’s unlikely to resolve or alleviate an anxious writer’s fears. For my daughter, rather than elicit a deluge of thoughts, a traditional writing prompt paralyzes her further, even if the prompt is on a topic she enjoys.

How to Use Writing Prompts with Anxious Writers

It’s tempting to let writing go and focus on other things like history or science. But I want my daughter to build confidence in writing. It’s not merely an important life skill; it’s a matter of learning to trust her own abilities as a thinker.

To this end, we’ve tried a variety of alternative prompts to get those creative thoughts flowing. From headlines and photos to mirrors and fairy tales, the following activities ignite the imagination and banish the writing blues.

1. Headline News

Create personal headlines about your own life events, then take turns filling in the stories behind them. We’ve had great fun writing stories for headlines like Preschooler Throws Dinner in Epic Tantrum and Toddler Creates Eggy Mess in Dairy Aisle. This exercise generates creative and engaging stories while you reminisce over family memories.

2. A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words

Why not use an image to generate writing? Turn to family albums, historical documents, or photojournalism for thought-provoking images. Observe and discuss the details in the photo, then make a list of the concrete images you identify. Pay close attention to the five senses: what do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? Taste? Feel? If the photo is particularly obscure, try writing a story to explain its origin. When you’re done, test your theory against the facts behind it.

3. The Golden Line

Choose an old piece of writing you haven’t looked at in a while. Read through it together and select your favorite golden line—favorite passage or inspiring quote. Copy that line to another piece of paper, then start the piece over using that as your introduction. This exercise will take your writing in new and unexpected directions and give the added bonus of a lesson in revision.

4. The Fractured Fairy Tale

What crazy conundrums can you devise when you think of favorite fairy tales? Maybe Sleeping Beauty was really an insomniac? Or perhaps Cinderella was allergic to dust? Did the Big Bad Wolf just want to be friends? The silly possibilities are endless, and so are the stories you can tell.

5. Mirror, Mirror

Stand in front of a mirror with your child, a pen and notepad in your hand. Ask your child to tell you what she sees. Record her responses, and as you do, point out what connections she’s making. If she says she’s a scientist, she’s imagining (or predicting). If she mentions her brown hair, she’s describing. If she asks who she looks like, she’s questioning. All of these (and more) are important skills for a writer. Talk about the skills she’s shown, and use her responses to write descriptively.

Working with a reluctant or anxious writer isn’t so much about generating ideas. For the most part, I’ve found reluctant writers to be overwhelmingly creative. The goal is more about increasing a child’s comfort level, helping her see the process of writing as good and worthwhile. Relying on alternative prompts allows both parent and child to explore writing together, removing fear from the equation and replacing it with trust.


Ginny Kochis

About the Author

Ginny Kochis is a former high school English teacher and adjunct professor of English turned homeschooling mom and business owner. She writes about faith, motherhood, homeschooling and family literacy at Not So Formulaic.

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