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Never too Early to Nurture a Writer's Voice

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By Cora Daniels

As parents, we often obsess over firsts. Will Johnny be the first among peers to start walking? Talking? Reading? Yet how many of us obsess over when a child writes? I'm not talking about the mechanics of forming letters. What about actual writing-- observing the world around us and then articulating complex and original thoughts on the page? It is the art of expressing ourselves with words. Does anyone remember when their son or daughter was first able to simply write down observations, let alone articulate original thoughts through writing? What about the first time a son or daughter imagined stories and managed to get them on paper? Many parents do not cultivate their child's inner writer. Our obsession with firsts bypasses writing. Parents have absorbed the importance of raising lifelong readers, now it is time we actively try to raise lifelong writers as well.

I began thinking about the evolution of writing as the stepchild skill to reading and computing while reading transcripts of David's conversations with admissions officers and directors about the college essay. As a newcomer to the Write for the Future team, David first shared his collection of interviews and there was a common thread. At some point in every interview, the admissions officers said they read too many essays that lacked "voice." At many of the most sought after schools, admissions officers read tons of essays that are very polished and what many would call "well written." Yet they read far fewer essays that stand out as truly good writing often because the essays lacked voice.

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Voice is specific to writing and enhances the soul and personality of a writer's work, just as a distinctive ingredient might define the flavor of a food or the vocals of a talented singer, the sound of a band. The goal of good writing, especially in admissions essays, is to leave a piece of yourself on the page. This is where voice comes in as the writer uses words and plays with language. If you have a strong voice, readers should be able to recognize your writing without being told its yours just as we recognize singers on the radio or our mother's cooking (no matter if it is good or bad). As a writer, my voice is something I've worked to develop and strengthen consciously or unconsciously from the moment I put pen to paper. All writers do. As a teacher of college writing, I do a happy dance when I find the student's voice in his or her work. So often, by the time I start teaching your children, their voices as writers have been stamped out by their obsessions with first making every sentence perfect. They have forgotten how to play with their words and I begin to wish I could bring them back to an earlier time in their lives and instill the words of Mark Twain. "Anyone who can only think of one way to spell a word obviously lacks imagination."

Cora Daniels, a Write for the Future Coach, is a writer, award winning journalist and author of 3 books. She was a staff writer for Fortune Magazine for almost a decade and her work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Essence, Fast Company, and O: The Oprah Magazine, among others. She also teaches writing and reporting as an adjunct professor at NYU. Cora is a graduate of Yale University and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. In her next post, Cora will explore specific ways parents can help their children develop their writer's voices.