This morning I dropped my six year old at school and the tables were already set out with today's story-writing task. The school employs Pie Corbett's WALT system which, when I read about it, sounds like a really effective way to get children writing, but I couldn't help feeling faintly depressed when I saw the grid of writing prompts. What is your setting? Who are your characters? What will happen? If I saw that, I would immediately have writers' block. I didn't know where the male protagonist of my book lived until I described his garden. I didn't know where the female character worked until she walked through the door of the library that, it turns out, she manages. If I had to know everything about what's going to happen in my story, I wouldn't get off the starting blocks.
Lots of writers I know do plot their novels carefully and maybe it works for them but the joy for me is setting out with an unknown destination. And maybe six year olds need a bit of structure for their writing sometimes. But when I watch my daughter with a pile of cardboard and scissors, glitter and glue, she doesn't have any idea what she's making and she's utterly enthralled by the process of creative discovery. Writing doesn't have to be any different. All you need is the material of words, the glue of grammar and the glitter of imagination. It would be nice to see a bit more of that in schools.