Raising Boys Writing Writing Challenges

The Joy of Boy Writers: When There’s No Joy in Writing

Writing:boy :: elven rope:Gollum.


I would apologize for going LoTR nerdy on you but I’M NOT SORRY.  Nerds rule. And I’m no stranger to Gollum’s reaction here because I’m home educating two boys and have had the nerve to ask them to write on occasion. 

A boy who hates writing.

Have one of those? Well, sweetie, welcome to the club. This is common.

I had one of those boys. I use the past tense “had” lightly because, even at sixteen, he still doesn’t love to write. When he does write, he has a strong writer’s voice. One day he even told me he doesn’t hate writing anymore. Yet he still doesn’t get that excited over the prospect. But he’s growing in it and that’s good enough.

I have another boy who’s a motivated writer but struggled because of a developmental language issue.

So I’ve had one motivated but struggling writer and another unmotivated but capable writer. Writing was/is hard for both of them but for different reasons.

So why don’t boys like to write?

I dunno. Each boy is an individual. And lives to drive you batty. (I kid! Sort of.)

It could be the fact boys mature slower than girls. It could be previous damage done to them over writing, developmentally inappropriate expectations for writing, a learning disability flying under the radar. It could be boring (to boys) writing assignments or adult judgment over their choice of writing (farts & poop, you guys).

It could simply be they aren’t motivated.

You’ll need to go into a detective mode and pay attention to the details of your kid. Go about your normal homeschool routine. Don’t really change anything, just act as if you’re behind a one-way mirror, observing how they react to writing. Take notes for a period of time. The time of day, the writing assignment, the subject, etc. Like a scientist. Then analyze your data and see what patterns emerge.

Boys develop slower than girls.

Did you know boys can be years behind girls in fine motor skills development? Years. That’s a developmental fact many schools & curriculum don’t take into consideration when creating standards. If you have young boys, check your expectations in this area. Neurological developmental timelines impact their writing ability. Maybe they don’t want to write because the physical act of writing is still too hard.

And it’s not just young boys. The frontal lobe is responsible for organization, and in the high school years we expect more complex & nuanced thinking to be expressed in our boys’ writing, a trickier skill to organize. Guess what brain area doesn’t mature until the mid-20s in males? The frontal lobe.

But what about teens who have fine motor skills yet still resist writing?

Okay. Teen writers. Whew, boy, do our expectations increase tenfold when they reach, OMG, HIGH SCHOOL.

*cue anxiety-inducing horror movie music*

It may not be the physical act of writing that’s hanging them up but organizing something like a bunch of nuanced thoughts into an essay. This is a new level of thinking for teens; expect some regression in writing as they navigate this new stage. 

If you have a reluctant teen writer (or younger boy for that matter), keep in mind the main issue isn’t whether they are in the wrong or you as the home educator have done it wrong. The question is how do you work with it?

To paraphrase John Dewey, we have to evaluate our kids’ capacities and needs while we simultaneously create an environment to meet those needs & nurture their capacities.

(I don’t know exactly where Dewey said this. But HE did, not me. Clutch your pearls, hon, while I commit a cardinal writing sin here and not cite the exact source. I also start sentences with And, and I firmly believe in one sentence paragraphs. Best get used to me breaking the rules.)

Recognize your child’s current writing capacity may be low right now.

If they say writing is hard, believe them. Start right there.

Start with the reality you are working with a student with a reduced writing capacity for whatever reason, be it motivation issues, learning challenges, boring assignments…whatever. Accept the reality of the situation and believe your kid when they say it’s hard. Even words like “boring” or “stupid” are cues that the writing process is hard for them in some way. (It’s hard for me to write about topics you care about, Mom, and I really don’t.) 

So how do you go about creating conditions to meet their needs? What need is it you should even meet?

The need you’re trying to meet is to MAKE WRITING LESS HARD.

That’s it. Making writing less hard for him.

You do not create conditions where you make your child rise to the challenge. That has it backwards. You create conditions where the challenge is on a level your child can actually meet. That’s your job here. We all need small successes as we work towards a larger goal. Your son needs to feel writing is something he can do. Back it down until the challenge is a level where he’s trying and succeeding. 

The next logical question – and I know you’re asking it – is what do those conditions look like? How do you nurture a reluctant writer? Adjust the challenge? I’ve got ideas there too. But this is the internet age where attention span is short and no one reads long blog posts. I’ll tackle more in a series of Boy Writer posts. Stay tuned.




  • Kay
    4 months ago

    yes please….more ideas needed 🙂
    I have a reluctant writer – but he is only 8.
    Appreciating your thoughts.

    • admin
      4 months ago

      Hi Kay! At eight it may still be fine motor skills development getting in the way. He has some, of course, but he may still tire easily. I wouldn’t expect more than nine minutes of effort, max. I suggest you try taking dictation for him rather than him writing & see how he responds to that.

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