11 Top Tips from 2 Writing Experts

April 03, 2019

A behind the scenes interview at iHeart Media Studios on making students become fearless writers

In our increasingly busy lives, it can be difficult to find time to nurture your child’s writing skills.  Whether they enjoy writing, or they avoid it at all costs, prioritizing the development of this important skill often falls by the wayside. Unfortunately, building an aptitude for writing and cultivating a fearless attitude in this area doesn’t happen overnight.  However, it is not impossible!

Read on for highlights from our recent writing focused radio interview, hosted by Anna Deharo and aired across 7 iHeart radio stations.  Anna quizzes our 2 writing experts;

Gwen Cox – Center Director at Explore Horizons Enrichment and Tutoring Centers

Murray RichterAward-winning children’s author and judge of the 2019 Explore Horizons Writers’ Award.

Below is the headline advice from our experts, but if you’d like to read more, you can keep scrolling for the full audio transcription.

  1. To develop writing skills, make time for your child to read. Fact or fiction? It doesn’t matter, just make reading part of their daily routine.  Even 5 minutes a day can make a big difference.
  2. Encourage your child to “throw up” all their ideas out of their mind and on to paper. Aim for them to write down everything and not worry about perfection. Even if the writing is “so bad that the page stinks”. The editing process is where the magic happens, and the editing can’t occur unless you have something there to work with.
  3. Have fun with the editing process. Urge your child to get feedback from as many people as possible; parents, siblings and their friends. This will also help overcome writers’ block.
  4. Don’t take things so seriously. Allow your child to laugh at their mistakes. No author in the world get things right first time. Mistakes are a good thing, they are how you learn and grow.
  5. Take advantage of free writing events in your community. Be sure to check out your local library. Explore Horizons are also hosting free events monthly called the Fearless Family Nights series, learn more at https://www.explore-horizons.com/fearless-family-nights
  6. Allow your child to write about something they care about. If they are interested in the topic it will keep them motivated to persevere with their writing.
  7. Enter a writing competition. Every year we host the Explore Horizons Writers’ Awards, a short story contest for children aged 5-14. You can find out more about how to enter here. https://www.explore-horizons.com/writers-awards/
  8. Sign your child up to a regular writing club to enable them to really hone their craft. With STAAR writing tests only occurring in 4th and 7th grade, schools sometimes don’t get the opportunity to focus on developing a passion for writing in their students.  Explore Horizons holds weekly specialist writing classes to inspire children to reach their full potential and become fearless writers.  You can register for your free writing class here. https://www.explore-horizons.com/?modal=free-trial
  9. Give your child a space and place to write on a regular basis. Disconnect from technology and let their imagination run wild. 
  10. Make writing a habit. Gift your child with a journal and allow them to write about whatever they want every day. It’s amazing how much they’ll achieve by the end of the week and how their writing style and confidence will develop over time.
  11. Incentives work. Set them a word count target and when they hit it, treat them to something fun! Maybe a trip to the library or ice cream?  Whatever works for your family?


Read on for the full radio interview transcript.

Anna Deharo: Hello and welcome to the program. It is President’s Day weekend, so a lot of people are enjoying an extra-long weekend since tomorrow is a federal holiday. And school is out for the majority of North Texas students tomorrow. Students who had to read up on George Washington and Abraham Lincoln ahead of the long President’s Day weekend. And speaking of reading, coming up on March 2nd it’s National Read Across America Day. Also known as “Dr. Seuss reading Day” since it falls on Dr. Seuss’ birthday. National Read Across America Day is the time to raise awareness about the importance of reading and literacy.

I for one absolutely love to read, and just as soon as I finished one book, I’m searching for the next big read or as I like to say my next adventure and I love discovering new writers. Well here in North Texas the search is on once again for some very young new writers through the Explore Horizons Young Writers’ Competition. It’s going on right now through April 1st and joining me to talk about the competition are Gwen Cox, the director of Explore Horizon’s garland location and Murray Richter. Murray is an internationally acclaimed author and a judge for this year’s writing competition. Thank you both Gwen and Murray for being on the program today.

Gwen Cox: Thank you.

Murray Richter: Thank you.

Anna Deharo: Well Gwen the competition began January 21st and runs through April 1st. Who can take part in the young writers’ competition?

Gwen Cox: Any child from kindergarten all the way through 8th grade can participate in this competition.

Anna Deharo: What are the parameters of the competition?

Gwen Cox: They would need to write a short essay no longer than 500 words about anything that they can do to change the world, and that can be fiction or non-fiction.

Anna Deharo: So, they can come up with something from their own experience of what’s going on in their own life and then leave the rest up to their imagination.

Gwen Cox: Absolutely. We love little imaginations. When children are allowed to let their imaginations run wild, those are the best types of ideas that come out of our kiddos.

Anna Deharo: Gwen, so you said that the competition ranges in age from kindergarten to 8th grade, so four to 14-year olds. The writing styles between a 4-year old and a 14-year old are quite different. So how are you going to judge that? How are you going to get these stories to Murray for him to judge?

Gwen Cox: Yeah that’s a great question.  We have some criteria that we are looking for, and we do have rubrics that go from a 4-year old type of writing all the way through a 14-year old type of writing.  We know what to expect from each age group because we work with students on building their writing skills every day in our tutoring centers. We are familiar with every Texas standard for writing throughout each grade level. So, we’re going to be recognizing the differences and the abilities of each of these children, and then each of our tutoring centers will choose the top five stories to send over to Murray to judge.

Anna Deharo: Okay so what are you looking for as an acclaimed international author Murray Richter, what is it that you’re looking for from these young writers?

Murray Richter: I’m looking for something that’s cohesive that sticks to the story. And as far as the details and everything go. I want to see humor and I also want to see a broad spectrum of things that kids could consider for how to change the world. It needs to be concise because it’s only 500 words, but it does not have to be perfect by any stretch. I like character development. I think it’s important, but paying attention to the words, paying attention to the arcs in the story that feed the story is also important.

Anna Deharo: What advice do you have for young writers if a parent says my child loves to read, they love to write as well, they have great imagination, what advice do you have for them?

Murray Richter: I’d say go for it and don’t limit yourself by anything. Some other authors that I’ve talked to and read about talk about throwing the words up out of your mind on to the paper. So, you’re going to want to actually go pass the word limit which is 500 for this particular contest. So, you want to pass that initially, and then refine when you go back through. I think there’s magic in revision. So, it’s like a sculpture that I read about once where the sculptor can see his creation inside of a piece of granite. He takes away what doesn’t matter. That’s my same suggestion. Take that same approach. And then when you go back to revise. Number one thing is to laugh at yourself because there’s going to be mistakes. Nobody, no author in the planet gets it right the first time. So, get it out there, go back, revise, take out what doesn’t matter and leave the things that do, remove what doesn’t feed the story. And that’s when I think the magic happens, but it’s just like you can’t drive a parked car so you can’t go and revise something you don’t have. So, the first step is getting all the words out on paper, and then have fun with the revision part of it, get other folks involved, parents, other kids that write to critique that as well.

Anna Deharo: and Gwen, Explore Horizons is hosting the Young Writers’ Competition. It’s absolutely free to take part in the competition, and you can find out more on the website explore-horizons.com and you say teachers can submit their classroom entries and then individual students can submit as well online.

Gwen Cox: Yes, absolutely. We actually do go into the classroom and host a free workshop with any school that is interested. And what we do is an hour-long workshop where we get kids to brainstorm different ways that they could change the world. And then from there they can begin to develop the idea for their story. The best stories are those that have been revised and edited.  We go through that process with them in that workshop. And then they can rewrite and revise their essay. They can either participate with their school or we do have some workshops available in some of our locations across Dallas-Fort Worth such as Plano, Frisco, Garland, McKinney and Alliance Town Center.

Anna Deharo: Yeah, I saw online that you have these free workshops to help the young writers not just going into the classroom but one of these fearless writing nice is taking place at the Explore Horizon Alliance town center location February 27. Others will be held at the Dallas location March 6, and another at the McKinney location on March 27th, and details are on the website explore-horizons.com. What will the winner of the competition receive Gwen?

Gwen Cox: Oh, this is very exciting. The winner of the competition will actually receive a Kindle Fire HD, $500 of books donated to their school, and they will also have their story published and illustrated online.

Anna Deharo: That’s incredible. So that they can say “hey I’m just like Murray. I’m an acclaimed author now.” When did you know that you wanted to be an author Murray?

Murray Richter: It was an interesting journey. It was many years into my life. As a kid I loved to read, I loved that fact that how the story can take you into different worlds and recreate your entire environment. So that always fascinated me on that end. But I never saw myself as a writer, and the way it came together over the years, you know, how parents, teachers, different folks will tell you really smart things and as kid you’re like, whatever. And then later you’re like, that’s really smart. Starting to have kids and nieces and nephews, and I just wanted to get them some of those tips and things that I’ve learn and picked up along the way. So, I started just writing it on a piece of paper and put it in accordion file. And that file grew overtime and there were a lot of different ideas and good things in there. And then I went to a memory course. Have you ever taken one of those?

Anna Deharo: No. I probably should though.

Murray Richter: Well I took mine, and you know what happened the next morning?

Anna Deharo: What?

Murray Richter: I’d forgotten everything. But I did remember one piece of it where he had said if you want to pass something along, make a story or a song out of it. And that’s how a lot of different things are passed on through generations, is through story or song format. So, I thought well, I’ll just make this into a story. And so, I started that.  For years I was pre-med and had always wanted to be a pediatrician, but things changed.  I thought, hey I could dust off that writing dream and pick that back up and maybe I could help the kids with humor. After asking a hundred doctors, every different type of doctor there is, is laughter the best medicine, a hundred doctor said yes. So, that kind of helped really fuel me as I think it’s really important for folks to remember why you’re writing and keep that in front of you, so you can stay on track and stay motivated. When I was demotivated, I kept coming back to that sick kid in hospital that I was writing for. That’s all I needed to keep me going.

Anna Deharo: You know who your audience is.

Murray Richter: Right, and it made it important to get it out there because those sick kids need that. They need that escape, they need that help, I think. And from that point on my novel really just wrote itself.  I’d wake at 4 in the morning with my head on the kitchen table and I’d be glad I didn’t electrocute myself by dribbling into my laptop.

Anna Deharo: And what story did you end up with?

Murray Richter: It ended up with… it’s three boys, doing their thing and they love to fish, love to play pranks on each other and then one of them ends up having a pretty big problem. So, they’ve got to kind of circle the wagon to help each other out.

Anna Deharo: And it shows that target audience of yours how to deal with problems and how to come out ahead.

Murray Richter: Correct.

Anna Deharo: And the book is?

Murray Richter: Lucky Rocks.

Anna Richter: Lucky Rocks. And I know you have a Facebook page so if somebody wants more information, they go to your Facebook page Murray Richter on Facebook?

Murray Richer: Correct. Murray Richter author, and there’s also murrayrichter.com. And what I’d really like for folks to do is to email me questions and problems that you have, if they’ve hit a wall. I had a ferocious case of writers block last year that lasted for months and I had this great group of critique partners that I had that helped me through that. So, anything I can add to help them out, to suggest a book to read, to suggest anything if they’re having a particular problem, I’m very open to that because I think the best things have not been written yet.

Anna Deharo: I’ve always heard that there is a story in all of us.

Murray Richter: Absolutely.

Anna Deharo: And Gwen as someone who’s in charge of the Explorer Horizon’s Tutoring Center in Garland, you guys are constantly working with young writers, also mathematicians, young mathematicians, but what kind of workshops do you have in play for somebody who needs a little bit of help and maybe they think, no I’m not good at writing. I’m not good at reading. How does Explore Horizons create those fearless learners?

Gwen Cox: Yeah. Well we recognize that often young kids come to Explore Horizons with one of two problems. Either they have a hard time coming up with ideas or they have lot of ideas and they have a hard time being able to write those down on paper. So, our goal is to be able to in workshop settings help kids talk to one another, gather ideas, brainstorm and then do some purer visions so that way they can really refine their work and help one another within their writing skills. So that’s what we do every single week when our students come to our specialist writing class every week.

Anna Deharo: My guest once again for this segment of the program Gwen Cox, the director of Explorer Horizons, Garland location. Explorer Horizons Tutoring Center is creating fearless learners and currently, they’re inspiring children to write with their annual young writers’ competition which is absolutely free to enter. Even enter your classroom, you can enter as an individual student. Just go to the website explore-horizons.com to find out more. Also, in studio, Murray Richter, an internationally acclaimed author and a judge for the young writers’ competition. So, you’ve kind of talked about what you’re looking for in the competition Murray. But what advice do you have for parents to encourage their kids to become young writers even if they don’t want to become professional writers in the future. Just to kind of enjoy the job of writing a story for class or for themselves?

Murray Richter: I would think the first step in that is to look at the help you’re getting from teachers and from tutors as a gift to make your young writers learn the tools, learn the basics of writing well. In the future, I think that’s going to really be an issue in society because of texting, social media and email. People may lose some of the actual ability to articulate clear thoughts. Employers are always looking for people who can write well. Learning the basic ins and outs while they are young, will help them to get a good job in the future.  I think the first step is for parents to give their kids the place and the space to do their thing.  And that would mean disconnecting from some things. Social media, TV, things like that, to have that creative time to focus on building the story. If they don’t have a writing idea at that point, fine. Grab a book, do something that’s going to help build that reader in you or that writer in you.  But then also, to work on incentives with them. Once they get past a certain amount of words, reward them with something fun to do. Things like that to keep them motivated to go above and beyond.

Anna Deharo: Gwen, for a parent who has a child who is struggling right now, and so many children when they come up against an obstacle or they don’t like doing something, or they feel like they’re not good at something. They just give up. How do you overcome that obstacle?

Gwen Cox: Absolutely. Well one of the ways that we do that is through our inspirational tutors. They really are outstanding at building that connection with our students, and really being able to see what drives each individual student and understand their individual strengths and their weaknesses. And really be able to set goals with each student and with parents to be able to say, okay so this is what we can do to become more fearless in our writing.  Murray mentioned earlier that you need to make mistakes and some kids feel afraid to make mistake especially with tests and this upcoming STAAR tests there’s a lot of fear behind making a mistake.  But it’s actually okay and that’s how we’ve learned, that’s how we grow, and that’s the attitude that we have in our Explore Horizons Tutoring Centers.

Anna Deharo: Yeah you see a lot of those lightbulb moments that Oprah always talked about before. About a kid when it finally clicks on how to solve a problem whether if it’s math or in reading or writing. Murray you wanted to add something?

Murray Richter: Oh yeah. On that too, I encourage kids to write horrible, awful, so bad that when you print it out the page stinks! Because that’s part of that process in building that word file. Writing myself personally sometimes I feel like, hey that’s pretty good but a lot of the times I’m looking over my shoulder to make sure no one is watching because my writing is pretty rough. But that’s how important it is to get it out there, and so let’s encourage the kids do that, to get the parents to do that, the tutors to do that to just get them in a habit of getting the words out there. And then again as we discussed, magic comes in that revision.

Anna Deharo: One of my favorite teachers was when I was in 6th grade and I will remember her always because I never thought that I was any good at writing. Loved reading, reading came easy but I always thought I was a horrible writer because I was being graded as like run on sentences, this, that and the other. But she had us write in a journal every day, and she said write whatever you want about what you did that day, whatever is waiting on your mind, make up a story but write every day as if you’re not going to be judge, as if you’re not going to be graded and just write every day. What you’re saying Murray and all of a sudden, I felt like I was a writer, and the style came later but the writing just flowed out on me.

Murray Richter: Absolutely: And I think a journal is an incredible idea. I wish I would have done that earlier to be honest with you. Because there’s so many ideas that the kids will have. The ideas may not seem much at first, but down the road, they’ll bloom into something that you never could have imagined.  I’ve met different authors that named their journals different things. One is Thunder Book because things that go boom come out of it.   Journal can be creative.  Make it fun so that it’s something that they want to include every day.  If they make a habit out of it, there will be big pay back.

Anna Deharo: It’s the Young Writers Competition being hosted by Explore Horizons Tutoring Centers across the Dallas – Fort Worth Metroplex. Go to the website, www.explore-horizons.com to sign up. You can sign up your class, as an individual student, you can sign up your child if you’re a parent. For children 4 to 14 going on now through April 1st and they do have some free, fun workshops to help young writers, and one of those will be taking place March 27th at the Explore Horizons McKinney location. Find out more about this free workshop at explore-horizons.com. I want to thank my guest Gwen Cox, the director of the Explorer Horizons Garland location, and acclaimed author Murray Richter for being on the program. He is one of the judges for the competition. Thank you both so much for being on the program today.

Gwen Cox: Thank you.

Murray Richter: Thank you Anna.


by Belinda Southgate, Explore Horizons

Get your child on the path to fearless learning by scheduling them a free academic assessment today! A member of our staff will reach out to start building a personalized solution for your unique learner.


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