Today’s Writing Tip

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As an author, it’s in your best interest to encourage reading. Literacy is critical, not only to find readers, but for the betterment of our world. What are you doing to encourage it other than writing?

As a serious writer and author, it concerns me that written expression is not being encouraged as it was for my “Baby Boomer” generation. Sure, we passed notes to each other in class while today kids text, but what else has changed since then? What about the mixed (and often humorous) blessings of Autocorrect and text to speech? Is there any incentive to learn how to spell? Are dictionaries now passé? And what about emoji’s? And memes? How handy is it to find one that expresses what you’re feeling versus using actual words?

Related to this is the fact various studies have shown correlations between intelligence and vocabulary. It follows that the more expansive a person’s vocabulary, the more “literate” they will be. While some statistics claim the US has a literacy rate of 99%, others state that 50% of adults cannot read a book written at the 8th grade level. Technically, being able to read at the 8th grade level may be literate, but what does that say about intelligence? The illiteracy rate of the prison population is such that 70% of inmates can only read at the 4th grade level. Clearly, literacy is a game-changer. As an author and word aficionado, I find this rather alarming. Here are a few more statistics courtesy of the nonprofit organization Literacy Inc.’s website:

  • Literacy is learned. Illiteracy is passed along by parents who cannot read or write.
  • One child in four grows up not knowing how to read.
  • 43% of adults at level I literacy skills live in poverty compared to only 4% of those at level V.
  • Three out of four food stamp recipients perform in the lowest two literacy levels.
  • 90% of welfare recipients are high school dropouts.
  • 16 to 19-year-old girls at the poverty level and below, with below average reading skills, are 6 times more likely to have out – of – wedlock children, who in turn will have below average reading skills or none at all.

There are no simple answers to why or what to do about it. However, since literacy remains a huge problem, it further implicates the failure of the current education system, much of which is aimed at getting pupils to pass standardized tests. Many kids are bored out of their minds in school. Why? Because they’re not taught to think, reason, or discover the joy of learning, which has traditionally been done through reading.

Yet, some kids today are smarter than ever. What makes the difference? Is electronic media helping or hindering learning? My opinion is that it relates to content, whether a child spends mindless hours playing video games or watching TV versus using electronic media to expand their knowledge. Parents, are you listening?

When I was growing up as an only child, books were my greatest joy. Most of my grown children still love to read, something they brought with them from their respective childhoods. The majority of my young grandchildren have Kindles, so I gift them books on a regular basis. One of my granddaughters had a full-length novel she wrote on her phone and published on Wattpad when she was in middle school. Is that cool or what? Proud grandma? You betcha!

That begs the question, is a love of reading and its side effect, literacy, genetic? Much has been speculated about genetic memory and what is passed on to our progeny. It’s easy to see both a nature and nurture side to this, since children of readers are more likely to have been read to as a child and encouraged to read.

As authors trying to sell books, the more readers we have out there, the better. But the bottom line is what can authors do to help this situation? How can you encourage reading and literacy? Think about it. There are literally millions of books on Amazon. The impact if every author did something, no matter how small, to encourage literacy the effects would be awesome.

What can YOU do? Literacy Inc’s website has numerous ideas. Find something you can do to help. Then, to quote Yoda, “Try not–do. Or do not. There is not try.”