an audacious idea

taking notes

So I have this crazy idea. I hesitate to write about it here for fear of jinxing it. But then I thought about my little essayist project, and how posting about it here each month has been such good incentive for me. I don’t think I would have kept up with reading these essayists if I hadn’t made the commitment on the blog. (And may I wax rhapsodic about Joan Didion once again? Have you read The Year of Magical Thinking? Wow.)

So this idea came suddenly, while I was running on a Saturday morning. It was the collision of a handful of things that had been simmering in my mind. 

The first was the fact that I’d been feeling down after receiving a couple more rejections to my essays. I’ve written about rejection before. Part of the trouble is that I’m writing what some people laughingly call creative nonfiction, some call literary nonfiction. Basically I’m writing personal essays about parenting which are too long and too writerly to find a home in mainstream magazines. Trouble is, you can count the markets for this type of writing on one hand. So the competition is devilish, and I keep coming this close to getting something published. (One editor likes my essay but the senior editor doesn’t, blah, blah, blah.) Anyway, I have three lovingly crafted essays that represent about two years of my writing life sitting on my computer doing nothing. Which stirred up a little cloud of self-pity. Poor me.

At the time of this pity-fest, I was also writing a proposal for a workshop I’d like to give at my local homeschool conference this summer. I gave a workshop on helping parents facilitate writing workshops last year, and I enjoyed it, so in addition to proposing that workshop again, I toyed around with the idea for a new one and came up with something called Nurturing Young Writers.

And guess where the idea for this workshop came from? Why from you, my wonderful handful of regular readers! I started thinking about a few posts I wrote here, on invented spelling and taking dictation. And I thought about all the insightful comments you left me, and it occurred to me that people are interested in small aspects of writing like this.

I have a lot of ideas about writing. Simple ideas which I sort of take for granted. Ideas which maybe germinated when I was a teacher, but really came to life when I started working with my kids and their original, opinionated minds. But I think what’s influenced my thinking most has been my own quest to try to learn to write. That sometimes pathetic, multi-year project which I refer to as homeschooling my MFA. I write and I think about writing and the writing process an awful lot. And I suppose that’s worked its way into the time I spend with my kids. 

I think there are many ways you can nurture writing in kids–oftentimes without them having to write at all. There’s dictation, which I’ve been pondering since that post, and I’m coming to believe is an even more powerful tool than I’d originally considered. There are conversations about writing that can happen organically as you and your kids read together, or listen to audiobooks. There are lots of little ideas like this, which cumulatively can help form a young writer–without curriculum, without assignments, without writing prompts.

And as I ran that Saturday morning, all these thoughts swirled together in the pot of vegetarian soup that is my brain and here’s the audacious idea that came to the surface: There might be a book here.

I know, I know, what do I know about writing a book? I can’t even get my danged essays published! And I’ve never been interested in writing how-to stuff anyway. How-to writing is dry. It’s boring. And how can I presume to tell someone how to do something, when I’m constantly discovering new ideas myself?

But I kept running, kept thinking. What if I presented a collection of ideas as just that: ideas? Not a curriculum, not a method. Just a collection of options which might get a parent thinking, which might work for a particular kid. 

And then–and here was the big epiphany moment for me–I started thinking about my favorite books on writing. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, of course. And Poemcrazy, by Susan Wooldridge. And all of Ralph Fletcher’s books, especially the ones written for kids about the craft of writing. All of those books actually read less like how-to books, and more like collections of personal essays. They not only offer fantastic ideas about writing, they model good writing.

This was when my simmering brain started boiling over.

What if, instead of using my writing time to write unpublishable essays, I spent that time writing personal essays that might actually help someone? 

Last year for my birthday, my parents gave me a lovely journal from Levenger, and it’s been sitting around waiting for the right project. It’s called a Circa journal, and what’s cool about it is that the pages are removable. You can pull them out, and move them around. It’s also nice and big, and it opens flat. So right after my run I started jotting down notes. I made a separate page for each “chapter” that had already come to mind, knowing I could just jot down ideas as they come, adding pages as necessary.

notes on writing

So yes, I think it would be a little audacious to say that I’m writing a book. But I’m excited about the notion, and at least I’m busy at work on a new essay. I worked on it four mornings last week and one evening, which felt great. That kept the work alive in my mind all day, and I jotted down some notes as I did other things–which is the only way to make progress with a piece of writing.

I worry about trying to balance a project like this with blogging. Writing posts and responding to other blogs can get time-consuming, as many of you know. On the other hand, I think my blog-writing led directly to this project, so I don’t want to give it up! But there may be more posts here about writing–both mine and the kids’. And more posts about the creative process, which is something I hope to make more time for in my days. A past interview on the Writers on Writing podcast with “creativity coach” Eric Maisel was inspiring…

Here’s hoping that this post serves as a commitment rather than a curse.

19 comments… add one
  • susan Apr 27, 2009 @ 7:24

    What an exciting project! Please count me in as a reader if you want feedback at some point. I’d love to try out your writing ideas with the girls.

    • patricia Apr 27, 2009 @ 16:21

      Thanks, Susan–I hadn’t even thought to the point of advance readers, but I always count on feedback from other writers. I can’t write well without it. And someone who both writes and homeschools, like you, would be ideal. No going back now, you offered! 😉

  • stefaneener Apr 27, 2009 @ 8:55

    It makes perfect sense, of course. Books make room for the “betwixt and between” pieces, they form a coherent whole out of disparate parts, and what you have to say is interesting, important, and useful. You go!

    • patricia Apr 27, 2009 @ 16:23

      Okay! (Thanks for the vote of confidence.)

  • Emily Apr 27, 2009 @ 20:12

    Thanks for that — I am inspired!

    • patricia Apr 27, 2009 @ 22:25

      Inspired to do what, my friend?

      You, inspired, is a force to draw awe.

      • Emily Apr 28, 2009 @ 9:31

        I am inspired to write more, to be creative (not just think about being creative), and to actually feed my plants. Rhiannon and I are in the process of making fairy wands (since she is a fairy, don’tcha know) and I had a brainstorm to make a wand quiver to hang in her room. She is also insisting that I have a wand for myself. I will post photos soon of all this creative wand-ering… ha ha

  • Kristin Apr 27, 2009 @ 20:15

    I’d publish your book in advance if I had the power to because I know it will be helpful to parents and that it will be well written. I’m glad the idea came to you and I know that you will make it happen. I can feel how excited you are and it’s catching…

    • patricia Apr 27, 2009 @ 22:26

      Aw, thanks, Kristin. See, now I have to do it because you all have such beautiful faith in me!

  • melissa s. Apr 29, 2009 @ 14:34

    Sounds exactly what I’ve been looking for: a mentorship in the form of a book rather than a barage of information. I think including your personal parenting/homeschooling experiences would be very valuable. And of course you should say it loud and proud: you’re writing a BOOK!!!

    • patricia Apr 30, 2009 @ 15:26

      Ooh, I like that word: mentorship! That’s what I have in mind: not a teacher-y kind of book, but a book that poses possibilities for the reader, makes their own thinking part of the project.

  • susan Apr 30, 2009 @ 7:08

    Here’s a good way to make yourself get serious fast: write a proposal and get an agent. Have you listened to the Writers on Writing interviews with Michael Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada? Michael Larsen is an SF agent handling non-fiction…

    • patricia Apr 30, 2009 @ 15:30

      You are going to make sure I do this, aren’t you?

      I’m sure I must have listened to that interview once upon a time, but thanks for pointing it out–I’ll listen to it again, especially because they’re local. Their website has some helpful info too!

      I’ve learned so much about the business of writing–and writing itself–from Writers on Writing. I love that podcast.

      If I ever did shop for an agent, I’d want to have at least a third of the book finished. I want to make sure I really want to do this, that I have time to do it, and that I can do it. If I get that far, we’ll see what comes next.

      Thanks for all the support, Susan.

  • Carrie Pomeroy May 1, 2009 @ 21:59

    I loved reading about how you arrived at your book idea, drawing from your own particular life, influences, and creative process.

    I’d love to be an advance reader as well if you want an extra pair of eyes.

    Enjoy your work!

    • patricia May 2, 2009 @ 9:50

      I appreciate your offer to be a reader, Carrie, and I’ll definitely remember that!

      I’m amazed at how blogging can connect you to people you never would have met otherwise. Finding other homeschooling mother-writers in the world is a perk I hadn’t anticipated. It’s wonderful.

  • Cari Nov 20, 2011 @ 9:09

    I just discovered your blog by way of Simple Homeschool. Wow! What a wealth of information and inspiration.

    As a fellow freelance writer and homeschool mother I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your voice and perspective. I’d love to know what’s happened with your audacious idea since you drafted this. I pray that regardless of your “progress” that you continue to find joy and satisfaction in your craft.

    Blessings to you.


    • patricia Nov 20, 2011 @ 22:31

      Hi Cari,

      It’s been a real thrill to have so many Simple Homeschool folks drop by! (And fellow freelance writers have a special place in my heart.)

      I’m still plugging away at my audacious project. I’m currently working on a section of the book about facilitating writer’s workshops for kids. Originally I envisioned it as a chapter–or a few chapters–in the book. But since I’m such a big believer in writer’s workshops, and feel that they have such potential to motivate homeschooled writers, I’m working to put the information out as a self-standing e-book. It should be ready in a few months. We’ll see how it goes! I may self-publish some of the other book sections as I go as well, as I really feel called to help fellow homeschooling parents with their kids’ writing. But I still see all of the ideas coming together in a cohesive book. Eventually.

      Thank you so much for stopping by, and for the very kind words. Keep writing!

  • wanderingsue Jan 19, 2013 @ 0:56

    I’m just going to ramble and gush, if I may. I’m enjoying your archives so much! Would be leaving more comments except that I’m eager to get to your next post, and also don’t feel like a writer- don’t have much to say and never trust myself to say it well. (Blame the combination of being from a very mathematical family, and moving from the US to Australia as a 13-year-old. My way of stringing words was never quite right. Not to mention the words themselves!)
    I’m such a reader- lost myself so frequently that I long ago banned myself from reading for pleasure during school terms, and then when my son was little, because I needed that time, you know? For my responsibilities. Reading was a drug- I couldn’t trust myself to have just a little. I do read again now, and fairly often refuse to put my book down in favour of theirs, especially in my 20-minute “sit down” after lunch. Setting an example of enjoying books, that’s how I justify it to myself, on the days I feel like I need to justify it.
    So, although I feel pretty comfortable with unschooling, mine are only 4 and 21 months so far, and keeping the grandparents happy is pretty important in this little family. But having looked at your book a few times, Writers’ Workshops, yikes! Give this ex-teacher a maths workshop any day! Just the title feels way out of my league.
    Now I want to read essays. Kind of like blogs, but in a book, eh? Broaden my horizons a bit.
    And now I am also going to buy your book, and read it and then stash it away. I don’t think the kids are there yet, and neither am I. But one day…

    • patricia Jan 19, 2013 @ 15:14

      Thank you for the gushing, Sue. It really is an honor when people read through my archives.

      I think you string words together just fine!

      Yes, essays can be like blog posts–but generally they’re more polished and developed. I hope that you found some essayists in My Year of Excellent Essayists project that tempted you. The essayists I read that year are my very favorites.

      And thank you for buying my book! Even if your kids are too young for workshops now, reading the book might give you a sense of how you might help them with their writing when they’re older.

      Thank you for reading through my archives–and for leaving feedback!

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