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.
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.