It’s time for me to report back to you on whether I deserve a pat on the head or a kick in the butt on my book project.
Finding interesting photos for this project is sure to be a challenge in itself.
My goal is to write a draft of a chapter each month. I gave myself an easy start for January, since I had just the last part of a sort of triptych of three shorter chapters to finish up.
I felt compelled to start with a brief history of how my views on kids and writing have evolved over time, with each of my own kids. (Brief history sounds troublesome already, don’t you think?) So I wrote a short chapter on each kid, following the shifts in my thinking.
With H, I was still pretty locked into the school model, and felt that kids at six should begin doing all their own writing.
“On a bookshelf in our family room is a tiny yellow book, hand-stitched with dental floss by H. at six, and titled–with a backwards J—My Journal. Only a few pages are filled, with lines like I oent to a rastrant. I had pancacs. (I went to a restaurant. I had pancakes.) My articulate boy couldn’t manage more, didn’t want to manage more. Now, flipping through the empty pages that followed, I wonder: why didn’t I transcribe what he really wanted to say? Why didn’t I write for him more often? I know the reason, and there was just one: it wasn’t how schools did it.”
I go on to tell how at seven, H. slammed his pencil to the table and hollered, “I hate writing!”
Lulu’s chapter is all about cheating as a homeschooling parent:
“Any parent of more than one child knows what happens with the second. You learn to cheat. You learn to slacken the rules that meant so much with your first. You permit pacifiers past first birthdays, you let bedtimes creep late, you let broccoli be snubbed and allow ice cream anyway. You know it’s cheating, but you try not to care. Anything to bypass a tantrum, to speed up a grocery trip, to let you sit at the table until you’re ready to deal with the dishes.”
With Lulu I knew that, more than anything, I didn’t want her to hate writing. So instead of forcing her to write, I cheated: I often took dictation from her. Still, I saw my transcribing as a temporary fix, just a little help until she could write on her own without difficulty.
Mr. T came six years after Lulu, and almost ten after H. That’s how long it took me to realize that all the times I’d thought I’d “cheated” with homeschooling had really been homeschooling at its finest: me, offering my kids just what they needed at the time. I took dictation from Mr. T as I’d done with Lulu, but this time around I began noticing what he seemed to be learning from the process.
“T. narrated his tale, his head whirling with ideas, and I took notes, my head whirling with my own.
I compiled quite a Post-It list at the kitchen table that morning. Slowly, I began to realize that T. had intuited an awful lot about writing from our dictation sessions. Not merely rules of grammar, but also the writerly choices that authors make, like using strong verbs such as tore to describe a character eating his food quickly, or ending a chapter with a cliffhanger.”
That was when I first began to see that taking dictation has real potential as a writing tool for homeschooling families.
So now I have three chapters–but I’m not sure I’ll use any of them. Part of me thinks telling my stories as the start of a book is too self-indulgent; part of me thinks readers love stories, and long to see how others trip up and figure things out. And that my history is a necessary lead-in to what I’ve come to believe about kids and writing.
I don’t know. This may not be my beginning. I may take stuff from these chapters and insert it elsewhere. I may not use it at all. I think I just need to keep writing and see where the pages settle, see what form the book wants to take.
One thing I’ve learned with writing, that I tell the kids in my writer’s workshops, is that the beginning you start with may not be your ultimate beginning. So often we feel compelled to start with something that drums at our minds, but that may just be a warm-up, a way into our true beginning. Our first efforts may simply be what I call making clay. Unlike the sculptor who begins work by taking out a block of clay and shaping it, the writer has nothing to work with, no clay at all, until he or she writes a draft and makes some. Only then can the shaping start.
the plan for february:
I’m forging ahead and starting a chapter on voice. To me, the most important part of a writing education should be nurturing a child’s written voice. If you’re baffled by the term as I once was, if you’re befuddled at how an auditory word like voice can have anything to do with writing on a page, stick around. I’ll try to explain.