Thursday, July 30, 2009

It's late. Do you know where your kids are?

Well, my oldest is currently in tears on the floor, being talked down by Lynda.

You see, Sarah is currently undergoing another bout of intense self-criticism regarding her story writing. She was upstairs, working on a story, but she decided that she didn't like it and wanted to abandon it. To do so would add to the teetering pile of castoffs, dead ends, false starts, and non-starters. This is something that has frustrated Lynda, me, and Sarah to an increasing degree and so (as parents) Lynda and I are trying to teach her how to work her way out of this habit of defeating self-criticism.

Lynda's good idea was to get some short stories for Sarah to read. Since Sarah expects her stories to roll out of her brain in some non-ending stream of perfection, when she hits a snag, she stops. And then she sees something new that triggers the grand idea for a different story that she begins with great enthusiasm--only to be frustrated again a few days, hours, minutes later.

(And if you are sniggering about this, pointing to all of my various blogs that I don't write on or other digital off ramps that I don't know how to properly utilize . . . well, you're right, of course. Now shut up.)

ANYWAY . . .

Lynda's idea of the short story is to help Sarah realize that a shorter story, with a smaller cast of characters, a limited, clearly reigned in plot, will help her hold onto an idea long enough to bring something to completion. And that is a very good idea. But more than that, Sarah is struggling to see how to take one flash of insight through the grim work of the middle to a conclusion. And she doesn't often know what that conclusion IS.

Lynda found some short story writing tips on the Internet that said writers should begin their story as close to the end as they can, so they know where they are headed. And I like that idea as a writing strategy. Perhaps that will help her. But just as important, and more difficult to convince her of, is the grim need to organize, outline, plan, conceptualize BEFORE lots of words get written. I always like to use some examples from my store of J.K. Rowling anecdotes here to give Sarah direct details of a writer that she admires and deeply understands. Unfortunately, is a nine-year-old prepared to accept the fact that such stories involve many notebooks of ideas, thoughts, plans?

God help her if I ever decide to show her the many volumes of The History of Middle Earth that currently sit on my bookshelf and that I haven't even read through all the way. It would scare her away from writing forever.

In the end, she's got to give herself a massive break. She's a nine-year-old kid with great talents and skills (for her age). But she has heard many times (from us and others) that she is a good writer--and she is . . . FOR HER AGE! But she's not ready yet to write in a complete way. She has the assumption that she should be able to do this without breaking a sweat. And she won't accept that this isn't possible. I wish she would give herself the time to learn and develop without giving up or quitting writing because she thinks its too hard.

Does anybody know how to help here? Any personal connections to authors who can come over to the house and tell her to relax and keep plodding? Please?!!!


jack thunder said...

i've become a big advocate of failure. sure, i've probably just done this to justify my growing list of life failures, but i've developed some pretty sound reasons. at the very least, one can argue that an artist or intellectual will inevitably fail in life because he/she will never be able to fully comprehend or express what he/she wants to.

youth itself is like systematized failure. you can't grow without failing in one way or another. it sucks.

but maybe the biggest failure of youth is not being aware that failure is okay. so it's probably impossible for you to teach this to Sarah. but it doesn't hurt to keep trying. it was at her age that i started to quit stuff, which is sad.

Sven Golly said...

Jack is right. I would add something I tell my students all the time, and I keep relearning, about practice, practice, practice. Put it aside, do something else, and come back to it later. It was flawed before, and it will still be flawed after 50 revisions, but more important than the Perfect Product is what happens to the artist in the process. You get better at the craft (art form, sport, game, etc.) every time you return to it.