This Is How We Don’t Do It…

… And then I have weeks like this one, where work and family and life in general got in the way.

I got some research done. I read a little bit of a book I’ll talk about when I’ve finished it.  I emailed a friendly note to Michael Ross on GoodReads, and he wrote back, which was very nice.

Part of the time sink this week is that my kid is supposed to be writing a novel.  For his sixth-grade English  class.

It is not going well.

First he had an idea that was not developed enough to be novel material, and no matter how hard I tried, cajoled, prodded, explained, and modeled, he steadfastly refused to flesh it out to work. I finally told him that if he wasn’t going to put in the effort to make that work, he was going to have to find something that required less effort to flesh out.  He settled on a story from a past vacation that he would fictionalize and develop into a novel.

It is not going well.

He started out bravely enough. He banged through three or four pages — and that included the entire scope of the novel, told in the “I did this and then I did that and then we did some other thing” form. Fair enough for a start, but hardly a novel, and difficult to expand. We spent much of the weekend tussling over his lack of progress beyond this point.

I suspect part of my frustration with his lack of progress is that I see way, way too much of myself in this scenario. I know how he feels. I would much rather binge-watch House of Cards than write 500 words about Henry Wise and his days of youthful dueling. I’m watching Better Call Saul as I write this, in fact.  Clearly, the apple of my eye is parked  inches from the tree that I am.

So, I have watched as the boy has made a number of classic mistakes—mistakes I remember making when I started writing. Unfortunately, he refuses to learn from my bad experiences, and he has dug in against fixing these mistakes—mostly, I suspect, because Mom is picking on him to do so:

He didn’t make an outline.

He gets fixated on the forest and won’t focus on the trees.

He listens to suggestions and then uses them as actual material rather than using them as samples to emulate.

He writes it all in Telling, not Showing, and it is all in past tense first person; no dialogue, no sense of urgency or putting the reader in the moment.

It’s been a long time since I had to watch someone this wildly inexperienced AND this recalcitrant. We finally figured out a pattern: Write six sentences about this.  Write four sentences about that.  Write two sentences to transition from those six to these four.

We only came to this approach about an hour ago, so I’m not sure if it will work. But it’s been an interesting experience and observation — it’s all the frustrations associated with writing that I take for granted and try to just power through, but packaged in a rather small and potent firecracker that explodes repeatedly and with great force.

I’m hoping the new approach works.  I’m a little afraid we will all burn to cinders if it doesn’t.


About arwenbicknell

Editor by day, author by night.
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