Archive for the ‘Advice from the pros’ Category

The “Discipline” of Writing

Most of what we think and read about discipline only increases our resistance [to writing]. “Discipline” usually means making ourselves do some duty, grit our teeth, force ourselves to do what we don’t want to do. A disciplined writer, we are told (or we tell ourselves) writes every day, writes X number of hours a say or X number of pages or paragraphs a day. We read how someone else structures his or her writing life, and we judge ourselves (or we judge our kids) by that pattern. Unfortunately, many books on writing reinforce the idea of discipline.

The wrong kind of “discipline” damages the creative process. The deepest, truest discipline has its roots in the ancient wisdom of the Hebrew prophet Zechariah: “Not by might, nor by power, but by… spirit.” Rather than comparing ourselves with duty and guilt, we need to have a gentle, compassionate, and non-judgmental spirit toward our writing. William Burroughs said, “There is no such thing as will power. Only need.” The roots of a useful discipline lie in understanding ourselves, and that is a gentle matter. (Pat Schneider, Writing Alone and with Others)

If we insert our children into each of the places where Pat Schneider speaks directly to the writer, we will see that it is even more important to be gentle with our children, with those in our care who are not ourselves! It takes extra attentiveness to be gentle with another person.

The writing life will look different family to family, homeschool to homeschool, child to child.

Schneider continues:

Discipline begins by understanding how you yourself work. Everyone’s patterns are different. You can learn something about how you work by remembering successes of the past. For example, when you accomplished a project—fixing the car, making a gift—how did you go about it? Did you lay out careful plans first and proceed in an orderly way, cleaning up after yourself as you went along? Or did you barge in with more energy than planning, change your plans as you went along, decide to do a portion of it somewhat differently from the instructions?

From there she suggests remembering successes in writing and paying attention to how they came about. We do a lot of that in Brave Writer—spending time remembering what makes the writing flow: knowledge of the subject matter, being able to write in a factual manner or through the use of story, being sure there is an audience outside of the home, having time to write a mess first and clean it up later, taking time to separate the steps into separate days, narrowing the topic.

So spend some time thinking about what makes the conditions just right for your kids to enjoy a disciplined (not an oxymoron) writing life.

Susan Schaeffer Macaulay on children as persons

“When we begin studying the person, the real child, we must serve who he is, not fit him into our schedules or plans. Part of this is allowing him play.”

(For the Children’s Sake 25)

Lessons from Peter Jennings

Peter Jennings died last night. I found this tidbit from the New York Times fascinating given our desire to help our kids become effective narrators of life:

In “The Century” (Doubleday, 1998), one of two history books that he co-wrote with Todd Brewster, Mr. Jennings recalled an early exercise that his father put him through to sharpen his powers of observation. “Describe the sky,” his father had said. After the young boy had done so, his father dispatched him outside again. “Now, go out and slice it into pieces and describe each piece as different from the next.”

I loved this.

I don’t even think I could do this with the night sky. But it reminded me of what I’ve done with my kids with art. Later this week, I’ll share some ideas for how to make art come to life for you and your kids.

Charlotte Mason suggests the same kind practice when out in nature. Send your child to look at a plant or tree and ask her to return with a description of what she saw. Send her again to find an even more precise detail that she overlooked the first time. Then listen as she tightens her description.

Model this behavior when you observe anything as well.


Charlotte Mason on Composition

But let me say again there must be no attempt to teach composition. Our failure as teachers is that we place too little dependence on the intellectual power of our scholars, and as they are modest little souls what the teacher kindly volunteers to do for them, they feel they cannot do for themselves. But give them a fair field and no favour and they will describe their favorite scene from the play they have read, and much besides.

(A Philosophy of Education, 192)

What is implied in this quote as well is trust. We must trust the process in order to let our kids grow as narrators and writers.

Exuberant Imperfection

Exuberant Imperfection

Chris Baty, creator of National Novel Writing Month, says:

The first law of exuberant imperfection is essentially this: the quickest, easiest way to produce something beautiful and lasting is to risk making something horribly crappy.

Most writing programs for homeschool emphasize excellence, order, right thinking and writing.

I’d rather emphasize exuberance.

I wrote recently that “joy is the best teacher.” Exuberance is the manifestation of joy – for the sheer fun of it.

Exuberance looks like jumping on a trampoline with sprinklers underneath, eating the rest of the ice cream out of the carton with a spoon (and not saving any for anyone else!), singing really loudly in the car with the windows down. It’s the down track of a roller coaster, big ocean waves tossing you in the air, your first real kiss (the kind where you lock lips until you gasp for air).

Exuberant writing, then, is the kind that races, that is filled with imagination, hunger, drive, ideas, words and energy.

I know I’m in the “exuberant zone” when I can’t stop, when words pop, when the world is suddenly one big writing tablet.

Is it possible to unleash exuberance in our kids when they often see writing as the enemy? YES! That’s the whole point of this blog.

Exuberant imperfection is critical to better writing later. Anyone who hasn’t experienced exuberance in writing has not yet encountered her writer’s voice. Exuberance fosters voice. Freedom to fail creates the opportunity for exuberance. A receptive audience ensures exuberance (after all, if you dance in your underpants, when you get caught, you hope the person will strip down and dance too, not mock you).

So pick some of the zany freewrites and exercises from this blog. Get jiggy with it!

Exuberate! And write. (Ha! I think I just made up a word. Shakespeare would be proud.)

Write for Fun!

Image by Lauren Manning (cc)