Since I am "the writer" in the family, I am in charge of my 10-year-old son's English classes this year (my husband and I homeschool our children.) I say I am "the writer" because I haven't written anything other than business letters and e-mails for more than five years. Still, as Mike and I were assessing the curriculum for this school year we both decided that it was time for Ian to move beyond basic grammar and - since I am the parent with the most writing experience - that I should be the one to teach all the joys of composition. This was one of the most exciting prospects I had encountered in quite some time. Not only would I finally have an active role in our homeschool, but I would be teaching writing, something I have always loved to do.
We just completed day 4 of the school year, and I've lost count of the number of times I've made my son cry. I think we're up to seven.
Now, I realize that Ian is only in fifth grade and that I cannot expect a high-school level composition out of him. We're starting out easy, with the basic 3-5 sentence paragraph. He is very capable of grasping the concept and applying it to his writing. But we have a two-fold problem. First of all, Ian doesn't like repetition. Since he is an intelligent child, he has never really had to work at anything in school. He has gotten used to doing his work once and then moving on to the next new and exciting thing. In short, he has not yet learned that "practice makes perfect" applies to school as well as to dance and music, where he encounters repetition three days a week and loves every minute of it. Writing is something that he doesn't like to do, and he hates it even more because he has to work at it. He must get that from his father.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, he fears rejection.
He gets that from me.
Thirteen years ago, I dreamt of a career writing fiction. I have several manuscripts and loads of short stories in varying stages of completion stacked neatly in a box under the bed. I've been told by a variety of teachers and professors throughout the years that I produce publishable work. I even have a 14-year-old list of publications from one professor. He assured me that all I had to do was start submitting my work to the publications, and one of them would publish my stories.
He couldn't tell me which one would do it. And so, I never pursued it. I refused to put myself out there and risk the rejection all writers must face before they finally see their work in print. Instead, I went for the sure thing, ultimately falling into a career that deals with absolutes. Facts that are so concrete they cannot be disputed. In short, no risk of rejection.
I hadn't realized how alike Ian and I are until he handed me his first paragraph. Instead of taking the guidelines I had given him and shaping them into his own original creative work, he had answered the questions asked in the outline, indented the first line, and called it a paragraph. I pointed out all the good things about his work and then told him we would work on it some more. The tears started flowing, and he said, "I don't understand. I followed your guidelines exactly!"
On some level, I'm sure I knew I was limiting myself with my short-sighted and even arrogant attitude toward rejection, but I thought the only person I was limiting was myself. Though this is my first year as an active teacher in our homeschool, it seems as though my son has already learned something from me: the risk of rejection is too great to justify putting yourself out there. I have, in effect, taught Ian to not be creative, to focus on getting the right answer and pleasing everyone except himself.
It's time for a new lesson, and I have my work cut out for me.
This blog serves multiple purposes. First and most importantly, this is my exercise in putting myself out there. I don't know who will end up reading this and what their judgments might be, and that's scary. Secondly, I've been promising someone that I would start sending her some samples of my writing. I started writing a short story a few days ago, but it's slow going. I hope this blog entry will pacify you until I get the story finished, Annie! Third, I need to get back into the practice of writing; this entry has taken forever to write. No wonder my short story isn't finished yet. Finally, my dear husband recently told me it's time to either write or get off the pot. He's been hearing me talk about "someday" for almost 13 years now.
I had a thought this morning that I think summarizes this entry quite well. If you always go after the sure thing, the only thing you can be sure of is an unexceptional result.
Here's hoping for some exceptional results.
4 months ago