I have been watching my eldest son’s development as a writer closely. He has a natural gift for story-telling and I want to support him without pushing him too hard.
As a young child, he acted out television shows and video-games, but not as rote repetition of what he had seen. No. He was taking the characters and the patterns of narrative structure and writing new stories within the given world – fan fiction.
Once he learned to read and write, he started writing and drawing comic books, with Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants books as his primary inspiration. If George and Harold could make their own comic books, then so could he.
As he has grown older, his willingness to write longer pieces of prose has grown, as has his frustration with the quality of his art work. He has started thinking about how a comic book is often written by one person and drawn and inked by another. He isn’t ready to collaborate on his creations, but he has started thinking about the possibilities.
Like many smart kids, he is used to getting things right the first time, and the idea of revision hurts him deeply.
Over the past year, I have started sharing some of my writing with him in unpolished form. I make sure that my marked-up manuscripts are lying around to be observed and I talk about how I need to fix my novel. My goal is to show him a process of improvement. He sees me as beyond him in the way I see my favourite authors as beyond my skills. Modeling the process by which I improve my writing – taking classes, asking friends for advice, rewriting and more rewriting – I am sharing tools I hope will help him stick with his own work through the times where he looks at what he produces and thinks it sucks.
Recently, he has started writing a prose story during his free time at school. Today, I learned from his teacher that he is being given extra time on the computer in order to work on the story after he finishes his class work. The teacher is impressed by his focus and persistence when he is working on this project.
When I asked my son about this new development, he said, “What I write on the computer is different than what I start writing on paper. I make changes as I type it in, to make it better and longer.” When I heard that, I wanted to jump up and down and shout, “He’s editing. He’s revising.” I held myself in and simply said, “Makes sense.”
This is a sensitive kid I am dealing with: a kid with a love of story I recognize and want to support, but also a kid with a profound need to do things his way. The chances are he will have a teacher along the way who says the wrong thing. Both my husband and I gave up creative writing in response to teachers who bruised us emotionally. I came back to it; my husband never did. I am hoping I can give my son a strong enough foundation to get him through whatever he encounters.
And after struggling to teach him explicitly during the year he was home-schooling, it appears my strongest teaching tool is simply to let him see me working.
I have a new post, Never Throw Away a Cardboard Box, up at An Intense Life. Please stop by and take a look.