Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Write Stuff

There are at least two kinds of writer's block that I know of.

One is that kind where you stare and stare at a blank screen (no, I haven't written on paper for years!) waiting for lightening to strike. Hopefully it won't kill any of your characters.

Yes, that's a confession. I write fiction. So far, I have two completed but still unedited manuscripts of young adult science fiction, which is what I like to write when I'm not writing blog posts and comments.

And in my writing of fiction, I've come to be very familiar with that kind of writer's block. I'll have a basic plot outline, I'll know what needs to happen in the chapter, I'll even get started and be writing away at an alarming pace, but then all of a sudden everything grinds to a halt. So I stare, and stare, and wonder if I shouldn't be cleaning something, which is a sure sign that I'm having a serious episode of writer's block, not just a momentary lapse.

But the second kind of writer's block is the kind my children have been experiencing a lot lately. Given an assignment to write about something, given a topic, given clear parameters regarding the accepted length of the piece, they still look blankly at the assignment, at me, and back at the assignment, finally admitting, "I don't know what you want me to write."

I don't think this is a problem which only affects homeschooled children, but I hear a lot of homeschooling parents talking about it. It seems to come and go in waves; a child who never has difficulty expressing herself will suddenly balk at the instruction to write a paragraph about Columbus, or the difference between seed plants and spores, or what it means to receive Holy Communion.

The nicer the weather gets, the more this type of writer's block seems to affect my children. It seems as though writing assignments become second only to math homework in their rankings of things they'd rather not be doing.

Yet, ironically enough, none of my children so far struggles in general with the act of writing, or finds it difficult to commit thoughts to paper. They each have a diary, and two of them have attempted to write fiction before, writing pages and pages before losing interest. My oldest even asked me the other day how old she'd have to be before she could blog. So it's extremely frustrating to have them come up to me, one at a time, during the school day, and ask, "What exactly did you want me to write, here?"

I've talked to them, gently for the most part, about the difference between 'wanting help' and 'wanting Mom to repeat, slowly, model sentences that they can jot down quickly and hand back to me.' I've tried to stimulate their imaginations by giving them lots of creative freedom in these assignments. I've encouraged them to think of these types of lessons as places where they can express their opinions about the subject at hand, where the goal is not just the dull repetition of facts but the vibrant ownership of the information. They listen attentively, nod, and then ask, "Do I have to make it five sentences, or will you accept three good ones?"

I wonder. Is there such a thing as Teacher's Block?

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