As I mentioned in this guest post at Lisa Romeo Writes, I’m teaching a NaNoWriMo workshop at my older son’s elementary school this year. After a month or more of preparations, the students are finally in the process of writing their novels (3,000 – 6,000 words, depending on grade level). They are over-the-top excited.
And, I’m over-the-top worried. What if the kids get discouraged? What if they don’t write? What if they can’t meet their word-count goals? What if, what if, what if.
While I’m worried about the class as a whole, I’m especially worried about my own son. Since First Grade, I’ve watched him struggle with reading, writing and spelling. In Second Grade, with a doctor’s help, we identified that while he has 20/20 vision, he has other vision issues that were making it really difficult for him to see letters on the page, track lines of text and identify differences in letter formation.
Thanks to vision therapy and occupational therapy for his handwriting, he’s making huge progress. Huge, huge progress. With these barriers closer to being resolved, he is working so hard to bring what he writes and reads up to his academic level. In fact last month he beamed when the eye doctor told him he had a Fourth Grade brain. (He’s in Third Grade.) She explained that no wonder it’s been tough for him — it’s a lot of work trying to express everything he knows in his Fourth Grade Brain when he’s only working with a First Grader’s vision.
So last week he sat down to start his novel. He put 45 words on the page. A Second Grade girl in the workshop had 700 words. Another boy had 450 words. My son looked at me, concerned.
“What if I can’t do this, Mom?”
“You can do it,” I told him. “Put that inner editor back in the box! We all write at our own pace. It’s the story you put on the page that matters. Not the number of words. Not the speed with which you write. We all have our own process.” (Reminder to self: listen to your own advice.)
Yesterday while he was home sick, he decided to spend some time writing.
“Will you sit with me while I write?” he asked.
We were both nervous. Where would this project go? We sat side-by-side at our oak dining table. He opened his notebook with the NaNoWriMo sticker on the front and picked up his pencil. One sentence, several “how-do-you-spell” questions and seven words later, he stopped writing.
With only 52 words on the page, I was also starting to wonder how he would get to 3,000 by November 30.
“What else should I say?” he asked.
I looked at his tiny (but growing!) hand gripping the yellow #2 pencil, his bottom lip tucked under his top row of teeth. He waited for my response. Motivation and ability to write aren’t the issue here. He wants to write. He’s got a great story in his head. He’s shared parts of it with me. But how does he get that story out onto the page?
“Let’s make this like your handwriting exercises,” I said. “You write a sentence, then you dictate the next sentence to me. Then you write, then you dictate to me. We’ll continue back and forth, back and forth, sentence by sentence.”
“Okay,” he said, his teeth losing the grip on his bottom lip.
He began his next sentence and handed me the pencil when he reached the end of it. The pencil stopped but the ideas kept coming. I wrote what he said and handed him the pencil when the sentence came to an end. When his storyline stumped him, either on the page or while dictating to me, I probed with questions. How did the taxi driver kidnap the boy? Where did he take him? What did it look like?
Twenty minutes later his word count was at 245 words. And he was done for the day. He raced to update his word count in the virtual classroom for our Young Writers Program at NaNoWriMo.
“You’ve completed 6% of your goal,” I looked over his shoulder at the screen.
“Actually, 6.8 %,” he corrected me, beaming.
I’m not so worried anymore.