Saturday, March 21, 2009

Chloroform + Arsenic + Hydroxide = Love

My daughter, Ms. Fourteen Going On Forty, is turning out to be the other writer in the family. Lord knows I've tried everything to put a stop to it -- hiding pens and paper, snatching books out of her hands, forcing her to watch television -- but she won't quit, not even when I tell her the really scary publishing stories. Damn my DNA.

Unless she's trying to persuade me to let her have something, Kat keeps her writing private most of the time. Which I understand and respect; I had no privacy when I was her age, and had to keep my writing pads at school or write things in Spanish to keep my sisters and mother from snooping around in them (last year Kat started writing her journals in her own code -- rune symbols -- to keep her brother from reading them, which frankly made me a little teary-eyed.)

When my daughter does decide to share something with me, it's usually one of her humor pieces, like this poem she wrote while waiting for me to pick her up from school:

Phish Fly Backwardsee
by Kat

Oh, the stars on the earth,
The grass in the sky.
The wishing hole dies,
When the painting flies.

Trees with no branches,
Fish with no scales,
Nickel made of copper,
To the hobo the king hails.

Clockwork it is,
When water flows uphill,
When it rains lava droplets,
When the pickles aren't dill. (Oh no!)

The paper is made of bricks,
The clothes are made of wood,
Pulpy orange juice.
Ohmigawsh the giraffe is nude!

Birds swim in volcanoes,
Trees grow out of clouds.
Buildings built on the sun,
Mice are very loud(s)!!

All the world is nwodedispu
Even you and me
Chloroform + Arsenic + Hydroxide = Love
All I have left to say is...Phish fly backwards... ee!

She read this to me on the way home, and that second to last line made me laugh so hard I almost crashed the car. Anesthetic plus poison plus water equals love? I think the kid just figured out the chemical formula for all the mysteries of the heart.

If your child or a young family member does show interest in writing, it can be tempting to jump right on that and offer advice, critique their work and otherwise try to get involved. It can be helpful if your young one asks for it; my older brother gave me some writing advice when I was Kat's age (he had written a novel satire on Dante's Inferno.) But: I asked for the advice and voluntarily showed him my work. In return he was gentle with me and didn't pick it apart or rip it to pieces but offered constructive advice that didn't feed my doubts but built on what I was doing and was capable of doing.

Providing children with the means to write, such as giving them blank books, plenty of supplies, or access to a computer with a decent word processing program and printer is probably the most helpful thing you can do. The second is giving them the time and space they need for their writing. Letting them know you're there if they need some advice is great, shoving unsolicited advice at them is not.

It's also important to respect young writers as much as you'd respect a writer your age. Before I post anything Kat has written on the blog, I ask her permission. When she says no, I don't post it. It's also not a good idea to pass your child's writing around the family as an object of admiration without first getting their permission. If you can't understand why, imagine your spouse or partner doing that to you without asking, and you'll instantly understand how young writers feel.

You can invite your young writer into your writing space to show them how you do things, and if age-appropriate, you can also give your work to your young writer and ask them to critique it. Teaching them by example and by offering involvement in your process can give them new ideas on what to do with their own work.

Finally, if you don't have a young writer in the family, consider giving talks about creative writing at local public schools. Most children never have the opportunity to meet a real working writer in a classroom setting, and most schools have little to no curriculum that serves the needs of young writer. Any encouragement and insight you can offer may help some of those kids along the writing path, and that's the sort of investment in the future of Publishing that we all need to make on a regular basis.


  1. Anonymous1:03 AM


    My younger daughter (16)is an avid writer. She has a closet full of journals and a novel that must be about 300,000 words. She's had her fair share of success and she has earned the right to my collection of resource materials. My other daughter(19)writes science. Pure science. She has a novel in progress and works on it at college. We all share the library I've created. We all read the writing books and will often write at our computers at the same time for hours and we'll yell questions back and forth or read a line and listen to what the others have to say. I absolutely love it. I support them 100%. They are my biggest fans.And I am theirs.


  2. Anonymous1:33 AM

    Ah, 75 year old mother lives with my 41 year old sister and her family. Mother is peeved that I've said she doesn't need to (read: I don't want her to) read my novella when it comes out. No need to go there. Even among women her age, Mom is considered prude - that's not a judgment, just a statement of fact. Sis keeps telling Mom - you don't need to read it, it's got explicit sex. Mom says "I do know what sex is, you know." Sis finally says - look, Mom, it's got ORAL SEX. Mom flips out ("WHY did she have to do that? WHY did she have to write porn??" "It's not porn." "Yes it is. "No it's not" etc).

    Mom waits until her boyfriend (my mom's boyfriend) is at the house to start ragging on Sis for reading "bodice rippers" - Sis is currently reading Gaelen Foley - "I can't believe you read that smut, it's just disgusting, aren't you embarrassed" and Sis says "Look. I'm 41 and will read what I damn well want. I don't really care that you snoop into my reading matter - I purposely turn the covers of my books down when I leave them on the bedside table IN MY FREAKING BEDROOM. You want to peek at what I'm reading, that's one thing. But to snoop and then COMPLAIN about what I'm reading - that's some damn gall right there, lady."

    Love my mommy. I would've died in childbirth if not for her. But she's got some serious boundary issues.

    Ok, so I'm 45 and no one peeks at what I'm writing and this isn't really on topic. But my sister told me about it today and it bugged me.

  3. That poem was definitely humorous! :D

    I think your words of advice are great. There are fine lines between being supportive and then being overbearing (or embarrassing), and being supportive to young writers is essential. I frequently wished I had more support from my family when I was younger. As creative as they were, they took no firm stance with anything, and the approach of "that's nice, dear" ended up being their gold standard of support. I understand now that they just didn't know much about writing at the time, but kids are so impressionable one way or another.

    =) My younger brother isn't a writer, but I definitely take the same approach with artwork and photography with him. It's proud watching him grow. And watching him be proud of his accomplishments.

    Kids are great.

  4. Anonymous5:46 AM

    Wy first published collection of short stories is dedicated to "Hanna - Niece, Writer, Heroine" with the salute "Don't stop writing".

    She has always been writing. Short stories. Poems. One or two fantasy stories that made it to 50+ pages.

    I was there to read to her when she was little (they lived really nearby and my sister studied and worked full time, so me and my wife babysat a lot). We shared the magic of "Harry Potter" together.

    I was there when she tried to learn how to read herself and saw her struggle with the words. She learnt a little slower than the rest of the family, but she has the memory of an elephant, so once she read something, she remembered it for... life, I guess.

    And, age 15, she was finally "diagnosed" with Dyslexia.

    She was devastated and gave up on writing and storytelling altogether. The fun of it all was destroyed.

    That's when my book was published and she read the dedication.

    Today, aged 18, she is writing her heart out and it makes me soooo proud. I know how she struggles with spelling, even though she has really good tools now. The fun in writing is back, when the technology gives her the confidence that she, actually, can write.

    The stories are amazing!

    I don't take the credit for it. She got the help she needed. But my heart just melts whenever she shows me something she is "working on" and I totally see a writing future for her.

    But I do stand by my words - she is my Niece, Writer and Heroine.

  5. both my younger daughters love writing but are very private about what they write. i remember when my youngest was little... the others used to ask for books as a treat (they knew i'd say no to a toy, but a request for a book was usually met with a yes.) when they were her age... she used to ask for notebook and pens. great advice!

  6. Thank you for such a powerful blog entry. I am a member of Coalfield Writers as a Teacher Consultant with the National Writing Project and one of our main goals is to help our children discover, harness and strengthen her writer's voice. It is refreshing to see a published author use her voice to encourage and nourish a young generation of writers...BTW: Your amazing Kat has written one fabulous piece of poetry.

    Andréa Santos

  7. I have two little budding writers. I let them run wild with it. I only correct spelling, etc., when required to for school projects. I don't know if they'll continue the interest as they get older, but whatever they're interested in, I think they should be allowed to play with it. Your daughter's poem is wonderful, please thank her for sharing it!

  8. My daughter, Ana, is a "special needs" adopted child. (We adopted twins. Both have learning issues.) There were doubts she would ever read. But we are a house of readers and aspiring writers. And she has been surrounded by both.

    About a year ago, the reading bug bit her. She was way behind, but now reads on grade level or above. She spent the summer devouring the "Little House" books and anything else she could grab. She spent the school year on all the Harry Potter's and Cat Warriors, and a number of other things. She is never without a book.

    Six months ago, she decided she wanted to write. For Christmas, she asked for a writing journal, which she has since filled. And it's remarkably good writing, especially for someone with her issues. But we don't push her. She brings it to us when she chooses. And we are thrilled.

    I am a seventh grade language arts teacher. I teach about writing, the process, and the industry. My students have been following me on my road to (hopefully) eventual publication of my own novel. I post rejections and contests I've won on my classroom wall. In April, I have three published authors (one also a literary agent) coming to visit my students and answer their questions. The kids are very excited about this opportunity to meet and talk to published authors.

    I'm hoping to do this every year. You strike me as a very private person, but, do you ever do school talks? I would love to have you visit mine for our next "author day."

  9. As a homeschooling mom, there's a lot of my daughter's writing I have to read and critique, but I stay away from any writing she doesn't do for school. She's started writing several books now, and I encourage her to finish, but she also gets to see what the journey to published is like through me. I don't know if she'll ever write a book, but she enjoys what she does and for now, that's the most important thing.

    Kat sounds like an awesome kid. Congratulations. =o)

  10. My son writes. I think he's an awesome writer. But, he's had a hard time with his dyslexia (in past years) and developed an 'if I don't try I won't fail' attitude to life (which thank goodness he's gotten over) so he's only finished one screen-play and several short stories--in the line of a Tarrantino or Guy Ritchie black humor crime thriller.

    In idle moments I imagine a family literary dynasty. lol. But, seriously, I hope he does pursue his writing on some level. I'm his mom, but imo, he's that good.

    btw, I never snoop in his work, he'll read parts out to me, or tell me a story idea he has, etc. At the most, I always urge him to write down his ideas for later development.

  11. Kat is definitely a talented young lady. I wish I had been at that level at 14. :)

    For writers who may be looking to nurture and encourage some young local writers, check to see if there is an 826 Valencia ( chapter in your neighborhood. They are a great organization that teaches writing skills to kids through workshops, field trips, a tutoring center, etc. I volunteer several hours a week at the 826 Chicago writing center and it is truly the highlight of my week. If you don't have an 826 in your area, look to see what other organizations exist to help kids hone their writing skills. Or even look into starting your own. As a former English teacher to an group of underserved high school graduates, believe me when I say that basic writing skills aren't stressed enough in school. Your community can probably use you!


  12. You all make me proud, especially you parents who are encouraging your kids, providing them with the tools they need and helping them overcome obstacles. Our industry will always need writers, but it's also an investment in the kids themselves.

    Andréa, thanks for the kind words and the link to your site -- I do quite a bit of work with school children so I know I'll be spending some time there.

    Lisa, I wish I had you as my teacher when I was in the seventh grade -- mine threw away the only copy of one of my first attempts at a novel. I appreciate the invitation to visit your school, but I don't do group author events because of some privacy issues, and as a solo speaker I'm booked up through Christmas.

    DiDi, I really love the link you posted -- I will pass this along to some teachers I know who are looking for a program like this, thank you.

  13. Lol, that post is coincidence. I visited my brother and family today and discovered my 8 year old niece is writing fairy tales of her own and keeping a journal. She's got some talent for drawing, too. So that's where the creative genes in my family went to in the next generation. :)

    My brother and SiL don't read them, or correct her spelling and grammar in those stories except if she asks.

    Though I hope she will show me more about that dolphin who can do magic some day. It's such a cute tale.


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