Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Guest Blogger: E.M. Stover

Since I don't want anyone to accuse me of being all hoggish with Coaster Punchman's World, I'm welcoming the occasional guest blogger to offer his or her finest anecdotes and noteworthy tales for weblification here. I feel it's very important that Coaster Punchman's World be seen as a warm, friendly and welcoming webspace.

With that, I would like to introduce to my loyal readers my good high school friend, Beth Stover, associate professor of English at the State University of New York, Buffalo, as she blogs about her young daughter's first bout with writer's block.

Take it away, Beth!


There is nothing sadder than an eight year old child with writer's block, and I think it is especially ironic when it is my own. I am, after all, a writing teacher with a whole artillery of strategies meant to head it off before it begins. But there was Rebecca this morning, 15 minutes of tears and at least 15 wadded balls of wet tissue, because she didn't have a dream, or no dream she cared to write six to eight sentences about.

At first she dreamt for no more writing-- a very meta-whatever approach, but this yielded but two sentences, and five minutes of staring at a blank page before total despair set in. "Well," I say, "why don't you write about why you don't like writing?" Tears and tears, and she doesn't know why. More suggestions on my part: "Is it because it's hard to write the letters?"

The other day she asked how I could write so fast, meaning the physical act of forming letters and words. "Maybe it's spelling." She refuses to mis-spell, which can really slow down the process.

So now we have major tears. "I don't know why." I handle this by hugging her, and I wonder if this would be a good approach with my students. "You're having a hard time with this paper? Here, let me give you a hug."

Let's brainstorm!!! So I suggest ending war, feeding hungry children ("Why don't they plant food?"), keeping the world clean. But nothing's happening, just more tears, and we have to leave for school in 15 minutes. "Okay, just write something, write whatever you think."

Now I'm writing a note to her teacher--about 45 minutes have passed since she sat down to write, after she went through the rituals of procrastination which all good writers are familiar with. I'm having visions of a permanently writing-disabled person; I'm thinking of my students who can barely manage a three-sentence paragraph, not because they're not smart, but because they can't develop; I'm imagining Rebecca in college staring at a blank screen; I'm imagining all the psycho-somatic reasons why she can't just spit out 8 sentences and be done with it: Does she not want to commit to a dream and be held accountable for it? Is she worried it won't be good enough? Is she worried her dream won't be original enough? Is she worried that if she starts with two or three sentences and can't come up with anything else, the whole endeavor will be for naught?

I turn and tell her we have five minutes, and if she doesn't get it done, she doesn't get it done. I begin looking for my sunglasses.

When I come back to the kitchen, she's writing and asking me how to spell "chocolate" and "patients." She dreams that it would rain chocolate and candy so children could eat them all the time even though their dentists and parents might not like it. She spits it all out in under 10 minutes, she's happy because it's not serious(?). It's witty and not your standard Miss-America-I-Have-A-Dream fare; suffers a little in execution, but who cares, it's done, the crisis has passed--for now. But I think to myself, is this what kind of writer she's going to be? How awful for her, a prisoner to writer's block until the last possible moment? And if it's bad now, what will it be like in the future? If she can't spit out a paragraph, how will she write a paper?

I can't help it, but I do want my daughter to be a good writer, or at least take some pleasure in the process. At some point during my pregnancy I was worried about having a girl who wanted to be a cheerleader; I can't help but think this is 100 times worse.


No Beth, it would definitely be worse to have a cheerleader. And your story reminds me vaguely of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane. It turns out Rose was the editor responsible for crafting the "Little House" series into the enjoyable reads that they are. She took Laura's rough-and-tumble, stilted sketches of pioneer life and breathed life and language into them. And (unlike you of course) apparently Laura was a real bitch to her the whole time Rose was making her mother famous.

Maybe you and Rebecca will have a similarly meaningful relationship, but in a much more positive way.


lulu said...

Doest't everyone freakout and wait until the last minute to write? When I was a student I regularly waited until the night before or morning of to start writing. If I started the work earlier, I would invariably rip it up and start over.

My students are the same way. They stare at blank pages for days and days, and suddenly, usually the day before the assignment is due, start writing feverishly.

Coaster Punchman said...

I love the "100 Things" lists. I think everyone should do one, like me.