Let Them Be Children Now, So They Can Be Adults Later

 

Kids racing

I was saddened to learn of a recent teenage suicide, in which the boy who took his life apparently felt that he had screwed up so badly that the only recourse was to take his life. Why in the world would a seventeen-year-old from a good family and with a bright future think that ending his life was the only option he had left?

I believe that there are too many pressures on today’s kids, and you can see it in the way we structure their days. Think about the schools in which the arts and recess have been cut. What message are we sending? That sitting at a desk and making the right test score is the most important thing.

I jokingly lectured a dad of one of my preschoolers at the beginning of this school year that there’s nothing more developmentally appropriate for her to do than play. “Her Harvard application isn’t due for a few years,” I said, and I thought he would laugh, but the look he gave me said, I couldn’t disagree with you more. My question is, if she’s already being discouraged from letting her imagination run wild at the age of four, when exactly does she get to be a kid?

One of the tasks of a preschool teacher is, indeed, to evaluate the readiness of students to move on to the next level—but we’re talking kindergarten, folks, not the Ivy League. In considering one child in particular—a child who has all kinds of processing and attention and core strength issues—a comment was made that 10 years ago, he would have happily played through his preschool days and moved on to kindergarten with no one ever considering holding him back. But instead, he’s having all kinds of interventions to make sure that he can make it through preschool. And it’s not like he’s the only one.

As I already mentioned, children are losing many opportunities to express themselves creatively and physically with the loss of arts programs and recess, but the problem is that it’s not just at school where this is happening. Within the past 10 years, we’ve had the advent of the touch screen. We have a number of iPads designated for our classroom, and although our four- and five-year-olds love them, there is a marked difference in the way they behave when we bring them out. It places them in self-absorbed bubbles, and if that reminds you of anyone (ahem, teenagers and Millennials), then I hope you’re disturbed enough to want to reverse this trend. When you’re four and five years old, this kind of technology should be used sparingly, if at all, and LEGOs, building blocks, puzzles, and play kitchens should be the norm. (Here’s a great article about the dangers of turning over smartphone technology to our kids.)

At the end of 2016, I wrote about spending less time with my own technology (social media, in particular), and although I’ve really enjoyed putting my phone and down and breaking that addiction, I’m just one person. In this digital age, it’s more and more common to see families sitting around the dinner table, parents and older kids on their devices, ignoring the smallest members, who are literally screaming for attention. When asked recently by a workshop facilitator why we have K through 12 education (and in my case, PreK), it occurred to me that teachers have to provide more than the three R’s anymore; present day teachers are also teaching the things that children should be learning at home. Take manners and respect. It’s difficult expect a child to behave appropriately when he engages in disrespectful behavior right in front of his parents with no correction. These basics aren’t being taught at home because parents are mentally elsewhere, which gives people in my position an extra responsibility in addition to teaching letter and number recognition.

As infants, children are learning to swipe on a touch screen. Then when they start school, we teachers have to introduce their parents to such novel ideas as coloring with crayons, playing with Play-Doh, and painting at an easel—and paying for occupational therapy. For most children, if they’d just engaged in developmentally appropriate play to begin with, their parents wouldn’t have to incur this added expense just to teach them how to hold a pencil or use a pair of scissors.

I understand why technology is so attractive—it’s a great babysitter—but we have to understand that it can easily turn to junk food for the brain. There’s no substitute, in my book, for a box of LEGOs in the middle of the living room floor, a coloring book and crayons at the kitchen table, or a few minutes of introducing children to a beloved book. (Here’s an article about what parents of “good” kids do.)

More and more, we’ve come to expect that kids are just going to be tortured and inattentive while they sit at desks for extended periods, and that just shouldn’t be the case. A well-rounded childhood should include playing outside unstructured, which means that we shouldn’t micromanage every minute. One of the methods we use in our preschool to help children get ready for our “work” time is to let them run outside and play. In fact, I have one student who will hit the wall, and I’ve learned to just let him go and play with blocks for a few minutes, and he’ll be better able to finish a project after getting this little break. Here is one article, and here’s another, that both explain why the absence of play is leading to attention and sensory issues in this upcoming generation.

Kids can be kids when we sing silly songs in the car and at bath time, when we read books together, and, most of all, when we take the time to express why we do things the way we do. It doesn’t take any extra money, but it does take time and the willingness to put our children first. By connecting with them in these simple ways, we’re showing that we care, and if you don’t think that matters, then why did you have children to begin with?

Instead of raising techno-zombies and expecting them to succeed from the moment they show an interest in learning, we need to spend the effort to let them know that whatever they do, their lives are worthwhile. They need to learn how to fail, so they won’t expect everything to be handed to them without ever lifting a finger. They won’t be crushed when life, inevitably, is unfair. Instead, they’ll tackle challenges with creativity and resiliency. They’ll take responsibility for their actions and understand that other lives are being impacted as well, and they’ll have respect for those other lives.

In short, as long as we understand that throwing our hands in the air and doing the easy thing is not the best thing, then there’s the chance that this next generation will give aging Millennials the opportunity to say, “What’s with this generation? How’d they end up so well-adjusted? Oh, that’s right. We raised them that way.”

Books, Books, and More Books!

2017-books-gifts

Christmas Books!

It’s that time of year again—Christmas has come and gone, and I’ve either received or purchased the books that I wanted to add to my library. Now I need to create a book list for 2017.

In 2016, I surpassed all of my expectations and read all 27 books that were on my list—and by September, no less—and even added 16 more. Here follows the complete list (in the order in which I read them):

  1. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
  2. The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
  3. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
  4. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
  5. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
  6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
  7. The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey
  8. Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods by Rick Riordan
  9. The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book I) by Rick Riordan
  10. The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book II) by Rick Riordan
  11. And Another Thing… Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Part Six of Three by Eoin Colfer
  12. The Martian by Andy Weir
  13. Red Rising by Pierce Brown
  14. The Titan’s Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book III) by Rick Riordan
  15. Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
  16. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
  17. Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
  18. Girls Like Us by Gail Giles
  19. The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book IV) by Rick Riordan
  20. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
  21. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
  22. Golden Son (Red Rising #2) by Pierce Brown
  23. The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians V) by Rick Riordan
  24. Morning Star (Red Rising #3) by Pierce Brown
  25. Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow
  26. Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
  27. The Revenant by Michael Punke
  28. Raven Queen by Pauline Francis
  29. Feed by M.T. Anderson
  30. NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
  31. Gooseberry Park by Cynthia Rylant
  32. The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #1)
  33. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
  34. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  35. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  36. Rodrick Rules (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #2) by Jeff Kinney
  37. Josefina Learns a Lesson: A School Story by Valerie Tripp
  38. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  39. How Tia Lola Came to (Visit) Stay by Julia Alvarez
  40. Speaker for the Dead (Ender’s Saga #2) by Orson Scott Card
  41. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
  42. Xenocide (Ender’s Saga #3) by Orson Scott Card
  43. The Last Straw (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #3) by Jeff Kinney

This doesn’t include any of the non-fiction titles I read this year or any shorter-than-novel-length books I read with my own children or at school. What it does include are quite a few titles that I read with my elder son (those would be the Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, plus Gooseberry Park). Since I love sharing novels with my kids, you can expect more of the same on this year’s list.

If you read my post “A Bookworm Without Any Books?” in September, you know that I was worried about what I would come up with to read in 2017 (not to mention the rest of 2016). I am glad to say that that is no longer a problem.

2017-books-ender

The Ender’s Game universe (what I have yet to read)

With no new books in my personal library, I went into a little-used cabinet where I store books that have been lent to me. Both my dad and my husband have read every book in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game universe, and they’ve been bugging me to read them for a couple years. I tried to explain about the whole book list thing and how it’s hard to interrupt my already-planned reading for an entire series, so poor Ender’s Game collected dust. I finally had the chance to brush it off and read it, and it was a nice surprise to find that I liked the sequel even more. I am currently on the fourth book, Children of the Mind. When I finish the original series, I’ll set Ender aside for a while. As you can see from the picture, I could spend most of my year reading the Ender books alone, but if I finish all the books on my list early again, I can start tackling more of these titles.

2017-books-teen

Borrowed Teen Fiction

Aside from Ender, I borrowed another pile of teen fiction from my cousin-in-law, who is on the Florida Teens Read committee. The books she lent me last year were such a success that I can’t wait to sink my teeth into these. You may notice that two books on this year’s list, Holding Up the Universe and The Sun Is Also A Star, are written by authors from last year’s list. I love discovering new authors by accident or from friends’ recommendations. Many of the new additions to this year’s list fall in this category.

Some of the following books are ones I’m eager to re-read, plus many much-anticipated new titles (alphabetical by author):

  1. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
  2. Red Rising by Pierce Brown
  3. Golden Son (Red Rising #2) by Pierce Brown
  4. Morning Star (Red Rising #3) by Pierce Brown
  5. First Meetings in Ender’s Universe (Ender’s Saga #0.5) by Orson Scott Card
  6. A War of Gifts: An Ender Story (Ender’s Saga #1.1) by Orson Scott Card
  7. Ender in Exile (Ender’s Saga #1.2) by Orson Scott Card
  8. Children of the Mind (Ender’s Saga #4) by Orson Scott Card
  9. Don’t Get Caught by Kurt Dinan
  10. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  11. My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
  12. The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
  13. Let It Snow by Maureen Johnson, John Green, and Lauren Myracle
  14. Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
  15. The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time #1) by Robert Jordan
  16. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  17. Dog Days (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #4) by Jeff Kinney
  18. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
  19. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
  20. You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan
  21. Starflight by Melissa Landers
  22. Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven
  23. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (Rats of NIMH #1) by Robert C. O’Brien
  24. The Hammer of Thor (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard Book II) by Rick Riordan
  25. The Hidden Oracle (The Trials of Apollo #1) by Rick Riordan
  26. Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan
  27. This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity #1) by Victoria Schwab
  28. The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye
  29. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
  30. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
  31. The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy Book I) by Jonathan Stroud
  32. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
  33. The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas
  34. The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The toughest thing about this list is choosing what to read next—my favorite kind of problem to solve.

A Resolution I’m Eager to Make

alarm-clock

Four years ago, I wrote a post entitled “I Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions”—and I don’t. Or didn’t. Anyhow, the point is that I’m not one of these people who is eager to start the new year on a new foot or new shoe or new path or whatever. (Actually, the post was about books—and you’ll see my 2017 update in a couple days.)

In general, I’m very happy with my life, and when I want to make a change, I go ahead and do it, no matter the date. So maybe that’s why I’m making my change today—two days before the new year. How very gauche of me.

It started with a video I saw on Facebook. In fact, I get a lot of my blog fodder from Facebook, so before I trash social media, I owe it a big thank you. Before you read on, please watch the video below. It’s well worth the 15 minutes.

There is so much here that applies to my life and the lives of people around me. I find it interesting that the guy (sorry, don’t know his name) brings responsibility back to corporations. I hope that I do the job I’m supposed to do as a parent, and my children won’t have a lot of these issues. One friend remarked that it’s not just Millennials who are the problem, and I would have to agree, although when I was growing up, I never received a participation award. (Or if I did, it ended up in the trash because it wasn’t worth squat.) I can’t help it that my son’s baseball team gives him a trophy every season for just showing up, but here’s what I can do something about: my own participation on social media.

One of my former clients wrote for people who were self-employed, and many of his articles centered around time management. There are apps that can help people limit the time they spend on social media or that will post for them on a predetermined schedule. Basically, it’s all about us managing rather than being managed by the social media that we use. He also wrote about only checking email at prescribed times because as soon as someone sees that you’ve answered an email at 11:00 P.M., they’ll start expecting you to be available then.

I fought getting a smart phone for a long time; I was a latecomer when I purchased my first iPhone in mid-2012. That was also when I was new at being a mom of two and deeply post-partum depressed. Overall, it was kind of a perfect storm. I got sucked into all sorts of games (that I have since deleted) and stopped doing a lot of things that I love. Did I become addicted, as the guy in the video says? It certainly is easy to just sit and scroll through posts on a phone when you’re exhausted, but I’m not exhausted anymore. I have the energy and motivation to do other things now, but the simple act of opening my Facebook app (itself an amoral action) can suck valuable minutes and hours from my life and the lives of my loved ones. That’s not to say that there aren’t great things on Facebook (after all, you might remember that that’s where I found the above video). The problem is that logging on to wish a quick happy birthday to a friend or to check my notifications can lead down a rabbit hole that costs me an entire afternoon—and costs my children my attention.

So here are some things I’ve decided to do:

  • Use an alarm clock

Yep. I can’t remember how long it’s been since I threw my old one away after being swatted to the floor one too many times. Fortunately, as the guy in the video says, they’re cheap. I’m going to start leaving my phone charging in the kitchen at night. That means that if you want me, you’d better call or text before 9:00 because I go to bed early during the school week. It also means that I should get better sleep, which will lead to better energy when I wake up, a rested brain, a nicer Sarah, etc.

  • Leave my phone in my purse

Yes, I do carry it with me everywhere. I like to take quick snapshots of my kids, and I use my calculator and dictionary apps almost as often as anything else—so it does have its uses. But there is absolutely no reason to check emails or IMDb or Facebook when I’m out to eat with my family. If I show my boys the attention that they deserve now, I hope they will learn that habit and carry it forward in the (far distant) future when they have their own phones.

  • Not post to social media the minute something happens

I was going through photos recently, and I found one from my younger son’s first trip to Disney World. There we were, all in a row: Thomas holding the baby and our older son sitting in between us—and me on my phone. I can tell you exactly what I was doing, which was posting photos from the trip we were on to Facebook. Instead of just enjoying the trip. What difference would it have made if I’d waited a few hours? I’ll tell you: I would have been looking at my children instead of my phone. No more! Take pictures, yes. Post to social media? It can wait until later.

I don’t want to be one of those people who is oblivious to what’s going on around her, sporting a premature dowager’s hump because I’m stooped over my screen. I want to enjoy people watching (it’s funny—admit it) instead of my husband telling me I just missed something hilarious. (Or if I do miss it, I want it to be because I was in my book, not in my phone.)

I hope that by implementing these small changes, I will help address some of the other issues mentioned in the video. Being a good example is key. Not to mention that I think I will be a happier person. I’m a bookworm who loves scrapbooking and adult coloring books, but while I still do read a lot, my other hobbies have suffered in recent years. That photo I found from Disney World? That was from New Year’s 2013—and I rediscovered it because I’m almost ready to start on my 2013 scrapbook. Part of the reason I’m nearly four years behind is because I’m a busy mom of two, but I can’t use that excuse for everything. I can reduce a lot of my busyness by limiting my time on my phone. And after all, the recipes that I love and the videos that are so funny will still be there later. And if you think that it’s something I absolutely must see, tag me. I will look at it after getting my kids to bed and before plugging my phone in—across the house—for the night.

NaNoWriMo 2016 Wrap Up

nanowrimo-winner-2016-badge

I had a hard enough time believing it was already November—and that was over a month ago. It’s always one of the busiest months of my year, thanks in part to NaNoWriMo. Now that we’re several days into December, I have to remind myself daily that I can relax—I no longer need to achieve a certain word count every day.

Still, even though I “won” a minute before midnight on November 23rd, that’s just a step on the path to finishing my novel. When I first learned about NaNoWriMo in 2012 (the year before I started participating), I wrote a post entitled “What Happens After NaNoWriMo?” I wanted to know if people called it quits after reaching 50,000 words or if they kept with their novels until the end (assuming their novels didn’t end at exactly 50,000 words).

As for me, I keep plugging away after 50,000 words (however long it takes). Otherwise, I would have quit after day 14 my first year. Winning to me isn’t just writing 50,000 words—it’s continuing until the story is finished telling itself. Last year, which was the most challenging so far, it took until day 27 to “win,” but it took months to finish the first draft. The experience made me tackle this year’s NaNoWriMo with more purpose.

I’ve slowed down since December first, though. Part of it is the pure craziness that is December. (Perhaps this is why no one was foolish enough to put it in December—who would have the time?) The first day of the month, when I was already up an hour later than usual, I sat down and typed 100 words, just so I wouldn’t feel guilty about leaving my novel hanging for a day.

Without November looming over me anymore, it’s a lot easier to procrastinate—even though I’m one story-day away from the scene I’ve been imagining for over a year. I’m getting hung up on things like voice. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m using four first person narrators this time. It’s what this story needs, but the problem is differentiating the narrators from one another. While this is really an issue for the editing stage, I can’t help but let the worry creep in that I should be doing a better job up front.

The other day, when writing the youngest of these characters, she said something that seemed particularly her, and I thought, This is it! But now, how to make “this” happen in every section she narrates? In a book I read over the summer, Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, there are two narrators, twins (brother and sister). These characters are unique and a little peculiar, but their individual peculiarities shine through in such a way that it’s easy to pick out who is narrating without being told whose section it is.

I love how discovery happens through reading someone else’s story. I dream of inspiring someone with one of my own stories someday—but it’s not going to happen if I don’t go ahead and write—no matter how ragged the first draft is.

A Minor Miscalculation

I can’t believe we’re past the halfway point of November, and I’m just now blogging about NaNoWriMo. Some years, I’ve blogged about it on a weekly basis. This year, however, I’ve had even more obstacles than usual. (Seems like I always say that—but it’s true!)

November is a crazy-busy month in the Full-Time Writer Mom’s house. We have all the usual Thanksgiving stuff, plus my elder son’s birthday falls in this month. My husband was out of town all last week, and up until last night, my now-nine-year-old spent up to three nights a week and most Saturday mornings at the baseball field. Add to that the community chorus of which my husband and I are members and the children’s choir that my kids joined this fall, and my “life” has become something lived in five-minute spurts. By the time the kids are in bed at night, I’m wrung out and useless. Clean my house? What’s that? Write in my journal? It’s collecting dust. Oh, there’s one thing I have done: I’ve spent the last six weeks cramming for the final test I needed to complete my professional teacher certification. I took that test today, and—hallelujah!—I passed. So now, with fall ball over and the test behind me, I can finally devote more of my very divided attention to my novel—and even take a few minutes to blog about it. (Note that my house still isn’t clean, and we’re going to have a to cram a Christmas tree in here sometime soon.)

As for this year’s novel, I’m doing something I’ve never done before—I’m writing with multiple first person points of view. I assumed that I would write third person omniscient, but I kept reverting to first person present. The only way I could still tell the story I wanted was to expand beyond my usual one-narrator perspective. This is a challenge on a couple levels, the first of which is differentiating the character’s voices. Fortunately, this is something I should be able to address (for the most part) in the editing stage. The second challenge is simply remembering who the narrator is. Although I title each section with the narrator’s name, sometimes I get a few paragraphs in and forget—thus turning my poor character into a split personality (often turning into the very character he or she is talking about).

Add to this a new obstacle that I created out of thin air this year—a totally (unintentionally) fabricated word count. Let me first explain with this graphic:

english-major-shirt

Okay, actually, I’m not bad at math. (Mind you, we’re not talking about calculus.) I’m a treasurer for a non-profit as well as a part-time bookkeeper for my family’s small business, so it’s very important that I’m competent in the basics and then some.

I’ve always prided myself in equal use of both sides of my brain: I’m creative and OCD; I can have conversations with my characters and format Excel spreadsheets; I’m a writer with a fairly good head for arithmetic. I’m generally a walking, talking contradiction, but, boy, did I live up to the assumption that writers can’t add earlier this month.

I’m going to chalk this one up to all that busyness that I wrote about at the beginning of this post. Why tack NaNoWriMo onto a schedule that already keeps me out late every weeknight? Well, because I can’t imagine not participating in NaNoWriMo. Believe me, I once thought it was crazy. (See my first NaNoWriMo post from 2012.) As I pointed out to my husband at the beginning of the month, I get a week-long break at Thanksgiving, so even if I’m abysmally behind, that’s a great time to catch up.

On the evening of November 1st, I got to around 1180 words, and I felt pretty good about myself—I’d just typed 1100 words more than I thought I would. I then told Thomas that I would need to type about 2700 words a day in order to finish by the November 30th deadline. If I’d paused to think for even half a second, I would have realized that 2700 words per day for 30 days was even more insane than the idea of starting and finishing a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. Something did strike me as kind of funny—2700 didn’t seem to be the right number—but I just figured I was rounding up from 2667, and that’s why it seemed off.

It wasn’t until day two that I remembered that if I type my word count into NaNoWriMo.org, it’ll give me all kinds of cool stats, like how far behind I am, how many words a day I need to finish, etc. So I plugged in my word count for the first two days and then looked at their cool little chart. Imagine my surprise when I saw that I was actually ahead. I was only off by…oh… a thousand when it comes to the word count. Can you imagine making a similar mistake on something actually important—like a mortgage? Sheesh. Thank goodness the mistake was in my favor.

The good news is that I now know I only have to type around 1700 words per day, and 18 days in, I’m averaging about 1800. While it’s less per day than the last three years, I’m still sticking to the hope that the week ahead will prove productive. Even with all the new challenges of NaNoWriMo 2016, I already feel like a winner.

In My Opinion

lady-liberty

I absolutely cannot stand politics because I think that they divide more than unite. Once you’ve put a label of Democrat or Republican on something, an entire demographic will automatically turn the other way simply because of the label. As a loving friend with an open mind and the opposite political persuasion once said, “We’re good people with different approaches of how we want to care for others.” I love her for that.

I have stayed silent on the political front this year—pretty much like every election year. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s confrontation. Doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention, though. It’s been alternately entertaining and dismaying to read what’s going on in social media—friendships thrown away over an election.

Here’s the thing, folks: we are fortunate to live in a country in which we can change our minds every four years. Feel like your voice wasn’t heard this year? Guess what? There were people four years ago who felt the same thing. What about third party supporters who always feel left out? What about people who feel like our electoral system is so broken that they refuse to vote?

Hillary supporters: she’s not your personal savior. She wasn’t going to come knocking on your door with all the solutions for your life. And for those who are thrilled with the impending Trump presidency—he won’t do that either! I, like many, was absolutely disgusted that the choice came down to these two. And it doesn’t matter if you liked Gary Johnson or Jill Stein because there was no chance either of them would win. I know this is me in my fantasy world speaking, but wouldn’t it be nice, instead of choosing the candidate you hate the least, to be torn over whom to pick because both candidates are so honorable, so likeable, so qualified?

We had poor choices—but if I think about it, the person I like is never the one who is nominated. The type of person who is nominated for this office is generally someone who is so far removed from the typical American’s life that it’s hard for us to connect. The type of person I want in office is someone who comes from humble beginnings, who knows what it’s like to struggle before finding success, who doesn’t like the limelight, who wants a quiet life with his or her family—although that kind of life is impossible for any president.

But you know who does live like that? We do. Moms who get up early to fix lunches for their kids before school. Teachers who stay up late grading papers and spend hundreds or thousands of their own dollars to care for their students as if they are their own children. Parents who work the graveyard shift in order to provide a better education, a better future, for their children. Doctors who hold precious lives in their hands and carry a heavy burden that never leaves them, even when they’re at home or on vacation. I could go on and on and on.

We are the people in charge of our futures, for the most part. We cannot expect a great political leader to swoop down and “make everything better.” (Remember how the Hebrews expected Jesus to be the great political leader that would lay all the Gentiles low? Didn’t work then, either. Hmm…) With that kind of expectation, nothing will ever happen. Let’s not sit by and be passengers in our own lives for another four years, hoping that the next one will get it right… surely the next one…

Now’s the time for a great platitude, right? Like “change begins with you” or “you make your change.” Please. I’m a writer, and I hate clichés. How about this? Live your life. Be as kind to others as you possibly can be. I know it’s hard. But it’s also not impossible.

Last night, I was at my son’s baseball game. There are black kids and white kids on his team. I don’t know how a single one of them voted, and they don’t know how I voted, either. It doesn’t matter. We cheered for the kids and encouraged them when they struck out because that’s what we do. We laughed about how wimpy we Floridians are when temperatures dip below seventy. I’m sure many of us carried our own baggage from the election, but we were quiet about it. We’re continuing to live because that’s what’s required of us if we want to be decent parents.

If we go through life feeling misunderstood—most of us are, so why cry about it?—we are missing the chance to do something positive. Did you know that it’s possible to have friends of different viewpoints? It’s even possible to have disagreements within your own particular belief system. But it is also possible to appreciate the beauty in the differences. Although it may be hard to swallow, you can learn a lot and even grow when you reach out and have a conversation or simply listen to someone who comes from a differing perspective. Imagine that! How many of us get along with our spouses or parents or friends one hundred percent of the time, anyway? But do we get a divorce or disown our siblings when we dare to say what we believe?

Sadly, yeah, some of us do. We need a healthy dose of Grow Up. We need to appreciate that our differences are what make us unique, instead of trying to convert everyone to our particular way of thinking. As soon as we try to be like anyone else, we’re losing what makes each one of us an individual.

And since it is Veterans’ Day, thank you to the people in the Armed Forces, from hundreds of years ago all the way to the present, who work together, even if they disagree with one another politically, to give us this country and this life, where we are free to disagree and have stinky opinions and still live—if we can—in peace.

The Book Birth Plan

 

Keep Calm and Write On

If you read my last post, it was all about birthing a book. And since NaNoWriMo loometh, it’s time to talk about book birth plans.

Oh, she means outlines, you might think.

But no, in fact, I don’t.

Outlines are key for writing non-fiction manuscripts, in which the author needs to present information in an organized format, but fiction is a whole different animal.

In my novel-writing experience, outlines kill creativity. I’ve written a couple novels that stuck right to the outlines I prepared for them. I would write a scene, then have to look and see what to write next. I didn’t write anything without consulting the outline first because I was afraid of messing up what I wanted to happen later in the plot, but the result was that they read like someone dragging the novels along against their wills. Those novels are now collecting virtual dust because I haven’t touched them in years.

There is a time to tidy up your mess of a novel, and it’s the next stage: editing. When writing, it’s good to have bullet points, things that you know need to happen over the course of the story, but I am here to say that some of the scenes I thought were the most important at the start of a book ended up on the cutting room floor.

If you’re querying and have to provide an outline, you should create it from a book you’ve already written, not the other way around. But that’s not to say that I think books—especially serial novels—should be written without any direction whatsoever. This is where the book birth plan comes in.

If you’ve ever had a baby and tried to have a birth plan, you’re probably laughing. From experience, I can tell you that birth plans are often tossed out with the bath water (just not with the baby). It’s more about comforting the soon-to-be parents by letting them think they have control than actually checking off every box on the list.

So if you’re gearing up to start your novel on November first, what would your “birth plan” look like? How will you know you’re ready to tackle this huge task?

I have a file for “notes” for every one of my NaNoWriMo novels. For my first, I didn’t even decide to participate until late October, so there was no time to plan at all. I had a few scenes in my head and just let the story flow with a vague idea of what I wanted to happen. Once I started writing, I wrote notes, like a quick reference guide, so I wouldn’t have to scroll through the entire document to remember something like a character’s birthday.

The next two years, I had notes already written before I started, so I had a general idea of where the books were going, but like having a baby, they certainly didn’t cooperate with all my expectations. The one thing I wish I’d done with the third book in particular was to decide on how to begin the thing. That little hiccup had me stuck in front of a blank document for a long time.

So write notes, by all means, like how to start your book (who’s narrating? where does it happen? etc.). You can scrap that scene or put it somewhere else later, but at least it will get you rolling.

If you’re dying to write a scene but know you can’t until November, jot down the parts you don’t want to forget: “Brenda runs into her ex at the store”; “Josh’s future plans change when he doesn’t make it onto the football team.” Your character(s) may have a complicated family tree, or you may have a timeline that jumps all over the place. Write these down if you’re afraid you’ll forget, but don’t stay married to them! Therein lies the trap. Read over your “plan” before you start typing on November first, but then set it aside, and write whatever wants to be written. You may discover that your story has some surprises that you never imagined—and that wouldn’t be realized if you stuck to a rigid plan.

This year, I know how I’m going to start the book and certain events that I want to happen, but this one is more about the characters than the plot. And there is every possibility that these characters will be difficult. Actually, I kind of hope that they are. Since I won’t actually be having a baby, it should be fun to see how far this story deviates from the “plan.”