From the boy who hates to write…

I know I’m biased, but my 14 year-old son Ethan wrote something this week that brought tears to my eyes.  It was jaw-droppingly gripping and well-written.  We got done reviewing it together, and I asked, “Can I post this on my blog?”  He laughed, “I knew you were going to ask that.”

Ethan says that he hates to write.

Toward the beginning of last year, his 8th grade year, I assigned him a “mini” research project.  We went through the process of deciding on a topic, learning the construction of research papers, crafting an outline, procuring the appropriate books, doing the reading, learning how to use the books to get the best info… on and on.  Well, his three-page project grew into five pages.  Then ten.  Ten and he still wasn’t done.  He kept writing more, but with absolutely no joy, and only when I twisted his arm to write.  I was desperately and unsuccessfully trying to get him to rein it in;  he would get so bogged down in the details, it was like he was trying to write another book…  His actual writing is excellent, but his self-editing skills were nil.  And with a paper so long, of course there were many opportunities to discuss better grammar, or spelling, or sentence construction, or topic sentences, or better vocabulary choices, and on and on and on.  And, any time I had a correction for him in the process, well… we’d both end up in tears, because he’d get SO discouraged.  I felt like Bad Homeschool Mom.

The paper, I’m ashamed to say, never got done.  It was mostly my fault, because the whole thing had just ballooned into an awful scramble of flawed teaching, sensitive adolescent feelings, and LOTS AND LOTS of words.  At some point, toward the end of the year, I just decided that it wasn’t worth it, and we’d tackle writing next year.

“Next year” is now this year.

This year is only one week old… but on Sunday evening, as we discussed in greater detail what his freshman year would look like, to his great disappointment, I told him, “You’re going to do a lot of writing.  But, you’re going to do it in much smaller chunks, so that neither of us gets bogged down.  It’s my goal to encourage you greatly, because you really ARE a good writer, but you so dread the process that it hangs like a sword over your head.  I want, by the end of the year, for you to become a confident writer, who writes with relative ease, and isn’t frightened by the writing process.  And I will stay on top of it, helping you along the way, and not giving up.”  He seemed only nominally assured.

The Newbery Honor book by Patricia Reilly Giff

Ethan is doing Sonlight’s Core 200 this year, and really enjoying it.  I’m glad that he found the first assigned novel, Pictures of Hollis Woods, so interesting, because his writing assignment was based on the book.  The book is a compelling story of the history of a foster child.  Each chapter begins with a word picture, painted from a memory of the main character, a girl named Hollis.  The writing assignment detailed:

What is your favorite picture from Pictures of Hollis Woods?  Why?  What qualities make it your favorite? …  Using that picture as an inspiration, write a picture of your own… make sure your picture reflects the same qualities you value in your favorite.

Though the assignment was only asking him to think about it, I suggested to Ethan that he write out his reflection on his favorite portion of the book, describing what it is about it that made it so striking.  Then, for him to pick ANY memory of his own that stands out like a snapshot in his mind, and to note various things about the memory:  what was happening, how he felt, what the weather was like, why it stuck with him, etc.

His notes were:

I think I would say my favorite picture expressed in this book is the thirteenth picture.  However, it is not my favorite because it’s funny, or pleasing, but very sad.  Now, I do not mean to be morbid in any way, but this picture really provoked my emotions more than any other contained in this book.  It just really got me thinking, “Wow, how could this happen.  How could a girl, an orphan at that, be so hard-hearted to the one and only foster father who truly loves her.”  And just the way this book is written puts you smack dab in the middle of this clash of emotions that really seems to make the characters come alive, it’s just stunning and it makes you feel like you’re standing right there the entire time.

Notes:  Arizona Snowbowl
on ski lift
traveling up
about 8? (years)
11 – 2 (time)
tingly feeling
bundled up
very cold
legs feel scratchy from blanket

And here’s what he wrote:  (I very lightly edited it with him, altering a few points of punctuation, and crossing out a total of seven words, adding five that he chose from my suggestions… )

He was tired of looking through the wreckage of this house.  He decided to look in the last room of the house then leave for good.  The man did not enjoy the findings of this particular abandoned abode;  the only thing of use that he found was a thick folder full of paper.  He sighed, thinking, “Only good for starting fires.”

Later, at his camp, the man spread out his findings of the day before him:  a rusty kitchen knife, four cans of food, some ammunition, three burnt and water damaged books, and the folder.  The man was intrigued most by the folder.  He picked it up, but it crumbled in his hand, spilling papers all over.

One caught his eye, different from the others.  It wasn’t just a bunch of letters he couldn’t read, but a picture seemingly drawn by a child.  It was a family, a mother and three young boys, riding up a mountain on some kind of lift.  The mountain was spectacular, hundreds of feet tall, grey, and covered with pines and what stuff the man determined was snow, based on what the family was wearing.  The sun was high in the sky, making the ground glisten, and the man quickly lost himself in his imagination.

He found himself looking through the eyes of the oldest boy, cold, but wearing a strange fuzzy sweater with a hood attached.  He was also wrapped in a blanket that looked itchy.  The man felt a strange, excited, tingly feeling inside and opened his eyes back to the world around him.  He sighed, looked down at that wonderful picture and gently folded it, putting it in his pocket.  “More precious than all the fire starters in the world,” he thought.

Is it just me??  Or is that not REALLY GOOD?  Mystery, unanswered questions leaving the reader wanting more, very evocative, very creative.  He inserted his own memory into a really compelling fictional account.  A short-short story.  I thought it was awesome.  Plus, I was so excited that he (we, really) got through the assignment with triumph.  I didn’t have much to do with the story at all, but it still felt like an accomplishment.


It was a good first week of school.

About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on September 2, 2011, in Books for children, Encouragement, Family, Homeschooling, Memories, The Kids, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. It’s good! The key to good writing is usually the details, and it is easy for young writers to err with either not enough or too many. It takes skill to pick the right details, the ones that best advance your point or your story, and Ethan definitely did that here.

  2. Hurray for such an inspiring first week of school!!!!! Good job GOOD HOMESCHOOLING MOM and Ethan!

  3. I really enjoyed your son’s story! It was really interesting an definitely left me wanting to read more. Great job, Ethan!

    And, I am so glad that this year looks different. I hope it is still going well!

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