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I need help figuring out what to do with my 14yo daughter. She has always loved writing and wanted to be an author. She has a million stories in her head and is amazing verbally telling stories to her younger sisters or describing stories she wants to write. But, she's also an extreme perfectionist and has become paralysed whenever she tries to write anything. She's now giving up that dream of being an author and decided to write comics because she doesn't believe she can write a story. And is super stressed out about that, too! (I'm not against her doing comics, as long as it's her choice and not because she's given up.) So, what can we do for english that will help her organize her thoughts and get them out of her head and onto paper? Right now she's taking "English 10" with a local grandma-former teacher. She uses Abeka for grammar and is now doing lit. The plan next year would be American lit and 11th grade lit. But, I don't know if we want to continue with that just because I really want to focus on freeing up her mind so that she can get the words flowing. Any suggestions?

Edited by Scuff.

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Scuff:

I have no idea whether this will help, but when I read about your daughter's perfectionism, this is what I thought of:

When I teach essay writing, I emphasize mindmapping — that is, I always have my students sketch out their ideas before attempting any kind of longhand draft.

When mindmapping, they actually draw what they're thinking, jotting down words or phrases as placeholders for much larger ideas or complex information. — What I've noticed is that when working in this way, my students seem to access a completely different part of their brains: the obsession with wordsmithing seems to relax, their thoughts begin to fly, their hands race to keep up with the ideas spilling from their brains, and they always report that with a mindmap, they accomplish a ton of work in just a few minutes. 

In class today, for instance, we had completed reading several essays that were in large part personal profiles — portraits of noteworthy individuals — so I asked my students to:

  • take a minute (literally a minute) and brainstorm a few names of individuals they themselves might write about;
  • from that list, choose the individual they felt most drawn to or thought might be the most compelling;
  • take about three minutes to sketch on a scrap of paper the things they might include in an essay-portrait of that individual.

The entire exercise took around five minutes, but at the end of it, each student was looking at a roadmap to a brand new essay.

Do you think it possible, Scuff, that some such process might circumvent your daughter's perfectionist impulses?

Please feel free to reach out to me directly (rspeed AT salientcomm.com) if you think such a thing might help or would like to learn more.

—Roy Speed

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So, she doesn't want to write stories because she can't, so she's going to write comics... stories? Like, she does realize that's also writing a story, right?

Several thoughts. One is that if she has perfectionism across the board, you may need to address that. It's a form of anxiety. It can stop people from doing anything if it builds. There are some good books out there. Sometimes kids need therapy. It really depends.

Another thought is that Bravewriter is good for kids who are frozen with writing. So that's one option.

And another thought is that... who cares. If a kid has an interest in creative writing, then it can absolutely be worked into their school day and credits. But it's also not something any student has to do in high school at all. If she's succeeding in other aspects of writing and English, then it's really up to her. I wouldn't force a kid to paint or dance or sing either. It's an art. Kids should have opportunities to try art and should continue to learn to appreciate and analyze it in high school to some extent, but if it didn't take, then oh well. It can be especially hard when a kid has a talent and seems to have an interest, but then refuses to do it. But... it's really on  them. We can't force them.

If it is holding her back in other writing, then having her do various brainstorming exercises, holding her hand through it, scaffolding and outlining with her, going in baby steps through an essay, etc. is all fine. Graphic organizers and other tools can be helpful, but mostly I think kids who are stuck just need a lot of encouragement and support.

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On 3/18/2019 at 10:44 PM, royspeed said:

Scuff:

I have no idea whether this will help, but when I read about your daughter's perfectionism, this is what I thought of:

When I teach essay writing, I emphasize mindmapping — that is, I always have my students sketch out their ideas before attempting any kind of longhand draft.

When mindmapping, they actually draw what they're thinking, jotting down words or phrases as placeholders for much larger ideas or complex information. — What I've noticed is that when working in this way, my students seem to access a completely different part of their brains: the obsession with wordsmithing seems to relax, their thoughts begin to fly, their hands race to keep up with the ideas spilling from their brains, and they always report that with a mindmap, they accomplish a ton of work in just a few minutes. 

In class today, for instance, we had completed reading several essays that were in large part personal profiles — portraits of noteworthy individuals — so I asked my students to:

  • take a minute (literally a minute) and brainstorm a few names of individuals they themselves might write about;
  • from that list, choose the individual they felt most drawn to or thought might be the most compelling;
  • take about three minutes to sketch on a scrap of paper the things they might include in an essay-portrait of that individual.

The entire exercise took around five minutes, but at the end of it, each student was looking at a roadmap to a brand new essay.

Do you think it possible, Scuff, that some such process might circumvent your daughter's perfectionist impulses?

Please feel free to reach out to me directly (rspeed AT salientcomm.com) if you think such a thing might help or would like to learn more.

—Roy Speed

She loves to draw and doodles on everything. This sounds perfect for her. I'll definitely message you when I get on the computer. Thanks. 

 

 

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On 3/19/2019 at 12:18 PM, Farrar said:

So, she doesn't want to write stories because she can't, so she's going to write comics... stories? Like, she does realize that's also writing a story, right?

😂 Right?! She gets really annoyed when I point that out. 😂

 

On 3/19/2019 at 12:18 PM, Farrar said:

Several thoughts. One is that if she has perfectionism across the board, you may need to address that. It's a form of anxiety. It can stop people from doing anything if it builds. There are some good books out there. Sometimes kids need therapy. It really depends.

She very much has perfectionism across the board. When she was younger, she'd have a crying meltdown whenever she tried anything new. It's held her back a few times and people don't really know what to do with it. I don't know either. Just let her cry and she'll participate excellently next time. I probably look like a terrible mom, but there's no consoling her when she gets like that. It's gotten a little better with age. But, not completely. 

On 3/19/2019 at 12:18 PM, Farrar said:

Another thought is that Bravewriter is good for kids who are frozen with writing. So that's one option.

Thanks! I remember looking into that years ago for my other daughter. I'll look at it again. It seemed good. 

On 3/19/2019 at 12:18 PM, Farrar said:

And another thought is that... who cares. If a kid has an interest in creative writing, then it can absolutely be worked into their school day and credits. But it's also not something any student has to do in high school at all. If she's succeeding in other aspects of writing and English, then it's really up to her. I wouldn't force a kid to paint or dance or sing either. It's an art. Kids should have opportunities to try art and should continue to learn to appreciate and analyze it in high school to some extent, but if it didn't take, then oh well. It can be especially hard when a kid has a talent and seems to have an interest, but then refuses to do it. But... it's really on  them. We can't force them.

It matters because it's an area that's paralyzing her. She needs help getting through this, not to give up. If she changes her mind on what she wants to do with her life, that's fine. But, the girl absolutely can't be giving up dreams because she doesn't want to risk trying. We don't need to start that pattern in her life. Also, it does effect her academic work. Last week, it took her all day to write a short story assignment that took 45 minutes once she stopped fretting about it. It often takes her all day to do her English assignments because she frets about them so much first. 

On 3/19/2019 at 12:18 PM, Farrar said:

If it is holding her back in other writing, then having her do various brainstorming exercises, holding her hand through it, scaffolding and outlining with her, going in baby steps through an essay, etc. is all fine. Graphic organizers and other tools can be helpful, but mostly I think kids who are stuck just need a lot of encouragement and support.

Thanks. I do try to encourage her. Thanks for the encouragement to keep doing that. She may not need a different english after all, but just coping skills to get more used to it. I pray that she'll get better at this the more she lives and sees that life is ok, even when you fail and worst-case-senario is usually not that bad. 

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42 minutes ago, Scuff. said:

It matters because it's an area that's paralyzing her. She needs help getting through this, not to give up. If she changes her mind on what she wants to do with her life, that's fine. But, the girl absolutely can't be giving up dreams because she doesn't want to risk trying. We don't need to start that pattern in her life. Also, it does effect her academic work. Last week, it took her all day to write a short story assignment that took 45 minutes once she stopped fretting about it. It often takes her all day to do her English assignments because she frets about them so much first. 

So, I have a very different take on this. And you may just disagree, but I'll share.

As the fellow parent of a perfectionist, I have felt this exact way. And I have had to learn to let my kid quit. I wish I had not pushed him to finish some academic leaning passion projects that his perfectionism interfered with in the name of making him see it out and not establishing a pattern. In the end, it killed the interest and did not help with the passion and it was never anything that was so academically important that it actually needed to happen. I just don't think creative writing is a key part of a high school English curriculum. If she said she wanted to continue it, that would be one thing. But she doesn't. I don't think it'll do her any favors to push it. You're just pushing on her anxiety for something that isn't a key skill. The lower the overall anxiety level, the better overall. It's worth it to push for key things - definitely. But personally, I'd back off this. Like, at what point does she get to decide that it's no longer an interest? When you've deemed her attitude healthy enough? How will you know? Kids should be trying out and quitting interests at this age and finding new ones. That's totally good and normal for adolescents.

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My 14 year old is very similar.  I have decided to just let her be for now.  She writes, though.  Like notebooks full of stories,a nd she lets younger siblings read them.  I have never graded or even commented on any of them.  I've read a few, and I think for now I want her to continue to just love writing.  For school, we focus only on formal writing, and I plan to use EIW 10 next year for 9th grade.  She's been doing grammar, so I'm planning to skip that part next year.  There are some writing programs that I've found, for when she's ready to use her creativity to write real stories-  Nanowrimo has excellent resources and printable organizers.  Another is ONe Year Adventure Novel (and the sequal is about writing sci-fi!).  If she ever decides to do this as a high school credit, I will let her, but for now it's still a hobby.  

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The spending all day on one (should have been short!) writing assignment just took me back in time, lol. It was so frustrating to have a kid who could be this amazing writer if she would JUST WRITE already! She could write amazing stories and poetry, had a huge vocabulary, understood grammar and was so well spoken...but writing was such a pain. It took a lot of time and mistakes on my part to realize the biggest hurdle for us was her expecting the words to just flow perfectly onto the paper the first time she wrote. She really expected perfection of herself every time she set pen to paper, and would spend time crafting paragraphs in her head or panicking because she couldn't craft a perfect sentence on demand and so nothing got written. As frustrated as I was with the writing thing, it was nothing compared to the stress she was putting herself through over writing. I read a lot on here, and took the advice of others to let her creative writing happen or not on her own terms.

For school, I began focusing on mapping and rough drafts and outlines. We tried 10 minute writing exercises, but those just stressed her out more so we stopped. I forced her to focus on one piece at a time. What needs to happen in the first paragraph? The next? The next? I showed her that it was okay to write something like "Opening line here-say something funny" or "Put that Neil Gaiman quote here". We would just get a very rough draft done. Next time we looked at it, we began filling in sentences...Whats the first thing that needs to be said? Write that down. What comes next? Write that down. There was a period of time when she dictated everything she wrote to me and I typed it. If she seemed to stall out, I asked her questions and wrote her answers down. I tried not to let her sit and stew on what is the exact right word or phrase to use...it often felt like our history and reading discussions, with me taking notes. Eventually I began having her type it out as we walked through it. I taught her tricks like using a placeholder when you get stuck (just type the same word or phrase every time and you can come back to it and control f to find and fill in any missing bits later) and moving on to the next part. Editing/revision never happened on the same day(s) as writing. I always choose something good in the writing to point out first-whether it was how clear her voice was or a particular turn of phrase or an excellent transition---that was what I pointed out first. I would point out any obvious editing errors and we would discuss one or two revisions that I would suggest. A couple of things I learned through trial and error-now I always ask her to point out something she's particularly proud of (saves me from picking her favorite sentence to fix) and learning to let my revision suggestions be merely suggestions (she can take or leave them as she wants-often she is willing to make a change, but occasionally she will explain that she is keeping it that way for xyz reason (usually related to personal style/authors voice). 

It was a bit of a slog for a while, but eventually we got to a place where she can write on her own in a reasonable amount of time. Creative writing comes and goes. There have been times when zero creative writing happens, times when she draws characters in her digital art program and tells me these detailed backstories for them (that never get written down), times when she she becomes so involved in writing a story that its all she can focus on, and times when she will stop whatever she's doing to jot down a quick poem that just came to her that takes my breath away that she completely forgets about once its down on paper. The only thing I do regarding her creative writing is show an interest in it. I will listen attentively if she wants to read aloud to me (even if its 10pm and I've just come out of the shower after getting the sick baby down late because her schedule is off because she's sick and I just want to crawl in bed already). I will point out things I like. I will ask questions about the characters or the setting or ask if a particular moment was a bit of foreshadowing of things to come. I will tell her I can't wait to read more. If she shows me a character she's drawn, I will ask what their story is, or if its a character from one of her stories. If its been a while since I've heard about her writing, I might ask about a particular story or character-if she says she hasn't been writing, again, I might ask her if she's having a hard time fitting writing into her day or if she's feeling stuck on something. Often its just that something else has caught her attention, or that she needs a break from a particular piece of writing because its frustrating. She loves writing, and wants to have a career in writing. I can honestly say I don't think that would be the case if I had continued to treat creative writing as another school task. 

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I think it was Ernest Hemingway who said “The first draft of anything is sh*t”.

Do a google search for quotes about first drafts and you’ll find lots of similar sentiments, often phrased in a more family-friendly way by a variety of published authors. 

Most books about writing spend some time talking about tying up the inner editor (or various other metaphors for reigning in your perfectionist urges) to just get the first draft out on paper first. It sounds like that might be part of her problem. Maybe look at some non-school text books about writing to assign (or maybe just recommend), books that are written for enthusiastic amateurs rather than students.

Writer to Writer by Gail Carson Levine (author of Ella Enchanted) is written by an author of YA fiction to YA age audience. This is the one I would really recommend and secondhand copies are easily found. There are lots of great writing prompts, too.

Natalie Goldberg wrote several writing books that I enjoyed, but I don’t know that they’re suitable for a young teen. Stephen King’s book On Writing, ditto. 

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