I’ve been reading lots of books about reluctant boy writers lately, including Jeff Anderson’s Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer’s Workshop, Ralph Fletcher’s Boy Writers: Reclaiming their Voices, and Thomas Newkirk’s Misreading Masculinity: Boys, Literacy, and Popular Culture. Together, the present some wonderful reassurances and ideas on how we misread boys and subtly discourage their writing attempts through our insistence on what THEIR writing should look like.
My son isn’t a reluctant writer per se — he’s only reluctant when it comes to the writing I ask him to do. When I ask him to write me a page about how he FEELS about how Hugo Cabret lives, hiding out in a train station winding clocks all day, he just gives me a blank look. He goes back to drawing a picture - the robot he wants to build when he grows up. He got the idea from the automaton in The Invention of Hugo Cabret. He also wants to make a movie, just like the Trip to the Moon movie by the real Georges Melies that we found on YouTube. He does not want to write about his feelings.
Other things he does not want to do:
- Write anything in his own handwriting - the struggle is not worth the effort
-Write sentences using his spelling words.
- Write a five-line poem about “fall”.
- Write a letter to his grandmother thanking her for his birthday present.
What he does want to do:
- Write about dummies and ghouls and witches who make pies out of human eyeballs
- Write stories that involve shooting and medieval catapults and sword battles
- Use the word “bloody,” a lot.
Luckily, after reading the books I’ve mentioned, I’ve realized that this inclination is very common to 10 year-old boys. They’re curious about violence and fighting and exploring all aspects of human interaction and conflict. They’re eager to explore their own imaginations, but often their view of what is interesting is “action” and that for them may involve guns, arrows, blood, and human eating ghost witches. I’ve even seen this, and had to accept it, in a child who’s been exposed to little media and a household that frowns on violence and gun ownership, for example.
My son got in trouble at a school program last year after drawing two knights fighting with swords. “It was a violent image,” the teacher said. We live in Colorado and I’ve been as haunted by the legacy of the Columbine tragedy as anyone. But boys curious about sword fighting and knights is a far cry from that kind of violence. I’d note that I’m a pretty committed pacifist. But I also believe that by telling my son to stuff or hide his interest in these things, they go underground. They become festishes. I also believe it’s a lot more healthy to explore the scarier parts of what is after all human nature through art and writing than through actual acts. And I’m a writer myself, and abhor censorship.
Luckily, as we homeschool, most of my son’s writing is done at home and he doesn’t have to worry about a teacher’s censorship. Right now, we are participating together in NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. My son is doing NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program , which offers everything from lesson plans to special booklets children can use to help outline their stories. Neither my son nor I are much into outlining. We just like to let it rip.
I’ve also told him not to worry about punctuation or spelling or grammar until we go through and edit our drafts in December. Then we can talk about rules of grammar and that kind of thing. I find, however, that except for his aversion to periods and his insistence on writing everything in capital letters, he’s doing pretty well. His sentences are complete, often complex, and are usually properly constructed. His spelling is spot on, most of the time. He’s not freaking himself out about the rules, because he’s into the story, and what mechanics he’s gleaned from his own reading shines through.
My son has set a personal goal of 150 word a day, which is ambitious given his rather rudimentary as yet keyboarding skills. So far he’s written a story of 800 words and counting. It’s full of flying ships and chimpanzees, red eyed witches and bloody pies and bloody zombies and bloody torture chambers. The hero’s greatest challenge - he is unable to sleep because of a curse put on him years ago. He and his pet chimp are searching the world for a cure. The story so far twists and turns. My son asks to read me his latest additions every few minutes. He begs to stay up late to work on his computer. He arms himself with a bowl of popcorn and peppermint tea. He writes.
He’s anything but reluctant.
He’s on fire