Thursday, October 2, 2014

On Getting Started

He looked miserably at the blank piece of paper in front of him.  It was even worse than it could have been, since he'd left the assignment paper at school; that, at least, had the question written on it.  This had nothing but faint blue lines, in college rule.

"I don't know what to write," he moaned, head in his hands.  Granted, an essay about how you plan to make your mark on the world is a pretty tall order for an eight year old.  Still.

"Pull yourself together," I said, uncharitably, knowing exactly how he felt.  He blew his nose and sniffled.  "Now: write the word ... tomato," I commanded.


"Tomato.  Don't look at me like that; just write it."

He demurred, scribbling the word, and then looked up.  "Why?"

"Now it's no longer a blank empty page," I told him.  "And whatever you write?  Is going to be more relevant and intelligent than the word tomato."

"That's true," he agreed, sucking his fang-like front teeth thoughtfully.

For the next half hour, we worked on a mind map: we wrote his question in the middle, and drew fractal-like arms radiating out from the center in stream-of-consciousness.  He grinned, thoroughly enjoying himself, and retreated to the back room, where he developed drafts "Tomato 2," "Tomato 3," and "Tomato 4."  I remembered what I liked about teaching writing.

By the end of it, he had an essay that hung together, that was mostly on topic, and that didn't say what I wanted it to say, but what he wanted to say.

I should follow my own advice more often.

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  1. So nice to read your words again.
    I've missed you.

    I'm going to bookmark this for when I need it in 3-4 years. ;)

  2. I use a time argument that somewhat works- "you can fret and disagree about writing this for 30 minutes and still have the assignment to complete, or you can just hanker down and get it done in 30 minutes." But, it is too much logic for my 9 year old. I will try the tomato approach next time!!! Or invite you over to see if we can't find a way to make it fun...

  3. I like this. My second daughter is, as I write, putting the finishing touches on her college admissions essay, and it's been tough for her. Getting started was the hardest part. But I think she has something good now, a 650-word taste of who she is and where she is headed. Whether you're 8, 18, or 48, the tomato tip is a good one. Thank you.


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