Tag Archives: children

Writing Is Not Reading


When I went to get my haircut today, my beautician mentioned her eight year old son received a D in writing from his teacher.

“I didn’t even know he was doing poorly,” she said. “When my husband asked what we can do to help bring up his grade next year, the teacher said to have him read more. He already reads a lot. When he finds a book he likes he will read up to one hour at a time.”

“Did the teacher show him how to read like a writer?” I asked.

“I don’t know what she taught him.” My beautician shrugged. “He doesn’t follow directions. He writes only one sentence at a time. The teacher wants him to write three sentences.”

“It sounds like they are working on paragraphs.”

“Yes, but he only writes one sentence. That’s all. The teacher keeps saying he needs to read more.”

Yes, reading can promote better writing. However, someone who reads to learn how to write uses different techniques than someone who reads to learn comprehension. The teacher’s solution to read more sounded glib and ineffective. It didn’t address the student’s real need, which sounded more complex. After all, reading is reading. Writing is writing. They may not be mutually exclusive, but they were not the same.

“Ninety percent of writing is thinking,” I said. “Your son needs someone to help him organize his thoughts.”

The beautician mentioned the young woman who had tutored her son in reading. “I guess we have to ask if she’ll help him with writing.”

“If she can’t, I can help him,” I said.

“You can?”

“I’m a writer,” I said. “I can teach him how to write a paragraph. All he needs is a main idea, two supporting facts, and a final sentence to tie it all together.”

“But you have a job,” my beautician said. “When will you find time?”

I didn’t know. Between the many things I did to earn a living, writing was only one of them. But I couldn’t let someone fail to learn how to express himself through words.

“I can teach him on the weekends for an hour. I’ll give him assignments he can work on during the week. He can start by writing you a daily letter. In the meantime, have him copy a paragraph out of one of his favorite books. By physically writing down the words in that paragraph, he will start to see how someone else organizes his thoughts. Ask him to explain what each sentence means and how it all works together. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but that’s how you need to read in order to learn how to write. You just can’t sit down and read a book to become a writer. You have to take every sentence apart and discover how and why it works.”

She thanked me for the offer and said she would discuss it with her husband before calling me.

While I waited to hear back from her, I wondered how this young boy learned and what it would take to instruct him. The only thing of which I was certain was he would learn how to write well because his parents were determined to find someone capable of teaching him, whether or not that person was me. And that was all that mattered.

Encourage Education and the Pursuit of Passion

graduation cap

When I read an article on Yahoo! Education, Don’t Let Your Kids Study These Majors, I tweeted the link and titled it, “Another Way to Discourage Kids from Following Their Passion.” My comment sparked a lively debate, which I decided to follow up with a letter to all our children, although I addressed it to my daughter.

Dear Daughter,

Soon you’ll be applying to colleges and selecting your major. You’ll receive a lot of advice from high school counselors, college advisers, teachers, friends, and experts. You may be so overwhelmed with what to do and what not to do that you may feel paralyzed to make any decision.

You’re not alone. A lot of teens feel the same way.

When I was getting ready to apply for college, everyone advised me to major in engineering or computers. At the time, these fields commanded top dollar for highly-educated, skilled workers. Although I enjoyed math, I had no desire to learn engineering or computers. I didn’t want to spend my life thinking in a linear way. I wanted to explore the outer edges of philosophy and psychology through literature and writing. But everyone kept saying we needed women engineers and computer scientists. I tried to find the enthusiasm for these subjects, but I couldn’t.

Luckily, I had enough courage to pursue my passion to write. I studied journalism, technical writing, and creative writing. I learned how to write clearly and concisely on demand under an unyielding deadline without sacrificing creativity.

People ridiculed me. My classmates said I would be unemployable. My college adviser suggested I apply to law school and become an attorney. My parents weren’t paying for my education, so they felt they had no voice. Only your dad was supportive. He said the goal of attending college is not to land a job. It is to become educated. By being educated, you show an employer you have ambition. You can set a goal and achieve it. You know how to learn. You are resourceful. You can plan for the future.

Your dad was right, of course.

By the time I graduated from college, the job market had changed. Engineering and computer science were no longer the most desirable fields of study. Business had taken precedence. A few of my college classmates applied to graduate school, hoping to chase the next wave of the job market. Others took jobs that were not related to their majors. Of course, a few remained unemployed.

Not me.

I found work immediately. My writing skills allowed me to enter the field of real estate as a marketing assistant, writing advertisements for listings and open houses. From there, I entered the world of finance and banking, both without a business degree. At the same time, I continued to follow my passion, publishing hundreds of articles and short stories and four books. I also painted dozens of landscapes that grace the walls of other people’s homes and offices. Not to mention my greeting cards.

So don’t worry about college. It doesn’t matter where you go or what you study. It matters that you learn and grow. And follow your dreams.

The Writing Process in Progress

Celebrating the Completion of the First Draft

Writing a novel is like being pregnant. You can write whatever you want without anyone judging you just as you can eat whatever you want without anyone judging you. People ask with interest about the progress of your novel just as people ask about the stage of a pregnancy. “Oh, I’m halfway through the first draft,” you say, which is the equivalent of saying, “I’m in the start of my second trimester. The queasiness is over. The fatigue is gone. And I feel great!”

The closer you get to the finish, however, things change. People become annoyed by how many social obligations you miss and how distracted you seem to be because you’re caught up in another world. Just as at the last stage of pregnancy, you become irritable and uncomfortable, unable to eat without heartburn and unable to find a comfortable position to sleep because you are so big you feel like a beached whale. You want to finish the book; give birth to the baby. Have the excitement and the misery end.

But once you type, “The End,” the elation and relief ebb away. Anxiety and depression sometimes follow. All those months spent on high alert, jotting down notes in the middle of dinner, waking up in the middle of the night hearing your narrator’s voice, suddenly evaporate. The adrenalin rush crashes, and suddenly you find yourself deflated and empty. The road that stretches before you is miles and miles of toil and work. The baby has been born. Now the anticipation has been replaced with the real work of the frequent feedings, diaper changes, and mothering to raise the child into a good human being. Just the anticipation of writing a novel is replaced with the real work of editing, publishing, and marketing.

Finishing a novel is a lot like giving birth. You have the same feelings of fear and anxiety, elation and relief once you get to the final chapter and type “The End.”

I always go through postpartum depression whenever I finish a novel. All those weeks leading up to the finish, full of adrenaline and excitement, working non-stop around the clock between my everyday life and the life of my fictional world suddenly deflates once the book has been written. Gone is a whole half of what I have been engaged in, and the lost is enormous.

Now I wake up and glance at the clock and wonder who will greet me when I rush to the computer. Sure, I could start the edit or the next book in the series and plunge right back into the world, but I prefer to work with breaks. Sometimes the breaks stretch too long and suddenly I am stranded in what would look to others as writer’s block. Most times, however, I engage in smaller, more manageable projects to keep my creative juices flowing. This time I feel the need to return to my painting, which has been sorely neglected during this last novel.

Sure, there are other tasks that involve writing: the one-sentence pitch, the back copy blurb, the marketing materials that will be printed on bookmarks and postcards and press releases and online in blogs and forums. But that’s different. It is the business side of writing, and it is very different than being immersed in a separate world where things are happening, stakes are high, and emotions even higher.

The postpartum phase of finishing a novel is a natural part of the writing process. It does not have to end in depression, although mine always tend to. I think it’s because I immerse myself deeply in my work and experience “The End” as a loss rather than a celebration. Joy comes from writing, not having written. If I am not writing, I am not a writer. I’m only a part of who I am, and I think that adds to the sense of loss.