Creative Writing and Crying

Ian has trouble with creative writing. He’s very creative in what he builds, with Legos and other materials, but he has trouble pulling something from nothing. Yesterday, his language book instructed us to make a postcard. We were to draw a picture on the front of an index card based on the setting of a book he has read. He’s currently reading Magic Tree House #8: Midnight on the Moon. So he drew a picture of the moon, no problem. Then we turned it over to write a message. That’s when the trouble began. “But I can’t think of anything!” I gave him several examples of what is usually written on postcards, but still nothing. Finally, he started crying, so I tried to make it easy on him. I said, “Start with, ‘The moon is…’” Nothing. So I said (thinking the answer would be obvious), “Choose either ‘boring’ or ‘fun.’” Still nothing, accompanied with more desperate crying. “Ian, just pick one! ‘Boring’ or ‘fun.’ Which one do you want?” Finally, I had to resort to, “Choose one by the time I count to three, or you’re in trouble.” I hated doing that. I have never used counting when disciplining, but I just couldn’t figure out how to progress from the stalemate we found ourselves in. I don’t think he was trying to disobey me, or I would have just spanked him. I think something actually got stuck in his brain. Once we got started, he was fine (he stopped crying), but I had to help him a lot.

That’s why I’m so impressed with his current activity. He’s working on a brochure to Pluto. He’s had so many ideas, from a floating train to a scenic lookout for floating rocks in the atmosphere. (He’s convinced Pluto has rings.) He even created trees that grow from genetically modified seeds. He said you have to add metal to the seeds, and the trees grow with metal throughout. Then people can walk upside down and sideways with magnetic shoes. Creative? Yes! He’s even thought of bad guys and adventures for his planet. I can’t wait until he finishes his brochure. I’ll have to upload pics so you all can see it!

To give you an idea of why I think it was easier for him: We started drawing the front of the brochure at home, but we ran out of time, and had to leave the house. Going down the highway, schoolbooks out of sight and out of mind, he had his coolest ideas. When I praised him for being so creative, he said, “I can do it, but I just need time to think about it.” Maybe I should give him five or ten minutes of thinking time when we begin a new creative writing project? But if I time it, I wonder if he will think of himself as being under pressure and just shut down again. Maybe we should go for a walk and discuss ideas? But sometimes it’s really cold outside, especially this time of year. Any suggestions? He’s seven. I really don’t want to make him miserable; I want school to be fun for him! At the same time, I don’t want to cater to him everytime he breaks down. I just really don’t think it’s a discipline problem, but maybe I’m wrong?

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17 responses to “Creative Writing and Crying

  1. I agree with you that it is not a discipline problem. Is it possible that you could give him his assignments at one time of the day, and then say, “we will write about it later, so start thinking about it” or something like that? That way you can do other things, and hopefully he wont feel pressured. Of course, walks are always good, weather permitting. Hope it goes well!

    • I was thinking we might be able to do something like that. But I will have to make sure he actually gets around to thinking about it, because he is so easily distracted. Maybe I can talk him through his ideas while we play with Legos for recess or something. He would LOVE that, and I think the process of building while thinking may actually even help him. Thanks for your advice! I will have to try this today!

  2. I had the same problem when I was homeschooling my daughter. Now that she is back in school she is doing a great job with her writing. I think Mommies cause more stress on kids sometimes. They feel the pressure more when Mom is asking them to do the assignment then when a teacher is asking. Also, the teacher is handling 30 students, so there isn’t the one on one pressure. This is not to say that it can’t be done at home. I think the key is definitely to eliminate the stress. I find it hard to be creative when I am stressed. I think you are on the right track with going for a walk or drive and giving him time to think about it while relaxed. Maybe listen to some music? Good luck! 🙂

    • I haven’t tried music. Maybe that will help. Glad to hear your daughter is doing so well! Public school teachers are trained to deal with all types of learners. I took Methods of Teaching while in college because I knew I was going to homeschool. I really enjoyed it, but I haven’t thought much about it since I actually began teaching myself. I think I need to try different approaches until I find one that works. But at the same time, I don’t want to be too flimsy. He still needs plenty of discipline, but I think mostly, he has trouble focusing. And I don’t want to punish him for that; I merely want to help him overcome it. Thanks for your advice! You all have really given me a lot to consider! I just need to do some of my own research to be sure I am not missing anything important!

  3. Try letting him know what you are going to be doing and go ahead and work on another subject. If he has not thought of anything by the time you are done, you could take a break and gently nudge him into brainstorming,(without specifically saying that is what you are doing of course), he may be able to relax enough again to come up with good ideas again.

    • That’s a good idea too, Becky! Especially for busier days where we are just barely getting everything done. It’s possible he could think of something while working on another subject, if only I gave him the chance. I can’t wait for his next creative assignment, so I can try some of these things out. I’m really looking forward to having success in this area!

  4. Thinking back on being seven — I think you’re in like second or first grade at that time, right? — Something my teachers always did was give us five minutes and then wandered around the room. It was easier for me that way because I didn’t feel pressured to give out an answer on the spot. That’s what freezes me up with timed tests and why the SAT freaked me out when I had to take it, because a teacher is usually breathing down your neck, looking at your work.

    Maybe try wandering around for five or ten minutes and, if he’s still stuck, put on the pressure. That way you don’t totally cater to him but you do give him some space. I’m not a teacher and I don’t have kids, so I could be way off.

    • Thanks for you idea, and for your honesty. I am both a mother and a teacher, and yet, I still cannot tell when I am way off! 🙂
      Every little idea helps! I’m actually excited about this now instead of stressed!

  5. One of my sons had this trouble throughout life, in every subject. He is a great writer, but if asked to write, would nearly always break down. He had to speak his ideas into a tape recorder and then write them as dictation. He was 11 at that time. Later, when he was doing trig, he would come to a thinking roadblock with his after-class work at night, and just go to bed. As he was falling asleep, he would suddenly visualize the answer and it was so disturbing that he would have to get up and finish the assignment before he could sleep. In college, he could only write “what I know the teacher wants to hear” and not much from his own thinking. But that writing was always good, really good.
    Brains. What an amazing thing brains are! 🙂

    • Yes, brains are amazing! And infinitely complex. And any one brain is completely different from anyone else’s brain. Sometimes, I have him tell me, just conversationally, what he wants to write. He’s really great at dictating emails to my husband or sister; no hang-ups at all! We’ve tried this a few times with his writing, but I think he gets stuck because he wants everything to sound right. I’ll have to show him how I write. Basically, I just puke my thoughts onto the page/screen, and go back and fix it later. But at least I have something to work with!

  6. My sister used to have similar breakdowns when asked to do anything writing-related. Then, on her own time, she went on to write some really hilarious stories of which even I, the Official Writer of the household, was on some level jealous. Maybe she and Ian are cut from similar cloth — in which case, he’ll gradually learn to cope with pressure, if never particularly enjoy it. (:

    • He is most definitely going to have to learn to cope with it! There’s just no way around it. Hopefully, some of these ideas will give me something to work with. I’m hoping to open up a wonderful new world to him soon. Writing can be so satisfying! He’s pretty good at grammar and parts of speech and things like that, so far. So I guess if he ever comes up with a story that has to be written, he’ll be able to, even if it takes him a while to get the hang of the writing process.

  7. I think breaking the assignment up into smaller tasks might work well and then it seems less over-whelming to complete.

    • I think you’re right, especially for the bigger projects like the brochure and postcard. Maybe do the artwork one day, and a little here and there for the stuff he has to come up with. When I was young, I had a book full of creative writing prompts. But you had to draw a picture first, and come up with a story for each one. I think that book may be the reason I enjoy writing today. I’d like him to do something creative a little bit everyday. It’s nice that his language book has things like that in it! I’m enjoying the projects, and he is too, once he really gets going.

  8. Hello! Thanks for commenting on my blog. You’re the first person ever to find it, so I was just delighted to come across your comment this morning.

    I’m also an educator, and I believe that sometimes kids’ brains just get a little stuck, and we have to get the kids moving (like you did in the car) to get their brains unstuck. Following what appears to be a very stubborn moment, they often floor us with their insane creativity. And you wonder who’s teaching who. I love those moments. : ) Metal seeds? And metal shoes? That is off the charts creative!

    Something we talk a lot about at my school is that behavior is just an indicator of a person’s current emotional/attentional/etc state. If a child is resisting a task or looks very overwhelmed, looking for the cause of the behavior instead of at the behavior itself can be helpful. Not easy to do! : )

    Good luck!

    • Thanks for your comment! Yesterday, he had a lot of writing to do, and that seems to freeze him up more than anything else, so we did a little first thing in the morning, and I spread the rest out throughout the course of the day. That made things easier on him and me. I’ve really been getting a lot of help and encouragement from everyone, and I really appreciate it. (I’m sure he does too!)

      You are an educator? What age groups/subjects do you teach? I’m thinking about getting either a teaching degree or my MFA in creative writing after my son is independent. Do you enjoy teaching?

  9. Pingback: Creative Writing and Flying « Full Circle Homeschooling

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