Back to Basics


The past few weeks I’ve been struggling with one of my sons to manage his schoolwork. It’s the end of the year, so I get the whole spring fever thing. But he’s taken these classes all year and knows what’s expected of him. Why, then, was I suddenly getting emails from teachers about missing assignments, tests not corrected and signed and returned, slipping grades? In the past, I’ve seen a big leap in maturity growth in my younger son around this time of year. But lately, he seemed to be sticking his head in the sand and avoiding responsibility at all costs. He’s been having trouble getting to sleep at night too, and has been cranky and snippy with me. What the heck was going on?

Admittedly, I’ve been much more hands-off with my high school senior. Helping to plan the college-prep aspects of his life have been the focus of my time with him: looking for a roommate, planning for course selection and orientation, shopping for a computer. He loves his classes this year, is managing the work fine and getting great grades. It’s likely why the stark difference in his brother’s efforts has been so much more frustrating.

Then I realized that maybe all the planning with the Heir is part of the problem I’m having with the Spare. The boys have become very close this year, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s starting to sink in that our little nest will soon have one less bird in it. The idea of such a change must be overwhelming for my younger one.

This week at bedtime, I decided to try an experiment. I pulled out some old children’s stories and asked my youngest if I could read to him. He agreed, and as I started the first Dr. Seuss story, he said, “I feel like I’m six.” I asked if he wanted me to stop and he adamantly said “NO”. We’ve now gone through all of his old favorites, with only a couple left on the shelf, and I’m planning to go to the library this weekend to find a few more. My son’s been falling asleep earlier and staying asleep all night since we started this experiment, and I’m hoping to soon see a change in temperament and efforts elsewhere.

When I started writing my current book, I was determined to find a leaner, more efficient way to write it. My last book took as long to research as it did to write and revise, so I set out to start writing without doing all of the research up front. But the story wasn’t going anywhere. I’d written a few nonlinear scenes, and then got stuck. It turns out I can’t write without researching first. I need to get to know my characters before I can begin to bring them to life on the page. And if they’re not alive on the page, the story doesn’t move. By returning to my original process of researching before drafting, I’ve met with much more progress than I did when trying to get around it.

I spend so much time looking ahead and focusing on helping my kids prepare for the future that sometimes I forget they are just that: kids. Their progress isn’t always linear. I’ve found the same to be true with my writing. Sometimes we need to take a step or two back, return to basics and re-ground ourselves so we can keep moving forward. We can all benefit from occasional reminders of the things that work, those tools we can always rely on.