Thursday, November 14, 2019

Red pens

Today I don't really know what to write, which I suppose is alright because sometimes days are just drizzly and dull. It was actually a pretty good homeschooling day, with Benjamin finally buckling down to do his research project. Getting him to write a rough draft of anything has been difficult (to be fair this is only our second report); he seems to think it's a waste of time and wants to dive directly into the good copy.

I can't say I blame him because drafting isn't very appealing—getting dirty and making mistakes? Carefully choosing your words only to later abandon them, striking them out with a red pen? Yuck.

It's really not a thrilling activity.

The good copy is where he—surprisingly—shines. He loves writing out his words on the lined paper I designed especially for him (because somehow he ended up with a college-ruled notebook, which hasn't been ideal for guiding his developing penmanship, so for his good copy I print out paper with dotted lines to help him make uniform letters). Somehow he's able to write neat and tidy letters when he does his good copy, which he's unable to do during any other writing activity (which is why it's surprising to me that he can).

Yesterday I printed out a manuscript of my own to edit while the kids worked on their projects. I read it to them first and they gasped in all the right places (which, really, is just one because it's a very short story). They loved it.

And then I brought out my red pen and marked it up—noted a few inconsistencies, some missing words, thought of some better words to replace mediocre words, fixed some punctuation.

"What are you doing?" the kids asked.

"I'm editing my story," I said.

"You wrote that?!" Miriam said with a note of surprise in her voice.

"Yes, I wrote it," I said.

"But it was good," Benjamin said. "Why are you changing it?"

"Oh, there were some things I noticed that needed to be fixed as I was reading it so I'm making notes of them now. It's always important to edit your work so you can catch and fix the mistakes you make," I told him.

"Even for you?"

"Especially for me!" I told him.

Somehow I think that was a better lesson for him than any other editing exercise we've done so far.

I am so nervous to send this story out into the world. A huge part of me is hoping it gets accepted for publication right away. Another part of me is completely convinced it's rubbish and will be rejected without a second thought. But I've gone through a long list of publishers and from that have gleaned a somewhat shorter list of publishers I think would be interested in a story like this, so I'm all ready to face rejection (ew) without feeling too crushed. Rejection is hard but if there's one thing I learned being married to "Mr. Rejected For 185 Positions Before Finally Landing a Job," it's that rejection isn't the end of things. It's merely the beginning to a long, long chain of rejections...before you finally find the perfect match.

And the thing is, sometimes the 186th match is a good match. So...

Anyway, as an editor kind of person (who, yes, makes many mistakes in her own rough drafts (disclaimer: this entire blog is a rough draft so mistakes abound)), I feel driven to pick up my red pen and fix all those niggling little errors.

It's d-e-s-t-r-u-c-t-i-o-n, not d-e-s-c-h-r-u-c-s-h-u-n! Do you not consider spelling rules while writing? Capitalize the first letter of your sentence and end with a period! They have five on the back and four on the front? What does that even mean? Five what on the front what? Write down all the words in your brain! Diet: bugs, worms, spiders? You're supposed to be using complete sentences. This is a list.

I'm probably being a little too harsh considering he's only in grade two. But I do want him to turn into a mindful writer (and I promise it's only because this rough draft will be turned into a final copy that I am pointing out so many mistakes; I'm not nearly so strict with his daily writing), however, I also don't want to turn him off of writing—or ME—altogether.

In her book Because Internet, Gretchen McCulloch wisely states, "...I'd gladly accept the decline of standards that were arbitrary and elitist in the first place in favor of being able to better connect with my [little boy].* After all, a red pen will never love me back" (p. 153).

She didn't say "little boy" though. She said "fellow humans."

Still, trying to find this balance between being Benjamin's educator, who has expectations that must be met in order to "pass" the project/unit/task, and being Benjamin's mother, who thinks he's an amazing kid with a brilliant mind and loves everything he creates by nature of it's his creation and he's my creation and I just love him to pieces is something I'm still trying to figure out to do.

But I think having him see that I use that same red pen on my own work was a good start.


  1. Aww. You are a lovely writer, even in your rough drafts! (It was all that writing you did as a child!)