Why We Ditched School Altogether, Part I

It doesn’t look like school anymore . . . because it’s not.


I still tell people we “homeschool” since most inquirers just want an explanation for why my kids are home every day. When they ask follow-up questions, like what time we “do school,” I have to take a deep breath and hope I’m not judged as a weirdo—especially in a brand-new neighborhood where those next door are just getting to know us.

“Oh, we used to have a set schedule, but we don’t anymore. Now I’m letting my kids follow their own interests instead of me teaching lessons.”

The word I haven’t tossed around much—not yet, not until I get a little braver—is unschooling. Read more

Brain Cravings: Pen and Paper

When I’m pregnant, one of the common questions I’m asked is whetheror not I get food cravings. (A question I’m surprised I don’t get asked: “Why does she mention being pregnant in EVERY post?” Well, it’s sort of on my mind.) And I almost wish I would get food cravings. Most of the time I have no idea what sounds good for dinner. A craving for asparagus, for example, would help me zero in on menu options.

The type of cravings I do get are a little stranger, and I wonder if any other writers (and other creative types) experience them, too.

For example, when working at the computer, do you ever crave pen and paper?

At the writers’ retreat a couple weeks ago, I had it on my to-do list to take a letter-sized notebook (8.5″x11″) with me, but I forgot to buy it and couldn’t find a single one around the house and ended up going without.

While there, I had horrible paper cravings. I would stare at the computer screen and know that if I could just get a pen in my hands I could work through my writer’s block.

Finally I scoured the condo for paper and came up with some of those quarter-sheet tear-away paper pads with company logos taking up half the space. I felt cramped on that limited paper size, but somehow just the simple act of jotting down a few things by hand helped me push through.

Similarly, this week I finally buckled down and printed out my six-page scene outline.

It’s funny that I kept talking myself out of it before. One of my arguments was that I’d printed out a scene outline with my previous draft and after scribbling all over it, hadn’t really consulted it while revising, so it must have been a waste. Another of my arguments was that I could just as easily type notes onto the document itself rather than wasting paper and expensive printer ink (which I’m running low on).

But when I sat down two nights ago away from my computer with the printed sheets in front of me and a pen in my hand, the whole story started loosening up.

I circled and drew arrows and wrote diagonally and in the margins and connected various pieces with lines, and suddenly I could start to see exactly where I needed to make changes in the scenes and how those changes would make the book come together more.

And I realized that I’d done the same thing on the previous draft. I’d thought it hadn’t helped because I hadn’t referred to it again, but that’s not how helpfulness has to be defined. The help was allowing me to solidify my new vision (re-vision) for the draft — to get it straight in my head so that I had the big picture in mind once I opened the computer file again. For whatever reason, I need to do that by hand.

Apparently research can back me up on that, too. An article I read said that writing by hand uses very different parts of the brain than typing on a computer. And for me to pull off a novel, I need access to as many brain parts as possible. 

I also recently stumbled on Livia Blackburne’s very cool blog *A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing*; if anybody’s interested, check out the “Current Hits” listed on the right sidebar to browse some of the most popular posts. Those kinds of analyses definitely appeal to my brain as well.

What brain cravings do you get? Do you ever absolutely need to use pen and paper?

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The Beauty of Brainstorming

from Wired.com

Don’t ask me what’s up with the alliteration in my titles lately. Sometimes my brain just goes that direction.

And speaking of the brain. It’s funny how often we have to trick it, isn’t it? For example, I know that all morning while I’m taking care of my kids or writing lesson plans or grading papers or doing dishes, I’ll be wishing I could be writing, and then when I get to my daily writing time, from 2–5 p.m. every day, suddenly I find myself preferring to do the dishes! But if I trick my brain into thinking that I need to be grading papers, then suddenly I can get myself excited about writing again.

Yesterday I was having the usual trouble generating enthusiasm for working on my manuscript. I’d hit a stagnant part that I knew needed to be cut, but the idea of having to write brand new scenes in place of the old ones did not appeal to me one bit. I kept staring at the screen, having no idea what kinds of scenes to write or where to start them. So instead of rewriting the pages, I spent a half an hour semi-complaining about it on Twitter.

Finally, I decided to use one of the most classic brain-tricking tactics known to writers, teachers, and students every where: the brainstorm.

I opened my freewriting document — that place where I’m allowed to type stuff about my manuscript instead of actually working on the manuscript itself — and remembered how freeing it is to just play with ideas for a while without much pressure, to put words on the page without feeling like they need to meet all kinds of descriptive purposes. Yep, I tricked my brain into thinking we were just playing around instead of working, and within a few minutes, I knew what new scenes need to be inserted in the thirty pages I’m about to cut.

I do think half the time “writer’s block” is just that we’ve put too much pressure on our brains and the brains are resisting output. It happens the same way with children: nag them and they complain, drag their feet; turn work into a game, and they work a lot faster and more pleasantly.

art by Jim di Bartolo

If you need extra ideas on surviving the drafting or revision process, check out Laini Taylor’s Not for Robots essays. Those motivate my brain a lot whenever I read them. And she mentions how she always keeps a freewriting document open to trick her brain into thinking there’s no pressure — then once her brain generates something good, she pastes it into the draft document. Genius!

What about you? How do you trick your brain out of writer’s block or artist’s block or whatever stumps you? Any awesome tactics to share?

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