Great Authors ~ Born or Built?

Is It Writers Block When You Can’t Get Started Writing in the First Place?

Getting middle school students to write is a challenge, because frankly, most of tsuper hero ideahem just don’t want to. And it doesn’t matter what the assignment is. I can say, write me a story, about anything you want (school appropriate) and they would still groan, and moan, and waste as much class time as they could get away with. I’ve been fighting this battle for thirteen years so far. Different grade levels, different classes, different schools, same reaction. Every time.

At the beginning of the school year I have them write a narrative to get back into the swing of writing, and to practice creating a plot with dialogue. This sounds somewhat easy, but believe me when I say I could spends months on just this one writing assignment. So many of the students lack the ability or willingness to actually use their imagination to create a  true narrative.

I would say approximately 75% of my students turn in an essay type paper using the transition words first, next, then, and finally, essentially creating an informative text about some random event that happened in their lives. It’s disappointing.

I teach English to non-English speaking students. I consider myself lucky in that I usually get to have my students two years in a row, unless they test out of the EL program, so I really get the opportunity to learn their strengths and weaknesses.

One of my male students, now an 8th grader, struggles in all of his classes. He didn’t qualify for SpEd. services, but he does process information very slowly. He takes longer to read, to write, even to speak. He’s super sweet, and not a classroom distraction at all.

I try to provide him with as much support as I can in my class, as well as with IA’s in his content area classes. He’s a high level EL student, meaning his English is very close to that of a native English speaker, so language is not his primary struggle.

I was worried about his progress on the narrative story assignment. He seemed to spend much of the class time dedicated to writing daydreaming, but every time I asked how he was doing, he would answer, “Fine.” Just that one word ~ fine.

The day came to collect their finished products, and I settled in that night at home with my cup of coffee and red pen to to see how well this latest class of students could tell me a story.

There were a few decent narratives among the many informative texts, then there was my struggling student’s papers. I was shocked. Honestly, I grabbed my laptop and plugged in a few of his sentences just to see if I could find a match. There was nothing. Zip.

My little struggler had written me a two and a half page story about a young boy who discovers his friends are all super heroes. His exposition included how his friends approached him with their identities because they felt he could become one of them as well, and they needed his help.

His detail was incredible. I could see each of his characters develop though-out his mini-plot. I could visualize his settings, the costumes, the weapons, and the epic battle at the climax. His protagonist was a well developed round and dynamic character. It was a pure joy to read!

He had made his customary grammar mistakes, and the majority was written in simple sentence structures, leaving me no further doubts that this was his work, but his plot was complete, and he even included internal as well as external conflicts!

This student is going to struggle for the rest of his life. I have my fingers crossed that he will be able to graduate high-school. I fear that he will never fully understand the talent that I truly believes he has, therefore, he will never make it a priority in his life.

I didn’t make one red mark on his story. With his permission, I displayed it on my bulletin board. I look at that story every time I have to meet with him and his teachers over his failing grades. I agonize over his struggles, and I agonize over his natural talent that may never be allowed or encouraged to grow.

What do you think? Are great authors simply born with the ability to weave a fascinating story that captures readers effortlessly? Or do writers become great authors through courses, and classes, and failures, successes, great agents, and editors, and publishers?

He Wasn’t Ready to Go

Old Dogs, When to Say Good-bye

One of my old dogs (15 yr. old border collie) has been suffering from OneHappyBoychronic diarrhea for the past six months. I know, TMI, but stick with me here. After a lot of tests and a lot of money, our vet determined my good dog Rebel has cancer. Not only that he also has a grade 6 heart murmur and end stage congenital heart failure. I was/am devastated.

Watching him lie on the floor of the vet clinic, detached from the situation, the brutal reality that I had not really “seen” him horrified me.

I knew, on some level, that he was old. I knew he had lost a little weight and slept a whole lot more, but I hadn’t really realized that the hairy hyper-active go-getter canine was now essentially a tired, brittle, little “old man”. I kept asking myself, “When did this happen? How did I miss it?”

Yes, I got up every morning and let him out with the other dogs, fixed his breakfast, patted his head, gave him a treat and left him safe in my bedroom while I went to work. I got home, let him out, fed him dinner, patted his head, went to sleep knowing he was sleeping at the foot of my bed, like he had done practically every night for almost 15 years.

But I hadn’t REALLY seen him. My crazy, hyper, curious, healthy, young dog was gone, and in his place was a tired, frail, and very ill old dog. My heart broke. When did this happen?

He gets up slower. He falls down easily. He doesn’t hear me call his name (BUT, he can hear a treat bag being opened two rooms away!) He no longer tolerates the younger dogs pestering him, and he has accidents at night, something he hasn’t done since a very young puppy.

Sitting in the clean but sterile room, watching him lie on the floor and stare at the door, I could truly see just how tired he really was. Images of our last walk popped into my head showing me a dog following behind, not trying to tear my arm off pulling ahead. Last Jeep ride, he had been sitting through most of it. Last game of ball, he had tired out so much quicker…

In my shock, I made an appointment to have him put down. I didn’t want him in pain. I didn’t want him miserable because he no longer enjoys life. I completely agree with vets and other people who’ve had to make this difficult decision that a week too early is better than a day too late.

I let everyone know my plans so they could see him and say good-bye. I took a day off work to spoil him one last time. And I cried a lot. And I wondered if he had had a good life. Had I treated him good? And I agonized how I didn’t really notice my good boy getting so old.

On what was to be his last day, I got up early to let him out and feed breakfast as normal. I was going to give him stuff like bacon and eggs, but our appointment wasn’t until the afternoon and I didn’t want him to spend his last day sick to his tummy, so he got treats, a lot of treats.

After breakfast we went to a pet store (I had to lift him into the Jeep he used to sail into with ease), he stood shakily in the back seat and I had to drive slowly and carefully not to knock him down. He showed some interest as we walked into the store, and I got him a sweater and let him pick out a chew toy. By then, he was ready to go. I lifted him back into the Jeep and this time he simply lay down in the back seat. Oh how I missed the crazy dog who could bounce back and forth across the seat for FIVE HOURS STRAIGHT when we drove to see my parents in another state…

I took him to my parents (who now live five minutes away), and he immediately trotted to their front door, tail waving merrily, greeted both of them, ate their little dog’s food, and once more indicated he was ready to go.

I took him out to the barn to see the horses (he had always been enamored of them and had spent many a weekend on camping trips where he lead the way for myself and other trail riders). He didn’t show all that much enthusiasm, sniffed around a bit, then stood staring at the Jeep, so I really thought he was ready to go. I cried the five minutes home…

There was one more “test” I felt I needed to do to make sure he was ready to go, and I had been putting it off since his terminal diagnosis. His ball. My good boy could have used a 12-step program over the past few years when it came to his tennis balls! But I was afraid. Afraid he wouldn’t have that light in his eyes when I took his ball out of hiding, and afraid that he would.

I sat at the front of my short hall and pulled the ball out from behind my back. His whole world lit up! He instantly gave me his classic border collie stance and stare and trembled in excitement. My heart leapt, and crashed… I rolled the ball down the hall and he trotted gamely after it, laying it right in front of me with a huge canine smile on his face. Again and again. Did he stumble? Yes. He even fell down once when turning too quickly. But he didn’t stop until I made that bright yellow ball disappear.

He wasn’t ready to go yet.
And I wasn’t ready to let him go.

Dear Reader,

He is still with me today; two weeks later. I know he’s on borrowed time – and I watch him closely for any signs of discomfort. I have turned him into an accomplished begger with treats at the ready whenever he goes outside, comes inside, I’m in the kitchen, he’s in the kitchen, or he just looks cute! I make sure I really “see” him every day. When he is ready, I will hold him in my arms and let him go.

He taught me a lesson that day that applies to both my life and my writing, and I will share it with you soon!

A’s Question of the Day –
Animal Stories. Best told from the animal’s point of view? The owner’s? Like them both? Hate them both? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this genre.