Thursday, November 13, 2008

One of "those" moms

Simon, my 6th grader, wants to be a writer some day. For some reason, seeing me get rejected hasn't deterred him--perhaps because it hasn't deterred me either. I try to take my rejections cheerfully, gleaning something from them and telling him this is a subjective business: "I don't like every book I look at in a store, so I can't expect everyone to like mine either, right?" And he sees me at my computer during every free moment I can, typing away (or sometimes screaming at my characters to do something worth notice), so he knows a few dozen (I'm being kind to myself today) nos won't send me to bed a month.

But last week, he came home, discouraged about writing for the first time. He'd written a memoir for his reading class and had received an 82.5 on it. "Now I'm not sure any of the stuff I've been writing is any good." Again, I gave him the pep talk I give myself on a regular basis and told him it was just one paper, just one teacher's opinion, and that he has to keep going.

Then I switched into mom mode. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say I read the memoir (after asking her to send it home, which right there bothered me because if an assignment is going to count for roughly one-third of a child's final grade in a class, shouldn't the parent get to see it before grades are finalized and distributed? yeah, I think so, too), disagreed with her grading system, and respectfully wrote a letter last night telling her so, then had Simon take it with him to school today.

So now I suppose I'm one of "those" moms. I'm a parent teachers will dread having in for conferences. I'm interfering. I'm distrusting. I'm suspicious. I'm fodder for coffee- and lunch-break discussions and plenty of eye rolling and heavy sighs and "oh. my. gosh. I can't believe she said that!"

A couple of years ago I probably wouldn't have said a word to the teacher. I'd have given Simon the "hang-in-there" speech and let it go at that. But now I can't. If I'm truly convinced writing taste is subjective, how can I, at the same time, convince Simon receiving a number grade on an essay makes sense. How can you grade subjectivity? Did he do everything he was supposed to? Did he spell all the words correctly? Did he have a beginning, a middle, and an end? Did he have a title? The correct number of paragraphs? Did he stay on topic? Because none of those things are subjective. You want to grade him on the specifics, then okay. He still didn't deserve a C-. But to grade him on voice and give him a C-? Well, I'm okay with being one of "those" moms for the moment.

Perhaps I'm also going to bat for myself here because I have to believe a couple of things. First of all, I have to believe there are no rubrics out there that agents keep beside their computers, giving me a number grade on my partials or fulls: "80% for voice, 90% for subject matter, 60% for word choice, 90% for conventions. 80% average. This will never sell. Rejection letter." I have to believe someone will read my manuscript and say, "Okay. I like this. Maybe even a lot." And if they never do, then I can chalk it up to personal taste and keep writing simply because I love to write.

And second of all, I have to believe that my 11-year-old won't become discouraged with writing before he even gets the chance to try, before he gets the chance to not just enjoy it but to love it.
Stephen King said, "Fear is at the root of all bad writing." I want Simon to learn to write without fear not just so he'll be good but so he'll be happy.


Paul A. Custer said...

Never fear B - if you want some company in the OOTM Club (One Of Those Mom's) - talk to Susan. She's been OOTM for a long time now. She's good at it, too! :)

Ron said...

Maybe I should have Bobbie write to the next journal editor that rejects my work.

Shankar said...

I'm with you on this one. I used to get mediocre grades in English during High School, but I've always been told that my writing style is worth reading.

Now, admittedly, I used to be inconsistent in my tenses until someone pointed it out to me, but that was constructive criticism. And I went out briefly with a girl who was studying to be a proofreader and editor and she wasn't scared of splashing the red ink on my term papers that I had her review (I got fabulous grades for all of them), but, again, constructive stuff.

Sure there are rules that ought to be followed (spelling, grammar and--my pet peeve in others--punctuation), but you don't have to follow all of them to be a fine writer. Just read Terry Pratchett.