I’ll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours: My Writing Process

Last week, one of my fellow Lesley University Alums, Audrey Camp (have I mentioned that I love the community that is Lesley?) tagged me to participate in the My Writing Process Blog Tour. Audrey is an American expat and freelance writer living in Oslo, Norway, and received her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley in 2012. Her essays have appeared in Forge and Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. You can check out her take on her writing process at Audrey Camp, The Girl Behind the Red Door .

1. What am I working on?

One of the most difficult and fun aspects of my writing process is that my writing life reflects my personality. I like to call it eclectic. Some might call it scatter-brained, unfocused, or just plain weird. My husband tells me I’m the only person he knows who has the classical station jammed between the oldies rock and the country station on my car radio pre-set channels. I came to Lesley’s MFA program with several projects in various stages of completion. I also began one new project, a YA fantasy novel that became my thesis. Following graduation in January, I revised a completed draft of an historical fiction YA, a picture book, and one poem. Now I am trying to settle back down to complete my fantasy novel, but I admit that other projects, new and old, are clamoring for my attention as well. Just like my children, each of them shouts “Look at me! Look at me! No, REALLY look at me!” So I have begun to set monthly goals to try to corral the unwieldy herd into submission for submission’s sake.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think this question could probably be answered in the same way by every writer: my work differs from others of its genre because of that elusive thing we call voice, which is made up, in part, of those aspects of our experience which inform us and drive us forward. We imbibe a character’s voice with aspects of that character’s personality, gender, ethnicity, sense of place. Similarly, my work as a writer is imbued with my voice-my experience as a person, my world-view, my sense of justice, worth, and import. These are the pieces of the world that influence and inform my writing, which is what sets it apart from other work in the same genre.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Audrey said “When it comes to writing stories, I have no choice.” This is true for me as well. When I was a kid, I read voraciously and I created my own stories with equal enthusiasm. It was my way of creating a utopian world, one that made sense and functioned as I knew the real world should. Now, story is for me the same kind of safe harbor, creating worlds that seek to make sense of the inconsistencies and injustices of life. When we write, we get to play God, and it is as close to understanding how difficult a job that might really be as we can probably come.

4. How does my writing process work?

Well, most days I would have to admit it doesn’t. Instead, I covet success to feed my guilty pleasure. It would be a luxury to be able to say “I’m a financial success as a writer, therefore I’m justified in spending time on my writing as if it were a real job.” I admit I have pangs of envy for writers who can treat themselves to whole days of writing, researching, and networking while knowing there will be a paycheck at the end to justify this time.

I have three kids, one husband, and four cats. My schedule shifts and morphs on a minute by minute basis at times. I try to plan my week, but usually there will be some event that changes all my plans. Last week, it was a cat in sudden renal failure, a child with a fractured thumb, and the list goes on from there.

I try to maximize time by networking (twitter, facebook, etc.) while I have time that is otherwise difficult to use (waiting at doctor’s appointments, drum lessons, etc.) I try to write a little each day, but there are often days where that doesn’t happen. I do think about my writing every day, planning my plot lines and getting to know my characters in my head, so I count that as writing, even if it’s happening while I’m driving, or walking, or doing laundry. I don’t subscribe to the idea that you must write every day to be successful. You just have to be dedicated to finishing projects on whatever schedule is feasible for you.

I like when I have deadlines to meet (whether for submission periods or self imposed) as it helps me to focus and stay on track. And, recently, I have begun to make use of two alumni groups where we check in with goals at the beginning of the month. Finally, I try to use my weekly writing group session as a deadline to the next chapter.

With respect to projects, my process is varied. Wherever the idea strikes me, at whatever point in the story that is, I begin. Sometimes it’s a scene in the middle. Sometimes it’s the climax, sometimes the first page. The seed that starts the story is my jumping off point. If it’s not the beginning, I get the crux of the seed down, then go back to the beginning and work toward the idea that started it all. From there, I usually continue in chronological order. I never start with endings, as it’s hard to know what will be needed in them, even if I know what the ending will be (I’m a happy ending person. There’s enough misery in the world that I don’t feel the need to add to it with my endings. I know some people will criticize me for this, but I haven’t yet found a legitimate reason in my work to veer from this philosophy, and I hope I never will.

So that is my working process. Next up, you can check out the writing processes of some of my completely awesome Lesley friends:

Michael Anthony, A Veteran’s Perspective…

Kyra Renee Clay, Traveling to Me: The Road towards living (a Dream)

Alexis Marie Writes

and Cynthia Platt, Scribbling in the Garret

I hope you’ll check them out. A writer friend of mine, Patricia Easton, likes to quote the legendary children’s editor, Dinah Stevenson, with the following words of wisdom (and one of my favorite nuggets of writing advice): Your process is your process. Honor your process.

 

 

 

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Functional Shift: What it is and why every writer needs it

While researching the topic of my third semester craft essay at Lesley last year, I came across the term “functional shift” used by cognitive scientists to describe a slow down in brain processing when we encounter language in fiction that makes us hesitate to understand it. Authors are universally taught that clarity is one of our main goals in writing. So while it doesn’t sound like making your reader work to understand what you are saying would be a good idea, it is, in fact, a trick used by many highly successful authors. From Shakespeare to Dr. Suess, authors who can successfully manipulate the functional shift engage their readers more significantly than those who do not use this technique.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (or fmri) technology, scientists have gained new insight into how our brains react to the language of fiction. By studying subjects reading Shakespeare, cognitive scientists have isolated this principle of a functional shift.

Shakespeare used 17,677 words in his works, making up approximately 1700 of them, or 10 per cent. He did this by changing the parts of speech, integrating foreign words, adding prefixes and suffixes, inventing words, and connecting separate words together. These intentional syntactic errors shift mental pathways in the reader, which causes the brain to become stimulated. By comparing the language of Shakespeare to the same meaning rewritten in simple prose, scientists were able to discover that the challenge of Shakespeare’s word usage engages the reader, making the subject excited rather than confused. Among examples of Shakespeare’s intentional syntactic mistakes are “thick my blood” from The Winter’s Tale (an adjective made into a verb); “the cruelest she alive” from Twelfth Night (a pronoun made into a noun); “He childed as I fathered” from King Lear (a noun made into a verb); and “him have you madded” from King Lear (an adverb made into a verb). As we read these sentences, our brains hesitate to understand the new use of the word encountered, yet that use is familiar enough to us that we do not discard it as nonsense. We experience a slight delay to process the word and the functional shift is created.

On the other pole of this spectrum, Dr. Suess often used the same type of error to engage young readers, such as when he substituted the word “chimbley” for “chimney” in How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Although “chimney” could have worked as an imperfect rhyme for “nimbly” in the previous line, Dr. Suess’ invention of a word so close to chimney, and yet acting as a perfect rhyme, works in the same manner as the inventions that Shakespeare used. The reader accepts the word as something that can be understood after a slight hesitation.

As writers, understanding how and why this functional shift occurs allows us to manipulate it in our own writing. As with all rules, we must understand the rule in order to break it. If the attempted shift is recognized by the brain as nonsense, the brain will hesitate and reject it, and the shift will not be effective, the brain will not be stimulated. A writer must be in control of the technique when he or she uses it for it to produce the intended result.

If you’d like to learn more about the functional shift, this article by Daniel Honan is a great place to start:

http://bigthink.com/blogs/how-to-think-like-Shakespeare.

What are some examples of an effective functional shift that you have read or used in your own writing?

 

 

 

 

 

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My Top 5 Revision Tips

Working on revisions this month for my historical YA novel, I used some revision techniques that have proven especially helpful. I hope that by sharing them, your revision process will be made a little bit easier.

1. Find your weeds:
It’s difficult to tailor specific revision techniques to the varying types of writing an individual author bring to their work. So the first thing you must do is to identify your own propensities for disaster. You must be able to see the weeds in your garden in order to pick them out. How do you do that if the sun is blinding you? First and foremost, get the opinion of other writers or publishing professionals. Look though their comments for patterns to identify mistakes you regularly make (such as problems with point of view, dialogue, world building, or sentence structure). Put your work aside for at least a week, preferably much longer, and then come back to it and actively look for patterns yourself. Too many sentences in a paragraph that start with “I”? Too many confusing beginnings that are not properly anchored in time to other the scene/chapter before? Too many lulls in tension? You must be able to identify your areas of weakness if you are going to address them. Make a checklist so you can refer back to it to remind yourself of things to look for when you revise (see below).

2. Use technology to your advantage:
There are tons of benefits to using the “find” feature in Word. Do you tend to repeat a phrase too much? Are your characters nodding non-stop? Use “find” to check the number of times your narrator says “I knew” or is biting her nails. A little bit of sweating or throat tightening to show fear can be highly effective. But if your character does these things every time you have a vampire encounter, your reader will become annoyed. When you begin to notice those pattern from above where your character repeats things, use “find” to get an idea of just how often your are doing it. You may be surprised at how often you are slipping into a bad habit.

3. Make a revision checklist:
As you look for those patterns I’ve talked about, consider consulting a general revision checklist as well as making your own. This may even help you find your specific weeds when you step back and look at your garden from a more removed, clinical place. The following list may help to get you started, but you can add or delete items as appropriate:

Themes
Plot
Subplot
Character development
Dialogue
Tension and Conflict
World building (Setting)
Point of View
Internal goals
External goals
Character arc
Word choice
Verbs
Adjectives
Pronouns
Paragraphs
Chapter arc
Openings
Closings
Transitions
Scenes
Inference
Sentence structure
Punctuation and grammar
Cliché
Title
Climax
Surprise
Devices

4. Honor Your Process:
My friend and mentor, Pat Easton, is always telling us that iconic children’s book editor and publisher Dinah Stevens says “Your process is your process. Honor your process.” By this she means, as interpreted by me, that it doesn’t matter if you write longhand or on a computer, in a cafĂ© or in your pajamas on your bed, or if you start in the middle and fill in the beginning and end. You may write too much and then have to cut, or you may not write enough and have to add in order to make it clear. (Pat Easton describes this as writers being like belly buttons: some are innies and some are outies, and both are okay). As long as you are producing, it doesn’t matter the method you use to get there. This is true even for revision, as long as you do revise thoroughly. Writers always talk about “drafts,” but I don’t think in drafts. To me, my work is one consistently changing draft. This is my process. But it is a draft which I weed regularly and thoroughly.

5. When you think you have revised enough, get a second opinion:
Just as it is wise to get a second opinion when it comes to your health, it is wise to get a second opinion when you feel something is ready to send out into the world. Don’t ask your mother, your spouse, your friends. Ask people who will tell you the truth.

What are your best tips for revision?

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Dyslexia Support

It’s difficult to offer concrete help for children with dyslexia in a forum such as this because Dyslexia itself is a broad spectrum term encompassing any reading learning disorder. We commonly think of dyslexia as a problem where the brain reverses the images of letters and numbers, but dyslexia is much more complicated. Dyslexics struggle to read for many different reasons, all involving how the brain processes written language. Many dyslexic people struggle with phonetic comprehension, reading comprehension issues such as inference (what a sentence is implying rather than stating outright), and word identification (especially with sight words such as conjunctions).
One type of assistive technology that is generally recommended for people with dyslexia is audiobooks. When my son was first diagnosed with dyslexia five years ago, his diagnostic provider suggested that I have him listen to books on CDs. I tried this, but it was difficult to get CDs for the books he wanted to read and if I bought them from a bookstore they were very expensive. In addition, the readers of commercially produced audiobooks speak at a steady pace for someone who is listening, but at a pace too fast for a child trying to visually engage with the text at the same time. My son just couldn’t keep up. So even if I managed to find the CD for the book he wanted at the bookstore or the library, he would soon give up on them as he couldn’t “read along” with what was being spoken.
Instead, he struggled through on his own or would ask me to read to him. Sometimes he would read to me, but generally he had to struggle so much that he preferred when I read to him. He would often stop me to ask questions because the amount of inference required was too much for him to process, especially at the very beginning of a book. He also struggled with pronunciation of words, especially if the words were based on another language like Greek (yes, the irony of Percy Jackson). It seemed to me that, in the advent of a technological onslaught, there was no place for my learning disabled son. We tried electronic readers, but with Borders going under and the instability of the market, we weren’t sure where to turn. Barnes and Noble’s Nook device provided auditory read along, but only for picture books. My son needed middle grade titles.
I had been getting solicitations for a charitable organization called Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. I kept thinking that I should investigate the organization, but was so overwhelmed with the day to day management of my two learning disabled children in addition to regular life that I placed it on a mental to-do list and often forgot about it. The organization changed its name to Learning Ally, and I finally began to look into their mission. They said they had thousands of books on audio. I decided to give it a try.
What I received was well beyond my expectations. I had to provide them with my son’s diagnosis, which I honestly wasn’t very comfortable doing, to become a member. We downloaded our first book, and my son, who was skeptical as well, seemed happy. Not only could he hear his book, he could see the text, which was highlighted where the reader was reading, and he could speed up or slow down the speaker. He can download to any device he wants that is not content controlled by the manufacturer (such as the Nook): his computer, his iphone, an ipad, my computer. At first, he only asked for the books he had to read for school. But over time, he began asking for books just to read. I was overwhelmed.
He still likes to hold a copy of the book in his hands (a wee bit of his mother in him), but the audio/electronic text version enables him to read with confidence, especially when he chooses a challenging book.
I have become a vocal fan of Learning Ally (which also offers webinars for parents on learning issues and strategies related to dyslexia and visual impairment). A similar organization is Bookshare.org, which has a compatible mission to Learning Ally but does not have a membership fee.
One in five people is dyslexic. I believe this type of assistive technology is the most important technological tool that we have as parents and educators to help our dyslexic children become independent readers. A dyslexic child still needs the individualized help of a caring and qualified reading specialist. But this type of technology empowers a child to use the skills learned in reading support in a way that just isn’t available for them otherwise. It gives them a sense of independence, and allows them to work at their own pace without feeling as though they need to meet the expectations of anyone else.
What has been your most valuable support for dyslexia? What other support strategies would you recommend to others?

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2013 in Books

It’s time once again for a quick wrap up of my favorite books of 2013. Because I was working on a young adult fantasy for my thesis, I read quite a bit of YA fantasy and dystopian fiction. My picks for this year include Rae Carson’s Girl of Fire and Thorns, Kristen Cashore’s Graceling, and Cornelia Funke’s Fearless. You can check out my reviews in detail on my Goodreads page. Outside of fantasy, I’ve been reading Phoebe Stone’s The Romeo and Juliet Code, a middle grade historical fiction. I haven’t finished it quite yet, but so far I am very impressed. I helped my daughter read Burnett’s The Secret Garden. I read also Kevin Prufer’s Strange Wood and Fallen from a Chariot. I love his poetry.
My list of books to be read continues to grow, and I’ll keep you posted on those that I feel are worth passing on.
Happy reading everyone. What were your favorite books of 2013?

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The New Year

This year will be different, of that much I am certain. Death and taxes are certain, but change, too, comes to us whether we ask it to or not. When we consider the existence of those who have lived quietly, the worlds of people like Jane Austen and Emily Carr where the daily routines of life did not vary dramatically, it is easy to believe that their lives held little alteration. But as I look back on my own past year, and forward to the year to come, it is the small changes that cause the most ripples in my life. This past year, I have watched my children grow like the flowers in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Secret Garden, bursting into their own spring a little each day. My oldest has watched a friend suffer a serious spinal cord injury, in the sport they both love, and learned about a community coming together to support a remarkable young man in his quest to recover. My son has also begun his own early steps to secure his future as an adult, as he begins to look at colleges, got his driving permit, is taking his first AP course, and took his PSATs. My second son, who is dyslexic, discovered that he likes to read (insert virtual cartwheels here). He was the force behind our trip to Italy, where we reconnected with cousins I haven’t seen in many years and paved the way for a new generation of friendships. My daughter has become an accomplished reader, a pretty amazing goalie, and has learned a lot about being true to herself. As I look ahead to the coming year, I will graduate from the MFA program at Lesley, teach a summer program, and grow with my children. These are not particularly monumental milestones or changes, and yet each creates a wake of its own, rolling out in currents I can’t anticipate. I may not sell any of my work, and I certainly won’t be the next international writing superstar, but the alterations coming this year will inform my writing, will change my writing, and will change me. I think, I hope, that I have reached a place where those changes are certain to make me a better person. Death and taxes and change. These things are certain.
Happy New Year

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Ownership Matters

Today I watched a wonderful trailer for a movie about being Dyslexic at The Big Picture Movie. This trailer pierced my heart because it is exactly what my oldest son needs to hear. He’s not dyslexic, but he is learning disabled, and the message is still spot on: owning your disability allows you to take control of it.

I don’t believe there is anything more important for a learning disabled person to hear, except, perhaps, that you are not alone. We are not alone. We walk among each other without even realizing our connections, but they exist. When we take ownership of our disabilities and are not afraid to admit to them, we begin to see each other, learn from each other, and triumph together.

My son has not learned to take ownership of his disability, but it is the mission of his parents and his school that this be the year in which he makes that leap. It is a leap of faith, a leap that requires belief in not only himself but in those of us who have promised to be there for him. There are a lot of reasons why he has not had this faith. The system let him down in so many ways that it would take a full length book to explain them all. Now he is getting the help he needs and slowly learning to trust again. And I know that when he finally is able to make that leap, there will be no one more proud of him than I am.

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Living with LD, Moments of Dark Joy Shine through the Struggle

My second son, who happens to be dyslexic and have a partial executive functioning disability in planning and organizing, walked out of his school and got into the car. He dropped a wad of one and five dollar bills on the console between us.
“What’s that for?” I asked.
“I’ll explain in a minute,” he said, “it’s a little complicated.” He set his backpack on the floor and dove into the snack I had brought for the ride to his drum lesson. I braced myself. Listening to one of his explanations is usually a great way to find a migraine.
“There’s this kid in my LA (language arts) class, and he lost his vocabulary book,” he began, crackers around the edges of his lips. “So I told Mr. Michalski that I lost my book and gave him the new one Mr. Michalski gave me. And then he gave me the money for the book in case the school charges you for it.”
I nodded. This was going to be interesting. “Why couldn’t this kid ask Mr. Michalski for a new vocabulary book himself?” I asked.
“Because he already lost one vocabulary book this year.” It’s only the first week of October, I thought.
“So have you,” I pointed out.
“Mom,” my son said with the kind of patience you would use on a two-year-old, while he laughed a little. “This kid is a straight A student. He’s all stressed about this and what Mr. Michalski will think. He’s not used to being in this kind of problem.”
“Not like you, huh?”
“Exactly,” my son said, nodding his approval that I got it.

I suppose I should have been concerned that my son was deceiving his teacher. But I was bitter-sweetly proud of him. Every day is a struggle for him in school. Not because he isn’t smart enough to manage the academics at his academically rigorous school, but because of his LD issues. Just last night we spent an hour to find his phone and his social studies binder. We never did find his planner, another item we were looking for, because looking for things he’s misplaced is a daily ritual for us. I often hear from other people “Well, boys that age always lose things.” This is an undeniable truth, but for my son it is beyond what is normal even for his peer group. He struggles all day long to keep track of materials, schedules, and tasks.

So when he could laugh at himself while sacrificing what his teacher might think about him for a classmate, I had to admire him. He often feels the stigma of being LD, often struggles with his self esteem, often wishes everything didn’t have to be so hard for him. He hates having to be tutored and go to summer school. He hates knowing that when he comes home at the end of the school day, I most likely am going to interrogate him about the email(s) I got that day from his teachers about missing or incomplete homework or lost books.

That day, in that moment, he accepted himself exactly as he is and found humor in it, while helping a kid who doesn’t know what it’s like to be my son. When I see his teacher, I will tell him what happened because I think he will understand. He seems to be someone who gets what being LD is all about. But for now, I’m accepting my son exactly as he is.

And I’m proud of him.

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Why YA is so Hot

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the Young Adult market and why it is so strong when most of publishing is struggling and why it is pulling in so many adult readers. Being a member of the Society for Children’s Writers and Illustrators taught me a good deal about the differences between picture books, easy readers, early chapter books, middle grade, and young adult. Being in an MFA program has sharpened my sense of how writing differs depending on the audience. My MFA has really brought into focus what it is about YA that makes it so special. These are my top five reasons YA is booming:

5. It’s easy to forget that when we are talking about YA, we are talking about a plethora of choices. There is something for everyone, as the saying goes: historical fiction, fantasy and sci-fi, contemporary realism, romance, etc. YA, because it defines a targeted age group, isn’t about the genre of the fiction, it’s about how it’s written.

4. YA is fun. There’s something about writing for teens that brings out the humor, parody, and irony trapped inside every author. Perhaps it is because we know that our audience will get it. Perhaps because we know that teens need to be entertained in order to stay tuned into the worlds we are creating for them. Perhaps it is a combination of these things, but I believe that YA writers are more aware of the necessity for fun in their writing than writers of fiction for adults.

3. YA authors assume responsibility and respect their audience. I believe that writers for children and young adults have a heightened sense of our responsibility to our readers in a way that doesn’t exist in fiction written for adults. We are not inviting them into our storytelling world. We are marching into their world and demanding their attention, and we know that if we are going to have such audacity, we need to respect our audience. We know that we can tackle any subject, but that doesn’t mean that we can ignore our audience’s needs in how we present our story. The developmental capacity to deal with a story must match the age of our targeted audience. Does that mean that every twelve or sixteen year old is developmentally at the same point? No, but YA authors understand that there are parameters of development that determine how we will address issues in our storytelling based on the age group we want to reach.

2. YA is, generally and ultimately, hopeful. Regardless of the losses a protagonist endures, most YA ends with a message of hopefulness for the future. Why? I think in part because the teenage years are the beginning, with lots of room to make mistakes, find your way, and time to get it right. But I think also because few writers want to embed despair into those who will carry the torches into the future. There are cautionary tales such as Feed, by M.T. Anderson, that do not offer much in the way of hope, but they are few and far between. I believe that this hopefulness in YA literature is one of the main reasons adults are being brought into the YA realm without shame.

1. In children’s writing there is a mantra: show, don’t tell. Anyone who has written for children will tell you that they respond well to storytelling that is shown to them in the moment, whether in past or present tense. They don’t want to feel as if they are being told something, being lectured about something. They want to experience it with the characters. The amount of telling that is present in fiction written for adults always amazes me when I attend a reading or pick up a volume at a bookstore that is intended for adults. It is vastly different than most YA literature and I think it’s not only teens that respond to this storytelling through showing. There is an element of old fashioned showmanship to it-drawing your audience in without them even being aware that you are doing so because the message is so animated.

These are my top reasons for why adults are happily turning to YA at a time when publishers are struggling to sell books, despite the fact that our general desire for storytelling hasn’t changed. What are yours?

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The Totally Real Stress of Being a Teen

Like most people my age, especially those who are parents, my life is controlled chaos. Every day requires multitasking through each hour, often needing to be in more than one place at a time. I am almost continually plugged in as I check email, follow twitter and facebook, and manage phone calls, all while trying to write and get some laundry done. This summer, my mind was so occupied with working out a problem that I went to pick up my son, drove past the building he was in instead of parking, and started home without ever picking him up. I was a mile away before I realized I had missed the whole reason I was driving. My son still makes fun of me for forgetting him, even temporarily.
My life is stressful, demanding, and uncertain. I never know when an emergency room visit for one of my kids will rear its ugly head or what changes to my schedule my family has in store for me as they regularly text me their demands for pick up and drop offs.
I often wish I could be my kids, sitting on the sofa watching a movie or playing a game, having a mom who spoils me.
This past week, however, I have begun to reevaluate this wish as my oldest child enters tenth grade. The pressure is on.

My son loves hockey. Not in a “I’m happy to sit on the sofa and watch the Pens” kind of way, but in a “This is the only dream that means anything to me” kind of way. His dad and I don’t need him to be in the NHL someday. I’m not sure I would even want that for him. But it is exactly what my son wants and he works really hard to get it. Maybe harder than I’ve ever worked at anything besides being a mom. He plays sick, he plays hurt. He gets up early for practices or games and stays up late for practices and games, only to have to go to school the next morning. He takes any chance he can to be on the ice: going to stick time, helping with his younger sister’s team, volunteering to help with the local sled hockey team, and practicing with the local junior team any time they ask him even though he’s too young to be on it. So, naturally, he wants to go to a D1 hockey college.
We have begun looking at D1 programs. There are some exceptional schools to aim for: Harvard, Yale, Brown, Cornell, Colgate, Notre Dame, and the list goes on from there. The rules governing when and how a school can talk to a student athlete are daunting. The recruiting forms for student athletes to fill out for these schools are intimidating (other sports? Really? Between the hours of 0200-0400?) The SAT scores needed to get into a great school are impressive. And then, of course, there are grades. The telescopic lens of every college my son will want to apply to is now squarely aimed at his GPA. My learning disabled fifteen-year-old is still putting together what works for him and what doesn’t. But he can no longer afford to make any mistakes. He can no longer afford to slack off, drop the ball, or be a teenager who wants to tune out for a while. The rest of his life will be determined by his performance, academically, socially, and athletically, in the next three years. Is this an overstatement? To some degree, yes. But the reality of the situation is, these are some of the most important years of his life. Make or break years. Years that determine your future options, at least initially. Yes, you have to perform once you get to that great college or graduate school. But those initial choices are all riding on the next three years. Even though he’s only fifteen. Even though his frontal lobe won’t be fully developed for another ten years. Even though he doesn’t know what he wants to major in (since hockey isn’t actually a major), or work in (because even if you’re Sidney Crosby, you should have a back up plan for when you aren’t playing anymore).
Suddenly, being a carefree teen doesn’t seem so appealing because dating, acne, and everyone around you gossiping endlessly aren’t the real things a teen has to stress over. What they really need to stress over is that little item called “the rest of your life.”

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