Friday, December 5, 2008

I'm Done, I'm Done, I'm Really Done

Those are the words I've been hearing all week, while my youngest worked on a six-paragraph story for school. She managed not to even approach the assignment until the last moment. Then she sat down, spewed out six paragraphs and was ready to e-mail it off to her teacher.
"Do you mind if I check for spelling?" I asked.
"Oh, there aren't any red lines under the words so I'm good."
"Do you mind if I look it over for other things?" I suggested. "Like grammar."
She heaved a big sigh, but she printed out a copy for me. I went through the story with my normal editorial pen--not clear where the character is standing, this character has conflicting thoughts in the same paragraph, this place isn't well described.
"I didn't ask you for that kind of help," my daughter moaned with each mark of my pen. "Just look for grammar stuff."
So, I just looked for grammar stuff. She corrected that, sent it off to her teacher and then wanted to know what I thought.
"I told you what I thought," I said. "And you didn't want to hear it."
That night as we were reading together and tension over the story had dissipated, she asked, "When you write a story, do you just write whatever comes to your head and send it to an editor?
Wouldn't that be fun?
It dawned on me that my daughter was trying to understand this writing thing. And that really her experience was not too different from what we've all gone through--procrastinating, wanting to be done, wanting to rush off our "done" manuscript to an agent, wanting the agent to think that manuscript is perfect.
How do we get these tendencies? Get over these tendencies?

**I just finished reading a beautiful story, The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani. The story revolves around a spirited young girl on the brink of womanhood in 18th century Iran. Her father dies suddenly, and she and her mother are left at the mercy of the father's distant half brother and miserly wife. High drama. On top of all that, interwoven in the story are wonderful ancient Persian folktales. A lovely book.


Anonymous said...

It is SO hard for us writer types to not "help" budding writer types! :) I just went through this with my son. It's such a tricky balance between wanting them to keep/love writing, wanting them to learn to put some extra effort into ANY of their schoolwork, and oh, not just dumping all the stuff we're learning about our writing! I managed to get a bit of tightening added to the ending, I THINK! I love that this teacher had them do three drafts, AND have several kids reach every one and comment. She GETS the process! :)

Jana McBurney-Lin said...

I agree. You don't want them to clam up forever by overediting...then again you don't want them to wander through life thinking their first drafts are Pulitzer material (or even worth e-mailing the teacher right away.)
One successful lesson I did with second graders was to have them talk out their story. Then I typed it up and suggested places that could use more detail, etc. When I did the work (the typing), it wasn't as painful for them to cut stuff and work in new. It was interesting.
At the same time, for some of them it was a real struggle to get anything out. I remember one little girl who came to the table and hemmed and hawed and insisted she had no ideas. "You must have something in your creative mind."
"Well," she chewed on her hair a few minutes. "I do have an ending."
"An ending? That's fantastic. We'll just work backwards. What is it?"
She pulled on her hair. "Well, it's kind of short."
"Short is great."
"Really short," she said.
"That's fine. Tell me."
"The end."
That made me wonder if some kids/adults--no matter if you edit or not--find writing just too, too painful. And thus I tend towards editing.:)

Lynn said...

I think you're right, Jana, that some people find writing so painful or tedious that they just don't do it. They're the ones (grownups) who send thank you letters that read, "Thank you for the gift. I really liked it. Thanks again." And that's it. I've found for myself that my really sloppy, general writing comes when my thoughts are really sloppy and general. Then I need to shut my eyes and simply think for a moment. What is it I really want to say? Until I know that, I shouldn't write anything.

And your daughter makes me laugh.

Jana McBurney-Lin said...

She makes me laugh, too.:)

What People Are Saying About My Half of the Sky

My Half of the Sky was the BookSense Pick for August 2006 as well as a Forbes Book Club Pick.

"McBurney-Lin tells a wonderfully entertaining story with the traditional coming-of-age theme (which is experienced universally)...weaving in the cultural challenges of growing up in China's rapidly changing social system."
Mary Warpeha, co-President of the Minnesota Chapter of US-China Friendship Association
March 2010

"The novel ...includes many of the tales and the folk ways of the people living in the rural areas of South China, still followed provincially. The story takes place in current China, but could relate the dilemma of any young woman in rural China through the ages."
Kitty Trescott, National Board of the Midwest Region of US-China Friendship Association. March 2010

"A lot is expected of a young Chinese girl. My Half of the Sky by Jana McBurney-Lin is the story of Li Hui, a young girl who has just achieved marriageable age. She seeks to make the most of herself, but the expectations all around her make it difficult, as her parents seek to use her as pawn to their advantage, she is faced with what she believes to be true love. She must balance career, romance, and family, all to somehow make everyone happy, a tough endeavor indeed. An engaging and entertaining read from beginning to end, "My Half of the Sky" is a poignant tale of the modern Chinese woman, and recommended for community library collections.
--Midwest Book Review November, 2008

“It is a rare women’s novel that sensitively describes the life of a young educated woman in modern-day China in its full complexity, without resorting to unnecessary sentimentalism. Jana’s deep knowledge of the realities of life in China and Singapore makes the reading extra rewarding. In fact, with every new page the novel gets harder to put down and you find yourself gobbling it up before you know it. Finally, the author has given a voice to the Li Hui in all of us, as we struggle for the golden middle between tradition and the modern momentum of our world.”
Isabella Sluzek
Friends of the Museum Book Review 2008

You'll be rooting all the way for Li Hui as she struggles, ahead of the curve, to be her own woman in an emerging, modern China. Jana McBurney-Lin's My half of the Sky is a beautiful, witty, touching debut novel.
Thomas B. Sawyer
Head Writer TV Series "Murder, She Wrote,"
Author - The Sixteenth Man

A complex and mesmerizingly original tale of a young Chinese woman caught between the modern world and the pull of her ancient culture. McBurney-Lin’s intimate portrait of China sparks with insights and is peopled with characters so rich and alive, they seem to breathe on the page. Dazzling and unforgettable.
Caroline Leavitt,
Author - Girls in Trouble

McBurney-Lin's debut novel is a gift. Li Hui is a memorable heroine, a young woman torn between her heart and her culture.Her daunting journey is a trip into China's complicated soul, and a deeply moving exploration of love, honor, duty, and loss." Frank Baldwin, Author - Balling the Jack

My Half of the Sky is a wonderfully-crafted story that was obviously written with a piece of McBurney-Lin's heart. A masterpiece."
Lee Lofland, Author - Howdunit: Police Procedure and Investigation

My Half of the Sky heralds the arrival of a fantastic new storyteller. With artistry and precision, Jana McBurney-Lin's clear-eyed prose takes the reader on a new journey into a past world that speaks to a modern sensibility, a modern world, a modern woman. This is a book to be treasured.
Emily Rapp, Author - The Poster Child

Through vivid descriptions of sights and smells, Jana McBurney-Lin's My Half of the Sky is a haunting, emotional journey of what it means to be an honorable female in modern China. Jill Ferguson, Author - Sometimes Art Can't Save You