Thursday, September 16, 2010

Nonverbal children help me write

Okay, I know, weird title.  But the other option was "Writing is like making love to a beautiful woman," and I just didn't think that fit my topic. :)  I want to tell you the lessons I've learned in my Real Job that apply to writing a novel as well.

  • You won't know what the problem is right away, just that there definitely IS a problem.  Often, I get referrals for children and when I see them, I know right off the bat that something isn't right.  With something like speech, though, it's often really difficult to know what EXACTLY the problem is.  For example, a three year old who isn't saying any words at all might: have a language delay, autism, a hearing impairment, a speech disorder that makes them not want to talk, pain in their mouth, a cognitive delay, a voice issue, ....I could go on and on.  I can figure out what the problem is with continued assessment and observation, referrals to other professionals, reading through my resource materials, and diagnostic therapy.  In writing (well revising I guess), it's the same.  You can read through your draft and think, "Wow, this isn't right," but you just can't put your finger on why.  Sometimes if you continue to search through your MS, read books about the craft, or get the outside opinion of a crit partner, you can figure it out.
  • Even when you know what you want to do, it won't happen overnight.  So, I saw a child this morning who's been on my caseload regularly for about a month.  I finally figured out that he has a speech sound disorder and expressive language delay, with no other obvious diagnoses (like hearing impairment).  Also, I know I want him to be able to say "m" and "b" sounds in words and I want his expressive vocabulary to increase.  Easy peasy, right?  I mean, GI Joe did tell me that knowing is half the battle.  WRONG!  Because now I actually have to fix it, and that's way more complex than just flicking a switch.  Again, same in writing.  You might know where your story is going or you might see exactly where to fix a problem in your current MS, but it's going to take time to get it exactly right.  You'll have to write and revise and re-revise until it's perfect.  And of course since we're all story tellers and not status seekers, to use the lingo of the "Maasster," perfection is what we seek.
  • Advice from experts is great, but innovation is priceless.  There's a lot of articles in speech pathology.  I'm always learning which treatments are "best" based on these controlled studies.  Like, "using this particular kind of flashcard in this way increased expressive vocabularies in five year olds with selective language impairment.  In the study, they were seen three times a day, five days a week, for 10 minute sessions with these cards.  So, use the cards."  Right, because I can see my kids three times a day all week long.  No, I see my kids for an hour a week, tops.  So, of course I take the advice of experts (not all of their advice is so ridiculous...), but generally I use what works.  Trial and error.  I might have kids who present exactly the same, but while one child might make huge gains with a certain activity, another one gets absolutely nothing out of it.  It's the same with writing.  The advice from experts is GREAT at giving you a starting point and helping you get through the difficult parts, but nothing beats your own innovation and intuition.  If you do a writing activity that doesn't seem to be helping your story grow, it's probably not the one for you.  Even if your best writing friend ended up with a whole best-selling novel from her work on that one activity.  Different strokes for different folks and you can't generalize to everyone.
  • Don't take it home with you.  For the first year of my career, pretty much all I did was talk about work.  It was all, "I have this one kid who..." and "I'm so stressed about this one family because I think...."  It was all I thought about ALL THE TIME!!!  I burned out pretty quickly, as you can imagine.  So, I learned to shut that part of my brain off outside work hours.  (Actually, lately I've been worried that I swung too far in the wrong direction...I think that part of my brain is shut off even during work hours.  oops!)  Anyway, same for writing.  Though it's really helpful to do thought experiments, like having a conversation with your MC on your morning commute (um, others do that, right? hehe), it's also important to not converse with the MC while out to dinner with your boyfriend.  He'll feel left out. :)  AND, you don't want to burn out on your masterpiece, do you?  Or miss out on the awesomeness of life, which, let's be honest, exists solely so we can notice it and file it away for our next book idea! :)  
So, I'm taking life's little lessons and trying to remind myself not to stress so much about finishing my WIP right away, or about why my little guy can't say "m" yet even though we've worked on it for 3 whole sessions!  I'm leaving my chatty MC at home tonight and going to hip hop dance class with Real People in Real Life.  (And if I'm lucky, I'll have in my head ideas for a new bestseller about hip hop dancers who learn to say "m" by the end of the night!)

What have you guys learned about writing from unlikely sources?


  1. Wow, this is so insightful!! Great food for thought.

  2. Great Post, first off - how did the hip hop dance class go? See how I did that, checked to hold a convo with you about your switched off activity rather than focusing on writing or work!!

    Your job sounds constant, and the reason why you probably take it home with you, even if you don't talk about it you might think about it, is because you are a caring person, you have to be, to be in that line of work. Often the more caring a person is, the more creative they are also. This bodes well for your writing, and also coming up with lot's of different ways to getting through to the peeps that can't speak,(or in fact have difficulties in doing so!).

    You do an amazing job by the sounds of it, you should be proud.

    My most unlikely source to write from is my own brain! ha ha! Just random everyday things spur me on to write things, or they literally (see what I did there) pop into my head. Problem is that there are just too many things going on in my head, and yet because I don't give myself time to do them or at least write them down, they all start to muddle, one word, frustrating!

    Everything is interlinked in one way or another, even if it just how you have described above. You write a wonderful post, and inspire me to get on with the day with a smile on my face :) see.

  3. Nice post. My cousin is a Speech Path too and has the most amazing stories. It really is a fantastic field!

  4. MB: It *is* a fantastic field! I have to say, it's much harder than writing...My brain hurts. A lot. :)

    Abz: hip hop was great! I still look ridiculous doing most of the moves, but I definitely worked up a sweat and had a blast. Thanks for your great comments btw! I totally identify with what you said about too many things going on in your head. I'm the same!

  5. Sounds like you had a good time at the Hip Hop class :) Would love to do something like that!

    I love leaving comments (some say I might have too many opinions!). I am glad I am not the only one that has too many thoughts to deal with!

    Big Smiles :D


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