I write memoir, and I write about mature subjects, and pretty much every project I’m working on is not safe for children—which is slightly inconvenient since I have two children who know I write, are old enough to read, and are incredibly curious.
Case in point, here’s a conversation I recently had with my 12-year-old son:
Twelve: Can I read your book?
Twelve: Why not?
Me: I don’t want to color your relationship with your grandparents.
Twelve: But why else?
Me: Because it’s a book for grownups.
Twelve: What makes it a book for grownups?
Me: Look—I don’t think either of us are ready for you to read about your mother having sex.
Twelve: Can I read your next book?
Me: Um… (thinking) I can give you selected chapters.
It turns out I write a lot about things that aren’t safe for children. I underestimated their interest in my writing. For years I told them I wrote “boring grownup stuff” and that was sufficient to quash the discussion, but no longer.
I get it. They are curious, and I spend a lot of time clicking away on my laptop and they want to know what’s it all about.
I read KJ Harrowick’s interview with Alon Shalev a few months ago, and it touched something off in me. Shalev wrote:
In 2011, while on a family camping trip in Northern California, I began writing a Young Adult epic fantasy novel with my then 11 and 8 year-old sons. We would write during the day (sometimes together and other times just me) and then I would read it back to them at night around the campfire or snuggling in our tent.
I wanted that with my 9 and 12 year old sons. I started writing a little story for my kids, and reading it to them every night at bedtime. It is filled with Easter eggs for them to find—inside references to amuse them and make them go, ah-ha—I see what you did there. I try to do my best writing, because if I start boring them, it will break my heart.
The kids offer suggestions and ask questions. I don’t tell them what will happen next, and I don’t always write things the way they want me to. But it turns out that they are excellent at letting me know when the story gets confusing, when it is exciting, and when things are incongruous with my character’s personalities.
It is the happiest I’ve ever been writing, and their excitement has kept me to a rigorous schedule. I have to get new installments of the story out in a timely manner before they lose interest. As a bonus—they no longer ask me to read my memoir. They find this story much more interesting. And it just might be the best writing I've ever done.
Copyright © 2023 Lara Lillibridge
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