36,526 Words and Counting: A Lesson in Understanding When Children Feel Overwhelmed

Speaking in NYC - Little did I know how my life would
change just twenty minutes later...
Last April, I was speaking in New York City when I received an email from an editor of a New York publishing house asking if I ever considered writing a book based on my talks.  I had played with the idea but never imagined that I would be approached.  I imagined trying to get someone to buy it or self-publishing, both of which felt too daunting so I hadn’t written a manuscript yet.  I was not about to let this golden opportunity pass so I entered the process of working with the editor to write a book proposal for her board.  Much to my amazement, they approved and offered me a contract.  Thus began my lesson in what it must feel like to be one of our overwhelmed students.

After discussions with my editor, I learned that a typical length for non-fiction books is 50,000-70,000 words.  My book is a guide for educators about appropriate expectations for preschoolers.  I had no clue how many words were in my head about that but who am I to argue with typical?  I had my outline from the approved proposal and a summer ahead of me to write my heart out.  I learned some things about myself.  My “process” seems to be to empty my head into Microsoft Word and keep moving forward.  I learned to walk away when I stare at a page for too long because I am most likely to figure out my next sentence while I am in the shower or making lunch or sleeping.  I am at 36,526 words with several chapters to go and have learned that I cannot ignore the word count on the bottom left of the screen no matter how much I try.

More than anything, I have learned a new meaning for the word “overwhelmed.”  The task is huge.  It is so huge that a final and completely edited manuscript ready for publishing isn’t even expected from me until December 2016 (though my editor said she’d be thrilled to get it done before the contract date).  It’s been many years since I was in high school and college. I’d forgotten this sort of overwhelmed.  I write a few thousand words and my brain is literally heavy.  It must be how a young child feels facing an empty page that has to be filled with carefully printed A’s.  This must be how they feel when an adult tells them to clean up a cluttered room and they don’t even know where to turn first.

My sympathies are with you, letter learning, science experimenting, math testing students as you go from this overwhelming task to many more years ahead of assignments and tests.  They are necessary and you will learn from it but I get it.  This book is an opportunity not only for me professionally but as a reminder.  Great accomplishments come from hard work.  I look forward to having students in my school again in the fall and I hope I get a chance to tell someone who is struggling or overwhelmed that I really do understand.

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