Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Peggy Tietz Guest Post: I Backed Into Writing a Book


I often think of myself as an accidental writer. I didn't set out to write a book, but I couldn't find what I was looking for and saw a need. I wanted a simple book to recommend to parents to help them explain emotions to their children. What prompted this need was my experience as a psychologist seeing children in play therapy.

Play therapy is one of those wonderful spaces where children can freely express any of their feelings. When they feel this permission, children often act out what's bothering them. I often witnessed children acting out aggression with pitched battles in the sand tray, or creating puppet shows where children were being punished for doing "bad" things. All the hidden feelings come tumbling out. Since I think child therapy is a cooperative endeavor with parents, I was eager to recommend a book for parents to help children get comfortable with their feelings at home, and in the play therapy room.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find the book I was looking for. The books that were available were about specific feelings, such as anger; or about specific situations that evoke a feelings, such as a loss or about another of the many feelings one might experience in a day. I wanted a simple primer for young children, such as the books for identifying shapes, colors or numbers.

It was surprising that a simple dictionary that explained our primary feelings and their purpose wasn't available. It seemed such an obvious need. So after more checking, I made a commitment to explore writing such a book myself.

While I was worried that I wasn't a writer, I was interested in trying to make sense of the research on emotions. It was interesting reading, but I soon learned that there wasn't consensus about which emotions were our basic fundamental emotions. So, sorting that out took more time than I had imagined. Eventually I was able to determine the eight emotions that were most commonly agreed to be cross-culturally valid.

Once I had done the research, and this seemed the easier part, I began to explore how to present the material to young children. I've always loved Dr. Seuss, so I initially began by rhyming. I seemed to be endlessly creating new rhymes, but they didn't actually convey the meaning I needed to get across. Then I switched to prose and when I was brave enough to get a first read the critique was that it felt too academic. I went from silly childlike to serious adult. So throwing that second attempt away, I started over.

And so it went for quite some time. Trying one thing and then another. It was clear that writing a book demanded staying power. I had to tolerate disappointment, adapt to being a novice and ask for help when I got stuck. All very humbling. I developed a deep appreciation for how much intelligence and creativity it takes to write a book; how carefully one has to choose words; and how hard it is to write for young children.

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