Monday, August 2, 2010

Everything I Need to Know About Writing I Learned From My Six Year Old

It’s amazing what you can learn from watching a child. As I watched my children play the other day, I started to realize that even though they are young and are just starting out on life’s journey, they already have what it takes to make it through almost anything they’ll come up against. And when it comes to writing and the whole publishing journey, I would do well to take a page from their book.

1. Just because you haven’t crossed the finish line doesn’t mean you don’t know how to get there.

My kids were racing on their bikes. They picked a starting point, and they picked the finish line. On your mark, get set, GO! They were off. Now, they are just learning how to ride a bike, so getting to that finish line took a while. But they knew how to get there. They just had to work at it.

I’ve sort of made it to the finish line in the NF world. But fiction is my real passion. And I can’t even see the finish line in the fiction world just yet. But I know how to get there. I know how to write. Sure, there’s a lot of things about crafting a story I still need to learn. I don’t think I’ll ever know everything there is to know. But in general, yeah, I know what I need to do. I know I need to write and revise, and revise again, and query, and query some more. I know what I need to do and how to do it, and even though I haven’t yet plowed through the ribbon at the end of my race, I still know exactly what I need to do to get there. I just have to keep focused on my goal and do it.

2. Get up every time you fall down.

My kids fall down…a lot. But they always get back up. Sometimes they are broken or bloody, and they usually need a big hug and kiss from Mom, and occasionally an ER visit, but they always get back up. If there is one thing I’ve learned in the publishing world, you are going to fall and get knocked down…a lot. Some of those critiques or rejections you’ll receive are going to sting like nothing you’ve ever felt before. And having someone (or a group of someones) to run to for comfort when it gets really bad makes the boo-boos sting just a bit less. But you’ll never achieve your goal if you stay on the ground and cry. You gotta get back up and try again.

3. Be a good sport

My kids were playing a Wii game the other day when the miracles of all miracles happened – my four year old daughter beat my six year old son. Now, he could have yelled and cried and thrown down his paddle and quit (as my daughter will often do when she loses). But he didn’t. He was disappointed, sure. And for a second, I didn’t know how he’d react. But then he smiled and screamed “Woohoo! Nanas won!” and laughed and gave her a high-five. (Nana is her nickname, by the way :) I like eccentric names, but I’m not that mean) :)

You aren’t going to win every game you play. You aren’t going to cross the finish line first every time. And it’s okay to be disappointed when someone else gets there before you do. But you’ve gotta be a good sport about it. It would be easy to get bitter and angry in the midst of a pile of rejections, especially when others are flying over their finish line miles ahead of you. But what good will that do you? This is a tough, tough game. Being a bad sport about it just makes it that much harder. It’s okay to be disappointed, but don’t let that disappointment ruin the game for you or anyone else. If you can’t play nice, don’t play at all.

4. If you want dessert, you have to eat dinner first.

My son has a short attention span when it comes to dinner. He wants to get in, get it done, and get to the good stuff. Which means he often takes two bites of dinner and starts asking for dessert. As much as I’d like to chuck my dinner and dive into the chocolate cake with him, that’s not very good for either of us. We need to eat the dinner first. Then we can get our reward.

When it comes to writing, it’s easy to focus on the “good” stuff – getting an agent or publisher, seeing that book on the shelves, attending signings and release parties. Sometimes we get so focused on the “dessert” that we try to skip dinner – ignore vital lessons every writer should know because they take too long to learn and execute well; fly through revisions and call them done because we are so anxious to query and get that agent; skip over that plot hole because fixing it would open a whole can of worms we don’t want to take the time to deal with; sending something out that just isn’t ready because we are too excited and anxious to wait any longer.

But that isn’t the way to grow a strong, healthy writer, any more than it is to grow a strong, healthy child. You have to eat your dinner first – gotta ingest the stuff that’s going to help you grow in your profession, before you can enjoy your reward. Dangit ;-)

What have you learned in your journeys? Ever learn something from an unexpected source?


L. Diane Wolfe said...

Like children, I've learned a short memory helps too!

Matthew MacNish said...

Great analogy, so true! Thanks Michelle.

Unknown said...

I just wanted to add that the picture is priceless--and adorable! :)

Cole Gibsen said...

Love this!

Corey Schwartz said...

Oh, I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post. And I so needed it today. Your kids are adorable! (Mine are five and six so I can really relate, especially the part about the Wii! :)

JEM said...

Great advice! Although I have to be honest, I frequently eat dessert first, so that parenting tip backfired on me :).

Unknown said...

I am guilty of #4!

Kay said...

proves the signage true, all we really did need to learn, we learned in kindergarten

Faith E. Hough said...

These are truly excellent.

Elana Johnson said...

Great life lessons, no matter your age. Thanks, Michelle!