Today is my daughter’s tenth birthday. I’ll spare you the complete emotional melt down, but please allow me one moment of freakout. HOW IN THE HECK CAN SHE BE TEN? SHE WAS JUST BORN YESTERDAY! Whew, okay, I feel better, now. Here we both a decade ago--ah youth.
Everyone either knows or has read about how motherhood changes a person—how much your life revolves around that little dependent being. How your self-esteem suddenly deflates when a baby doesn’t sleep or swells when she can write her name.
This week, a friend reminded me of a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I’ve only had a brief chance to peruse it, but I was struck by how her writing lessons mirrored parenting lessons—perhaps some lessons are just generally important in life.
She writes, “Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it.” I laughed a little at this one. I’ve written plenty of things that turned out to be pure crap, but I didn’t know that at the time. Likewise, a select few things haven’t been all bad, but I didn’t realize it in the process, either.
Oddly, enough, as I look at my daughter at today at ten, she’s turned out pretty darned good. Along the way, I’m sure I’ve made some ridiculous decisions and I imagine she’ll be in therapy someday trying to undo half of what I’ve taught her. Parents, like writers, rarely know what they are doing until it’s done. Of course, that can be good or bad, but for today, anyway, I’m going to focus on the positive.
I’m currently editing my NanoWriMo novel from November 2010. I wrote this novel for my daughter. It’s filled with talking animals and clichés. All kinds of things that editors and agents say they are sick of seeing. As I wrote it, I kept saying, “This is dumb. It will never be published.” I recently posted the first couple of chapters to my writing group, and it’s amazing how positive the feedback has been. The voice is stronger, the writing is tight, and it seems to capture a family, they say. I’ve been reading it to my daughter, my target audience, who is completely in love with the story and begs for more. I don’t care anymore about agents or publishing the book (not that I won’t give it a shot), but seeing the joy on her face has completely altered my thinking about why I’m doing this.
As an added benefit, it turns out, another Lamott lesson is useful here. It can be good to write for someone rather for publishing. Even though I’m writing for an audience of one, it helps my solidify characters, motivations, and even gives them real voices. This takes pressure of me because I'm simply telling a story not trying to prove my worth as a writer on every page.
That has also helped me embrace a final thought from Bird By Bird that sums it all up to me, “Perfectionism will ruin your writing … means that you try desperately not so leave too much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived.”
Here's hoping my daughter's next decade is just as messy as the first and that my pages continue to be cluttered.