My Writing Journey: Taking my Kids Along for the Ride

For the past couple of years, my husband, the kids, and I answer a few specific questions to formulate our goals going into the new year. For example:

  • In 2018, I want to learn…
  • In 2018, with my family, I want to…
  • In 2018, I want to help others by…

While we sat around in a sugar cookie coma, pine needles still littering the floor, 2017 barely behind us, we each contemplated our own goals. At some point, my eleven-year-old piped up:

“Hey, mom. Are you ever gonna finish that book?”

Ah, out of the mouths of babes. Thanks for being the outside voice to my internal self-doubt there, kid.

The fact of the matter is it felt like that. That I might never finish. Granted, there was a false start, tons of necessary research, a major move for our family, and the fact that I was/am still learning. I have to work really hard at this thing. I was coming up on two years on this project. It felt like forever to all of us.

“I will, honey,” I told him. “When it’s right. And this is the story I need to get right.”

I have been super honest about my writing journey with my kids. For one thing, it’s important to me, so of course I would share it with the people who are the most important to me. Despite my own insecurities of having a “job” that doesn’t pay, my husband has always made a point of asking how the writing is going in front of the kids, putting my work on the same level as his. They have helped me brainstorm titles and have come along on research trips. They love to read and write stories of their own, so sharing what I’m learning helps them, too. We are learning together.

But perhaps most importantly, I want to show them their mother following her dreams. I want them to see me trying, failing, succeeding. All of it.

I had that example growing up. My mom went back to school to forge a new path. My dad started his own business. Things were tough for both of them during those times. But they forged ahead. They didn’t give up.

Yet, somewhere along the way, the practical part of me showed up and talked the dreamer part of me into picking a college major and career that would pay the bills. And it did. And I liked it. Even loved it. But I wasn’t in love with it. Not like I am with writing. Even when the writing is bad or a struggle or the rejections drop into my inbox with a (friendly or was that an ominous?) ding, I can’t imagine doing anything else. (This might come as news to my husband since there have been many days I’ve threatened to pack up shop and go bag groceries at the local supermarket. Although, seriously, this seems like a satisfying job to me – like Tetris, but with a dozen eggs, a box of cereal, a half gallon of orange juice, a loaf of bread, a bag of grapes, and four cans of beans. Oh, the possibilities!).

I have learned, however, that practicality is just fear in disguise. Recognizing where I need to be – writing – has changed my outlook. I am no longer defensive about what I don’t know but curious. I am seeking ways to improve my craft, searching for new inspirations, challenging myself with new genres (essays, flash fiction, poetry), looking for opportunities to get paid for my work (beyond (hopefully, one day) selling the novel). And I’m continuing to be honest with my kids about that day’s struggles, victories, or detours. Because it’s my turn to be the example.

When I have a particularly hard time figuring something out or realize I need to study something a bit more before trying again or have to write twelve drafts of the same query letter, it shows them that effort gets results. When I get rejected and they see me keep going, it shows them perseverance. When I receive good feedback, they see me celebrating accomplishments. When I meet new writers or go to author events, it teaches them how to support others, network, and take risks.

Fast forward from January resolution making to this past weekend. While driving home from a family outing, I clicked on an email notification (don’t worry, the hubby was driving). It was a rejection on my full manuscript from an agent. A nice rejection. An ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ rejection. A keep querying rejection. But a rejection nonetheless. And no matter what, it still stings in the moment.

As I read the agent’s comments out loud to my husband, the same eleven-year-old reached his hand from the back seat and patted my shoulder.

“It’s okay mom. Maybe the next one.”

It can be a long journey as a writer. I’m glad I picked the perfect travel mates.

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Another Year in the Books

Last year, I resolved to focus on one word. That word was forward. Rereading that post a few days ago, I smiled. I sounded so ambitious and excited.

I remembered where I was emotionally and what I was hoping to accomplish.

I remembered the roadblocks, the physical and mental ones, that had been holding me back. The obstacles that always (always, dammit) popped up when I was feeling the most momentum.

I remembered the book I was writing then. Or at least the book I thought I was writing then.

I remembered the thrill of the run, the progress, the determination.

And yet somehow I forgot.

I forgot the promise of progress.

I forgot that I controlled the steps.

I forgot the plan.

At the beginning of this December, it sure did feel like it. I was halfway through the very rough draft of this next book and realizing that I needed to rewrite that first half. I was feeling stiff and stuck and thought that the entire year had been dominated around our move.

After some thoughtful reflection (because what else is happening when you’re stuffed on ham and cookies and cake and your husband is watching a football game you don’t care about but you’re too exhausted to leave the couch), I realized I haven’t been standing still. Not at all.

2016 still ended up being the year of forward. Boy, did it ever.

2016 was the year I decided the book I was writing wasn’t the book I was writing. The real book I was writing was now a historical fiction. I researched. I read. I researched some more. Despite the cursor’s lack of movement across the page for many months, I was building a foundation for the book. And although it felt like stagnation, I can see now how far I’ve come in that year. How different this book will be. How much I’ve had to learn, and still need to learn, in order to finish it, to make it work.

2016 was the year we moved. A move away from all we’d built for our children, our family. We endured their tears when we proposed the idea to them. We suffered their blame when they didn’t want to leave their school, their friends, the only home they’ve known. And we endured our own sleepless nights trying to pull all the logistics together. We wept for all the familiarity we were leaving behind. We uprooted one painful root at a time and took our tree to North Carolina. And although we replanted that tree, we are still nursing it, watering it and adjusting to the new soil. Six months later. I wonder some days how long will it take. How long before I feel as entrenched, before I know the right balance between extended family events and incubating our nuclear one, before I get back to the most effective writing routine? But even I can see each step is a step forward in our new life.

Despite the destination being completely off from where I thought it would be a year ago, I suppose it was still the year of forward. I just didn’t anticipate the universe taking it so literally.

So 2017.

My kids are at a wonderful elementary school with a principal I love. She is not only elegant and graceful, tall and direct, she is warm and passionate and smart in a way that’s apparent in her hello. And you can tell she absolutely, unequivocally loves what she does.

Not only is she the principal, she has brought a new principle to the school. She has instituted a growth mindset at the school.

Not sure what growth mindset is? Watch this. Read this.

But in a nutshell, the idea is that our brains are constantly growing. That the growth mindset allows us to enjoy the challenge as opposed to focusing only on the outcomes.

For example, ever told (by yourself or someone else) that you were just not a math person  (raises hand) and allowed that to justify your subpar performance in math without putting in too much extra effort? That’s an example of the fixed mindset.

Ever train for a marathon? Did you tackle the training step by step and trust every run’s expanse of your running prowess until one day you actually could run the marathon when at the beginning you couldn’t run more than four miles? Growth mindset.

(Really, watch and read the above links. It’s a much better explanation than these sad examples.)

In the classroom, however, it means that the students are taught strategies on how to tackle problems when they run into challenges. “I can not” is not a valid response. That when something is new and hard, students can’t…YET. The students focus on their effort. Their growth. Mistakes and wrong answers are simply parts of learning. FAIL is now the First Attempt In Learning. It’s a fascinating field of psychological study and it is slowly seeping into my parenting and how I approach my own work as I am aware of when I am employing a fixed mindset. It’s been interesting to see where I am fixed and where I use a growth mindset naturally. Relationships? Totally growth. Academics? A little fixed, I have to admit. My public relations career?  I looked back and found I approached that with a total growth mindset (and realized I was also lucky enough to have growth mindset bosses at nearly every turn – thank you MJ, MB, SD, LZ, PG, and MO). My writing? Completely, utterly fixed mindset.

Why? I have a feeling people telling me I was talented at writing or good-naturedly saying they wished they could write like I did, all internalized into my thinking that I shouldn’t have to work so hard at writing. It’s a talent, so it should come easy, right? That because some writing comes easy to me, all writing should. Ah. There is the flaw, right? All writing is not created equal and only the best writers are the best writers because they continue to work on their craft.

Are you all still with me? Thanks. I know it seems like I’ve gone off the New Year’s Resolutions rails.

But not really.

2017. It’s my year of growth.

The year where I focus on learning, stretching, trying, challenging. The year of mistakes. The year of wrong paths. The year where I try on my own growth mindset. The year where failure is celebrated because it means I’ve learned something. The year of YET. I haven’t finished my book…YET. I haven’t found the right agent…YET. The list can go on and on and on.

As a family, we created a few other growth mindset resolutions. Each member answered the following:

In 2017, I want to learn…

In 2017, I want to help others in my community by…

In 2017, with my family, I want to…

And then a general, in 2017, I want to…

That general category, that’s where my paper says in big, capital, permanent marker letters: GROW.

And boy, did my boys smile when they saw that. Won’t that be wonderful for them to realize that growing doesn’t end? That even their old mom can still stretch her skills and learn something new and accomplish something fantastic and new? That you don’t ever finish growing up, you still continue to grow? I think so.

What’s your mindset for 2017?