Tuesday, September 12, 2017

I Quit

I'm quitting writing.

I just got home from my middle grade critique group, where I told my two excellent, also unpublished authors: "I need to take a break." They nodded their heads, telling me to come back anytime. I took a deep breath and walked away as they started to plan their next meeting.

Some backstory: Five years ago, I decided I wanted to write children's books. Our three kids were very young, and I was surrounded by piles of books of all sizes and fonts and types. I started writing my own stories, playing around with voice and plot and syntax. At the same time, I tried to learn as much as I can about writing children's books, mostly books, blogposts, and my newly formed critique group. After three years of picture books and dozens of rejections, I had a go at a longer format. I wrote an early middle grade chapter book, about 22,000 words, and for the last two years I've edited and revised it.

I still had those three children. I still am surrounded by piles and piles of books. But they did what children do--they grew up some in the last five years. Their baby phases ended and school began. Practices and playdates replaced the long afternoon walks to the mailbox. My husband still works long ten to twelve hour days, so all of the household management and parenting falls to me.

A few months ago, I sent my long, polished manuscript to a few agents. I really thought I was going to get a YES from one. I did not.

Her rejection was the straw that broke the camel's back. (Now that I'm not writing I can use such cliches.) I'm now reconsidering everything, as setbacks usually make a person do. After weeks of soul-searching and wondering and really thinking about it, I've decided to quit writing children's books.

At least I think so. At least for a while. The thing is, this quitting doesn't have to last forever. If I miss it, if I feel empty without sitting down at my computer and typing out a new story, if I want to be involved in the children's literature community as a writer and not just a blogger and aficionado, then I'll pick it back up. This quitting is almost a test, a litmus test to see how passionate I am about writing stories.

But slicing? Essays? I can't imagine not writing those. In fact, the first thing I did after breaking up with my critique group was to sit down, open my laptop, and edit this before clicking "publish." So...see you next Tuesday.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

My Daughter Asked Me About Bad Decisions...

The other day my daughter asked me: "What are some of the worst decisions you ever made in your life, Mom?" I stopped to think. Panic in the form of adrenaline shot into my bloodstream. My mind was instantly blocked by the few enormously bad decisions I've made in my adult life that are too big and too mature to explain right now my ten year old right now. Her question prompted in me an explosion of uncertainty about whether or not I'll ever tell her about those bad decisions. Some secrets are worth keeping for a long time. Maybe forever.

I promised my daughter that I'd get back to her, and this blogpost will be edited and changed (and the above paragraph deleted, to be honest) as a letter to her. I needed to think about my answer. 

As the days rolled by after her question, I thought and thought. I realized that a big chunk of bad decisions didn't come to mind right away because what were horrible and emotional moments in the short run became funny--though perhaps slightly embarrassing--stories in the long run. 

Here's what I came up with:
  • I sure wish I hadn't driven my mother and stepfather's car into the ground when they lent it to me for a road trip with my pals when I was mid-twenties. It was a bad decision to ignore the sound coming from the engine; it was a downright stupid decision to think that "letting the car rest" in the parking garage of our New Orleans hotel while my friends and I did what twenty-somethings do in New Orleans would cure it of its clanking.
  • It was a bad decision to break up with my boyfriend in the car after he surprised me at the airport for my best friend's wedding. I had told him not to come, that I'd wanted to focus my time and attention on being a bridesmaid and hanging out with old friends instead of being his girlfriend and making sure he had a good time around people he'd never met before. When we got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, the break up became pretty awkward.

But there are two things that I came up with that aren't funny and probably never will be:
  • I wish I hadn't bought such an expensive wedding dress. My mother was kind and generous and wanted to provide some parts of the wedding, though we (but really my husband-to-be) paid for almost all of it ourselves. Looking back, I can see how I got caught up in the exciting swirl my wedding and I wanted that day to be gorgeous and wonderful and memorable. But a dress with a four-digit price tag that I wore for five hours...? Looking back a dozen years later, I wish I had been more respectful of my mother's money and more frugal about our wedding.
  • I wish I never spanked my children. I don't think I ever spanked my oldest daughter, and I think I only spanked my youngest son a handful of times. But my older son...I can't say the same thing. I cringe at the the count and wouldn't want to know it if it was available to me. I was going through some emotional times when he was going through some terribly obstinate times, but the fact was: I was 38 and he was three. I was wrong.

Some days these bad decisions rise to regrets. Other days, I choose to be kind to myself and grant a little grace today and whenever I think of those bad decisions. I'm human. I make mistakes. Sometimes of epic proportions, sometimes ones that are easy to laugh at right away...or after a few months.

But the lesson to my daughter is clear: Time helps. The passing of time helps one gain perspective on a situation and allows you to view it from a vantage point that is usually clearer and makes the solution a whole lot more obvious. Sometimes that's tricky, because I know I have a tendency to be hard on myself and beat myself up: Why didn't I do X? That was clearly the right thing to do! But when you're in the thick of it, that clarity simply doesn't exist.

So you live. And you learn. And you chuckle at the fact that you thought a few days of rest would solve your car troubles. Or about that break up with your boyfriend in a traffic jam. And about the bigger things you sigh and wish you'd chosen differently. And hopefully you will from this point onward because you've thought about it and learned. On to new mistakes!