I stopped watching American Idol because I grew tired of it and fell in love with The Voice. While I watched, however, I always wondered about the contestants that gave new meaning to the phrase 'tone deaf'. I'm sure some of it was staged but some of those people that absolutely should not have been trying out, really thought they might get through. Every time one of those contestants tried out, I wondered the same thing: "Doesn't anyone love them? Respect them? Don't they have one, just one, person in their lives that will tell them the truth?" The truth, for them, being that they can't sing; at all. Sure, it made for good T.V. but those people stood for hours in line ups, hopefully waiting for their chance to share their 'gift'. Even though it would not be easy to tell your friend, your co-worker, or family member that they should never sing, certaintly not on live television, it would help them more in the long run.
As the person who can't sing (this may turn out to be metaphorical), it's hard to hear the truth. I'm actually not sure if it's harder to hear it from the people that love or care for you or from complete strangers. Logically, you know that the ones who care for you have your best interests at heart. These are the same people that, if you can sing, will support and applaud you; the same people that will pick you up when you fall. If you can trust those people to help you up when you're down, then it's important to trust them when they're telling you what you don't want to hear.
Easier said than done, I know. How do I know? Because I'm lucky enough to have people in my life that would stop me from singing on live television. Or, in my case, people that will say that my writing needs work, could be stronger, or is missing something crucial. As artists, and I use this word to encompass whatever your craft may be, it's hard to hear that something we feel we've put our heart into is not received with adoration. However, we are attached to what we've produced in a way that others aren't and that is, ultimately, to our great benefit. Again, if you trust a small group of people to be there during the good times, you need to trust them during the hard times or 'in progress' times. These are the people that want you to go in front of the live audience and succeed. Sometimes, to do that, you have step back and strongly consider what they're trying to tell you.
This is how I approach my writing (and rewriting), even though it's difficult to know it's not coming out perfectly the first time. I want to be good at what I do and it's hard, for kids and adults alike, to realize that even when you are good at something, it takes a lot of effort to be more than good; to be great. Since I've started spending large chunks of my time writing, I have been reading about writing, editing, blogging, and publishing. It is amazing to me that I can have a degree in English, have been teaching for ten years, spend my days helping kids write, and have been writing personally for years, but still have so much to learn. This is why, I listen to those that know better or who aren't as close to the piece of writing as I am.
I feel profoundly grateful to have the people in my life that push me to be better. If you listen with an open mind, the words you hear will make you stronger, and in turn, make your work stronger. When I was having my first child, my mom told me to pick one person that I trust, really trust, and take their advice. She told me I'd be getting lots of advice from 'experts' and that can be very overwhelming. It was good advice, because whether someone had a child or not, they had ideas on what made for good parenting.
Choosing to do this for my writing was a good move as well.I can't listen to every good or bad piece of feedback I get because I think I'd get lost within it. So I chose people that I trust: my agent, my best friend, and a close work friend to really be honest with me. I trust them to ask me the hard questions, make me rethink my own thoughts, and push my writing to a new level. I take their suggestions to heart in hopes that it will make me a better writer because I know that's what they want for me. It's not always easy to hear that they don't love a certain twist that I thought was going to capture attention or that maybe they don't connect with the character the way I do, but by trusting them, I can re-evaluate and, in most cases, see their point of view. So far, trusting in them has made me much prouder are more certain of my final products.
Part of this willingness to accept feedback and critiques might stem from being a teacher. As a teacher, I constantly ask myself, what can I do better, how can I connect more, how can I make it more meaningful? These are the same questions I should be asking myself as a writer. Just like with parenting advice and my writing, I have a select group of colleagues that I trust to tell me 'hey, that's a really good idea' and know they mean it. If I trust them enough for that, however, I feel like I owe it to myself to trust them enough when they say, 'hey, if you try 'this', it might work out better'.
Truth and trust are important words. As a teacher, I want parents to trust that I have their child's best interest at heart. As a mom, I want my kids to trust that maybe, just maybe, I could be right about something. As a friend, I want my other friends to trust that I wouldn't say something looked great on them if it didn't and watch them buy it while biting my tongue. We have to learn to trust the people that we surround ourselves with and accept that sometimes they might have to give us some hard truths. In the end, these truths can make us stronger, better, and sometimes, even braver. If we know that they will tell us both the good and the bad, then we can rest easy, knowing they wouldn't let us sing on national television, unless we were really, really good and ready.
I've never shared my writing with many people. In high school, I wrote poetry (like every angst ridden teen) and some plays. One play was performed by a group of us, so I did share it a bit. Once I went to university, my writing, other than for academics, came to a standstill. As I finished school, I might get the odd burst of need to write something down. A few years ago, I really got back into writing by taking a university writing course to meet my Post Bac. Degree requirements. I started writing short stories, poetry, and short and full length plays. I suppose that was what reopened the door for me. Since that course, I have played with writing now and again but about two years ago, I started feeling more driven to write. I felt like I had to write something. Having said that, the time I wasn't writing, I was posting articles online and some in the newspaper so I suppose writing has never really exited my life completely. Still, I've never felt such an energy for writing as I do now. I started a couple years ago with a story about my oldest daughter and it kind of snowballed from there. After attending a writing conference this last October and being blessed enough to receive representation from an agent, I decided that now is the time. If I'm going to write for anyone other than myself, now is the best time to do that because I have someone who is in the industry willing to read my work and guide me.
I'm becoming better at sharing my writing, as a result. And as a result of that, my writing, itself, is becoming stronger. Before I send things to my agent, I want to make sure I'm not wasting her time. So I send to my very best friend and another close friend for revisions, edits, and overall impressions. I specifically asked that they not be gentle with me because there's no use pretending something is good when it isn't. Besides that, I have a feel for it anyway. Kind of like when you cook something that tastes awful and people say, "No, no, this is good." I know when food doesn't taste good and I know when my writing is not at it's strongest. However, the benefit, I've found, in sharing it, is that 'beta-readers' do more than just provide edits. They provide questions and they act as your audience. They help you fill in the gaps and see that maybe you're not presenting what you meant to.
A lot of people, now that I am letting them see it, ask where I find the time to write. This is the question I often ask of people who say they work out an hour a day. Where do I find the time? In tiny little pockets that show up and in time that is provided for me by my lovely husband who will sometimes take the kids out for a bit.
Sometimes, it's a real challenge; I will admit that. I get that feeling that I have to get something down on paper but that doesn't mean I don't have to cook dinner, give baths, make lunches, do laundry, do marking or planning, or read to my kids. So, I look for those pockets and I make the most of them. Kids gone to the park with dad? I'm writing. Husband watching T.V.? I'm writing. Actually, if I'm watching T.V., I'm often writing as well. I'm often writing while my daughters are asking me three dozen questions or telling me about the life cycle of some animal I've never heard of.
I want (and need) to believe that my writing doesn't throw anything off balance. I hope that my kids don't feel like something is missing, but honestly, I don't think they do. We spend lots of time together and one of the most wonderful things that has happened as a result of my new-found desire to write as much as possible, is that my kids are writing; A LOT! My ten year old wrote a beautiful song yesterday. My six year old wrote about saving the Wood Thrush (she's a little hooked on Wild Kratt's). It's a pleasure to see them spend time and energy on something that means so much to me. It's also nice to see them work this into their schedule; should I write or watch T.V.? Write or play? Write or color? Write or drive my sister nuts while she writes? That last one often wins out for my youngest.
So yes, it's a balancing act; but I wouldn't/couldn't change it anymore than the person who absolutely has to get their work out in or manages to walk their dog at 5 a.m. (I could NOT do that). When you love something though, when you feel like something is an essential part of you, balancing it does not seem difficult. In fact, while I'm balancing everything else, it often seems feels like it's the break I need.
My husband often accuses me of trying to control time and if I'm being honest, he's right. I want to slow it down, stop it in certain moments, or sometimes make it fly. Of course, like everyone else, I am incapable of this but it doesn't stop me from trying.
In the last few years, I've been attempting to teach myself how to just live every day without worrying about the next one. This is next to impossible for me because I can't not (yes, I see the double negative) think about the next thing. I have learned to enjoy the moments more though by truly being 'in' them.
I read an article a long time ago that said that as parents and teachers we often get frustrated with children because they are distracting us from something we were doing, rather than because of something they are doing. The article suggested that when you give your full attention to one thing, it leaves less room for frustration. Basically, if you're not dividing yourself into multiple pieces to do everything at once, you're likely to enjoy the focus activity more and become less frustrated even when problems arise. Since reading this article (I don't remember the source), if I've said I would play with my kids, I play. If I've said I want to sit down and write, I write (perhaps multiple things as once like right this minute, but still, one general activity). If I am teaching a lesson, I am involved in that lesson and not trying to plan the next one in the brief moments of down time. It's helped. I know that what I need to do is still going to be there even if I give something my full attention for a period of time. Likely, each thing that I give my attention to turns out better because I'm not being pulled in multiple directions.
Throughout the holidays, I've really enjoyed the time with my family, being with friends, the chance to sleep in, and the chance to write without worrying about what I should be planning for the classroom. On Monday though, it's back to juggling all of it together and tossing in piano lessons, gymnastics, making lunches, staff meetings and so on. It's easy to find balance when you elminate say, a forty hour work week. It's harder to find it when life returns to normal.
I'm not one for resolutions because I don't like disappointing myself. I've made the exact same 'goals' for the past several new years; be a better person, be healthier, worry less. These goals continue to be my life resolutions rather than my new year ones. So instead of an actual resolution, I try to combine these goals with my life long quest for balance. As reality encroaches, I remind myself that I have been very successful juggling all of these things. It's really difficult though, after spending the better part of the last 16 days in pajamas, grabbing snacks whenever, staying up late to read and play on my iPad or iPhone, and sleeping until I'm not tired, to imagine getting up at 6:30 Monday morning.
Part of me thinks I should jump back in right now: go to bed on time, begin prepping my Monday lessons, and plan out my dinner menu for the next couple of weeks. But, since the post is called back to reality, I might as well be realisitc and acknowledge that what I'm really going to do is write as much as I possibly can in the next two days, stay in my pajamas, eat junk food, play word games, and cuddle my kids while we watch too much T.V. Everything else, can wait until Monday.