In which Cindy Chen guest-posts
My daughter, Cindy Chen, blogs at La Casa de Chen when she’s not chasing her toddler or reading interesting books.
I still have one arm in a sling, which makes typing a big, fat pain, so Cindy offered to do a guest-post for me. She chose the topic of growing up as a writer’s kid. I think she’s entirely too forgiving of my obsession. It can’t be easy to have a mom who lives with imaginary friends, but Cindy seems to have survived with her sanity intact.
Take it away, Cindy.
Lessons I learned from having a writer as a mother:
- Prioritize what you’re passionate about. A writer cannot help it; there is no escaping the creative process in his or her mind. With a novelist, that means there is a continuous story with full conversations with imaginary people. And sometimes those imaginary people take precedence over the real ones living in her house. Please understand, we were always loved, clothed, fed, and cared for, but we knew that we could reheat our own lunches and clean up our own messes; her characters needed her full attention just to exist. Who can compete with that?
- Get up early. A Stay-At-Home/Work-From-Home Mom lives a life of constant interruption. God bless her for trying to write with all of us around nearly 24/7. She learned that the only way to get anything done without interruption was to get up before anyone else in the house and get going right away. If you are passionate about something (be it exercise, prayer, writing, your newborn child) you will create a way to make it a priority. For my mom, it was not cleaning the bathrooms. It was typing as quickly as the ideas could come. This is why we learned….
- Do not interrupt. A train of thought is very, very important. So if you’re going into her office to ask for anything, or if you are looking for something, or if you just want to visit, you must follow protocol. Enter, be silent, and wait. It could be a few minutes, but she’ll eventually stop typing and turn around. Bringing an extra cup of coffee never hurts.
- Read. Everything. Read to learn. Read for fun. Read aloud. Read in the middle of the night with a flashlight. Read critically. Read with a pen in hand. Many of my early memories have to do with books. These days most of the books I read are sturdy board editions with short sentences. Or Facebook status updates. Having been taught to appreciate good literature, I cringe when I realize that what I’m typing sounds like a texting 7th grader. This leads me to the next lesson:
- Choose the right words. No one will take you seriously whether by an e-mail, a thank-you note, an essay, a blog, or a query letter if you don’t use the correct words, spelling, or grammar. There is a difference between there, their, and they’re. No, UR is not a word—unless you are referring to the place Abraham left, Ur of the Chaldees. Likewise, the appropriate, clear, gentle, or correct word will make all the difference in any relationship.
- Give constructive criticism carefully. I learned that when you critique you should use a “sandwich” formula: You say something complimentary, then you ease into what you noticed needs work (or what really doesn’t work at all), and then you wrap up by saying something encouraging. This is a great skill to apply in all aspects of life. It is often used in management in employee performance reviews, and if you listen for it, you will hear it in the South as part of conversation, usually including a “Bless his heart.”
- Be teachable. Receiving constructive criticism can make or break you. If the art of critiquing is delicate, being critiqued is exponentially more delicate. No one wants to be told that her child has wonky ears, or that you felt that his life’s work was a bit lacking. Likewise, it is never easy to share an idea, submit a chapter, or extend a hopeful piece of your soul, to be scrutinized by someone else. Truly it takes a few times of having your feelings hurt before the sting isn’t so bad. The way that you receive it, and what you do with it, determines whether or not you are going to grow and succeed.
- Rejection is part of life. I have no idea how many times my family watched Mom stay up all night long, wake up before the crack of dawn, down 8 cups of coffee (by the coffeemaker’s gauge), and drive a packed envelope to the post office to send out a submission by a certain deadline, then wait week after week, to receive—a rejection letter. For every time she received something saying, “I want to see more” she received a dozen “thanks, but no thanks.” Which means that. . .
- Anything that is not rejection should be celebrated–and celebrated with someone! This is what a critique group is for. Yes, yes, they read each other’s chapters, give severely honest but compassionate reviews of each other’s work, and motivate each other to keep up the good work. But did someone final in a contest? Did someone sell a book? Did someone sign an agent? Did someone get a great haircut? Then break out the stemware!
- Never give up. Mom’s process of writing has taken a long time—about as long as it takes to raise a child into adulthood—from deciding “I’m going to do this,” to having someone recognize that her work is worth being printed and put in the hands of many people. Those years involved a lot of lame ideas. A lot of paper. A lot of rejection. A lot of frozen dinners. A whole lot of coffee. But persistence, faith, and encouragement have paid off.
(Me again: Thank you, Cindy, for guest-posting and for being a perfectly delightful daughter. I want to be like you when I grow up.)
If you like this post, please share it.