My four children are blessings.
But they also make it challenging for me as a writer to, well, write.
After reading Heather St. James’ hilarious post last week about writing with kids in tow, a thought occurred to me. Yes, it is challenging to write with kids, but they also are life-sized object lessons to spur on my pursuit of publication.
Here’s an example.
Our third daughter, Polly, who was born with Down syndrome, has low muscle tone. When she was two and a half years old she wasn’t close to walking, so her therapist suggested a stander; a wooden contraption with Velcro and steel to buckle your child into. The hope was that Polly would bear weight on her legs, build muscle, and start to tolerate the sensation of standing.
She was to stand for three hours. Every. Day. Did I mention she was two?
The first few days Polly was ambivalent. “Polly, time to stand,” I’d sign and say (sign language at the time being her primary form of communication), and she’d shrug her shoulders as I strapped her in.
Soon, though, she grew combative. She learned a few tricks, like to hike her rear up over the thick leather strap to make a seat to rest on, or to pull the Velcro strap apart one-handed, thus freeing herself from her therapeutic shackles.
I’d raise my eyebrow, and she’d look at me like, “What? I’m standing?”
The season of the stander was a difficult time for our family. But the strength my daughter acquired was undeniable. After two months, she pulled to stand on her own, with a triumphant, cheeky grin plastered on her face.
How does this relate to writing?
When I first started writing, I don’t think I actually wanted to write. I wanted to be known as a writer. I wanted to see my name in print. I craved the imagined silence of hours ticking away at a computer somewhere, alone, without my kids hanging on my legs.
But I lacked writing muscle. When it actually came to “butt on the chair” time (to quote Mary DeMuth in her book 11 Secrets to Getting Published), I waxed and waned between ambivalence and combativeness. I wanted to write the next great American story in one sitting. I didn’t want to have to work at it.
I discovered that good writing demanded writing muscles: write consistently, set deadlines, read about the craft of writing, learn from others living a writing life. Also, growing muscle required humility. I needed to ‘fess up’ when I, like Polly, tampered with the shackles of a literary life and attempted to squirm free.
If I let myself get out of hard work consistently, I will never learn to stand as a writer.
Sometimes when I write, the vision of Polly in her stander pops up in my mind. There are several other things besides writing, too numerous and embarrassing to list, that I try to sabotage in my life. I kick. I undo. I push.
My daughter–patient, diligent, and courageous in her daily attempts to do things I take for granted–teaches me a valuable lesson.
If I want to publish a book, or even as Papa Hemingway says, “write one true sentence,” I need to put in the time, effort, humility, and courage to grow strong enough to stand on my own as a writer.
P.S. An update on Polly. She is now six years old. She walks, runs, climbs stairs and in fact, we can’t get her to slow down.