Nancy Tandon: Doing It All Wrong
From: Out to Play
April 12, 2012 at 12:48PM
I’ve been noticing a lot of parallels between being a mom and being a writer. First, you create these characters. You get to pick out their names. You have high hopes for them, and you know pretty much the path you want them to go down. You think they are perfect! Then, kids (and characters) start having their own opinions. Wait, what are you doing? I often want to say, to both sets – my real ‘characters’, and the ones on the page.
Before I gave myself permission to sit down and begin writing in earnest, I read over and over about authors who commented that their characters were ‘in charge’. Honestly, that never made sense to me. Aren’t you the one writing the words? I’d wonder. However, as I spend increasingly more time in the land of character development, I realize that this generalization exists for a reason. When I’m writing, I like to stare out the window while I think. Sure enough, in those thoughtful moments, characters will change on me. For example, it will occur to me that the guy who I thought was going to detest the new kid has a lot in common with her and might even kind of like her. A lot of these ideas actually do “surprise” me.
So, I’m sort of in control, but not really. I find it’s startlingly the same with my kids. I set up parameters for food choices, amount of TV watching, and bedtimes. I encourage (or discourage) friendships. I think I’m doing most of the things I should be doing, then BAM! they lead themselves, and me, down a different path.
I make a lot of mistakes in both writing and parenting. Both jobs are fraught with the potential for error. In the past three weeks I’ve gotten another rejection from an editor, and have (on separate occasions) made both of my kids cry. The rejection was totally warranted; I had sent out a manuscript that was several revisions away from having any right to see the light of day. With the kids, it was painful to know that something I said had hurt their little feelings. Sometimes I feel so discouraged and wonder, am I doing any of this right?
Obviously, I’m not doing all of it right, but I do know I’m trying. I model for my kids what it is to give a sincere apology. I help them learn that no one is perfect (this lesson seems to be on auto repeat) and that everyone has room for growth. On the writing side, I read, I talk to other writers, I go to conferences, and I work and work and work to shape the best stories I can.
I hope that once they leave my care, I’ll have given my kids and my characters enough. I want all of my “babies” to go out into the world and make it just a little bit better, on whatever level they can. I want them to be ‘good stories’, ones that encourage others, or somehow lighten their loads. I hope that all who meet them will accept their flaws. Most of all, I hope they never forget that while it wasn’t always perfect, they were born from a place of love and hope.
P.S. It helps to have a life partner who lifts you up when you’re feeling that all you are doing is making mistakes. Here is an excerpt from my currently-being-revised memoir, S.O.S.: Help! My Significant Other is a Surgeon!
“I was such a bad mom today,” I tell Raj later that night.
“Why?” he asks, not believing me.
“Well, for one thing, I left my sick kid with a sitter, then I fed her fast food for dinner, and I also let her watch way too much TV.” All three seemed like major transgressions to me, so far from where I thought I would be when I had previously imagined myself as a parent.
“Look,” Raj says to me, “did you smoke crack today?”
“No! Of course not!”
“Did you get drunk and pass out so that when your baby fell off the bed and hit the baseboard heater, you never woke up, and only realized hours later that the baby was screaming and had third degree burns?” he says, describing a scenario he had dealt with at work just that day.
“Honey, you are not a bad mother.”