|Author G. Elizabeth Kretchmer|
I used to think I was pretty smart, so when my husband and I decided to start a family, I wasn’t too worried about whether I knew what I was doing. Likewise, when I decided to write my first novel, it didn’t look that hard, either. Ha! How wrong I was, on both accounts.
At a writing workshop early in my career, a short story I’d written was ripped to shreds by the workshop leader. “Throw it out,” he said. “It’s not worth saving or trying to revise.” I wanted to crawl under a blanket and die.
Over the past couple of decades, my kids have periodically had similarly harsh criticisms of me when they didn’t like rules or consequences I’d imposed upon them. Room cleaning, video games, and curfews were three of the most popular causes for protest. I love each of my kids with all my heart, and I know they love me, too. Even so, we’ve shared some terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days that nearly shattered my heart.
As a writer and a parent, I’ve had to develop thick skin. It was a matter of survival. But that’s not to say my heart became smaller or weaker. If anything, it’s grown larger and stronger as I’ve watched my children--and my characters--struggle through life’s complexities.
|The Damnable Legacy|
When one of my sons was in fifth grade, a boy in his classroom bullied him relentlessly. The teacher and principal refused to intervene, so I took the matter into my own hands. I went into the school one morning with my son. We had a kind and gentle chat with the other boy. All seemed good between the kids after that, but the principal felt undermined. He criticized me harshly for doing what I did. I was humiliated by his reprimand in front of the schoolchildren. But I didn’t regret the action I’d taken. I’d remained true to my son, and to my values against bullying, no matter the consequences.
As a member of various writing critique groups over the years, I’ve received a lot of ideas on how to improve my work. Cut this scene! Show more skin! No, please don’t kill off that character! Although grateful for every comment I received, I sometimes felt lost—especially when the comments conflicted with one another. It was like having some people point north while others pointed south. I nearly lost track of where my story, and its characters, were headed.
It’s a fact: we live in a society where criticism is the norm. Even with rhino skin, I’ve found it confusing. But writing and parenting have taught me to expect criticism, to listen to it with grace, and to weave it into my work, and my life, when it makes sense—so long as I can stay true to my own values, goals, and dreams.
Input Versus Output
When I first became a parent, I thought it was all about me bringing up a child and teaching him everything from shoe tying to relationship building. Likewise, when I first sat down to write, I thought the goal was, quite simply, telling stories to others.
|Women on the Brink|
But I’ve learned that neither writing nor parenting is solely about output. In fact, it’s more about input from others. My kids have taught me at least as much as I’ve taught them, not just about Snapchat and Game of Thrones but about honesty, trust, and communications. And my literary community--especially my readers--have inundated me with wisdom, not only about the craft of writing but also about the art of being human.
As it turns out, writing and parenting are two of the most complex and humbling challenges I’ve ever undertaken, and I’m grateful for both.
G. Elizabeth Kretchmer is the author of The Damnable Legacy and Women on the Brink. She’s currently working on another novel and a self-help book about writing for wellness, drawn from her experience teaching workshops to survivors of cancer, domestic violence, and brain injuries. She has an essay in the forthcoming anthology, Just a Little More Time, and her other short work has appeared in the New York Times as well as other publications. Visit her website at www.gekretchmer.com like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.