Sunday, November 15, 2015

Our talented youth

When I was fifteen I wrote what I thought was an extremely good short story. I'd certainly read enough books to understand the dynamics of writing, or so I'd thought. I listened to lyrics of songs, picturing grand novels from them, and obsessed over the movies I loved. How difficult could this be?

I handed the story that was about two best friends to my mother. It was a tragic tale, since one of them dies. I sat nearby waiting for the reaction I was sure would come from my mom. She'd clutch the pages to her chest, tears rolling down her face. She'd tell me it was Pulitzer Prize worthy, and she'd take me out of high school so I could begin my journey as a best-selling author.

Nothing of the sort happened. You see, Mom did something totally unexpected. She broke into gales of laughter instead. First, a slight chuckle emanated from her. Then total guffaws racked her body. My young fragile psyche was ruined. Laughing! You should be crying, Mother dear. I grabbed the story from her, ripping it into the smallest pieces I possibly could, and promptly threw the offensive story into the trashcan.

Nowadays, we parents try a little too hard to be our child's best friend. We praise them for every little deed they do, acting as if they'll win the prize for best daughter or son if they simply wake up in the morning. Now I realize what happened to me as a teenager might be a bit extreme. I'm not damaged or anything from my mother's reaction to the story I'd written. I mean, yeah, years of therapy and hundreds of dollars later, I'm okay, at least I think so. . .

Seriously though, it's good to have a little dissension. It's good for kids to have to work hard at what they do. They shouldn't automatically receive an A+ for a job that isn't their best. It's too easy to praise without the effort put forth into most things our children do. We shouldn't protect them from every scrape or bruise either. Because one day, they'll walk out into the world, and someone or something will hurt them and they will crumble right on the spot. But if we, as parents let them try something, fail perhaps at it, pick themselves up and do it again, but better this time, our child will have learned a valuable lesson.

I have gone from being laughed at to becoming a published author. And it wasn't overnight and it certainly wasn't easy. There were bumps and bruises along the way. Rejections and negativity. But there also is joy. Joy in encouraging someone with a piece I've written. A book that resounded with them, and a person shares with me their own tales because a character of mine touched a sensitive nerve or reminded them of someone they encountered.

Recently I've begun to mentor young writers. You can ask them if I'm fair. I think they'll tell you that I am. I give praise where it's due, and critique when necessary. But you can see the look on their face when they realize that they've pushed themselves out of their comfort zones. The moment when what I'm teaching them clicks into realization about a sentence or paragraph. When I ask, "would your character really do or say that?" They may even tell you that one day, they, too will become a published author. Chances are, they probably will.

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