Raising a Writer is a Lot Like Raising a Child

by Laura Lentz

When I was promoted to manager at a publishing company in Los Angeles, I was a lot like Trump or Harvey Weinstein. It’s true that I had emulated the men in top at the company, and I was known as someone who met every financial projection without having even glancing at the budget I created once it was set. I had a sixth sense with projects, knowing which would work and the weaker projects that needed more assistance to meet goals. The publisher was a narcissistic liar and the owner was a white collar criminal who business partner went to jail during the S & L fiasco in the 90’s.   It was like a Trump and Weinstein triangle and I was a willing participant.  Then I became pregnant at thirty-one.

I went into therapy immediately, because my own mother’s mental instability and lack of maternal instincts haunted me.  I didn’t want to hurt my daughter. Who did I have as a role model?  I chose a doctor who had studied child development to give my daughter the best chance – I needed to understand how a human developed, not knowing the power of the maternal instinct that would kick in once she came out of my body.

My therapist was amazing – working with her and giving birth reminded me we all come into the world the same – beautiful, young and innocent – but how we are raised shapes us.  I began to soften in the workforce, approving requests from mothers and fathers to see their kids school plays if the timing conflicted with a sale meeting and allowing it, and finding ways for them to catch up on missed information.  I fell out of the male dominated triangle and began to manage differently.  I got better results,  but this wasn’t the company culture, so I started my own publishing company.

Slowly I became a different person – focused more on the good of my employees and challenging them to find a new way of working if they weren’t meeting their goals before offering my own suggestions.  In a sense, I felt I was raising my employees instead of managing them, and it was satisfying to watch them blossom into their strengths while I gently guided them away from their weaknesses.

When I started working with writers over ten years ago –  writers who are pregnant with their own creations – I was reminded the other day how a big part of being a writer is to learn how to handle criticism. I heard Woody Allen once say he never watched a movie he made a second time after watching the final cut. In a strange way I understand that.  Once we finish a book, a story, a blog or a poem, we have already stretched beyond that and are ready to embrace the better writer that grew from our last creative output.

Our best self is just one paragraph away and always elusive.

Recently I woke up and wrote a piece about my complex relationship with my mother, as a guest blog on a grief website. I sent it to four people I respect, including my client and received three glowing reviews.  One person cried when they read it and told me it gave them permission to grieve their own living mother. And yet, I focused on the fourth critic, who found the writing tedious and not in alignment with the topic.  She said my sentences were long and rambling and didn’t mention one thing relatable.

It got me thinking about writing and rejection overall.  How as writers, rejection may be the one-two punch that takes the steam out of progress and our art, leaving us in the barren place of self doubt, or chasing our better writer instead of acknowledging the wonderful writer who is.

Working closely with writers is a lot like raising a child.  When we focus on the good, the good gets very good. When we find something that needs improvement, it’s important to offer insights and suggestions in a way that opens a writer instead of closes them.  And in this way, in the writing groups I host, we are all raising each other to become better writers.

Constructive criticism is a strange combination of words, because “construct” means “to build.” “Criticism” means “to tear down”.   This is why I host workshops for small groups of four working on books, and why the workshop is called Words in Progress.  Writers become deep listeners of their own work and the work of others.  When commenting we always begin by pointing out what they love about the writing, followed by uplifting advice. This combination is a rare thing of beauty and yields powerful results.

As a developmental editor, I often feel like an architect, an investigative journalist, a mother or a therapist.  And shouldn’t we all be that for each other all the time?  We are raising each other every day to the best versions of ourselves.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Philip Brautigam
grow@beseen.media
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