I tried to potty train my toddler this month. Tried being the operative word. It did not go well.
Let me just say that this task was not taken on with any lack of experience or understanding. I potty trained my older two at the exact same age using the exact same methods, and wasn’t I proud that I potty trained them in a day and we were pretty much accident free in a week? I patted myself on the back. Good mom, Liesl! Give yourself a treat! All those other moms who whine and moan about how they simply can’t get their kids to go on the pot are just pathetic losers who don’t know how to take charge of their kid’s crap. YOU know what you’re doing!
Oh, how fate loves to laugh in our face! Now I got THIS kid, who is hilarious and truly one of the highlights of my life, but learning to control his bodily functions is not one of his super-powers. He would pee in the toilet whenever I insisted that he go, but if left to his own devices, he’d simply let the pee run down his legs and go about his business without a second thought.
“Topher, did you pee your pants?”
“Yes you did. I can see you peed your pants.”
“I didn’t mom!”
I’ll condense the following month. Pee, pee, pee, poop, pee, pee, etc. I am DONE. We’ll revisit in the summer.
And now you are asking, what on earth does this have to do with writing? I will tell you.
Our stories can be like children. We love them with equal love, and yet, they are all so different. They give us different joys and different sorrows and different frustrations. You can’t approach the next story the same way you did your last, because it will either be boring (a great tragedy, whether in people or books) totally messed up, or it will pee all over you and then LIE (which may be more exciting than boring, but nevertheless undesirable.)
Some people think that once you’ve written a book or two, you know what you’re doing now. Your next book won’t give you fits of frustration and the words will flow like milk and honey. You won’t encounter plot problems in chapter ten, because you know how to avoid the pitfalls that led you there with your first book. But the truth is, every book, just like every child, will at some point stump you and make you scream, “Why in the world did I ever think I could do this?” If not with the plot, then maybe with some character motivations, or the voice, or point-of-view.
And in some ways, the second book can be even more scary and frustrating. It’s amazing how quickly we forget the pains of our past, and so when we struggle with the next book, it’s easy to think “I don’t remember this. Something’s wrong because I didn’t have this problem before.” And maybe that’s true and maybe it isn’t, but the effect is just as disastrous. You wonder if you only had one book in you, or if the first was just a fluke, and really you are not a very good writer after all, or maybe this story is just a dud. In my colorful imagination, my first book was a breeze and never gave me any fits or worries. My husband has had to remind me again and again that I did struggle with my first book, that I seriously questioned if I could really do it, and I even have the blog post to prove it. And then I read posts like this from Sara Zarr, and I breath a sigh of relief, because if she can struggle and write as well as she does, then there’s still hope for the rest of us.
Anyway, I’ve come to realize that just because my kid is peeing all over the floor does not mean I’m a failure as a mother, and just because my current WIP is still a little rough, does not mean it can’t be every bit as good, and possibly even better, than my first. It simply means I’m working with something altogether different, and I need to find the right methods and tools to bring out its best qualities. This can be difficult, and will take time, patience, and maybe even some radical change. I’ll make mistakes. I’ll probably make a grand mess, but eventually it will come together.
In the meantime…we’re back in diapers, friends.