Monday, May 14, 2012

My writing mentor, Annette Gendler

During my writing navigation period in StoryStudio Chicago in 2010, I overheard someone saying, "Annette is teaching Memoir Workshop, and she is really good." As soon as I got home, I registered her next class.
It was the beginning of February, 2011, when Memoir Workshop started. While I sat one of the armchair in the classroom, I still had a doubt if my decision to write a memoir was right.
     What if my English is not good enough to write? What if other writers disapprove of me? What if I can't handle the criticism? Am I really ready for this? So many questions swirled in my head. 

I was on the edge due to lack of confidence and full of uncertainties, when Annette came into the classroom. Her posture was poised and confident. Her voice was calm, yet her words were precise and poignant. At the end of the first class, I knew I made the right choice. Since then I continued taking her classes, and this year I moved to Advanced Memoir Workshop.

Annette once told me, "Sun Hee, I will keep an my eye on you. I hope you keep writing your stories." She might have said it without any intention, but these sentences echoed in my ears and penetrated into my feeble determination. I needed a one, just one person who tells me that I need to write. And the confirmation came from my instructor. She gave me a motivation to write.

Today, I asked her if she could write a little note to mom writers like me. And I am pleased to share this story with others, who struggles with family life and pursuing her dream.

A Little Note to Mom Writers 

Thank you, Sun Hee, for asking me to share my insights on managing to writing and kids. First of all, a note of caution: Motherhood does not get any easier as the kids get older. It might get physically less demanding, but the emotional demands weigh heavier. More experienced mothers used to tell me that, but it made no sense to me when I was getting up every two hours to soothe a toddler with an ear infection. Now I know they were right.

The issue of finding the time, or rather, making the commitment to write, in the midst of a busy family life, remains a challenge, no matter where you’re at in raising your family. My main piece of advice is: Don’t fret, and make the time.

I got my MFA while working a demanding corporate job, serving as board president of my kids’ school, and teaching a creative writing class for the first time. My kids were six, nine and ten at the time. I managed to meet my manuscript submission deadlines by getting up at five. On most mornings, that gave me 1.5 hours to write before the kids woke up. I also have a supportive husband who fixes breakfast and packs lunches, but he was often abroad for weeks. During those single mom stints I went into “survival mode.” I made sure the essentials were met: Nobody went hungry, everybody had clean clothes, did the homework, brushed his/her teeth and was in bed on time. Aside from that, all bets were off. Their clothes might not have matched, a permission slip might not have been signed, and a mitten might have gotten lost. We did go to McDonald’s or out for pizza, and the kids did watch way too many movies (not TV!) while I was writing.

The odd thing is that my kids remember those times of high stress for me as fun times for them. Lounging in front of a screen all day is not how they should spend their childhoods, but in a pinch, it makes for a great Sunday. If we went out for junk food, we were all in a good mood because it was a treat, and let’s face it, once in a while it does taste good, and since I didn’t have to clean up, I had some time to actually talk to them.

If you want to write, you have to make the time, and that doesn’t only mean getting up early or writing into the wee hours. It means being willing to let other things slide. It means saying, “I can’t go to the park now because I have to finish writing.” It means instant soup instead of roast chicken.

However, it also means recognizing that it is not a bad thing for kids to see Mom juggle more than one job and working towards a dream. It gives them, I think, a lesson in what might be possible if you work towards a goal, even if it’s only in baby steps and with a lot of baggage on your back. Interestingly enough, my kids referred to me as “a writer” way before I did, because that’s what they saw me doing.


  1. Thanks for hosting me today, Sun Hee! I've had many guests on my blog, but this is the first time I get to be a guest myself, so I feel honored. Your introduction humbles me, and it humbles me even more to hear that what I say resonates so much.

  2. I hoped to say Thank You one day, for guiding me this far. I think today was the chance.

  3. Determination -- a great lesson for your children and students, and clearly for your protege here, Annette.

  4. Love this post! Thank you Annette and Sun Hee. You both inspire me!

  5. Jackie & Gillian - Thank you for dropping by. You both boosts my motivation to write on the blog. :)