Trade the tiger mother for the rooster writer

Word count: 731 words

Reading time: About 3 minutes

I’m a writer who’s more than ready to sing a battle hymn –- just not one like bestselling author Amy Chua.

Much in the news in recent months, the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, irritated me. I’d read the comments in the New York Times, the Guardian, and the Daily Beast.

Frankly, the author sounded unhinged. Yet because I live in Vancouver, where a very large percent of the population is Asian, I knew she exemplified a certain kind of Chinese mother. You know, the one who requires endless music practicing, who deems a B+ a “failing” grade and who insists on weekend tutoring in Mandarin and math. I wanted to read the book but must confess I was churlish enough to refuse to concede even a tiny royalty payment to its author Amy Chua. So, instead of buying it in a bookstore, I checked it out from the library.

I radically disagree with Chua’s parenting style but I found her book slightly more sympathetic than I expected. But in the final chapter she made a confession I think every writer should find revealing. Here is the quote from page 223:

“Even though I usually have writer’s block, this time the words streamed out of me. The first two-thirds of the book took me just eight weeks to write. (The last third was agonizing.)”

This comment is so intriguing on a number of levels:

The book is extraordinarily short. My estimate puts it at only 56,000 words, when a typical book is usually closer to 80,000.

• If, as Chua says, the wrote the first two-thirds of the book (or about 37,000 words) in eight weeks that means she wrote about 900 words per day, taking weekends off. I don’t know about you, but I don’t consider 900 words per day as writing that is “streaming” out of anybody –- especially not someone who has written two books before. And, remember, she also describes writing the last third of the book as “agonizing.”

Chua’s admission that she “usually” has writer’s block is telling because to me it suggests that her raging perfectionism — instead of helping her — is making her a slow, troubled writer.

Chua, who was born in 1962, is a tiger according to the Chinese zodiac. Well, that same system makes me, born in 1957, a rooster. And just as Chua began her book with a list of things she wouldn’t let her daughters do (watch TV, be in a school play, get any grade less than an A) here are the things I don’t want writers I to do.

Let’s call this the Battle Hymn of the Rooster Writer:

1) Don’t edit while you write. This is like trying to wash the dishes while you are still eating dinner. Keep your writing and your editing separate. Hang a towel over your computer (or turn off the screen) if you’re temped to edit while you write.

2) Do NOT judge yourself in any way while you are writing. Instead, focus only on WHAT you are writing. Don’t try to be the best. Don’t compare yourself to other writers. Don’t be the least bit critical. Just write.

3) Don’t think you’re a better writer because you write slowly. Instead, write as fast as you humanly can. Use timers to challenge yourself to put out as many words as quickly as possible. Go for QUANTITY rather than quality and work on quality later, when you are editing.

4) Don’t write too soon. Give yourself plenty of time to THINK before you sit down in front of a blank computer screen.

5) Do not obsess on facts. Instead, look for the anecdotes or stories in what you are writing. (This is likely why Chua perceived this book to be easier to write than her others — it is filled with stories about her children.)

6) Don’t limit yourself to work. Have fun: Read other writers. Watch TV and movies. Listen to music. Go for walks. All of these “entertainments” will feed your writing life.

7) Don’t see publication as the only worthy goal and anything less a failure. No writing is ever wasted.

I feel sorry for Amy Chua. She is a very bright and driven woman who thinks that discipline is what makes life work.

The rooster writer’s point of view is that writing demands far more than mere discipline. Instead, it asks you to take the judging, perfectionistic part of your personality, and put it on hold while you write.

If you want to learn to write like a rooster, check out my book or my Extreme Writing Makeover.

Photo courtesy Raymond Gobis, Flickr Creative Commons