Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Write, right? Write.

I could not believe it when I got my fall issue of Brain, Child last week and there was Catherine Newman’s name boldly displayed on the front cover. Again. For like the third time in the last year.

Don't get me wring--I don't have anything against Catherine Newman. Actually I adore her. When I read anything written by her I never fail to come away wishing I were cozied across the kitchen table from her, preferably with something delicious she has cooked, and written about, between us. And she has an amazing ability to write about absolutely nothing and make it seem really vital (this issue’s essay is about boredom). It helps to quell the anxiety that every bit of creative nonfiction needs to be earth-shattering.

I don’t in the least begrudge her success (if you, like I, measure success as being regularly featured in a niche magazine). But three essays in one year? Is no one else submitting anything worthy of publication? Why have I not submitted anything in the last year (other than the fact that I haven’t written anything in the last year)?

And why is it that not one of those three or four essays and twice as many short story snippets that parade through my brain on my daily commute and at night as I drift off to sleep has made its way to paper (or pixels)?

I blame my basement--I have become driven by a visceral drive to clean, sort, declutter, organize and make livable and usable our underground realm. I have convinced myself that once I have the house organized and under control, when I have routines in place, then I will be able to settle down and write. I am convinced that I’m being held hostage by all the junk below grade, and once I can release myself from all of that, I will be free.

But what if I’m really being held hostage by my own desire to clean up that junk? What if it’s just one big procrastinationary tactic that, once fulfilled (if it will ever be fulfilled) will be replaced by yet more ways of avoiding the blank page (organizing digital photos, landscaping our five acres, raising pigs and chickens)?

I read this article last week: A Working Mother’s Guide to Writing a Novel by Mary McNamara. Check out number 1--writing for three hours a night after the kids go to bed (time I currently use to: work on the basement, brush my teeth, plan my outfit for tomorrow, read, sleep). And number 5--a daily goal, “You have to write Every Single Day,” McNamara writes. “Two hours is ideal. One is better than nothing...” Er, how ‘bout 15 minutes? Does this blog count? And number 7--the willingness to give up a lot of stuff: “me time,” lunch with friends, hobbies, vacations. Probably obsessive organizational binges too. Maybe I could write a novel about a woman in her basement sorting through various-sized yogurt lids and 2001 Quebec tourism brochures. If I didn’t die of boredom writing it, I’m sure my readers (if it found readers, that is) would die of boredom reading it. Isn’t there some rule that you have to actually live a life in order to write about it?

Then last night, while C read to the kids, I idly picked up a book I had started to read months ago--Raising Happiness by Christine Carter--and put down again after the part about the10-step conflict resolution process (show me a mom who can calmly follow ten steps to get to the bottom of Johnny hitting Georgie over the head with a brick and I will give her my kids). Anyway, last night I read the part about “growth mindset” versus “fixed mindset” and learned that people who are really good at things are because they practice those things every day and that it takes about 10 years of practice to get there. Which means, if I start writing every day now, I might have something to show for it by the time I’m 47. If I wait another year, while I get my house in order, I’ll be 48.

After everyone went to bed I thought I’d browse through a few blogs before turning in myself, but could not get connected to the internet. So instead I opened a document that held a few sentences of an essay I’ve been marinating for a few months and, putting one word down in front of the other, I wrote.


  1. I'm tired, and I only have a second, but...I hear you. On all of this.

  2. Me too, me too. I can't write if I don't write, can I?

    How great that you just did it!? I've placed a journal next to the bed, and have never written in it, but maybe tonight is my night. I don't like the idea of being even older than 52 before I have something to "show" for it, so I better get going.

  3. The hardest part is sitting down and getting to it, and if that voice isn't there right away, feeding you words to write, then it's even more frustrating.

    I tend to write great things in my head while driving, but once I get to the computer, it's gone.

    Good for you...write. Right.

  4. Hmm. I just read the LA times article and I think Ms. McNamara should have titled it "Writing a Novel as a Working Mother: What Worked for Me." It's really not a guide. Underneath all of her Mary-specific techniques is the idea that you need to create a writing habit that works for you and keep that consistent - and yes the blog counts. I think you've written some really wonderful things here; "hard to throw a rock without hitting magnificent" sticks with me. Your novel will follow (throw me back some love for my screenplay, please :))


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