Tag: Writing


NaNoWriMo – Day 3

I got up this morning as the tips of the sky were turning to tangerine. It’s not easy for me, this early to rise business, but creativity is a heady incentive, and I always value the extra hours of writing time. Except, that is, when they can’t be used for writing.

Dan had an early work meeting this morning, so it was up to me to get the girls to school, preferably on time and intact. That is usually his job, and I had no idea the magnitude of parental responsibility involved. While showering, I fielded questions and issued instructions (mostly “Close the door!”). While drying my hair, I mediated arguments and tried to follow preschool jokes. While whisking on some mascara, I wiped noses and bums alike. Cher probably takes less time getting herself ready for the day. And once I was finally presentable, it was the girls’ turn.

There were two complete outfits to be chosen. Eight separate limbs to be wrangled into the appropriate holes. Socks to be removed, turned right side out, and replaced. Shoes to be found. Matching shoes to be found. Uniforms to be rebuttoned. Bags to be packed. Medicine to be administered, hair to be fixed, and faces to be washed. Two energetic little bodies to be bundled into coats and scarves and backpacks and corralled along the walk to school. We made it with five minutes to spare.

While I should theoretically have felt great that I accomplished the morning’s goals (on time? check! intact? check!), I mostly felt like life was over. I had gotten up so ridiculously, agonizingly early only to spend those hard-earned hours on the mundane. I felt like I had missed my shot at productivity for the day. I was frustrated at the girls for needing so much from me, and I was frustrated at myself for not being more efficient. Back home, not even my morning cappuccino warmed in a pool of sunshine helped. I budgeted, wrote lesson plans, and made some important phone calls, but I didn’t have the heart to write.

By the time I picked up the girls from school, I had given up on writing for the day and NaNoWriMo in general. My situation was clearly hopeless, so I brushed it out of my mind and took the girls to the playground. I pushed them on the swings, soaked up their school day stories, and kissed their windblown cheeks. We walked home kicking up fallen leaves and shared gingerbread bears before story time. It was so refreshing to see them as my sweet, vibrant little girls again rather than as competitors for my time.

I have a chronic disability when it comes to cutting myself slack, and I’m glad I was finally able to look it in the face. I had accomplished a lot of good things with my day despite the residual brain fog from Monday’s late night. No, I hadn’t penned another book chapter, but I that didn’t mark me as a failure—just as another one of the millions of mothers who don’t try to write novels in one month. NaNoWriMo could wait a day. I began to breathe more easily and smile more freely, and when Sophie lay down for her nap, I discovered I had a few words in me after all.


NaNoWriMo – Day 2

On one hand, it might not be the most logical decision to invite a houseful of guests over to play games and watch movies late into the night on the first of thirty days in which one is trying to write a book. On the other hand, logic is often overrated. Dan and I agreed going into this that we could sacrifice the housekeeping for a month but not our close friendships, and I’m glad I’m still irresponsible enough to settle Catan some nights when I should be sleeping.

Of course, two coffees, an energy drink, and a French press full of green tea infused with freshly picked mint only got me 500 new words today that may or may not be intelligible. I’ll have to re-read them tomorrow… after I sleep at least fourteen consecutive hours, padlock the game cabinet, and mail the key to Santa Claus.


NaNoWriMo – Day 1

Getting up before dawn this morning was not nearly as agonizing as I anticipated. No husbands were hit nor bad words said when my alarm rang, and the sun was so shocked at my initiative that it decided to hide out for the day and do some serious navel-gazing. (My apologies to everyone in Italy hoping to enjoy the holiday outdoors, especially you, Liz!)

I love beginning stories, and it was almost—dare I say it?—fun getting this crazy project underway. Do I think the fun factor will last? Absolutely not. Novels are generally supposed to have endings, so the last week of November is going to be a kind of personalized creative torture for me. However, I intend to enjoy the buzz of satisfaction as long as it lingers.

And right now? That means not worrying about giving this post a proper endi—


Happy NaNoWeen!

I’m staring down November, but it shows no intention of letting up. It occurs to me that I am procrastinating before the month even begins and that this cannot possibly bode well. I add “Preemptive procrastination” to my list of Reasons Why NaNoWriMo Is Doomed To Failure. Other items on the list include “Motherhood,” “Inability to operate on less than eight hours of sleep (preferably twelve),” and “Being 99.9% certain that I cannot write a book in one month.” I add “Lack of confidence” several times to emphasize the scope of said lack, and I finish the list with a flourish: “Two days left, and I still haven’t decided.”

Each November, I think longingly of all the artsy, motivated writers adjusting their wire-rims and churning out page after page of latte-inspired prose. Every November, I would willingly jump into that world if not for the tethers anchoring me to reality—a child at home, social obligations, medically-induced depression—or so I’ve claimed, at any rate. Now that I actually have mornings to myself, a de-cluttered schedule, and the returned use of my mind, I see the real choke chain around my neck: a paralyzing sense of pessimism.

I simply don’t think I have it in me. I don’t think I’ll be able to play alchemist with the hours I have and turn them into something marketable, something worth letting the dust bunnies procreate for a whole month. I don’t think I’ll be able to sit at my desk on Day 13, look the remaining 30,000 words in the face, and find the courage to keep start writing them. For that matter, I don’t think I’ll be able to whip up 20,000 words during Days 1 through 12. Maybe if I’d already written a book, I’d see this as possible, but from here, it looks like Mt. Everest… and I’m a paraplegic. Without any gear. Mortally allergic to snow.

I add “Paraplegia” to the list, but it doesn’t really matter. No matter how long the list gets, it will never trump my one and only Reason To Go For NaNoWriMo:  “Because if I don’t try, I will never live past the what ifs.” It seems I’ve reached a decision after all.

Forget Halloween. The day after is when the real terror starts.



The Quibbler

They bicker constantly, these voices in my head. There’s the dour one that I used to call realism but really deserves a much less respectable name—Ursula, for instance—who likes to point out in increasingly shrill tones that I am absolutely not cut out to be a writer and should give up before I make a fool of myself. She takes full responsibility for making sure I know how just how lousy I am each time I sit at my desk. If I stay seated, she peers over my shoulder telling me at intervals how this phrase is far too convoluted and that one appears to be written by a three-year-old and that if I were actually any good at writing, it wouldn’t take me so long. If I get up, she pats me on the back with her sharp nails and says, “Yes, very good; you’re much better at being a house cleaner. Well, the potential is there at any rate. You can find the grout cleaner under the sink.”

Then there’s the voice of creative intuition, Seraphina, who tells Ursula to kindly remove her ugly backside from the premises. Seraphina plays my veins like wind chimes and reminds me that what makes me feel truly alive is what I should be doing, external validation be damned. She texts Orlagh to get her vacationing butt back home. Come to think of it, she has kind of a thing about butts, but I really don’t mind when she’s telling me how nice mine looks planted in my desk chair. She tells me not to give up, never to give up, that the grout can wait for the next tenants.

Mrs. Fuzziwuggins occasionally pipes up to tell me I’m a special and unique snowflake, but the other two just tell her to shut up.

If I’m not careful, ­­­ Severa Slushpool slips into the back room chanting  “Guilt, Guilt, Guilt, Guilt,” until I am convinced of my unworthiness to exist. Ursula shrugs and says, “She has a point; you’ve produced nothing of value today, and at least one of your children is currently pantsless.” Mrs. Fuzziwuggins sticks her pudgy fingers in my ears while telling the others off for crushing my delicate spirits. Seraphina argues that I’m stronger than that. “Guilt, Guilt,” chants Severa in the voice of a pipe organ.

“Just a reminder,” whispers Graziella, the in-house massage therapist from my spiritual spa, “You are under no obligation to feel guilt anymore.”

“That would be accurate,” snaps Ursula, “if you were spending your time in worthier pursuits. Scrubbing down the balcony, for instance.”

“There is no more worthy pursuit than the one that inspires your passion and whole-hearted creative effort,” contends Seraphina.

Mrs. Fizziwuggins quickly adds, “But no need to strain yourself, dear; we wouldn’t want to stifle your fragile specialness.”

“SHUT UP!” shouts everyone else.

“Guilt,” cuts in Severa Slushpool. “Guilt, Guilt, Guilt, Guilt, Guilt.”

“Hey guys!” bursts Orlagh, out of breath and smelling faintly of coconut rum. “What did I miss?”


Discussion questions:

1) What do the voices in your head quibble about? You do have to deal with quibbling voices, right?

::cue the crickets::

2) For the sake of making me feel less crazy, pretend you have to deal with quibbling voices too. Would you:

a) volunteer for an experimental surgery to plant earplugs into your temporal lobe?
b) decide that whichever voice you agree with at any given moment is the correct one?
c) kill them off one by one like in that John Cusack movie?
d) take up drinking coconut rum?

3) Am I crazy?


Where Art Thou, Orlagh

“Where art thou, Muse, that thou forget’st so long
To speak of that which gives thee all thy might?”
~ Wm. Shakespeare

I was late the day they assigned muses. By the time I rushed in, damp hair undermining any credibility to my car trouble story, Mrs. Butterworth and Lemony Snicket were already taken. So were the Woset in my Closet, the world’s hottest chili pepper, and Frida Kahlo’s eyebrow… and despite my hopeful nods toward the corner where Mr. Darcy sat brooding, I ended up with Tinkerbell’s hormonal older sister Orlagh.

Like all fairy folk, Orlagh is drawn to sunbeams and jewel tones, sugar crystals and laughing water, words that twist and melt and sparkle on the tongue; however, neither her name nor her thyroid is doing her any favors. She gets overwhelmed easily. Weeks strung along with gray days send her into a sulk. She tends to get bogged down in jealousy when she should be inspired, and she is endlessly worried over which color petals go with her skin tone (periwinkle makes her face look puffy, buttercup washes her out).

She refuses to show up without caffeine, no matter how many times I reminder her it’s an unhealthy habit. She won’t come in to work on the weekends, and she often decides she needs a few hours of beauty sleep just as I’m sitting down to meet with her. She abandons perfectly delicious sentences to moon over Peter Pan. Head colds and out-of-town guests provide equal rationale for her to jet off to Maui without so much as an “aloha!” and when she returns—sometimes weeks later—her telltale tan fades more quickly than her reluctance.

However, beneath all its moody layers, Orlagh’s heart is deep and lovely. Many of my happiest hours have been spent creating with her, brainstorming in whispers and coaxing letters into life. When I have time (and adequate caffeine in my system) and her hormones have a temporary foothold, we work so well together that it’s more like playing. I like her. All except for the jet-setting and flaky work ethic and downward emotional spirals. And that awful name. But besides that, I really have grown fond of my muse.

So if you’re reading this, Orlagh, I’d love for you to come on home now. No combination of seasonal sicknesses and dead cars and weepy two-year-olds and allergy immunotherapy treatments and unfortunate bedtimes is enough to make me stop wanting you around. In fact, I’m craving another of our morning-long creative sessions. I miss you, and I promise not to say anything about your extended absence if you bring me back a piña colada and maybe a cluster of freshwater pearls. (Tiny ones, in graduated shades of orange and brown. Strung on silk. With a silver pendant.)

“Return, forgetful Muse, and straight redeem
In gentle numbers time so idly spent;
Sing to the ear that doth thy lays esteem

And gives thy pen both skill and argument.”
~ Wm. Shakespeare

“And if thou canst thy fickleness outgrow
Or thy vacations halt, I shall, methinks,
Back to the reassignment center go
And hire as my new muse Jar Jar Binks.”
~ Me



I have to remind myself to calm down.

This is only the third day of early alarms. Only three morning hours pulled away from the stars and given to the words that tug on their leashes. 686 words the first day, 738 yesterday, 505 this morning—not many, but almost 2000 more than I started the week with.

This is something to celebrate.

This is something to take in stride.

As it goes every time a writing project lights up my mind with fireworks, I treat inspiration like a house ablaze. Every moment is an emergency with exclamation points and a fierce dread of what will happen if I don’t write twenty pages NOW. I kick myself under the desk for being such a slow writer. (I mean, my paragraphs come together about as quickly as Medieval cathedrals… and that’s with coffee.) I compare the timeline of my life to other authors and bemoan that I’m three years overdue for my Great American Novel. The housework falls behind and the girls entertain themselves while I stare at my computer screen, trying to coax a few more sentences out of a tired afternoon.

This sense of urgency was hardwired into me a long time ago—admittedly in a religious context, but so effectively that I fill up each day’s schedule with an impossible number of tasks and then feel guilty for not finishing. My mind fights continuously against my brain, my heart, and my energy levels to accomplish more, more, now, now… and it’s worse when it’s something I love.

I so appreciate the Julia Cameron quote Christina posted a few days ago:

“Most of us live with a continual sense of emergency. We have a fear that we are too late and not enough to wrestle a happy destiny from the hands of the gods. What if there is no emergency? What if there is no need to wrestle? What if our only need is receptivity and a gentle openness to guidance? What if, like the Arabian horses grazing outside my window, we are simply able to trust?”

That there are more days to this life, more hidden springs of inspiration, more quiet hours of words set free in sequence, is a concept both foreign and wonderful to me. It whispers that I can write without sacrificing my girls’ childhoods or my own sanity. It means that a few hundred words a day are enough. It gives me permission to walk toward the fireworks without grasping or giving up and to write a book over a ten-year span if that’s how long it takes.

(Though I really hope it doesn’t.)

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