Writers with Responsibilities: I’d Like to Click My Heels Three Times…

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Dear Sally,

I’m a single mother with four kids—everything from tweens to a would-be adult—and I just went back to work full-time. I tell people I’m a writer, but lately I’m a just a thinker, collecting details and perhaps inspiration but never transposing them to the page. I read your sage advice but I still feel like Dorothy when she tells the Wizard, “I don’t think you have anything in that bag for me.”

Your friend,

Need Some Ruby Slippers.

Dear Ruby Slippers,

Girl, you can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan! Don’t kid yourself, though: “writers with responsibilities” is not exactly as fun as “friends with benefits.” For those of us with living, breathing, wanting, crying, sneezing, vomiting dependants, there are always strings attached. When my kids were little, I was sure God was mocking me. In fits of boredom he’d throw obstacles my way: three kids, one on the way and a house renovation—can she do it now? Four kids and a dislocated shoulder—can she do it now? Four kids, one divorce, one thesis to write and a broken wrist (yes, of course my dominant hand)—can she do it now?  I sometimes feel like a modern day Job. I quell the why me with the realization that God has a lot more on his plate than to taunt me.

So where does this rant get you? All I can say is that you’re not alone. Every day someone says to me, “I don’t know how you do it.” Me neither, but you do what you have to do. To be a writer, you have to believe you’re a writer. That must be your first practice.  The reality is that if you’re a writer you are in the world in a different way than most. You are watching high school lacrosse games listening to the conversations of other moms on the sidelines, you are walking from the T to your office building in a winter vortex trying to internalize the way the snot freezes in your nose, or cleaning the kitty litter box noticing the acrid ammonia smell of cat pee.

256px-Dance_with_spinning_plates2(js)There are only so many hours in a day. Sometimes your day to day has to be your prewriting. It is necessary to fill the tank. Are you reading? Then you are prewriting. Can you make sure you carry a pen and paper or write a note on your phone when you notice the ants marching counter clockwise in your kitchen? It’s all writing. Granted, all that living doesn’t accumulate pages, but its fodder.  So perhaps that’s what I have in my bag for you.

Above all, don’t beat yourself up.  If you’re living in the world with all five senses tuned into the universe, and collecting morsels of dialogue, and thinking about characters. and even sometimes making a list of those thoughts: you’re working.



Dear Sally,

I have three laundry baskets filled with unmatched socks.

Enough said.

Dear Enough Said,

C’mon, Pinterest is filled with hundreds of ideas for unmatched socks: puppets, wreaths, dog clothes… The possibilities are endless. The real quandary is why. Why do the socks run? Why can’t they stick it out? When it comes to writing don’t go the way of the sock.  Instead, think of Pablo Neruda and his “Ode to My Socks.” There is inspiration to be found everywhere.

Matched socks are overrated anyway. The goal for each day should be two socks, I think the matching bit is over the top. Granted, I was the kid in gym class with one black knee sock and one white ankle sock but it comes back to what I’ve been saying all along. You must lower your expectations.

Here’s a thought. Why don’t you pitch those three baskets of socks and start new. A six-pack of Hanes is $8.99 at Target. Why let the unfinished business taunt you? Stop rooting through the baskets on a daily basis trying to make some semblance of order. It’s just another way to beat yourself up. Empty basket, empty page—full of hope and promise and no judgement.