15 Minute Writer?


Who said that thing about needing to work 10,000 hours in order to be an expert in your craft? I thought it was a Renaissance painter, or someone romantic, but Google says it was Malcolm Gladwell, who is a very much alive and current journalist – does that make the quote less timeless?

Google also has many many links to articles debunking the statement. But whatever the origin or veracity of the measurement, the basic idea behind it is true: if you want to get good at something, do it. A lot. You know, practice makes perfect and all.

A writer in my prompt writing group opened her piece this past week, and I am paraphrasing: I am scared. Now to sit and do the thing that I think about all day. She was referring to writing. And I was right there with her. The idea of writing is a constant on my mind – a tangle of desire and fear, need and doubt.

Part of the doubt and fear comes from the fact that the writing idea is jockeying for position with other desires and needs: running and/or yoga, cleaning, organizing, feeding myself, showering, and perhaps most loudly, sitting passively and consuming entertainment via a screen. And this long list only gets its turn on the agenda when the children are sleeping or otherwise occupied. All in all, I have 2 to 3 hours per day to do with what I will. And I have been very grateful this summer as I have realized how rich I am with time compared to last summer, when my responsibilities included all of the above PLUS a newborn with no set schedule. The fact that Cole naps consistently and reliably, and Maya is at school three days a week, has afforded me possibility and autonomy that seemed a distant and unattainable luxury not so long ago.

Do I feel my absolute best when I am writing? Yes. Do I long for the process when I am not doing it? Not exactly. I’m too tired. The only thing I long for is relaxation, the end of the day, quiet, sleeping kids, and perhaps American Ninja Warrior. See? Even in my downtime I can’t handle plot or story. Just pure mindless repetition.

The leader of my prompt group, Nancy Peacock, wrote in a Facebook post, ” I can only write a few hours each day…” and I add phrases like this to my long list of “Why I don’t write today” – because I cannot give the time it deserves.

It is a common issue I observe with myself: If I cannot give it my all, I will give nothing. If I cannot do the project in its entirety, I will do nothing. Even when it is so obvious that just a part of the whole would be a big improvement in my life. I can’t make it to the gym for an hour class? Then would only running one mile and dedicating 15 minutes be worth it? Better than nothing. I cannot deep clean the bathroom with a toddler underfoot, but I could at least wipe the toothpaste off the counter, right? Better than nothing. That’s going to have to be my new mantra: better than nothing. Of course I can’t give anything my all – heck, Maya is watching The Lego Movie and I’m batting Cole’s hands from the keyboard as I write this – so neither the kids nor this post is getting my full attention, but hey, I wrote this, and it’s better than nothing!

Perhaps the problem is that I have it in my head that I can only be writing when I can dedicate a string of hours, uninterrupted. So therefore, never. Perhaps if I see the process as something that CAN be done in starts and fits – in 15 minute increments, then maybe I can build something. A daily practice, small bits of flash fiction, pieces of a larger story, a familiarity with my characters…something; anything is better than nothing.

A Letter to my Son about Pursuing Passions


Dear, darling Coltrane,

I have brought you to a writing workshop put on by the North Carolina Writers’ Network at the Chapel Hill Public Library.

You have been mostly good so far, looking around, hanging in the Ergo. A few grunts, paci in, paci out. But just moments ago, as everyone settled in quietly for ten minutes of writing, you threw up all over me. Thanks a lot, bud. A nice, clear, “UURP!” and the wet sound of spit-up as it spilled out across my thigh.

I have used my lovely scarf from Bangladesh, a gift from my treasured former student, Ipsita, to dab it as best I can, but there is a clear wet spot. And now, I stand at the side of the room, rocking and swaying, displaying my soiled jeans for the room. Though, mercifully, no one is really looking; their eyes are directed at their pages, absorbed in the immediate world they are creating. I’ve left the scarf dangling long, uneven, in an attempt to cover the damp stain. I think it’s working.

Your eyes are red-rimmed. You are so tired, my dear. GO TO SLEEP! STOP EMBARRASSING ME! And now you are digging your fingers into my lips – your little arm extended fully in this reach for my face. And you laugh as I feign to eat your tiny fist. Bells. Music. An angel’s song – your laugh. SHHHHHH!

Now you are trying to put your paci in my mouth. Is this a new milestone? Are you feeding ME!? Six months old, this guy.

Oh good. Now you are trying to poop. You’ve been making a strong effort all day, to no avail. Will now be your big breakthrough? Timing, my man. Really.

Your lips purse, thinning at the edges and pushing out in the middle as though the rosebud center of your mouth is being drawn by a thread. The shape of your face triangulates in the labor; it flushes with red. Brows bow to each other, eyes look past me, faraway.

Oh good, relax. Nothing. A fruitless endeavor. I’m sorry your tummy’s not feeling good, baby.

Minutes go by; I’m swaying and listening to writers share their momented stories – unedited, fresh, and I glance down to see the whites of your eyes. Thank you, beneficent son, the familiar fluttering of your eyelids signals baby sleep. Strong at 7pm, not so much at 4am. But right now, right on schedule, 7:15pm, you nod out and I can sit, still involuntarily swaying in my chair, to write this – not the prompt given, but something I’ll tell you when you are three, like Maya, and wanting to hear stories of your own babyhood.

“Well, Cole,” I’ll say, “that year I stayed home with you, and I tried every day to shape my life to be the writer I knew I could be. So I didn’t miss the workshop, despite not having baby watching arrangements. Maybe I would just stand in the back and listen, but I wanted to be where the writers were. And you threw up all over me. Thanks a lot, buddy!” You will laugh at how gross babies are. And I will be proud that I showed you that I showed up to be who I wanted to be, even when inconvenient.

I love you,

Your Mama

April 2: Between days: insomnia

B

Black windows reflect –

me. The light, on, shows only

inside. Uncurtained.

A to Z Challenge: This month, I will be writing a haiku (sometimes a senryu – same syllables, not marveling at nature) each day save Sundays for the 26 letters of the alphabet as part of the blogosphere’s A to Z Challenge.

It’s Just Words

This morning, as I drove Maya to Nana’s house, she asked me (as she does 4,987,003 times per day) to tell her a Hero and Baymax story (formerly an Anna and Elsa story), and I said, “Not right now, honey, I’m listening to a story on the radio right now. I will later.”

And her reply? “Mama, it’s just words.”

I am not exactly sure whether she was referring to what I was listening to (like the radio story was just words, not something to prioritize over the fictional adventures of the Big Hero 6 characters), or whether she saw through my excuse to try and avoid the exhausting task of coming up with a plot and moral off the top of my head countless times per day. I know that she would be just as happy if I kept things simple and occassionally told the same story over and over, but I feel the need to make each story meaningful, if not always complex.

(Now that I write this, I realize that I really should get a few plot lines down and repeat them with slight variation – it would benefit me because I would not feel constant creative strain, and her because she would hear those roles and lessons over and over, just as she likes to reread her actual books over and over.)

Her words caught me. I was already scolding myself internally for turning down my darling daughter’s request for a story – I mean her desire to hear a thing which I value and love so much is the highest of joys to me, but I wanted to be passive, to just listen. (To be fair, I had not yet had any coffee, so words and I had not come to a fluent agreement yet this day.)

But it felt like she was calling me out from a much more abstract and deep place. ‘Don’t be afraid of telling stories, mama, it’s just words. One word in front of another. One foot in front of the other.’ A piece of encouragement, a gentle nudge, a reminder from the universe, delivered through my toddler’s voice.

There is much to writing that is daunting: the sharing, the promotion, the business of publishing, but when it comes down to it, the raw bones of it, it’s just words, and that is where I am happy and in love.

Just go back to the words, mama. One foot in front of another.