My Mary-Shelley Monster

The calm before the non-creative storm
The calm before the non-creative storm

By chance today, I came across this comment on an old blog I had written: “You are such a talented writer.” It made me giggle a little. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a sweet compliment, and one I know that the issuer meant sincerely, but I don’t think of writing as a talent. Writing is work. It’s something I’ve been working on since I was 12. You have to find your voice and your style. You have to understand how to tell a story. There’s the whole sentence structure piece, the one that I have spent years tinkering with and studying. You need a strong command of your native language or, at the very least, a handy dictionary. A prodigious vocabulary is helpful, but so is a thesaurus. Of course, there are the small matters of spelling, grammar, and punctuation. You also can’t downplay the importance being a good editor plays in being an effective writer. And, after all that, you’ve still got proofreading. Don’t get me started on proofreading and what a bear that is at midnight when you’ve been up for 18 hours and are so tired you can hardly see straight. Writing has next to nothing to do with talent. It has to do with arduous, tedious, unending work that stems from an inexplicable addiction to written communication.

I’ve spent a great deal of time learning how to spin an insignificant event into a meaningful message, a crazy anecdote into a tall tale, and a cautionary tale into a public service announcement. On my best days, I can take a quiet moment between my son and I and transform it into a thousand-word love story. The fun of being a writer is that you can tell whatever story you want. You can be creative, embellish, and turn mundane fact into hysterical fiction. You can reduce the static and make your crazy life seem normal and beautiful. It is a skill I work on nearly every time I write a blog post because real life is not always flattering or interesting. Some days are simply not pretty and I am not at the top of my game. Some days I am overwrought and overtired and only the ugly truth of my day comes out. It looks a little like this:

I woke up at 6:30 when my Fitbit vibrated on my wrist. Because our whole-house fan and run all night, I decided it was too cold to get out of bed until 7:25. At 7:28, I began to stress a bit because I had to be out of the house in 20 minutes with two boys dressed, fed, and ready for school and I hadn’t even walked downstairs yet. I skipped unloading the dishwasher so I could make lunches while the boys brushed teeth, combed their hair, and got their shoes on. Six minutes before we needed to leave I told Luke to eat a banana or a yogurt because there was no time for the usual eggs. We got to school five minutes later than we should have. I had the dog in the car so I took her for her requisite 3-mile, 40-minute walk around the lake at the park. Then I hit the library to return a book with a hold on it. Afterward I drove home where I spent the next 4 hours doing laundry, ironing, making two homemade banana breads, vacuuming, hauling an old armchair out to the garage, cleaning the basement, doing dishes, and unloading the dishwasher I had skipped earlier. Eventually I got a shower and made a smoothie for lunch. Then it was off to Goodwill to drop off two huge bags of clothes heavy enough that the collection guy asked if I had dead bodies in them. Picked up the boys, cooked two dinners (because the boys won’t eat lentils), cleaned up dishes, and went back upstairs to do some more ironing while watching Parks and Rec. Discovered one son sitting in a laundry basket lined with blankets while wearing no pants. Who knows why? Confronted the other son for walking in the hallway naked (what is it with naked people in my house?) and threatened, quite realistically, to publish a blog about it. At approximately 9:45 I lost it because I had been going non-stop all day and had no idea what to write about. Barked at my sons to go to sleep, tucked them in anyway, yawned on the way back to my room, and then said screw it to writing because I was tired. Then I picked up my laptop and started writing anyway because that’s what writers do. Oh. And I also killed two spiders today.

You still awake?

My writing is not about talent. It’s about self-management. It’s putting just enough of myself out there to be real but not so much that I’m too real. It’s also about knowing when to shut up and exit stage left. It’s akin to being Dr. Frankenstein, breathing life into the lifeless and then acknowledging 821 words in that perhaps I need a timely escape from my wayward monster. An ice floe in the Arctic might be just the thing. If I leave now, I should be able to make it by morning.