Monday, December 10, 2012


I haven't written a full story in almost a year. I don't know if it's blogging, or trying to sell the house, or if it's just I don't know how to be a mom of three and a writer yet, (Or maybe it's just I watch too much Netflix.), but whatever it is, I haven't really written a new story for a while.

I don't know I can really even call myself a "Writer" anymore, or if I'm more of a "Have Written". I have four novels under my belt... so that should count shouldn't it?

If you too are suffering from a case of the "past tense writer" syndrome, I've come up with a few tips to try to get your writer on.

1. Write as a way of rebelling.

 You know how delicious food is bad for you, but you don't care because you're a rebel? Or is that just me. Imagine if that naughty Nutella had less calories than a carrot stick. Wouldn't that be awesome? If you're like me, you'd be in heaven for a few delicious weeks. Delicious Nutella covered weeks.  But then, slowly the taste of Nutella would get old, too familiar, and that secret thrill you get from sneaking a spoonful here or there would be gone. When there's no reason to feel guilty, then all that's left is the flavor. And every flavor, even Nutella, could get old if you eat it with every meal.

My husband didn't always get the whole I want to be a writer thing, and so for a while there, I wouldn't tell him I was writing.  Instead I tried to sneak it in between not doing laundry, and ignoring my children. But then one day he read one of my stories, and decided I wasn't wasting my time by trying to be a writer. For a while it was like Nutella was good for me. I was in writer heaven. While I wrote everyday, my husband praised me and did the laundry.  Hot, right? Slowly, however, writing drifted from a fun, and rebellious, past time, to a part time job/ task on my "to do list."

So, in effort to get my writing mojo back, I've decided to put a little rebel back into my writing. I'll start by breaking the rules I believe in. I'll swear. I'll start by having a character wake up. I might even write an entire story within a white box. The point is to have fun. The point is to ogly boogly snark rattle just because I can.

( Rebel.)

 2. Write as a way of telling the truth. 

And not just a truth, your truth.  If you can't come up with fictional stories to tell, then write true stories.

For example, growing up I lived next to two girls very close to my age. I'll call these girls Kate and Megan, because that's their names. :) It was kind of idyllic for a while, living next to my best friends, but then, when I was about seven, we started to battle. Kate would be my best friend one day. The next, Megan would be my best friend, and we'd hate Kate.  But the worst days were the ones were Kate and Megan would be best friends and they'd hate me.

 I remember one day in particular. I was over at Megan's house while my mom was getting errands done. Kate and Megan were already playing in the basement, and they had decided that today would be a "I hate Sheena day". They mocked my clothes, asked if  my mom bought them at the DI, ( a thrift store for those who don't know) I remember I said something like "No, my mom bought them from Kmart."
"Oh, I get my clothes from target." Megan said.
"Yeah, me too." Kate said.
Megan probably smiled at Kate and then spoke again, "Well, at least I look good in my clothes. But you don't because you're fat."
"Yeah, you're fat." Kate said.
I sucked in my stomach. " I am not."
 "Yeah huh, " Megan said as she lifted up her shirt to show off her belly button.  She was sucking her gut in too. "See, I'm smaller than you."  Megan hit Kate's shoulder and whispered, "Suck in your stomach."
 We stood there, three seven year-old girls, sucking our stomachs in until we ran out of air. I started to cry and they called me a cry baby, so I ran upstairs.
"I want to go home," I told Megan's mom, but my mom wasn't back yet from her errands, so Megan's mom sent me back downstairs. But I couldn't go back down there, so I sat there on the steps, about six steps from the bottom, and six steps from the top. I was stuck, and worse,  I really had to go to the bathroom.

I couldn't move. Megan's mom was really stern. She was cleaning up for some big party, and was very short tempered with me, and I couldn't go downstairs and be mocked again. And so, a few minutes later, that's were I sat while ashamed, broken, worthless Sheena peed her pants and watched the river of urine flow down the six carpeted stairs like a slinky of shame.

Now, that story is embarrassing, but it also took up enough space in my head that over twenty years later I can still picture the wet stairs, and still hear Megan whisper to Kate to suck in her stomach.

I think, sometimes, you need to get the stories out of your head so you can make room for new ones. New, less embarrassing ones. Telling your stories as you remember it can be therapeutic  Just reading this story now, with my grown up experiences and understanding, and I can see how big and how small that day was. I can see how Kate's parent's were getting divorced about that time, and how she wanted to just belong somewhere. I can see the kind of pressure, and environment that would cause a seven year old girl to have to prove that she was skinnier than all of her friends. I can smile when I realize that perfection seeking mother had to clean up my urine.  But most of all, I can see how that moment doesn't define me anymore. By telling that story, it becomes silent in my head now, and from that silence, new stories can erupt.

Tip number three. Just friggen start. 

Not every sentence needs to be gold. Not every character needs to make sense. Not every story needs to be the one that will give you your big break. Embarrass yourself. Waste your own dang time.

Because it's your time, your stories, and your opportunity to rebel, fail, succeed, or shine.

So shine.

* Please don't judge these girls for their seven year-old selves. Also don't judge me by my seven year-old self. I said meaner things back to them, and just because they were mean one day, doesn't mean they are mean now. Both of these girls grew up to be amazing women.

Also I don't pee my pants now...except when I sneeze.


  1. First of all, I've never had Nutella. Is that like peanut butter? Second of all, this is brilliant like always. Loved this post, especially the section on telling your own truths. I think that is why I love to write. On some unconscious level, I'm telling my own truths.

    Hope you get back into the swing of things soon, but if not, don't stress it. Sometimes life just needs to get in the way. And even if you aren't writing something new, I know you're working hard on revisions and polishing. That is writing too. :)

    1. MARY ANN. Proceed IMMEDIATELY to your nearest high-quality grocery store. Find a jar of Nutella and a loaf of good quality french bread. Toast the french bread, and apply a very thin layer of Nutella. It has a very strong flavor and is quite thick and rich, so you don't need to spread it on as thick as peanut butter (though that stage may come later). Enjoy!

      Oh, and Nutella is chocolate-hazelnut spread. It's not healthy at all, which means it tastes absolutely amazing.

  2. This sort of makes me think of the whole rejection marathons that people do to try to get themselves used to the idea of rejection. Clearly those people aren't writers. We get rejected all the time.

    This post definitely proves you are much braver than I am. Not in telling the story, but in laughing at it. I definitely aspire to find humor in all my most embarrassing moments. It's a work in progress.

    That stage where writing stops becoming a rebellious, side act and starts becoming a chore must be a common one, because I think I'm there too. I'm not really afraid though that the magic is gone; I think I just need to find a new way to reach it. I hope you find your way soon.

  3. Nutella is Italian chocolatey goodness, Mary Ann, try it as soon as you can - it's really good.

    Great article, but let me establish something here:

    Doing the laundry is hot?

    I LOVE DOING MY LAUNDRY! Although I like ironing better - beats it by a fair margin.

    But the dishes... Ugh.

    (previous comment deleted for editing purposes)

    1. Stefan,

      I don't mind doing laundry, but once you have kids, it builds up fast so that there seems to be a constant mountain of it. The more kids, the bigger the mountain.

      All this housework stuff feels like you're pushing the boulder up the hill everyday only to find it at the bottom of the hill the next morning. So yeah, any help with any housework by the husband is EXTREMELY hot. :)

      With all these rave reviews about Nutella. I guess I gotta try it. Although the last thing I need is another way to eat chocolate. :)

    2. MaryAnn, I let clean clothes take over an armchair in my living room for almost two weeks last month. You are not kidding about pushing a boulder. I'd rather do 5 loads of dishes than 1 load of laundry. What a pain.

  4. Ah, Nutella! I used to put it on EVERYTHING when I live in Italy. Toast. Waffles. Peanut butter sandwitches (talk about unhealthy.) And yeah, after a few months of thinking it was the most amazing thing on the planet, I got sick of it. Now I eat it once in a great while. (There's an eastern European market in Denver that makes Nutella milkshakes. Haven't tried one yet, but one of these days I'm going for it!)

    I know how you feel with writing, too. Nano was my attempt to find that spark that made me want to write every day. I mean really write, more than a few paragraphs here and there. It worked for a while, but by the end I was so tired, and so busy that I let it go. That is inevitably what happens, and I'm starting to realize that after my third baby arrives, my time will be even more limited. (Any specific advice for managing 3 kiddos and finding a moment of sanity, let alone time to write?)

    I like your tips, particularly writing as a way of rebelling. I don't like hearing "you can't," but it doesn't work as well when I'm trying to prove "I can" to myself. Here's a tip I'd like to add--something I learned during NaNo: competition is a great way to motivate yourself. Or maybe not competition, exactly. Accountability. If you can find a way to hold yourself accountable to someone else--a friend, a writing partner, a critique group, etc. I think it's easier to stay on track. At least it is for me.

    Great post Sheena!

    And MaryAnn, I'm pretty sure Walmart sells Nutella near the peanut butter. It's seriously amazing stuff.

  5. Oh, Sheena, you have no idea how much I wish we could all meet up for coffee and tell stories and then maybe monopolize a few tables and write a while before we left :) I laugh a lot at my embarrassing stories, but the downside is I'm so compelled to tell them to the world that sometimes I wonder if not having a shield up is part of why I bruise so easily. (My most terrible confession of all: I don't love Nutella. Hazelnut - meh.)

    I agree that telling the truth is important and keeps me focused. It's easier sometimes to lose your truth in fiction, especially if you get sucked into the world of writing advice. I've been away from writing for a while now too (and increasingly depressed about it) and I'm trying to get back into it with less focus on "the rules" and more on whatever I feel the need to say.


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