Thirsting for Water


In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Breakdown.”

Over the years, I’ve broken many habits. That 3:00 p.m. Snickers bar springs to mind. Eating one every day. Every. Day.

But overindulgence in delicious caramel and peanuts aside, the habit that most concerns me isn’t one I’d like to break, rather it’s one I need to develop: writing.

Sounds silly that a writer wouldn’t have a habit of writing already. I maintain a blog, I’ve published a novel, a few of my short stories are on my website. New ideas for novels form in my mind all the time, and I take notes about my characters and the research I’ll need to conduct. I even make progress on novel #2. But I don’t have a habit of writing.

And I know why. Although I wrote my first story when I was 10, my life has followed a path that didn’t lead directly to a writing career. Now, as a mother, a wife, and a full-time employee, my self is pulled in many different directions, with the one task that matters to me alone—writing—always taking a back seat. Because it isn’t my “job” or something that others I care about need from me, it’s never my priority. I have felt selfish for disappearing into my writing world because it seemed, dare I say, “time theft” from those I love.

But a plant deprived of water does shrivel, and the raindrops that have fallen on the parched soil of my writing life have kept my roots barely alive. Looking ahead to the rest of 2015 and beyond, I intend to break the habit of not having a habit. I am going to make writing a habit. I’m going to work on my fiction. I’m going to use the writing I accomplish during my day job to complement the other half of my creative life. And I’m going to blog about it all.

Who I am, beginning with my 10-year-old self, was forged in ink on paper (or now pixels on screen). It’s time to water that life, watch it bloom, and make a habit of feeding it regularly.

Photo Power_of_Words_by_Antonio_Litterio.jpg: Antonio Litterio derivative work: InverseHypercube (Power_of_Words_by_Antonio_Litterio.jpg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Everyday Moments

Stories are full of little details designed to bring the scene to life for readers. A distant sound. The hint of smoke in the air. The sensation of silk on skin. These touches resonate because we’ve all experienced them and if the writing is good enough, we feel them as the characters do, we inhabit their minds for a moment.

I don’t want my writing to be thinly-veiled autobiography, so I try hard not to build characters around who I am and what I’ve experienced. I view it more as acting, taking on the role of a person I’ve invented, making sure that they don’t follow the same path as I have. But for these little details to work, they have to come from what I’ve heard, smelled, or felt.

The other night as I got ready for bed, I paused for a moment by the open window. A car drove by and as the sound faded, another took its place. Crickets in my urban backyard. Crickets like those I’d heard, long ago, in a place far more rural. In the dark, I sat and listened. Another car came and went, but the crickets remained.

I thought of my characters. Which one sits in the evening by an open window? Which one walks through the twilight woods? Who hears these crickets and what does it mean? This one moment will become part of a larger story wholly unconnected with me. The character will take what I heard and make it her own.

These are the parts of my life I want to share with my characters. I don’t want them to be me, but if something beautiful happens—or sad or unexpected—I preserve it by writing it in and using it. So that one character, who lingers on a forest path to listen to crickets hidden in the tall grass, meets another character. An unexpected encounter that makes all the difference.

Psst…wanna read my journal?

In the grand scheme of things, blogging is like asking a complete stranger to read your journal. I feel as though I’m standing in in an alleyway, in a trench coat, clutching a leather-bound notebook filled with thoughts written down in ink from a fountain pen. I try to catch the eyes of passers-by, hoping that someone—anyone—will stop and flip through its pages.

That might be preferable to actual blogging. The product is the same: I write down what I’m thinking about, try to make sense of the ideas that I have. But instead of keeping it to myself, I send it out into the ‘verse, into the domain of the nameless, faceless hordes, hoping that I can connect with someone who will get something from what I write.

The more I think about it, blogging is also like putting training wheels on your writing machine. For 300 words, I’m trying to capture a reader’s attention. Regularly. Some days, lots of people visit. Others, I hear only crickets. I get used to that inconsistency. I cease to think that it is because my prose sucks. I begin to realize that it’s because I am standing in an alleyway, instead of the middle of the street. I wonder how this new knowledge will help me with the most important part of my writing machine, the one that gets the stories out of my head and onto paper, the one that leads to books.

As a storyteller, I’ve struggled with the decision to spend time writing anything but my fiction. But blogging has taught me how to write in bursts about something important. Sure, it might take time away from that pesky second novel. Maybe, hopefully, one of the virtual passers-by will stop, take my journal out of my virtual hands, and flip through its pages.