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Brittany: What Did You Do Today?

Crossposted from my personal blog.

“What did you do today?” It’s never a good idea to ask this of a stay-at-home mom and expect to be told anything exciting as a result.

One of my single (and childless) friends asked me this very question today, and I was embarrassed to admit that so far, my morning had consisted of getting Sam to preschool, then taking John with me to Target to buy him some training pants.

I left out the part about waking up to Ice Age: The Meltdown, making toaster waffles for breakfast, negotiating with Sam about which shoes to wear to school, and refereeing a squabble over how many Froot Loops Sam should share with John and who would get to hold the cup of Froot Loops after Sam exited the car.

That was my morning in a nutshell. Heady stuff there…

And yet, when I got home, and after I put John to bed and dumped his new training pants in the wash (to hopefully shrink them — Baby Boy is only in the 6th percentile for weight), my life got interesting because once again, I felt a compulsion to write and my brain was almost instantly transported up to Bear Wallow.

Now I’m a novelist, with interesting things to talk about.

Like, for example, this new method of writing. I haven’t even once sat down at the computer and tried to bang out a chronological story. In fact, I rarely sit down at the computer at all. Mostly, scenes have been popping into my head and I’ll write down whatever comes to mind in my notebook while I sit with the boys in the playroom.

Then, during their naps, I’ll slip downstairs to the computer and type out what I’ve already written freehand. I had so many snippets that I began to put them in chronological order. Then, out of nowhere, I had a fully fleshed out beginning, middle, and end. So whenever I get a new scene, I stick it in the appropriate chronology, and move on.

Yesterday during the boys’ afternoon nap, I typed out my ending. Then after they woke up, while they were playing, I wrote a scene that became the catalyst for the ending.

And when I want to write, and I’m stuck, I just number my page from 1-100 and jot ideas down. Sometimes they go together (they usually do), but sometimes it’s a thought pertaining to something I’ve already written. And then I go add all of that to the body of the novel. And the book is slowly coming together.

This is quite possibly the craziest writing experience I’ve ever had. This is not what writing is supposed to feel like. This is not how writing is supposed to me done. I don’t feel like I’m in the driver’s seat with this one at all. And now I’ve got this niggling voice in the back of my head (my Muse, most likely) saying absolutely insane things like “When you’re done writing this one, you’ll have to go back and re-write Home Improvement the same way.”

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. This is exactly how I write my books! Not exactly. But close. After my som was born 7 yrs ago and I was working full time from home with him I was desperate to keep writing. This was the only way I could manage it. Please keep at it and I can’t wait to read it! 🙂

    January 22, 2010
  2. i just love that you broke open to the spirit of your writing!

    also, toots is in the 3rd percentile…..eventhough she needs a size 4 diaper for volume, i completely overlap the velcro and i can’t find pants above 12mos that don’t fall off, so she wears ‘capris’ 😉 and they do nothing for her long bodied short legged proportions.

    January 22, 2010
  3. Uju #

    Great piece, in fact it’s just the kick in the pants that I need to get my butt into gear (guess who’s just changed a nappy lol!) and start properly writing again.

    I mean writing meaningful, purposeful, pieces that are straight from the source. Especially when your time is no longer yours, there’s no point trying to do things ‘by the book’.

    The point is just to start writing and to keep at it, and also to make sure to get those ideas down on paper no matter how crazy they sound. Thanks for sharing.

    January 22, 2010
  4. I love, love, love this post. This is what it’s all about, Brittany! Breaking through the straightjacket of “I must have three hours of solitude and relative silence in order to create AND I really need the house to be tidy AND I have to have made it through this to-do list and then, maybe, I’ll be brilliant.”

    NO. Get your butt in the chair — or onto the carpet — and do it. If your kids freak out when you’re staring at the laptop, make a lateral move — as you did — and do it longhand.

    I am so impressed — and inspired!

    January 22, 2010
  5. Time to write is always you something you have to make. Am I a bad mom for buying my daughter a color your own story book to do while I write…I don’t think so. Still, it takes a while to get past the guilt.

    BICW is great.

    January 22, 2010
  6. michelle, that’s far better than what i do with my daughter – stick her in front of sesame street and hope she wants to watch between the lions, too, if i’m on a roll. lol!

    January 22, 2010
  7. Kristine #

    Great job, Brittany! I’m so excited that you’ve found a method that works for you. This sounds like the perfect plan to fill your creative well and still tackle your daily duties.

    January 22, 2010
  8. alisonwells #

    This is a brilliant way of doing things. Doing nano the scenes came up to the surface like this and I’m left with bits and pieces everywhere but the bulk is there. Is this the way the female brain works or just the subconscious. Whatever it is you should definitely embrace it. I find this post very uplifting.

    January 23, 2010
  9. Brittany Vandeputte #

    For so long, I had this idea in my head that writing was supposed to be this very structured activity. For me, it meant working from an outline and only adding to what I had written before so that I had the right “flow”. It also meant staring at a computer when I had no inspiration and postponing the parts I had already conceived in my head until it was “time” for that particular moment in the book.

    It’s very freeing to write only what you feel compelled to write at a given moment and nothing more. I have literally stopped writing a scene mid-sentence when I realize that I wasn’t feeling it anymore. And I’m having lots of fun with this book. And I’m enormously proud of the writing I’m doing because I’ve been free to capture a particular moment in time and am not stressing about chapters, word count, exposition, etc.

    But I have to admit that comments such as Uju’s (The point is just to start writing and to keep at it) and Michele’s (Time to write is always you something you have to make) kind of get my hackles up because that was the sort of thing I was telling myself as I sat down and forced myself to write, forcing the words out of me, and growing more and more frustrated with myself for not being able to produce the way I wanted and not having any fun with it in the process.

    I think a better way of phrasing these ideas so they are more palatable to my trigger-happy grumpy reflex is “The point is to find a way to write when you want to and do it in a way that’s personally motivating” or “If the words are there, they will come” (sorry for the Field of Dreams reference, but it is oddly appropriate, anyway).

    Using words like “just start” and “keep at it” and “have to” are words that describe unpleasant tasks. For so long, I was on the same bandwagon. I would dutifully trudge through my writing, having no fun, and writing a not-fun book in the process. And then, as you will read on some of my earlier posts, I just gave up writing completely because how I was doing it, and the mother I wanted to be, were entirely incompatible with each other.

    But then this novel idea popped into my head so insistantly, that I had to find a way to make it work. I’ve learned that the process of writing doesn’t have to be unpleasant. It can be lots of fun, and freeing, and make the world come alive around you, but sometimes, you have to turn it on its head and try to do it in ways that, as Cathy so beautifully put it, open you to the spirit of your writing.

    January 23, 2010
  10. 🙂 it is so true, brittany! the thing to remember about creativity of any kind is that we need to remember it’s fun, it’s what makes us alive, it’s the kid in us making mudpies or pretending and making stuff up. when we lose sight of that, we lose the juice.

    of course, we also need to at somepoint, esp in writing longer work, shape it better, edit, etc. and that’s fun in its own way, but that initial jump in and swim that you’re in is so wonderful!!!!!! keep it up as long as you can!

    January 23, 2010
  11. Simply put, if you WANT to do it you will do it. Even if it’s hard to figure out how. Right?

    It’s so easy to get trapped in the “I really should be writing, I should be doing this I should be doing that, blah blah blah” and end up in a cycle of self-flagellation. But when the passion — or muse, or whatever — really grabs you, somehow it isn’t such a struggle to make it happen.

    Sounds like you are in a place where you aren’t worried about self-discipline or all those “shoulds” — it’s more like you’re just focused on getting your bucket underneath the spigot as much as possible.

    Kind of puts the old schoolmarm out to pasture, doesn’t it?

    January 23, 2010
  12. Brittany, a big thumbs up to you for keeping your creative spirit alive and finding joy in your work while caring for a baby and a preschooler. I couldn’t agree more with your approach to milking creativity whenever/wherever you can. When my world was turned upside down by motherhood, i used to whine and moan histrionically to myself that I never got those long, lovely stretches that I needed to get fully immersed in my art, and the only place it got me was nowheresville. When I did get that rare block of time, more often than not I’d wind up staring at a blank page, feeling that pressure to “produce something” instead of letting the flow go. Time and creativity wasted.

    So I gave up the notion of scheduling inspiration and decided to act on it when the flow hit. If I had a minute to write down an idea, I did. Then I’d change a diaper, clean the toothpaste off the wall and the butter off the sofa, cry in the laundry room, haul my charges off to a music class, scribble in my journal, clean the exploded cheerios out of the backseat, and so on. Five minutes here, fifteen minutes there, a lucky bonus hour every so often. Little chunks of time. And eventually, surprisingly, I realized this kind of creating is what makes the process so much fun for me. The sense of urgency lights my creative wheels on fire and sends me in unexpected directions, yet not off into nothingness because I know that my time will soon be up. Chaos and structure dance around each other in just the right combination to push out something out at the finish line.

    Thanks for this beautifully written and uplifting post.

    January 24, 2010
  13. Brittany, what a great post!
    I am not in your predicament, because my children are adults. However, I love how you make it work and find the time. Many mom’s want to write so bad, but make the fact that they have little ones to tend to, an excuse not to write. That was me 40 years ago and I didn’t listen to my muse or the stories inside of me that desperately wanted to come out. I wish I would have. I would be that much farther ahead in my writing career.

    Anyway, I really just want to tell you that you and all mom’s with young children, should be so proud of what you do, with so little time to do it.

    January 25, 2010
  14. onecraftymother #

    LOVE this post! I can’t get over the hang-up that writing is supposed to be structured, and chronological. Some good ideas come, and then disappear into the ether because I haven’t written them down…. my logic being that they don’t fit anywhere yet. Thanks for sharing your process – I’m learning so much! I used to have this little “note nest” (my husband’s term for it) where I’d keep ideas, thoughts, etc. – this was pre-kids. I have to get back to that….

    January 26, 2010

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