When to Keep Your Writer Thoughts to Yourself
As a children’s writer, I can go on and on about the intricacies of picture books, the literary prose often overlooked in a memorable middle grade or young adult book, but learning when to go there and when to keep it concise can be a challenge. I’ve also realized that there are times when it’s better not to go there at all. In certain situations, it’s best to keep your writer mouth shut.
Don’t Ruin It
When watching a TV show or movie with your non-writer spouse, family members, or friends, keep your analytical comments to yourself. Let’s say you’re watching a show in which a beloved supporting character says he’s dying and your spouse woefully says, “No way, he can’t die.” Whatever you do, do not reply with, “he has to die because he’s a vehicle for change. It will create more of an arc for the main character.” No non-writer wants the curtain of belief to be torn down mid-scene---and sometimes they’d prefer to never analyze shows or books at all. It ruins their fun. Meanwhile, you’re wrapped up in the fun of being entertained while also being informed. Great or mediocre, you can always find gems of structure or style. I tend to surround myself with people who do like to discuss and debate what we watch or read. But I’ve learned that it’s best to try as hard as you can to let it play out. Wait for that moment over coffee or wine when they ask what you thought. Then let loose and critique away. If they get you, they’ll appreciate your passion in that better timed moment.
If your friends or siblings are chatting away and you get one of those writerly thoughts like “How would I write this if it were a scene in a novel?” keep an eye on the clock. Only go down that rabbit hole for a minute or two. Otherwise you’ll get lost in collecting details, listening to key phrases that would reveal backstory and character traits.
Your sisters could be chatting away about clothes, cutting each other off as they naturally do out of excitement, jumping from that, to work to travel to hair. You start to think about how’d you’d capture it all. The compliments and wine sips, the self-deprecating remarks, the fluffing of hair, the awkward tugging of a shirt, one hand touching another, the other pulling away, phones being checked, eyes rolling, voices rising, wine gulping. Until suddenly, you’ve forgotten to chime in. Now they say you seem quiet. Are you doing okay? Do you say you were busy picking them apart instead of being with them for the first time in months? No way. Instead, find a way back in, ask them about that one guy from the office, bring up a crazy current event.
Inside, you might feel a little guilty. These are your sisters, not random people you’re eavesdropping on. Learn how to shush your inner writer. Be an involved participant, not a notetaker on the sidelines. Of course, no one will blame you for a moment or two of analyzation, a quick jot on your napkin or Notes app. (You can’t ever not be a writer.) But if you dissect for longer than that, you’ll lose that moment with them. And whatever shapes the heart, helps the writer in the long run.
Sometimes It’s Not About the Words
Buying greeting cards is often a difficult task for a writer. Have you ever stood so long in the card section of a grocery store that water starts dripping from the frozen peas in your cart? Do you go back through the same section just to make sure there isn’t a better card hiding behind the crappy, sappy, and too flowery ones? Finding the perfect card is hard for many writers. Maybe it’s your niece’s birthday and your spouse thinks it’s crazy that you’d spend twenty minutes looking for a card for a child who can’t yet read.
Maybe you find yourself needing to buy three sympathy cards in one week and you realize that the word sympathy has never given you an ounce of comfort when someone has died. So you try to find a sympathy card that does not include the word sympathy. Then you find that too many sympathy cards tell the recipient how to deal with their grief (it’s a card not a fix-it manual). And some of the fonts are too sweet for sadness. Discussing this will probably annoy your shopping companion. “Just pick a card and let’s go.” But you stay put. Subcategories like “loss of mother” and “loss of son” get you thinking about how some writers are specifically paid to write cards meant to comfort people losing parents and children. Or, they’re trying to appeal to the buyers who are trying to comfort those people. Can the most perfectly worded card help, even a little? If we’re lucky enough to find such a card, what do we even write in it? In this case, in this past week, I’ve realized that sometimes it’s not about the words. Sometimes analyzing them won’t help. Buy the best sympathy cards you can find, write with heart, and mail them before you analyze further. They’ll read between the lines. They’ll know what you’re really saying.
Illustrations by Crystal Carter