Posted by: jeannineatkins | December 18, 2013

Blinking at the Bright Lights

Sometimes writing is hard and sometimes life is hard. Almost always there’s an overlap, no matter whether we’re writing about fantasy worlds or life a hundred years ago. The work may be hard because of the subject, or because we’ve been at it so long without dreamy results, or because we’re feeling pulled in too many directions, or, well, most of us can cite our own reasons, which may include it being that lights-in-the-darkness time of year when it’s tough to remember we can’t have one without the other. Or we get tired of all that twinkling. We can’t look back, which can bring comfort, without some feeling of loss. We can’t always tell the difference between feeling full and feeling empty. I like a season that calls for sparkle, sprinkles, evergreen, and candles, and this year I particularly look forward to a day when I’ll be with my husband, daughter, and other friends and family including a four-year-old who might bring whole-hearted glee to a lit-up tree and a bounty of small trains and trucks. But I get that everybody doesn’t like Christmas, and it’s not like even those of us who hum songs about stars are happy all the time. Or won’t spend part of the day tucked away doing some writing or reading Donna Tartt’s THE GOLDFINCH.


We can’t write books without spending time with whatever is in our head. Every book I’ve ever written has taken longer than I’d thought, and while I try to be patient, sometimes I’m just annoyed. Many drafts don’t reach my standards, and it’s tough to sound breezy when I tell myself to try again.  Drawing connections between our minds and words is tricky and awesome and it can make our typing fingers ache. It’s natural to want to dash away from eyes or throats that feel tight. Get a snack. Gosh, even get some exercise. Anything. This is when I train myself to stick it out, because something of note is often behind my glazing eyes. Just as we’d tell a good friend to talk even when it’s a story neither of us really want to hear, we should offer our own selves the proverbial shoulder to cry on. Be kind, but remember that kindness doesn’t mean flight. Get a quilt if you want and a cat if you can. Turn on or off the light. Find a candle or a different chair. But I think it’s good to let our throats tighten until they soften, which they will. If we’re lucky, the sun may slant through the window.

Writing can be particularly tough if we’re telling a sad story, or are in a melancholy mood. Sometimes we need to step away, but there are also good reasons to blow our noses and keep our eyes on the screen. It’s not exactly barreling through, but the tears may mean we’re onto something we shouldn’t turn from. A place that not only pulls our attention but will ask readers to step in and hang on, too.  Writing isn’t a profession for the timid. In Eudora Welty’s lovely and a little-bit-fierce memoir, ONE WRITER’S BEGINNINGS, she writes. “A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.” Serious daring. Tears can be a sign of that, rather than a sign of vulnerability to be shut down or reserved for later.

Thinking, feeling, and writing can be hard: that’s pretty much all I know, which doesn’t sound too helpful except that I believe that at some point there is a way out. And sometimes, of course, let’s be real, we do need to take a walk, find some chocolate, cover our heads with a blanket, call a friend, or go on to something else. All we can do is make our best attempt to stick with our visions, remembering that telling our mind to stop anything can be telling it to stop everything. Words may come from a prickly place, but as we smooth out the language, we may feel smoother inside, too. The stories that hurt may be the stories that matter. The stories that break our hearts may open the hearts of others.



  1. Oh, good lord, Jeannine, you’ve outdone yourself with this one! Thank you for your holiday gift.

    • And I thank you for your enthusiasm!

  2. “In Eudora Welty’s lovely and a little-bit-fierce memoir, ONE WRITER’S BEGINNINGS, she writes. “A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.” Serious daring.” I SO need to hear that. Thank you!

    • It is lovely when the words come you need to hear! Shy, gracious Eudora Welty might have bonded with another such person. Her slim memoir is divided into sections: Listening, Learning to See, and Finding a Voice. You might especially like what she has to say about music.

      • Ooo thanks for that, I will look her up then. I am reading Chaim Potok’s “My Name is Asher Lev” and his description of what goes on in the mind of a creative (in this case an artist) grips and touches my soul.

  3. Such wisdom, comfort and inspiration here. I’d like to read One Writer’s Beginnings again. “Thinking, feeling, and writing can be hard” = YES!

    Thank you for these words which I needed to hear. The holidays are always a mixed bag for me, this year moreso. But as the saying goes, it’s those cracks in your heart that let the light in. Have a beautiful Christmas with your friends and family, especially with that gleeful 4-year-old!

    • I’ll be thinking of you during this mixed-bag year. I must say there is something jolly about getting to buy tiny cars to be wheeled across a floor, but there will be shadows here, too. I’m glad we can be company for each other, even if across the miles.

      • Grief made its presence known to us more than once in this past year, so it’s not an understatement to say that we’re looking forward to putting 2013 behind us. Like you, we’re basking in the light (the warmth and laughter) that comes of having small children in our home…Sara, the adorable 5-year-old girl next door, and her feisty little brother, Joey. What fun, to see the magic of Christmas in their innocent, blue eyes!

        And as for this post…wow. It’s a holiday light show, all on its own. Thank you, Jeannine, and thanks for recommending Eudora Welty’s memoir. Don’t tell Santa, but I may have bought a copy for my stocking. 🙂

        • It’s wonderful that you’ll have some children to lead the way when it’s needed. And I like it when people are so in touch with elves who know just the books they need. Onward to 2014!

  4. Jeanne, this is like a good chat with a friend who cares. Thank you! I think I need to read Eudora Welty’s book again; it’s been a while. I will pass this on to a friend working so hard on her novel. She will hug it!

    • Linda, it touche me that you say that about a chat with a friend, because i wrote this much in response to just a few words that a friend posted on Facebook that made me think of things I hoped she could hear. Thank you for passing it on to your friend. Love these circles.

      One Writer’s Beginnings is a nice book to come back to, as I think you can read pieces, then put it down until the mood strikes again. I usually share a few pages when I teach writing for children that give a poetic focus to the idea of language acquisition. And she does this writing about the moon in the first part of the book, so a great segue into Goodnight Moon and other books!

      • Oh, I now remember, I’ve used that part when I did moon studies with my class-science, art & poetry all mixed together. Thanks for reminding me! And, I just, sorry to say I put it off so long, read, & then reviewed Borrowed Names this past Monday. I enjoyed it very much!

        • Linda, I so often think of how lucky your students are. Science, art, and poetry mixed together: makes me sigh with happiness. And thank you for reading and reviewing Borrowed Names and for letting me know! That’s a great gift.

  5. Thank you for this, dear Jeannine. It’s good to have company in these dark places – especially company that brings candles like this one.

    • Thank you, Amy. And I’ll be thinking of your sweetpea with her Lucia candles (and yes, I’m glad they’ve got batteries) on her dear head.

  6. As always, you say it just right! Enjoy the candles, the twinkles, the chocolate, and the little trucks!

    • Thanks, Amy. It wil be fun to have some small car races on the pine-prickly floor!

  7. Oh, how I love this post. It’s exactly what I need right now. All of it, the sprinkles and twinkles and tears. Thanks, Jeannine. I’ll come back to this when I need to be reminded.

    • I’m happy indeed to feel I could give you something you need during this time. It’s a fine line with those twinkles between being annoying and just the thing. Good thing we can turn them on and off.

  8. You are a wise woman. 🙂

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