My Writing Process

“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”  -Stephen King


I am flattered and excited to be a part of a “blog hop” of different writers blogging about why they write, and how they do it.  Jessica Barlevi Halpeis of Nourished Mom was kind enough to ask me to join in.  I said yes immediately, before I was exactly sure what I was saying yes to, because I trust Jessica and find her writing inspiring.  Besides having a very clear and endearing writing voice, I see Jessica as a true seeker.  She can take a seemingly ordinary topic and dig so deeply into it that I feel like I am Alice chasing the rabbit down the rabbit hole.  Her writing is complex, full of light and dark, and committed to finding the core nugget of truth in every piece she writes.

So….here are my answers to the questions circling the blogosphere:

What am I working on?

Why does this question make me panic? I guess my answer depends on your definition of “working on.” I always have a bunch of ideas floating around, either in my head or scribbled in the back of notebook. I have some essays that I have started but remain in various states of revision; I am not sure if this is because I have short attention span or if they are still marinating. There are many things I would like to write but I am not ready yet, meaning, I don’t have the emotional distance to give the piece enough depth and perspective. There’s still too much “me” in it.

I only post one blog entry a week, and for me, that is plenty. It consumes most of my writing time, not to mention my head space. I have a hard time working on multiple pieces simultaneously. I wish I could say I just fire something off for the blog each week, but….no. I am a slow writer, and a perfectionist, so I will use as much time as I have before posting each Thursday morning. I give myself a deadline of 9:00, and even then, I don’t feel ready. Like Lorne Michaels says at Saturday Night Live, “We don’t go on because we are ready. We go on because it’s 11:30.”

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Do I have a genre? I have a blog, but I am reluctant to call myself a blogger, because I only post once a week, and I am still such a newbie to the blogosphere. I still don’t feel cool or witty enough for Twitter. I have deep admiration for people who can really nail a Tweet. It’s a skill.

So it’s hard to say what makes me different from anyone else, because how can you compare? Women or mothers who blog may have similar issues or experiences, but the voice, the details, the perspective – all the things that make up good writing – are unique. What I can say about my own personal voice is that I am almost completely filterless. That doesn’t mean I don’t edit – I can hack away at an essay until it becomes something else entirely.

But what I write comes from a true place, a place of transparency. And I always try to find the humor in any situation, or as we call in my house, finding the funny. I have to find ways to laugh at myself, and life in general. Otherwise I would need to be heavily medicated.

Why do I write what I do?

I write because I am in search of something. Why did this happen? Why do I feel this way? What meaning can be made from this?

This has always been my reason for writing, but when my friend Emily asked me to blog with her at Mothers of Brothers, she gave me a tremendous gift: an audience. Creating something with the intention of sharing it – whether or not anyone actually reads it – has deepened my writing tremendously. I still write in a journal, but re-reading what I write is tortuous. But I believe there is a place for being whiney and narcissistic. Just not a public place.

Writing for an audience motivates me to be the best version of myself. It forces me to find the deeper story…the universal motivation or longing…the redemption. If I can’t find redemption or humor in a story or situation, I know I am not ready to write about it. But mostly I write to combat loneliness and isolation. To feel less freakish. The first time someone said to me, “You write exactly what I am feeling but am scared to say,” my heart grew three sizes. Suddenly I felt connected. I went from standing slightly outside the world to being in it. Writing does that for me – pulls me out of isolation, out of hopelessness, out of the pit of whoa-is-me. All the things Prozac was supposed to do for me but didn’t.

How does your writing process work?

I think about writing way more than I actually write. I think of ideas when I am running, or driving, or in the shower. I scribble things down on napkins, on the back of magazines or my children’s drawings, and on Post-its. So many Post-its.

Our house has a space for “my office” but somehow I always end up at the kitchen table. It drives me husband crazy – all my books and Post-its everywhere, my dirty looks when the kids are shrieking or the Phillies game is blaring. “Go. To. Your. Office,” he says.

Just recently, my aunt told me a funny story about my mom. My mom was a very serious student but insisted on doing her homework at the kitchen table. Despite the kitchen being the central hub of a house, she would get bent out of shape when anyone – her three siblings, their friends, my grandparents, etc – disrupted her. One day, when the kitchen was bustling with people and activity, she reached her breaking point. She slammed her book shut and announced: “I simply can not work in these chaotic conditions!” In response, my grandfather started a conga line around the table, chanting, “Cha-otic! Cha-otic! Cha-otic Conditions!”

I am my mother’s daughter, I suppose. We want solitude yet we don’t want to miss anything.

To write well I need I total silence. On Thursday mornings -the morning I post my blog – I get up around 4:30 in the morning. I am the clearest at this early hour; the house is still and free of chaotic conditions. I wish I could say I sat down everyday at a desk in my office from 9-3. This is my goal. But I am not there yet. I don’t know why I am resistant to it. Well, maybe I do. To claim my space as a writer is to actually say, “I am a writer.” And I not quite brave enough to say that…yet. I am getting close, though.

I am very excited to “tag” my good friend Emily to answer these same questions next week.  I actually took a writing class with Emily many moons ago, and ended up co-blogging with her at Mothers Of Brothers.  Emily is a an accomplished writer, amazing mother, career woman, and skilled juggler of all.  But to me, she is an irreplaceable friend.  So check out her blog for her answers next week!

Emily Mendell is the co-founder of where she has been blogging since 2008. She is a contributor to Huffington Post and her work has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and Chicken Soup for the Soul, A Tribute to Moms. She has been working in the venture capital industry since 2001 where she focuses on communications. Emily lives outside Philadelphia with her husband two teenage sons.



Insomnia: Gettin’ Dumbah Everyday

We are moving in 17 days.  And while our previous move was only 18 months ago, I seemed to have forgotten one of the side effects of moving: Insomnia.  Of which a side effect is forgetfulness.  It’s a vicious cycle.

When I was paralyzed by sleeplessness with our move from Philly to Boston, I sought medical intervention.  I was given a prescription for Ambien…and then blogged about it here.  And, to be honest, I wrote the PG version.  Ambien had other side effects that I will not discuss because my mother-in-law is reading this, but let’s just say Phil really misses the crazy slut alter ego that was Ambien Jessie.  He misses her a lot.

But no matter how tired I am,  I refuse to go the Ambien route.  I can’t take the chance that I will answer an Evite with a 500 word run-on sentence that includes an in-depth analysis of a Scooby-Do episode and my social security number.  Again.

That being said, I have to do something, because I am tired – to the point where I feel like I am losing brain cells.  When I was 21, I went out on a date with a NYC transit cop, who was adorable but not my type.  When I asked him to describe his typical work day, he said in a thick NY accent, “Basically, I just get dumbah.  I get dumbah everyday.”

That’s me.  Gettin’ dumbah everyday.  The evidence:

  •  Emma’s 2nd grade math homework has become too challenging.  (17-8=…..wait…wait…I got this….).
  •  When my mom calls and asks if I received the book she sent me, my response is: “No.  Wait…maybe.  That sounds familiar. Yes, I did.”  The truth?  No idea.
  • Any thing that crosses my path goes in the washer and dryer, including cash, tissues, my iPod, and this wool sweater that is now keeping Phoebe’s American Girl Doll nice and toasty.


  • While I have never been the most organized mom on the block, my current inability to retain basic info has forced me to rely on responsible (and nonjudgmental) friends. I’m the one in blue:


So when drugs are not an option, the only thing left is to examine one’s habits, which is annoying, because I have a lot of bad habits.  But for the sake of this blog, let’s stick with two: Bedtime Ritual and Racing Thoughts.

Bedtime Ritual                                                                                                                     Every parenting book has a section on the importance for bedtime rituals for children:  no screens, calming activities, limit sugar, keep the actual “time” consistent, etc. It dawned on me that while I am the Sleep Warden with my kids, I am a rebellious teen with my own sleep hygiene.

The biggest offender is late night computer use. The kids will be in bed, I will be cleaning up the kitchen and feeling exhausted. Ok good, I think to myself, I am on the right track. Just finish loading the dishwasher and then I’m getting in bed.  But then….something happens.  Suddenly there is a piece of information I simply must have before I can possibly go to sleep, some ridiculous, non-essential tidbit that will then open the Pandora’s Box of nonlinear Google searches.

For example: “How EXACTLY did Yolanda from Real Housewives of Beverly Hills get Lyme’s Disease” leads to…..

  • Research on the 47 species of ticks in California
  • Real estate listings in Malibu
  • The distance from Malibu to Joshua Tree
  • The inspiration behind the U2 album Joshua Tree
  • Is Bono’s real name Bono? (it’s Paul).

When I am satisfied with my groundbreaking findings, I’m all revved up by the evil blue light of the computer and I start vacuuming.  One night Emma had gotten up to go the bathroom, and came downstairs: “Mom? Do normal mothers vacuum at midnight?”

I gave her a look that said, what makes you think I know anything about normal? Then I took her back to bed.  As I was leaving her room, I saw this book sitting on her dresser.

IMG_3953It’s a journal Emma and I write in together a few nights a week as part of her bedtime routine.  I grabbed it before closing the door, and sat on the stairs reading our entries.  This one hit me….


….which brings us to

Racing Thoughts                                                                                                               Little kids resist bedtime because they are scared of: monsters under the bed, the dark, bad dreams.  I resist bedtime because I am scared of: moving, leaving our friends, the ocean, this house that I love, of the kids adjusting to a new school, are they going to need therapy, should we buy them a dog, should we join the Y, I forgot to order Emma’s uniforms…blah blah blah.

So, if my issues are not all that different from a kid’s issues, why not treat it the same way? This week I created my own firmly enforced bedtime ritual:

  1. No computer after 8:30 PM
  2. In bed by 10 PM
  3. Read a novel. (No self-help)
  4. Create a mantra: It’s going to be ok.  None of this is happening right now.  It’s going to be ok.  
  5. And the most important piece of changing one’s habits: Accountability.

Image 1

That’s right.  14 days of good bedtime behavior and mama gets a new pair of jeans.

If none of this works, there’s always the Ambien my mother-in-law slipped in my hand during our last visit, you know, “just in case.”

Just in case I want to go streaking while riding a purple unicorn that smokes cigars.

Time will tell.