It was one of those moments where I cursed myself for being so attention defecated. I’m the type of person who loses their keys when they’re holding them in their hand – the kind of mom who chars macaroni and cheese because I completely forget that I’m boiling noodles. I wish I was kidding.
This was an especially frustrating episode. I had purchased tickets for my family, including grandparents and great grandparents, for the Twin Cities Ballet annual Nutcracker – in which my 7 year-old daughter, Ella, was going to be dancing as a snow angel. Two hundred dollars-worth of tickets that I had spent the last three hours sorting through every possible cupboard, drawer, stack of papers, purse and bag searching for.
No tickets anywhere. I had spent so much time thinking about where those slips of cardstock could be, my brain was beginning to ache from trying to think of where I could have possibly stuck them.
It was getting close to midnight, and I had basically given into the idea that I would be spending another two hundred dollars to replace them – quietly, without mentioning it to anyone because that would be too embarrassing. But it was Ella’s first performance with a professional ballet company. Missing it was not an option.
As I headed to bed, resigned to my failure, I heard Ella call out to me.
“Mom, I can’t sleep.”
The next morning was the ballet’s first performance for an audience – a matinée for elementary students who got to miss a couple of hours of school for a holiday tradition and a little cultural enrichment. Among the hundreds of children in the crowd would be Ella’s big brother and the entire fourth-grade class from her school. She was simply too excited to sleep.
I lay down with Ella and rubbed her back, the whole while, my brain running through where I had looked for those tickets. What cranny had I missed?
Ella tossed and sighed heavily.
“How about some hot tea?” I suggested.
“Ok,” she mumbled miserably.
Together we sat in the family room, sipping “Sleepy-Time” tea while we watched reruns of FULL HOUSE (an old favorite of mine – a new favorite of Ella’s). After a couple of episodes of watching Uncle Jesse and Joey save the day, Ella finally seemed drowsy enough to sleep. I carried her to bed and snuggled up with her under her pink quilt one more time until I heard her breathing heavily against my chest. I had forgotten to think about my expensive mistake. Instead, I was thinking how quickly Ella had gone from a baby who I rocked to sleep when she had a restless night to a little girl who I drank tea and laughed at the same jokes with while watching reruns on late night television. That was when it dawned on me. I knew where the tickets had to be.
At nearly 1 a.m. I found them, tucked safely inside the checkbook (where, for the record, I had already looked, but I hadn’t taken the checkbook out of the leather holder and looked behind the checks where I had tucked the tickets so I wouldn’t lose them). I found myself wishing I had sat down hours ago and stopped worrying so much about where the tickets could have been. I wished I had taken a few unpanicked, quiet moments to let my brain settle on the memory of when I had purchased the tickets in the first place. Sure, I had thought about purchasing them throughout the evening while I tore piles of papers out of cupboards, but in my haste, I had assumed I brought them home and stuck them someplace for safe keeping. In the silence of not worrying about it so much, I remembered tucking them into the checkbook holder, afraid they might slip out and be lost on my way home from ballet practice.
Silence is golden. I hate clichés, but it’s so true. It applies to so many aspects of life. As a writer, I tend to put myself in the corner of a coffee shop, music and strangers’ conversations buzzing in the background or worse, I write in my family room while the kids play Lego’s or watch Sponge Bob on the TV directly in front of me. Even when I write after the monkeys have gone to bed, I tend to have a mindless reality T.V. show playing in the background – my homemade version of coffee shop noise. I actually kind of need noise to think. When it’s too quiet, I think too much. It’s not necessarily the literal silence that I need as a writer, or as a crazed mother searching for tickets I’ve lost, it’s the quietness of unworried thought that I need.
That night, I needed a moment to not obsess about my problem. I need the same when writing. I have to allow myself not to over think my plot or my characters. I find myself overwhelmed by the possibilities if I think about it too much – just as I found myself overwhelmed by the multitude of places I could have tucked away those tickets. But when I stopped worrying, the solution came to me with no effort at all.
I firmly believe in the benefit of an outline when writing, but I also appreciate the value of letting the story lead you wherever it might naturally go. Let yourself be quiet in your worry as you write. Don’t think so much about the rules. Let your characters lead you. You can always go back and clean up the story, but you might miss out on a great twist or emotional connection your character naturally makes when you over think what you’re doing. You might find yourself making one heck of mess while you tear your story apart looking for the best next conflict or solution.
In the end, I cleaned out a lot of unnecessary clutter around my home while I hunted for those tickets. But I could have accomplished the same thing in a much less frenzied manner if I had done the same kind of sorting while not distressed. You’ll go back and clean up those sentences in your manuscript later, but in the beginning just relax. Don’t panic. Don’t worry. Drink a little tea while reruns play quietly in the background, and just write.
Now, just cause she’s so stinkin’ cute, here’s a picture of my little ballerina getting ready for her Nutcracker performance.