The Hats We Wear

Guest Blog by Melanie Unruh


2012-05-12 08.45.32.jpgAt my college graduation, my Spanish professor told my family that I am someone who grabs hold of an idea and refuses to let it go until I’ve seen it through to the end. At the time, I thought this was just an amusing anecdote, but the more I live, the more I know it’s true: I hate to be interrupted.  Inspiration is such a fleeting, fickle thing that when it comes my way, especially when it relates to writing, I don’t want to lose my flow of ideas.

Fast-forward to eleven years after that graduation ceremony. Uninterrupted work of any kind is a luxury, a miracle, even. On a given day, I am a teacher, a student, a wife, a mother, an entrepreneur, and yes, a writer. These are only the major titles. There is no such thing as continuity.

I love my life, but sometimes I think I’m half-assing every single thing I do. How can I call myself a writer when I have to force myself to carve out time for it? After my son goes to bed in the evening, I usually have a pile of dishes and a mountain of essays that need attention. I can’t remember the last time I changed the cat litter, but they’re not shittting on the floor yet, so that’s okay, right? The winter has been long and full of late night snacks, so I really need to start working out again. But what about writing?

I can’t say that I have all the answers when it comes to juggling the various hats, but I try to plan creatively and look for ways to move writer up on that list more. One trick I found recently was to enroll in an undergraduate creative nonfiction class. Sometimes I feel a little silly sitting there because the course is taught by one of my colleagues and a number of my peers are still in high school. But I’m killing two birds with one stone. By enrolling in classes, I can defer my student loans. At the same time, I am committing myself to writing consistently for at least four months. Oh, and I’m forcing myself to write more in a genre that is a bit outside my wheelhouse.

ohi0288-squirrelwritertherapy-v3-600Another way I sneak writing into my everyday life is to use it as therapy. If in between sessions, all I did was try to think about life and process issues in my head, I would probably return to my counselor having forgotten everything we said before and having made no progress whatsoever. Besides helping me commit my thought process to paper (or screen, as it were), writing has always been my go-to tool for healing.  My mom gave me my first journal when I was 12 years old, and that was the first time I understood—call it cheesy if you must—the power of writing.  My parents were in the middle of a drawn-out divorce, and when my mother realized the insipid children’s divorce workbook wasn’t of any use to me, she gave me paper instead to create my own road map to the other side.

After my son was a newborn I thought I would never sleep again (To be fair, several people told me this and when you’re constantly sleep-deprived, you’ll believe anything). I was desperate to write, but all I had was a lizard brain. The only thing on my mind was sleep, and so I wrote about my lifelong war with naps.  I literally wrote things like, “I am an owl and not a lark in terms of my circadian rhythm” and “How vivid is a baby’s sleeping mind?”.  It wasn’t my finest writing by any stretch of the imagination, but the point is, I was still getting words down, still internalizing the message I am a writer.

What I mean to say by all of this is that you have to make writing work for you. Life will get in the way, no matter who you are or what responsibilities you have. But if you grab hold of it and refuse to let it slip through your fingers, writing can remain an integral, essential part of your identity.



Think of at least one way to squeeze extra writing (or writing-related activities) into your daily routine. Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Listen to a writing podcast (See Randi’s 3/12 post for great suggestions!) while doing dishes, driving, jogging, or even taking a bath.
  • Take a notebook to the grocery store (or have your Notes phone app handy). Jot down weird things people say. In my experience, people always say weird shit…especially at Target, for some reason. Sometimes these odd non-sequiturs can serve as inspiration for a story or simply a line of dialogue.
  • If you’re politically-minded (Is anyone not these days?!) and in the mood to write to your representatives, tell them a story. Don’t just use the stock message that XYZ organization has given you. How can you make your words sing and stand out in a sea of rants and requests?
  • When all else fails, if you work, play hooky. Take a sick day, don’t tell anyone else you’re doing it—not your significant other, your coworkers, your friends, your cat—and go to a café or a library, turn off your phone, and write your ass off.



One thought on “The Hats We Wear

  1. This is a wonderful and thoughtful post, Melanie. From my viewpoint, I’ve seen ample evidence of your Spanish professor’s words. You have follow-through. Okay, you now have a lot of interruptions, but you and your work are very much in progress, and I believe you’ll see the work through to the end. I mean, I recall your sharing a recent publication. (YAY!)

    At the same time, so much of what you wrote rings true. I wish I could devote half the time to my own writing that I do to my grading. I need exercise to keep me physically fit and mentally balanced, but couldn’t I devote as much time to my writing as I do trips to the gym? (I confess that I’ve sometimes stepped off the treadmill to type some chaotic outlines of scenes on the Notes part of my iPhone, but still….) I could go on, but I’ll finish with this: I’ve considered taking workshops sometimes too, to give myself writing deadlines. Haven’t done it yet, though.

    Anyway, I’m a fan of you, and you GO, GIRL!

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