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What Having Triplets Taught Me About Writing

This guest post is by Daphne Gray-Grant. Daphne is a former senior editor at a large metropolitan daily newspaper and author of the book 8-1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. You can follow Daphne on her blog, The Publication Coach, and on Twitter (@pubcoach).

It’s funny what we can learn about writing from other, unrelated activities. For example, I’ve found that canoeing, shopping and  learning to play the piano have all informed my writing practice.

But nothing else in my life has taught me as much about writing as giving birth to triplets, twenty years ago. On the day my children were born, I was excited, terrified and exhausted. Little did I know those feelings would only intensify as the kids started to grow and we raced through the major milestones, times three—first words, first teeth, learning to eat solids, learning to walk.

13-09-08-triplets

Photo by Eric Watts

Fortunately, I was born organized (even my spice rack is alphabetized) but having triplets helped me develop a healthy dollop of patience. Here are the insights they’ve given my writing life.

Writing Is Rhythmic

The date of August 10 is carved onto my brain. It was a warm summer evening and for the first time since their birth date (March 30, 1994) all three kids were, finally, asleep. I looked at my husband and realized that this was the first time we’d had a break since they’d been born five months earlier. Suddenly, there was no baby to comfort of feed. No diaper to change. Just blessed quiet.

Writing can also be relentless. It may not scream at you, but it can make you want to scream. Why isn’t there more time? Where are the words when we need them? Why does editing take so long? Writing anything – whether an article, a short story or a book – is a huge commitment. A bit like giving birth, really.

But what I’ve learned from my own children is that intensity is always followed by fallow periods. Kids can’t scream forever and writing a first draft can’t last that long either. As difficult or as horrible as one phase might seem, it’s only temporary. The process of writing, like the process of raising children, is rhythmical. Buddhists believe that everything is impermanent and expecting otherwise is what leads to suffering. Don’t suffer. Just know that what’s horrible today will change tomorrow.

Writing Is Rewarding

I was in my thirties by the time my kids were born, deeply into my career as a newspaper editor. I never anticipated how much joy these children would bring me. Even when they pissed me off (one of my daughters once locked me in the storage shed under our back deck) I enjoyed their sass, their spirit, their creativity. Now, when I see the polite and accomplished young adults they’ve turned into, I feel as though I’ve done a good job. Either that or I’ve been incredibly lucky.

Similarly, when I held the first copy of my book in my hands, 8½ Steps to Writing Faster Better, I felt a whoosh of pride. I’d done this! I’d spent nine months (the length of a pregnancy) getting up at five-thirty a.m. and working on the book for an hour every day, before I started my other work commitments, or even peeked at my email. I’d spent weeks logging corrections with my beta readers and, finally, with my copy editor. And here, at last, was the book — in the glory of its perfect-bound cover. Writing that thing was a mind-boggling amount of work and it took far longer than I’d anticipated but I’d done it.

Writing Is Astonishing

My kids stupefy me. My first daughter is athletic and smart and is planning on becoming a physiotherapist.  My second daughter brims with empathy and compassion and wants to become a social worker. And my son is a powerful bass-baritone, studying to become a professional opera singer. Would I have been able to predict any of these careers twenty years ago? Of course not. The ideas wouldn’t even have occurred to me.

The writing life offers surprises, too. I now blog five days per week – a commitment I’d never have anticipated back when I was a senior editor at a daily newspaper. I’ve started work on my second book, a type of memoir. And I’m beginning to meditate on an idea for a novel.

If you have triplets, it begins to seem as though you can do anything. But here’s the secret: you don’t need to have triplets to feel that way.

What’s an activity in your life, unrelated to writing, that gives you special insights into your writing?

PRACTICE

Think about an activity you enjoy or a life event you’ve experienced, unrelated to writing, and spend fifteen minutes describing the way it’s helped you learn more about writing.

When your time is up, post your practice in the comments section below. Be sure to take some time to give other writers your feedback on their practices.

About Daphne Gray-Grant

Daphne is a former senior editor at a large metropolitan daily newspaper and author of the book 8-1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better which she sells through her popular website, The Publication Coach. She also offers a year-long, email-based writing class called Extreme Writing Makeover.

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  • Marina Sofia

    Ah, another post that humbles me… and there I was complaining about lack of writing time with just two children and a job (not even a full-time one) to handle. It’s hard to remember the wisdom of rhythmicity when you are caught in a non-writing vicious circle, though!

    • http://www.vozey.wordpress.com/ James Hall

      I sometimes have a hard time getting past the start-up writing, where your internal editor just throws away all the ideas you have.

      • http://www.publicationcoach.com/ Daphne Gray-Grant

        Make a deal with your internal editor. Tell him that you’ll talk to him later, once you have a rough draft. The internal editor is a friend only when you’re editing, NOT when you’re writing!

  • eva rose

    I’ve been a runner for more than 20 years and found from it inspiration for many areas of my life. It took courage to start; I’d never before run even a mile. Could I do it? What preparation did I need? A pair of good running shoes and perseverence for starters.
    When I began to write, I had no confidence, no training. I simply had to start. A stack of white paper and a computer beckoned to me.
    At the start of the road race I was intimidated by other runners who were stronger, younger, more experienced. But the gun sounded and I was forced to focus on my own race, my own pace.
    As a writer, I had to express my own thoughts in my own style. No one could do it for me.
    My running took me to different places, running hills for endurance and accepting all weather conditions. I found encouragement in small successes and the words of my companions.
    I joined writing groups and classes, challenged myself with new goals and accepted critique.
    I still have my first trophy for winning my age group in a race and a copy of my First Place story in a magazine! Nothing encourages like success!
    It’s the challenges in life that lift us up and draw the sun from behind a cloud.

    • http://www.publicationcoach.com/ Daphne Gray-Grant

      I’m regularly struck by the similarities between writing and exercise. Good for you for persisting with running and, of course, with writing.

    • Margaret Terry

      nice comparison, Eva – “My running took me to different places” – writing takes me places that are scary, confusing, wonder filled and startling. Some days it does feel like a marathon ;)

    • Winnie

      Didn’t someone say cures for a mental block include chopping wood, taking a long bus trip, digging a ditch and, for the energetic, running a marathon? I’m satisfied with digging round in my garden.

  • http://www.vozey.wordpress.com/ James Hall

    My son is clever. He is 3 and loves to tell stories. Sometimes I’ll ask him to just tell me a story. He will ramble on about bears chasing him and his brother, and he has fast shoes, so he can get away. But Ethan falls, so he goes back to help him.

    Really amazing stuff comes out of his head.

    Just the other day I was writing a new setting of a gnomish village. I read a nightly story to my kids and it was, of course, that time again. I didn’t particularly want to change gears from writing a gnomish village to reading about Pug the Magician. So, I cheated. I started telling him about this village. Badgers and wolverines tilling the soil.

    “And dogs.”

    No, no dogs. I guess they could have dogs, but they live in a hidden city. It is peaceful and quiet. Dogs would make too much noise. They might chase the badgers.

    “Oh… They don’t like dogs.”

    Well, they do, but not to live with them. They love all animals. Maybe they tamed dogs for men, so that they could be man’s best friend.

    So, I mentioned some gnome kids.

    “The kids need a playground.”

    Maybe they do need a playground… But these kids are playing a trick on someone. They carved symbols on stones and threw them into a building site. When the builder’s found it, they gave it to Mauven, the historian. I didn’t think he would understand what a historian was, so I asked him what he thought it was.

    “Someone who reads books.”

    It seemed to vocalize my exact thoughts of that character. Where does he learn this stuff?

    Yes, he reads books. So, he read lots of books trying to figure out what the stones were. But, they were really fake. The kids said, if you lined them up right, they said, “Mauven the Chicken”.

    He thought that was funny.

    It was nice to hear him laugh at my silly story.

    I never would have thought that it would have been so useful to throw pieces of my story up to my three year old. When I left him tucked away in his bed, I was ready to write some more.

    • eva rose

      The imagination of a child is an inspiration. They are not confined by rules. Very interesting post!

    • Margaret Terry

      I loved this, James – made me smile throughout the whole piece. Kids can be such incredible listeners, it helps us stop and listen instead of just “hearing”…listening is a part of writing I often forget about. I need to pause and wait for for my story to whisper to me…

      • http://www.vozey.wordpress.com/ James Hall

        Thank you.

        Yes. It is so nice we your story/characters talk to you. Half of my chapters I have to convert from my narrative to a dwarf’s narrative. When I am truly into it, I can hear him speaking to me. It is really incredible.

  • LadyJevonnahEllison

    Every morning, my husband and I get up at 4:30 a.m. to get ready for the gym. This consistency, dedication and sheer willpower to get in shape motivates me to write. There are mornings when I don’t feel like it and would rather stay in bed. But I have to encourage myself and remind myself that just doing something everyday will lead to success.

    Thanks for the article. Hats off to you for having triplets. WOW!

    • http://www.publicationcoach.com/ Daphne Gray-Grant

      4:30 am? Wow! I am the one who’s impressed.

      • Winnie

        They say the time spent writing first thing in the morning is worth at least twice the hours spent writing during the day. Then the mind is fresh and there’s no distractions.

  • Brianna Worlds

    I’ve so many things in my life to inspire me it’s difficult to know which one to pick! I think I’ll go with music.

    For as long as I can remember, music has been a part of me. The way it fills me up with passion and emotion is astounding, honestly. Somehow hearing someone’s crushing sorrow in the form of heartbreaking music, whether it be lyrical or not, is pleasant. That sounds mean, but the best way to describe it is “It hurts so good.”

    Improper grammar and all, it sums it up. Music has taught me to write better in its beautiful rhythm and the intensity in which it can delve into your very being and pierce your heart. It has revived me when I lack inspiration and taught me to more accurately describe emotions be forcing me to struggle to encompass the essence of music.

    That’s all I’ve got for now! Thanks for the article :)

    • Margaret Terry

      I really like “It hurts so good”, feels so honest. Music does the same for me…nice piece, Brianna.

      • Brianna Worlds

        Thank you!

    • http://www.vozey.wordpress.com/ James Hall

      I love music that makes me feel something, or sparks my creativity. I think if I am listening to a fitting piece of music when writing, I have better ideas.

      • Brianna Worlds

        I wish I could work that way. I find when I’m listening to music, it alters or stymies my writing because I just want to listen to the music. I find if I’m listening to music, that’s all I’m doing :P

        • http://www.vozey.wordpress.com/ James Hall

          Depends on what I’m listening too. I usually limit myself to classical only, because I find the words distracting. At time, the music does seem to stifle me, at other times, it inspires me. I usually try to pick a piece of music that has the mood I’m looking for in the scene.

          I’ve found Brandon and Derek Fietcher, as well as EKaterina very calming and inspiring for my fantasy novel. Those are all on YouTube.

          • http://www.publicationcoach.com/ Daphne Gray-Grant

            I usually can’t write to music either. But if I can, it’s always classical. If there are lyrics, I want to sing along and that’s rather distracting!!

          • http://www.vozey.wordpress.com/ James Hall

            If you are writing fantasy, go listen to Adrian von Zieger ony YouTube. Even if you don’t, go listen to some of his stuff. I love it. I’m a cheapskate, but I plan to buy all of his music. He is bound for great things in years to come.

            I am horribly envious as a music writer. Maybe one of these days I’ll be that good.

    • Winnie

      “It hurts so good” – I like the expression. I also find the right music inspires and adds another dimension to your writing. (I first wrote ‘write music’ then had to go back and change it; Freudian slip?)

      • Brianna Worlds

        Ha, nice! XD Sounds like something I’d do. And thanks!

  • http://www.thewritingrealm.com/ Alicia Rades

    I just have to say this is a very interesting article. I love the way you connect these two unrelated ideas to teach us something.

    • http://www.publicationcoach.com/ Daphne Gray-Grant

      Thanks for following me, Alicia. Anyone else who wants to do the same is invited, too! Just go to my blog and enter your name and email in the box on the right-hand side, underneath my photo.

  • Winnie

    Daphne, I was wondering which of those tiny little mites is the powerful bass baritone?
    Not too long ago I was active in a backpacking club. Writing is similar to taking off into the wilderness with a load on your back.
    Preparing the week before for hike, whether it’s a weekender or a 5-dayer, the process is similar to tackling a blank page. The week before you pore over trail maps, read up about the countryside you’re going to, and start laying out your equipment. It’s all anticipation.
    You pack the night before, then leave the stressful city after work the following day. The further away you get the more you find yourself relaxing.
    The following day you hit he trail, enthusiastic, determined to make the most of this break from work. That evening, exhausted, you collapse at the overnight hut and relax with an impromptu party round the campfire.
    And so it goes on, every day the miles disappearing beneath your boots, while all around pristine nature surrounds you.
    When you’re back in the office you find it takes at least a day to get back into the work rhythm, you’re so relaxed.
    Writing is similar. With the ideas boiling in your head you tackle the blank sheet of paper, pursue and exploit each idea as it arises. Once you’re in the rhythm of the story arc the going gets easier as the characters go off on their own and run with the story.
    The satisfaction comes when you realise everything has worked. You wonder why you were reluctant to begin in the first.
    It’s not so much the destination but the getting there that counts,.

    • Margaret Terry

      I loved this comparison Winnie, and I concur so much with “Writing is similar to taking off into the wilderness with a load on your back” The metaphors here for preparation, anticipation, perseverance, endurance are great fun! And the last line, a universal truth. Nice job.

      • Winnie

        Thanks you very much.

    • http://www.publicationcoach.com/ Daphne Gray-Grant

      The bass-baritone is Duncan, the one in the blue blanket in the middle! (I totally agree with your analogy that writing is similar to backpacking!)

      • Winnie

        Looking at him makes me think of Sammy Davis Jnr: small man, huge voice!

        • http://www.publicationcoach.com/ Daphne Gray-Grant

          Well, my son is now 6 ft 3″, so he’s not small. But he’s pretty skinny. He weighs only 144 lbs!

  • Margaret Terry

    My black lab, Viking weighs 80 pounds and has webbed feet, but he
    doesn’t believe he can swim. He was trained at birth to be a seeing eye dog and spent the first year of his life working. Guide dogs can’t play, even as puppies. In that year, he learned to travel on a train, a plane and in a car. He
    stayed in hotels, was welcomed at restaurants and walked through shopping
    malls. After a year of intense training, he was disqualified from the program due to a physical impairment that could cause him to limp in old age. Only perfect dogs get the job.

    That’s when he came to live with me.

    I fell in love with him the moment his chocolate eyes locked on my face and he placed a meaty paw on my lap. It took me a long while to help him remember how to be a dog and that he didn’t have to be my eyes. I’ve also tried to help him believe he can swim. And so has my family. A few weeks ago, my younger, much stronger sister Lisa, carried him into her salt water pool and
    whispered love to him as she lowered him into the warm waters and held him afloat. ” You can do this, Viking” she cooed. “You were made for this and you are strong and able.”

    It reminded me of how all of us need a little help believing we can
    swim. And how often I need help believing I can write…

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