Writing about Family: A Sacred Cow or Smorgasbord?

By Holly Cardamone

Family is undoubtedly the richest source of inspiration for a writer, nonfiction or otherwise. Things happen in families. Families ritualistically dance together joyously at a child’s twenty-first birthday party and behave abominably towards each other during Christmas lunch. We become both witnesses to and participants in family-specific rites of passage, emblematic characteristics and dialogue, and ongoing domestic drama. A loved one may display mannerisms and affects that when captured vividly in writing creates a powerful presence within text.

However, the ability to use elements of a loved one’s personal life is dependent upon the writer’s level of comfort in manipulating aspects of a parent or a sibling’s personality and behavior for the sake of the writing. The cantankerous squabbling of elderly grandparents can make for fascinating and funny dialogue within a text, yet in the back of a writer’s mind may lay anxiety in an uncomfortably accurate portrayal or representation of a family member, who within a text becomes a character.

When using family as a subject when writing I often struggle with an almost tangible tension between revealing and concealing. My mother sits on one shoulder with an angelic look of “please don’t,” while my father sits on the other, grinning devilishly, telling me to go for it. This tension can actually be quite disabling; for fear of disapproval, for misrepresentation or perhaps even a fear of betrayal. Australian writer Helen Garner concedes “I tried hard to be irresponsible, to vanish, to be swallowed up by the texture of the writing. Because the one who records will never be forgiven. Endured, yes; tolerated, put up with, borne, and still loved; but not forgiven.” This is a frightening concept. Who wants to alienate herself from her own family? Or to reveal a family’s perceived shame or embarrassment to the public sphere?

My grandmother was recently admitted into an aged care facility, against her will. The day she was admitted, I sat at my mother’s table with her two sisters and her brother as, red-eyed and traumatized by Nana’s distress, they reminisced about their childhood when their mother was a strong, independent presence in their lives. They could’t share all of their recollections; my mother, sixteen years younger than her brother, had a different set of memories about her mother as a young woman. That day I reflected on the struggle within families about who owns families, about who has the most accurate portrayal of a loved one. It struck me that if I were to write about my grandmother’s life, it is a very real possibility that my extended family, my aunts, my cousins, may not cope with or accept my representation of their loved one.

Writing represents our opinions about experiences, people, personalities, and events. Reconstructions subsequently arise from our memory, our imagination, and are written and recreated in the manner in which we consciously create them. To write about one’s family honestly and openly is a courageous act, and one with which this writer struggles. However, my family is made up of an array of characters that deserve immortalizing through text, particularly through my representation of the characters. Christmas lunches may continue to be interesting.


My Best Ideas are All Wet

By Sue Marquette Poremba

Without fail, when I am in the shower or the swimming pool, a million article or story ideas flow through my mind. Unfortunately, my notebook isn’t waterproof.

Why the water? Other people sing in the shower. I tend to sing everywhere else, so maybe it is because the shower is the one place where my mouth is shut long enough to get some quality thinking done.

However, I think the best ideas come when you are least able to write them down. When recording my ideas immediately is virtually impossible, my brain goes into overload, but I’ll be lucky if I can remember anything by the time I get to dry land.

It may help too that water is my cheap version of a full-body massage. Water relaxes me. Stress floats away when I sit on the beach, watching the waves wash up on the shore. Rain falling on the roof soothes me to sleep. When I’m in the water, I find my mind uncluttered by thoughts of housework, carpools, and in-laws, allowing my brain to wrap itself around ideas for my writing.

Not only am I completely calm in the water, I’m also completely undisturbed. No one is there to talk to me. Moments completely alone with no other distractions rarely happen outside the water.

In the shower at the gym, my memory drifted to the toddler antics of my now-teenaged daughter, which I turned into a published essay. During a lingering bubble bath, I wondered if the story of an auction would make a nice story (a regional market thought so).

Swimming, while not necessarily the source of the best ideas, gives me the best opportunity to think. There, as my mind works in tandem with my strokes, thoughts flow as complete sentences and paragraphs, with beginnings and endings, an entire article or query letter written, edited, and rewritten during a thirty-minute swim. (I’m convinced that I could complete my novel if I could swim enough laps in one session.)

The problem is keeping the article in my head until I can write it down. I do carry writing goodies with me to the gym, but someone stole my shower stall once when I tried taking a break to jot down some thoughts. At home, there is usually an entourage at the bathroom door, ready to pounce the moment I walk out the door. Swimming? I simply pray that at least a few snippets of the “perfectly written article” will stay with me until I get to my computer. Sometimes that happens—an article about marriage and exercise virtually wrote itself on paper after it was developed in the pool. More often, though, the swimming stories are like dreams—foggy at best, completely forgotten at worst, evaporated by the time I get to the hot tub.

My best ideas are all wet. All I need to do is dry them off.

Sue Marquette Poremba is a freelance writer based in central Pennsylvania. Her writing credits include The Christian Science Monitor, Road King, iParenting.com, and Notre Dame Magazine, among others.

20 Ways to Keep Your Writing Inspiration and Creativity High

By Catherine Franz

When we are stressed or blocked, it is wise to make a change so that we don’t stay in that place. Yet many times we forget some of the simple things that we can do for ourselves, quickly and easily, to bring our inspiration back and increase our creativity.

  1. If you usually type your first drafts, hand write them. Nothing compares to the feeling of the ink melting into the paper and the surge of that creative flow.
  2. If you spend too much time at the computer, take a break every hour. Go for a walk or just sit outside in the sun. Even five minutes in a winter sun does wonders for a mood and creativity.
  3. Flip through magazines or books. Their colors and ideas will give you sparks and switch your attitude. Blue and green can reduce your stress levels by 30% or more.
  4. Add strong smells to the room. Light scented candles around you, visit the fruit aisle at the grocery store, or go to a store that is heavily scented. Find an orange or strawberries and smell it. Both will change a mood or create inspiration. Smells awaken your creativity. Smells trigger memories and are a great method to rekindle stories from the past.
  5. Go see or rent an inspirational movie. Relaxation time is important. You can even take your notebook and record inspirational phases. Afterwards, free write what those phrases bring up from your subconscious.
  6. Read a book that stirs you or sparks your creativity. If you prefer, read poetry.
  7. Look at bold and bright colors for a few minutes. These change your mood.
  8. Talk with a friend about your topic to flesh out ideas and creativity. Record the conversation, with his or her permission of course, and play it back to hear the little nuances that you might have missed.
  9. Write an e-mail to a friend to tell him or her what you want to accomplish. If you are stuck, say so and ask for help.
  10. Check in with your vibrational energy and do something to switch it into high gear. Take a shower. Go for a walk. Turn on some music and dance naked for a few minutes.
  11. Hire a virtual assistant to do some typing so that you can stay focused on writing. You can fax your writing or dictate it into the computer and send her a voice file for transcription.
  12. Go to church for the noon service or whisper a prayer or two. This reconnects your energy with the universe and replenishes what might be missing.
  13. Complete an appreciation exercise. Pick something around you, like the telephone, lamp, or pen. Talk to it and tell it how much you appreciate having the electricity to turn it on, the opportunity to write with a tool that has the ink inside (not like a quill), or the softness of the paper you write on. Be grateful for that you have and not what you are missing. Or make a list of “count your blessing” items.
  14. Write a personal note to friends or family and tell them how much you love them, appreciate their thoughtfulness, or kindness.
  15. Authentic, flat-out, raw laughter frees the psyche and opens the creativity process.
  16. Find a setting with lots of trees and flowers and feel nature. If the weather permits, take off your shoes and socks and feel the grass between your toes. Nature has a way of freeing our spirit and renewing our soul.
  17. If guilt or a past incident has captured your mind, write a “Dear Me” letter and ask yourself for forgiveness to to loosen its grip and expand your freedom.
  18. Are you used to writing in a quiet place? Find a noisy place to write, like McDonald’s or the mall. When your space is noisy, you will have to focus harder in order to write with clarity.
  19. Go for a quiet leisurely drive, listen to a favorite CD. You can sing out of tune and no one will notice (laughter allowed).
  20. Do something nice for someone else that you wouldn’t normally do and be a gracious receiver of a hug.

That was exciting, wasn’t it? Post this list in a conspicuous place so that it is readily available when you need it. Do one or two of these daily and keep on writing. Your readers are waiting to read your words.

Catherine Franz is a marketing industry veteran, a Certified Business Coach, Certified Teleclass Leader and Trainer, speaker, author, and Master Attraction Practitioner. Business clients include professional firms, restaurants, retail stores, coaches, writers, the marketing challenged, and independent professionals across the globe from Japan to New Zealand.

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