The leaves are turning, summer-green to gilded flame. The writer sits down at her computer intending to write something poignant and profound, something that will gather autumn’s rosy light and the snap in the air, the sweet sunshine of a November afternoon and the sere cry of geese against the southern sky, and rake them into a vibrant mound.

And then a cowbell rings.

It is Thing 2. He is home with a stomach bug, and has nested on the futon in the basement, watching cartoons with Big Dog. The cowbell is his summons. More ginger-ale. More saltines. More Gatorade.

There is much to say about many things–the pileated woodpecker this morning, laughing in the canopy. The magic of Halloween. The crush of schoolwork. The start of NaNoWriMo. But there is scarcely time to live these things, let alone reflect upon them.


Tuesday was the Mondayest Tuesday I’ve seen in a while. I stepped in dog poop. Cleaned it off my boot. Stepped in it again when I walked outside later. Barefoot. The overfull bin of recycling spilled across the basement floor. Morning writing time did not happen. One tiny mishap after another. Kids have Projects, which means the whole family has projects. We have come to the hard conclusion that we cannot keep Small Dog, who is a lovely person as long as everyone sits quietly with their hands in their laps, but who tries to eat people’s pants if they dare to move. Today is a Mondayish Thursday–a call from school about sick Thing 2, arriving home to find that Small Dog has peed on the carpet. It seems everyone is in the midst of a crisis.

This is a time to simplify, to buckle down, to hole up. Of course, I have decided that this is also the month to do a major novel revision.

The work itself, though, is a balm, and a reminder. I am a wordy first drafter. Much of the work I do in revision is paring away, tightening, streamlining. I have learned to enjoy it. There is nothing quite as satisfying as pruning away the dead wood of an unnecessary sentence, paragraph, page. This sort of thing horrifies many writing students. They have not yet learned the life-changing magic of hacking things up. When you can step outside your own work, resist the urge to fall madly in love with it, then the magic can happen–the real, messy magic of genuine transformation. When you can admit that your writing is not perfect, you are free to make it better.


Life and writing are both deeply messy, and there is comfort in this parallel. Whether it’s crap in the yard or on a page, the way to get over it is to clean it off, and then laugh it off. Learn from it. Don’t step there again. Or do, and then clean it off again. Step and repeat.

Life, like writing, will never be perfect, and perhaps it’s in the imperfections that much of the beauty lies–the darkness that highlights the shine, the shadows that make the sparkle really gleam, the smudge of dirt on Thing 1’s rosy cheek that makes him look somehow eternal and fleeting at the same time.

There’s more to say, but I hear the cowbell ringing.

(If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, look me up! I’m Emily Bee.)