Writer Chats, Part XI: To Toil

Today, we celebrate two birthdays: this blog’s and Amy’s. While long-time readers know I tend to turn nostalgic on this anniversary every year, today I’m saving those emotions for our newsletter, and Amy’s bringing you her thoughts on writing here instead. Amy is a stay-at-home mom, former publishing company project manager and graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She wrote this entry about the ways that writing is like (hard, sweat-inducing) work, and we hope you find it as encouraging as we did. Happy birthday, Amy! Happy birthday, blog!


For me, to write is to toil. Every so often there is a day when the words flow effortlessly, like honey from a hive. Recently I was blessed with the flow after my family and I experienced seven days in a less than ideal country house. Without getting into too much detail let me just say that there were bats. Inside of the house. I became possessed by the Disgruntled Vacationer Writing Fairy and I feverishly wrote a masterpiece of a comment on the travel site through which we booked the house. I hardly thought at all; the words (ok, steaming hot vitriol) streamed out of my fingertips and seared themselves onto the screen. That ease of writing is a rarity for me and it felt so good.

Often when I’m writing a story, I picture myself as a cavewoman (a cute one, like Betty Rubble) sitting on the ground outside of my cave with my legs in the butterfly pose with a large rock between the soles of my feet.Sweat drips from my brow as I chip away at the rock with my Stone Age chisel trying to hack it into the form, the work of art, I see in my mind. I chisel and I chisel, rock fragments fly like sparks off a campfire, but when I’m done for the day all I see is a smaller lump of rock surrounded by fragments. Exhausted and frustrated, I stand up in a huff and stomp off to drink a fermented beverage. On the way to the jug, I bark at my son “For the love of square wheels, Rocky, clean up these toys or I’m throwing them all out!” Later, when my husband arrives home from the quarry and asks how my day was, I burst into tears and whimper “How can you love an untalented mess of a cavewoman like me?” He tells me to lay off the fermented beverages and make his rack of ribs already.

The next morning, I head back out to my work site. Hands on hips, the hot ball of light in the sky sitting on my shoulder, I stare down at the lump of rock—the bane of my existence, besides stampeding dinosaurs and no electricity—and those fragments surrounding it. Then I have an epiphany. “If I can’t make anything out of the lump, maybe I can make something out of the fragments. Perhaps a mosaic coffee table, like the one Wilma spent too much money on at One Flint’s Lane.”

When the Cavewoman Me has an epiphany, so does the real me. Perhaps I can artfully piece together the three or four stalled stories in my writing folder to create a whole, complete piece: the work of art that I’ve had in my mind all along. Cavewoman Me begins arranging her fragments for her mosaic; I print my stories and lay them out before me, pen in hand and purpose in my heart.

I saw this quote by Maya Angelou twice on different websites within three days: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” The second time I read it, I thought “How cruel for the universe to shove this truth in my face again.” The truth hurts and so does toil. But toil I must and toil I will, fragment by fragment, stalled story by stalled story.

Editor’s Note: Thanks for this post, Amy, and happy birthday! If reading Amy’s thoughts got your wheels turning about your own creative process, we’d love to hear about it.

About Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.

5 thoughts on “Writer Chats, Part XI: To Toil”

  1. Happy 5th anniversary, Shanna! I so love what you have created here on this space.

    Great thoughts from Amy. If this was an example of the way fragments come together into a work of art, it seems to me like this method is working for her! — I thoroughly enjoyed what she shared here!

  2. Happy Birthday to my amazingly talented, nurturing and beautiful wife.

    For the record, I do ask her what was for dinner. But, I don’t think I’ve ever demanded it, especially meat. 🙂

    I love reading Amy’s writing. It’s always clever and witty and I get to learn more about how she thinks and feels when she does write. I too wished it always flowed for her. 🙂

    • Thanks, Pete. The cavepeople in this article are fictitious. Any resemblance to a person, living or dead, is purely coincidental!


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