Digging with a Spoon

What is digging with a spoon? As a working mother who loves more than anything to write, I embraced Julianna Baggott's words: "Sometimes, I felt like a prisoner with a spoon. I could dig away, doing little bits at a time, hoping I would see the light." See my first blog for more on my first foray into spoon digging!
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Friday, December 04, 2009

Please visit me...

...At Harriet's Voice: Home Base for Writing Mothers. Lots of great links and quotes that will appeal to all writers (not just moms!). Sign up for updates, as contests, events, and the blog continue to evolve. Creative moms (not just writers), please take the survey.

I would love to add your quotes, tips, links to the site--please send suggestions via the contact link.

Thank you for your support,


Saturday, August 19, 2006


I woke at 5 and wandered in the dark between our bedroom and Gavin’s, patting every flat surface until I touched on my glasses. Husband and son breathed deeply, and I crept away to the basement to write.

Nearly every Saturday since November has begun in this same fashion. Starting this blog meant a concrete reason to get up and write. It meant I kept a promise to myself.

I learned the names of 2 Greek mythology figures this week. Scylla and Charybdis are the names of 2 sea monsters who flank a narrow strait, and the sailors passing must move carefully so as not to trigger either vicious threat. The expression between Scylla and Charybdis preceded between a rock and a hard place.

I have been evaluating my writing time, or lack of it. Working full time and mothering a 4-year-old fills my days, and then some. Work has picked up, both for me and Tom. The hourglass seems to be shrinking, and my book is in serious danger of neglect. I have also promised myself that I will have at least 4 freelance queries in circulation at any given time (borrowing from Hope Clark’s magic number of 13, which I hope to build up to over time).

I love my Saturday morning blog, the newness of it, the surprises, and I am guessing it will be resurrected in some fashion (perhaps an account on the journey of my book proposal!). I realized this morning that my blog has been a bit like dating: a good time, no heavy agenda, full of new possibility. My book is more like a marriage: a good time also, but subject to more ups and downs, requiring more thought and effort—something that offers a great return in the long haul but isn’t always exciting or romantic. But for now, even though the romance of the blog calls, I am taking a hiatus. I am encountering my own Scylla and Charybdis (so much I want to write, but threats on either side of my narrow writing strait).

If you come upon Digging with a Spoon, I hope that you find some encouragement here. I would love to hear from fellow readers, writers, parents, dreamers. Please drop me a line at khauswirth@sbcglobal.net.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Cool Snap

We are in a snap of cool weather (at least for August). What simultaneous delight and dread, to wake and shiver when it is chilly and dark, to layer a cocoon of cotton sweater and socks over my flimsy pajamas, to debate the relative merits of going back to bed, of hot versus iced coffee. The coolness seems to bring with it an anticipation different than the sweet, sultry anticipation of a cricket-heavy summer night. It is more like the blank, freshly cracked notebook of back to school.

Blank notebook, also simultaneous delight and dread to a writer. So much to say, but how and where do I begin? Will anyone want to read it?

I keep picking up a book that my sister sent: The Practical Writer, a collaboration by the Poets & Writers staff, is one of the best collections of writing advice I've seen. It's got everything from editor etiquette to how to promote your work digitally, and a long list of Grants and Awards in the back. Juicy.

This morning I flipped to a piece on the essay, "literature's most misunderstood form". It contains a quote from OB Hardison, Jr: The essay is the enactment of the process by which the soul realizes itself even as it is passing from day to day and from moment to moment. Yes, that is what I love about the poor, misunderstood, even maligned, essay.

It is true that people don't light up when you tell them you write essays. They think of school compositions, bone dry and contrived. They don't think of Death of a Hornet by Robert Finch , or Living Out Loud by Anna Quindlen. These authors are so different: the first pulls off reflections on Cape Cod nature with admirable grace, the second is a hodgepodge of fresh thoughts on mostly female-oriented topics. The key for me is, as Hardison said, you can see both writers realizing their own souls. It is a treat to be invited into the process, at least when writers write as well as these.

I worked on a book chapter on spirituality this week and had to put it aside. So much, and so little, to say. Thinking with a refreshed mind, maybe I was not so far off the mark when I described writing as the biggest spiritual thing I do. Maybe I should do more, but there it is. To sit and muse, to indulge in contemplation, to drink in the unusually cool August air and appreciate the hush of the morning and the warmth of my sweater while creating something new, to me this is somehow a holy indulgence.

Gavin found a new and completely unexpected way into my heart yesterday. Although I 've read him plenty of books (latest favorite, highly recommended: The Wolves in the Walls) I have not discussed literature with him. He laid a gem at my feet, courtesy of a short lesson by his teacher Tyler. We sat and watched Everybody Loves Raymond while we digested our supper and got ready to go to bed. Gavin wondered aloud: Is this nonfiction? I could have kissed him (actually I'm sure I did): my budding writer. Sweetie, that's what Mommy writes. Did you know that? We talked about how Raymond is probably mostly fiction (but could be autobiographical), and then we read Lyle, Lyle Crocodile (decidedly fiction) before bed.

PS: I am contemplating ending this blog: time is so scarce and my book is languishing, undernourished from lack of consistent attention. Can I transfer the hopeful essence of my Saturday morning blog to my book, so that now every Saturday without fail I wake and write (or revise) a chapter? It might make more sense.

PPS: Found a fun blog this morning when searching for Robert Finch. Onepotmeal (where bears smoke and type) describes itself as a weblog about reading, writing, nature, culture, and bears with bad habits. It's got some very thought provoking quotes, and a great sense of humor.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

After the Storm

For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin — real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these ‘obstacles’ were my life.
—Fr. Alfred D’Souza

The storm hit Thursday and took a leggy maple and electric, phone, and cable wires down in the front yard and across the driveway. Our services are finally restored, and Tom will spend at least half the day reducing the tree to pickup bed sized limbs and making dump runs. I will be disposing of most of the refrigerator contents and trying to catch up with laundry, etc. Gavin will be having a small “film festival’ (videos on the couch) while I try to regain household equilibrium.

We spent the second hot, powerless night at a nearby hotel and I managed to revise one of my book chapters. I am writing about Harriet Beecher Stowe, and finding that one of her gifts was to weave writing in with her very hectic life, rather than trying to separate it out.

I love the quote by D'Souza: I suppose a real pessimist might say, oh, great, this is life? But I see it as an opportunity, as a reflection of deeper beliefs. Every moment is an opportunity to live fully and thoughtfully. Realistically, at least for most of us, a space will never clear where suddenly we have gotten all of the ‘busywork’ done. We have to find our spaces away from the hustle and bustle (today, a beach afternoon at our friend Cecilia’s) and figure out the best ways to weather our personal storms.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Gift of Insomnia

Insomnia in small doses is a writer’s best friend. As long as it remains an occasional visitor and leads to quiet, uninterrupted writing time, I welcome it. In this case I brought it on, though not intentionally. I forgot to say “decaf” when I ordered my coffee at 7 PM. I find that I can often fall asleep after an evening coffee, but wake up perky a few hours later (of course if I don’t make up the sleep I will crash at the other end of my day).

I had a revealing exercise in this morning’s wee hours: I dug up a mission statement on my writing that I had written when Gavin was an infant. Eventually, amid cobwebby piles of 3-ring binders, I found two documents that I had nearly forgotten. My personal mission, although I have not consciously referred to it in half a decade, still rings true: To empower seekers to maintain or grow closer to the beliefs that life is good, we are all in this together, and that there is a God. I want the sensuality and sincerity of my writing to bear witness to hope, and to refresh and renew the human spirit. I had also completed a stream-of-consciousness response to the question, “My passion is…”: Living life in full appreciation of the gift it is. Continuing to learn. Being a good steward of what has been given. Being real. Shedding light on true beauty. Offering peace. Writing about all of this in a truly unique, compelling way. Making my son proud.

This resurrection of notes on my mission and my passion revealed two things. The negative aspect of dusting off my ponderings was the realization that I had not honored it enough. The words may be corny, impossibly lofty, but for me they represent what I really give and gain from my writing. These are words that deserve more respect, a place on my office wall. On the positive side, the writing I am doing now resonates with the sentiments I penned years ago. I can hear the harmony between then and now, as if played on invisible strings. This is how I feel purposeful passion. It feels like music.

I flip open a book by Barbara Sher, who wrote I Could Do Anything if I Only Knew What it Was. I saw her on public television once and I loved her no nonsense way of inspiring action. She is not the kind of motivational speaker who lives in la-la land. She understands that people have jobs, financial worries, families and can not just move to a desert island and pursue their dream of painting seaside scenes. She has a way of saying get off your rear and take some action in so many words, and of making it sound completely possible. Today she virtually shouts at me from her book: What you’re really supposed to be doing is whatever makes your heart sing. Another resonant chord is struck. My heart is singing now, and it sang for the last two evenings when I worked on my book, so I guess I should keep writing.

I am plowing through books this morning, looking for a specific quote about the universe conspiring with the artist, about how things have a mysterious way of coming together. And the universe is having its fun with me: I can’t find the quote. But I do find this whammo quote instead, by Frederick Buechner (Of Fiction and Faith):

There is something deep within us, in everybody, that gets buried and distorted and confused and corrupted by what happens to us. But it is there as a source of insight and healing and strength. I think that is where art comes from.

It is nice to search for that something deep and find that it is still there, ready to serve as a wellspring.

For now, though, I must leave the wellspring gurgling below its cover and go back to sleep.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


It is one of my small pleasures to be given a piece of writing and asked, what do you think? I let the words fall over me and search for their message as they pass. I tuck, prune, and tighten with my pen. I think of new ways to say old things. I scribble marginalia. It is a vast relief to read something other than what I’ve written, a treat to enter the mind of another writer. It almost doesn’t matter what I am reading; I relish the opportunity to wordsmith.

Most of the time these pieces are medical, for work. When I was new to the medical writing world, I wrote a piece for Pilgrimage called Words through a Stethoscope. I wrote about the precision that medical writing and medicine shared, and also about the limits of my new endeavor: Sometimes I would plead for the life of a medical nuance or colloquialism, while a senior editor squeezed the rules around it until it was sterile and bland like a big fat post-amputation dressing. But I looked for creative opportunities everywhere: I made sure my words were smoothed over until they flowed instead of splattered on the page. I got to put words together for a living, perhaps not the kinds of words I’d dreamed about but words nonetheless.

Writers and editors that I know sometimes use wordsmithing in a derogatory way, to mean oh, that writer’s just rearranging words aimlessly. There’s no real substance to her suggestions. And I guess there is wordsmithing for the sake of wordsmithing, like the woman who pipes up at every meeting just to hear her own voice out loud. But a real lover of words would never be driven by that kind of agenda. A real wordophile treats even technical words with reverence and enthusiasm. When words must be cut away, as they usually must, they are disposed of with an efficient, quiet respect.

I woke up thinking about my first career transition, from nursing to medical writing. And now I am thinking about the next ever-so-gradual leap, from medical writing to creative writing and editing. I keep making mostly small submissions while I try to cook up big ideas. Since I like to wordsmith so much, particularly when I need to pare a piece down to fit, I’m starting a Word Count Guru business on the side. What a joy it will be to turn this passion into some income!

Last week, I wrote a blog called Something’s Coming. I later realized I had a blog by the same name in April. Reading it back, I see it embraced the same delicious hope, perhaps at a higher intensity driven by the advent of spring. I agree with what I wrote in April: There is a story somewhere beneath all of this sweet, ordinary life.

Today is another chapter in the sweet and ordinary: a final swim lesson for Gavin and then some shopping. If Gavin naps I will resurrect my latest book chapter. Starting my day with writing feels like a taste of chocolate before breakfast.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Something's Coming

I disobeyed my writing office’s primary rule today. It’s an informal office, and the rule was jotted years ago with a Sharpie on a Post-It, which I then taped to my monitor (those Post-Its don’t stay up long term without a little reinforcement, and this rule needs vigorous reinforcement!).

The rule says Write First, Surf Later. It evolved because I endured this whole phase where I spent my writing time with online groups and newsletters. I was pretending to be a writer, and maybe I needed to hobnob before I broke away and started to actually write. But Web surfing is a vast and tiring endeavor. One link leads to another, and another. I needed to spend my energies more wisely. The limited time I have now goes mostly toward writing, with a little surfing as a wrap-up reward. The sign helps.

But I’ve had this feeling that something good is coming, so I had to check my e-mail (which inevitably leads to surfing). I submitted a piece via e-mail last week (don’t you wish more publications allowed this practice?) and have attributed my something good feeling to a prescient sense of imminent acceptance. No acceptance letter, but I did find some contests worth entering and some presses worth noting. Thanks again to Hope at Funds for Writers .

Of course, the something good may have already happened, and now I am greedily expecting more! I had the afternoon off yesterday and got to shop first for others and then for myself. The gift and toy stores where I shopped for others wrapped my packages with flair. I then strolled around Marshall’s, musing about how to spend my gift card. I emerged two shirts, a throw rug, and a kid’s puzzle later, feeling satisfied. On top of that, I took the wrong coffee off the pickup counter at Starbuck’s. It was a scrumptious chilled mocha. They let me keep it (since I had already sipped it), and gave me the one they had made me, too. No wonder I only slept for about five hours!

I am working on queries about my book, and am teetering on a scary precipice. Once I’ve sent the first query I risk rejection and even failure. Initial feedback on my draft has been encouraging, although one writer suggested that only amateurs start a query with a question (and I thought I was so clever!). Another writer suggested I spend three months researching agents. This sounded ridiculous to me, as I am the act first, fill in with research later type. I have researched some, but now I want to start my query process. Perhaps I can restrain myself while I research a bit more. But definitely not for three whole months: I’m afraid I would burst from the delay.

I was inspired not long ago by The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio, a memoir about a mother who subsidized her large family with contest winnings: jingles, poems, essays, and the like. She was a feisty, clever mother who used her very limited time (she had 10 kids) to simultaneously fulfill her creative impulses and earn some much-needed cash. I don’t think I’ll ever reach her level, but once in a while I hit it right. I’ve won a handful of contests, mostly small potatoes but one was an all expense paid self-publishing package. The latest one I entered was, if you can believe it, a love letter to witch hazel. Surely worth the 3-paragraph effort for the $1000 prize and the chance for a trip to France. Oh, and of course a lifetime supply of witch hazel (which I actually do use so I was not prostituting my talents).

Another Saturday, another swim lesson for Gavin, although this time my mom will join us in the pool. Then off to the Deep River Ancient Muster, which is a huge event in our area. I heard the drum tattoo last night as Gavin and I hunted for fireflies. Later today and tomorrow I get to give out nearly all of those daintily wrapped gifts I bought yesterday. My friend Pam’s daughter and my visiting niece will get Calico Critters (the hottest new girl’s toy – I was amazed by the volume of choices). My 16-year-old niece will get a jewelry set, which a teenager in the store helped me choose. I am hanging on to one box, Gavin’s birthday gift to my mom (she reads the blog so no details here). I will get the satisfaction of a gift well chosen and hopefully well received. Maybe that’s my something good. Whatever it turns out to be, I am delighting in the guessing game.