A Writer’s March Madness


This is what happens when it either rains or snows continually for days on end. You wake in the morning to the dulled down, concrete colored sky, tree branches and leggy, brown rose bushes that you didn’t get around to properly pruning last summer, holding their crooked, gnarly fingers up to  the sky, futilely looking for some semblance of a ray.  This is full-on March madness.

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It was two years ago today, on a merely rainy day as opposed to a blizzard, that the obsession took hold. Here’s a short excerpt from Off the Leash, Chapter Three, “Somebody Broke in Here in the Middle of the Night and Stole My Sanity.”  After, I promise, a moral to the story and a little something to brighten your day.

“Do the road trip anyway. Take the dog.”

I was wearing Don’s forest-green terry cloth robe. It’s heavy. Quality merchandise was the hallmark of his shopping habits all his life. It’s the one item I asked for out of all his things, my brother’s bathrobe, to keep me warm. It works. My house is so old and so cold; it leaks like a sieve. Every time I tie the belt around my waist, I think of Don with gratitude.

But on this particularly dreary March morning, my rebound was sagging. I was flat-out pissed off, fed up, sad and mad at the world. Not worth hanging, as my mama used to say. I was standing there in Don’s robe, looking out the window at the rain. I seemed to be doing that a lot lately—standing, staring out the window. I kept trying to shake the morose mood I was in to get back to the writing I was working on, when I looked down at my muse, my golden mutt, the girl who wouldn’t let me forget.

There was Libby, stretched out on the sun room floor with no fucking sun, and it hit me. I longed to be in the desert again. I longed for mountain vistas, wide-open spaces, where a person can see for sixty miles. I didn’t care if all I was looking at was mesquite trees or tumble weeds. I needed the sun. I needed the warmth. I needed the space. I needed to breathe. I had a few thousand dollars burning a hole in my pocket from my tax return, which most years went to things like past-due personal property taxes, overdue car registrations, mechanics, plumbers, tree-trimmers or pet groomers or, imagine this: vacations. This year it was going to be Jean’s turn. My very own version of Thelma and Louise, but one of us would have four legs! I was giddy from the crazy irresponsibility of it

Quit your job. Take off with the dog. Go see all those people you’ve been longing to see. Go back to North Carolina. Go back to Texas. Go back to New Mexico. Go all the way to California and find out if that Lester dude really exists.

I am telling you, the idea grabbed hold of me like an electrical current, the way it makes you shudder involuntarily, yet there’s something curiously arousing about it. Have you ever had such an obsession?

I had dinner last night with a friend who is a single mom with three kids, 15, 13 and 7. She also has a writing habit, (not to be confused with a riding habit.) Among the many things we alternately commiserated and chuckled about, money, men, and motherhood, the other “m” word came up repeatedly. That ol’ devil muse.  “Why do we do this? What’s wrong with us?” we looked at each other knowingly.  It’s almost like going to an AA meeting, except most writers I know drink while they’re talking about the monkey on their back. So why do we do it? Because we have to. We do it because it feeds something in us that cannot be sated by an alternate substance. We write, most of us with the intent to share our precious darlings. We write because we humbly believe that our words might illuminate, elevate, entertain, or soothe another soul, unless we douse our voice,  which destines us to become dour, defeated, dimmed, disappointed (let me see if I can come up with any more “d” words) demented and diminished people.  We do it, really, because we want to live forever, even better, bring someone else along for the ride to immortality.

Take my brother Don. My mother often  told a story about my late brother Don and the always ill-timed, coffee-clatching neighbor who would drop by uninvited and plop her broad behind in a kitchen chair and start yacking. My mother was a lot like me: driven. She had far more important things to do, like gardening, sewing, painting, drinkin’ and smokin’, doing the laundry and working a full-time job, than entertain some low-brow, idle gossiper with nothing better to do. Worse yet, when the neighbor lady would saunter in, my mom couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Don, who was probably four or five at the time,  did his dead-level best.

“I have a little Golden Book,” he valiantly tried to engage  Miss Blowhard in something more engaging than the drivel she was dishing out. Mom patted him on the hand. He walked away. Gabfest went on, and on, and apparently, on. Mom said Don came back to the table, sat down quietly, this time with the book in hand, probably The Poky Little Puppy, or The Little Red Hen. He waited for her to take a breath. “I have a little Golden Book, ” Don repeated in his very best inside voice, my mom responding, “you can show her in a minute, Don.” But girlfriend never missed a beat, never looked down at him so much as to wave off a fly. A few minutes later, by now my mother is probably breaking off bits of her coffee cup in her teeth,  Don roars, “I HAVE A LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK!”  The woman stops cold, looks at him, as if she never knew he was in the room, stumps out her cigarette in the ashtray, drains the last drop of coffee, as she says,”that’s nice, honey,”  got up and left.

For the rest of our lives, like any handed down stories which become infused into a family history, “I’ve got a little Golden Book,” became code for “I have something to say.”

Any time I question myself or feel discouraged about the work it takes to market a book after it is written, or try to push off  the unceasing words in my head that tumble out in the middle of the night, or while I’m vacuuming, or driving, or looking out a window, I think about Don,  just trying to get a word in edgewise. I can fall asleep at night, happy, because I have a little book with a golden spine in which his voice is still heard.

So, my writing sisters and brothers, never stop! Shout out loud. Get your words in edgewise. I HAVE A LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK! 

And, I have a photo of something beautiful, to brighten your day.

Orchid from the Missouri Botanical Garden

Orchid from the Missouri Botanical Garden



About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

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  1. There’s some famous quote about writing that goes something like, “I write because I must.” It can be a frustrating addiction, but also an exhilarating one.

    My daughter (in her 30s) said there’s some drug now that is one pill that’s a combination of heroin and coke and meth and a bunch of other crap. It’s all the drugs in one pill. That’s what writing is–it’s moving and exciting and frustrating and sad and draining and rejuvenating, all in one.

  2. Hmmm… this sounds familiar! My March madness is in trying to figure out how to take this writing to the next level. I’ve got this idea in my head…an idea that has been stewing for a few years now. So I created the outline and went through the motions, but it’s not working for me this way. The only time it does work is when I’m not trying too hard. When I just feel, remember, write. The minute I think of it from a practical perspective of outlines and story arcs, well… I’m screwed! What is wrong with me!? Sioux… I agree that writing is a mix of all of these things. It’s not like our job which we can put aside each day at 5pm and for 48 hours over a weekend. This writing is our curse and our blessing. It is our joy and pain. And the ebb and flow keeps consistency far at bay (unfortunately), at least for me.
    I remember talking about our muse. That being/thing that compels us to sit down write already! Why is it that we can’t hold onto her for any length of time? I am constantly trying to draw her in, but she is a tricky little thing – showing up at the most inopportune times and places. Ah, but when she does show up, that’s where the magic happens. I liken it to my golf game (dear God, I pray I’m a better writer than golfer!)… 18 holes of crap, but that one 44-foot putt, or that beautiful drive over the drink that landed pin-high, a foot from the hole – it’s what brings me back time and again.
    Someday soon I hope to finish this story, and I imagine I’ll be shoving myself at publishers and agents, screaming: I HAVE A LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK! And I really, really hope that I do.