Let It Flow

January 26, 2012

Being a parent involves a lot of research.

At least, for me it does. From the moment I became pregnant, my life was a flurry of books, websites, magazines, and online forums. I read voraciously, wanting to be sure that I did everything just so.

Trouble is, there isn’t exactly one way to get the job done. You have all sorts of theories on just about everything you do. What to eat and how to exercise when you’re pregnant, how to labor and give birth, how the kid sleeps, eats, learns, poops; the information is endless.

Long before the little man was old enough for me to be concerned about it, I read up on potty training. I purchased a potty chair when he was just over a year and started to introduce the idea to him. At first, he seemed to think it was a cool new addition, all bright and shiny and red.

Then, he lost interest. As we got closer to an age where I thought potty training could begin, he wanted absolutely nothing to do with it. Trying to get him to even be in the same room with the potty resulted in blood-curdling screams. If the house next to me wasn’t empty, it’s likely someone would have called the authorities.

So, I gave up. If he wanted to spend his future in adult diapers, so be it.

Then, just a few days ago, he came up to me.

“Mama. I want the train on your butt.”

First off, my kid needs to work on his pronouns. But the important thing here is that he was requesting underwear. I grabbed the Thomas the Train undies and explained to him that he shouldn’t pee on Thomas. The first day, he would do his little dance, I’d lead him to the potty, and while he was reluctant to follow, once he was there, he did what had to be done.

Today is day three. We haven’t had a single accident since he put that train on his butt. Or changed over to the Star Wars on his butt.

Which made me think…potty training and writing aren’t all that different.

There’s a lot of advice out there. You don’t need to take it all. A lot of advice givers present their words as an absolute way to do things. With potty training, I was beginning to think I was missing something because some of the advice I tried wasn’t working. The reality is that different methods work for different kids. When it came down to it, I had to take the information given and trust my instincts on what was best for us.

There is a lot of information out there for writers, from the craft to social media and blogging. While some can be helpful, it starts to become noise after a while. “Write what you know. Don’t write what you know. Blog, tweet, bleat! Shut off your computer! Give away your books. Don’t give away your books.” It can be pretty overwhelming. The reality is, no one person can give you the advice that is perfect for you. Take it in. Then learn to trust your instincts rather than look to one source as the authority.

Don’t push* it. When I tried to make the little guy use the potty, he only resisted more. He knew he wasn’t ready. Trying to make him go anyway just upset him more.

While goals are great when you are writing, as is a schedule, sometimes we push too hard. Writing 500 words every day is great, but if you aren’t feeling inspired, is beating yourself up to get that 500 really productive? I participated in NaNoWriMo this past year for the first time. I reallly enjoyed it for the first 30k words. I was on track and inspired and the story was moving. Then I hit a point where the next scene wasn’t really working. For a couple of days, I tried to write just for the sake of the word count. I hated it. Sure, I may have produced the skeleton of something good during those days, but it made me want to walk away from the story entirely. Don’t force your writing.

Pay attention. The little man asking to wear underwear was my first sign that he might be ready to make the transition, but I knew he wasn’t going to suddenly walk up to me and ask to use the potty. I had to watch him like a hawk that first day. I had to wait for “the dance”. Every time I saw the dance, I took him to the potty.

Have a dream that you can’t stop thinking about? Overhear a conversation you can’t shake? That dream might be your next novel. A conversation in a coffee shop could be that scene you’ve been having a hard time with. A mysterious character in line at the gas station might fill the physical description of your next character. If you are too busy hanging out in your head, worrying about word counts, you might miss great opportunities for your writing.

Celebrate and reward. While I was disappointed when little man wouldn’t have anything to do with the potty, or when he’d pee all over the place in our earlier attempts to train him, I never berated him. Now, when the little guy pees, he gets to hear what a great job he did. Sometimes, we go play with his letters after. A few times, he got to have a piece of cookie. Even when he doesn’t pee, I cheer him on for trying.

I hear a lot of writers beating themselves up. They didn’t socialize enough on Twitter that week. They only wrote one blog post. They didn’t meet their word count. They haven’t heard back after sending out a query. How about remembering what you did do? Maybe you didn’t crank out 1000 words, but you wrote something. Maybe you didn’t write at all that day, but you worked out a scene in your head. Sure, we don’t want to excuse ourselves from the work of writing, but if we are always down on ourselves for what we didn’t accomplish, we risk turning our love into a drudgery.

It will happen when it will happen. I’ve been in disbelief the past few days. I went from a kid who seemed genuinely afraid of the idea of a potty, to a kid who hasn’t had a single accident. My mom simply says, “He decided he was ready.”

When your story feels like it just won’t come together, just remember, it may not be ready. You may even have to walk away from it for a little while. Give it time. It will happen. At a certain point, your story will be asking for “the train on your butt”.

When it does, I’m sure you’ll do the same little victory dance and cheer the little man does after he pees.

“Yay! I did it! I did it!”

*I’m 12. Saying push in the context of potty training makes me giggle.

You Might Also Like


  • Reply Erika January 26, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    I loved this post! Awesome comparisons. I can totally relate to researching everything and I’m slowly learning the same thing about parenting. I don’t always remember to apply those same lessons to my own ambitions, though. Thanks for the reminder. I guess in some ways being an adult just means parenting ourselves, huh?

    • Reply Amber West January 26, 2012 at 12:33 pm

      ” I guess in some ways being an adult just means parenting ourselves, huh?”

      Exactly. And be a loving parent to ourselves. 🙂

  • Reply Alexia @ Babies & Bacon January 26, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Brilliant! Giving me hope for my once-a-week blog posting AND potty training. Thanks 😉

    Sent over by Erika!!

    • Reply Amber West January 26, 2012 at 12:59 pm

      Great! (I love the name of your blog, btw 🙂 )

  • Reply patriciasands January 26, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    Fabulous analogy! When I was first a parent, I kept a couple of great parenting books in my bedside table and most nights would just check out a few things to make sure I was, at least sort of, doing things right. I think in many ways we tried to decide when our kids were ready. Now I watch my grandchildren being raised and see how things have changed. Your son’s potty experience sounds just like my 3-year-old grandson’s and I totally agree with your mom’s comment.
    Our stories will decide when they are ready too!

    • Reply Amber West January 26, 2012 at 2:22 pm

      There are some books that I found invaluable, but I didn’t necessarily agree with everything, especially once the kid actually arrived. 🙂

      My hubs was always looking at the books to see where we were at and ask if we were at “the right place”.

  • Reply Kat Ward January 26, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    You’ve nailed a lot on the head, all in one post. Our kids are individuals, and besides trusting our instincts, we have to trust them as well, just like you did. Give our kids space and they will step up. Then again, keep an eye out for if they need a nudge or just a place to vent their frustrations. It’s all a balancing act, but starting with trusting your instincts is huge—because so many of us have had large swaths of time where we haven’t trusted out instincts. In parenting and writing. I consider it my job to be my daughter’s parent, not her friend. As such, I believe we are friends. But, not the friends I hope we will be in the future, as now I have a lot of parenting still to do, I need to be the alpha here, to not be afraid to be the parent—to lead, suggest, support, guide, inspire, praise, etc. And the minute our writing becomes a drudgery, then I don’t know why we’d continue. There’s a difference between committing to get the final edit of your ms done and forcing yourself to create, write because we think we should.

    BTW, this comment will probably read all over the place, but as last night didn’t end until 2 a.m. because of my attempt to polish my epilogue, I hope that you’ll excuse me.

    Thanks for a great post.

    • Reply Amber West January 26, 2012 at 2:23 pm

      Your comment made sense – I understand what being up until 2 will do to you.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, despite your lack of sleep. Hope polishing your epilogue went well!

  • Reply Sarah Baughman January 26, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    This is terrific! We also recently potty-trained our son…or he potty-trained himself, I should say. As a result, I’ve been thinking a lot about underpants and potties lately, but never managed to link them to writing…your connections are brilliant.

    • Reply Amber West January 26, 2012 at 2:24 pm

      Awww, thanks, Sarah! And congrats on the newly potty trained boy.

  • Reply sueannbowlingauthor January 26, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    Everybody is different, not just in writing styles or potty training, but in how we learn and how fast we learn just about anything. I wish the politicians and some educational theorists would learn that.

    • Reply Amber West January 26, 2012 at 2:24 pm

      Oh, don’t get me started on how the education system is set up… 🙂

  • Reply beverlydiehl January 26, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Fun and funny! Yes, we do need to cheer ourselves on, and not beat ourselves up. When we’re ready, it’ll happen.

    And yet another potty comparison – just because it’s yours and it was hard work producing it, doesn’t mean you have to hang onto every turd, er, I mean word. Sometimes flushing is the best policy.

    • Reply Amber West January 26, 2012 at 2:25 pm

      Beverly! I knew someone had to make a poop reference here. Thank you for not failing me.

  • Reply Natalie Hartford January 26, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Fantastic analogy Amber. I love it! You really nailed and helped me take off a little bit of the pressure. It’s all about each of us creating and enjoying our own experience and adventure along the way!
    Woot woot to potty training!

  • Reply andrewmocete January 26, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    Thanks, Amber. I thought I’d never figure out how to use the potty. You make it sound easy. And fun!

  • Reply Jennette Marie Powell January 26, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    LOL great comparison! We do tend to beat ourselves up over the goals not reached, rather than celebrate what we do accomplish. Thanks for the reminder!

    And LOL @ Andrewmocete

    • Reply Amber West January 27, 2012 at 9:23 am

      Thanks, Jennette.

      And yes, that Mr. Mocete is a card.

  • Reply EW Greenlee January 26, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    Hilarious. Life offers the best comedy and some great writing material. Luckily my kids are in their mid 20’s making a different kind of mess, that they can clean without my assistance.

  • Reply Julie Glover January 26, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    Amazing how life has so many lessons that we apply to writing. Great comparisons here, Amber. By the way, my sons did the same thing. I got all kinds of advice about potty training, and both of them just did it when they were around 3. Before then, nothing took. Of course, the comparison of first drafts to poop are too obvious.

    • Reply Amber West January 27, 2012 at 9:24 am

      …but you know, I’m really proud of the poop. It needs to happen. (in life and writing)

  • Reply Tameri Etherton January 26, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    What a fun post! I never would have put the two things together, but it makes total sense. I’m so glad you understood what ‘I want the train on my butt’ meant. That really could’ve gone sideways if you didn’t!

    Thanks for the laugh and for making me think about writing in a whole new way.

  • Reply Emma Burcart January 26, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    That was funny, but also really good advice. For writing, I mean. I already know how to use a toilet. I tend to be hard on myself and beat myself up too quickly when I don’t get the word count done I had wanted. I think you are so write. Sometimes it’s the behind the scenes pre-planning that I need to do before I can do the writing. Fun post!

    • Reply Amber West January 27, 2012 at 9:25 am

      Emma, in general, I’ve been the type to beat myself up when I don’t accomplish certain things, so I know how that goes. Daydreaming is totally an important part of the process.

  • Reply StoriesAndSweetPotatoes January 26, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    1) This is awesome! Congrats!
    2) You mentioned some of the best advice I’ve ever received: “Don’t push it”. It relates to everything. I really believe in not forcing anything and if something’s meant to happen it’s time will come. If something isn’t working out I literally say to myself “Not right now. Come back to it.” It might sound like laziness but this philosophy has saved me from tough spots and shown me a lot of wisdom.

    • Reply Amber West January 27, 2012 at 9:27 am

      Thanks! I agree on the “don’t push it” applying to most everything. Some people DO seem to think it is laziness, but in all honesty it isn’t. Glad you know that. 🙂

  • Reply Tiffany A White January 27, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    I wish I could celebrate and reward Little J along with you! What a great post. Thanks for sharing with us, Amber. Not to mention the picture! I’d like a train on your butt…. 🙂


  • Reply J and S January 28, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    Oh man–potty training as a writing metaphor…LOVE IT! Happy travels in the land of writing and parenthood…

  • Reply Bella January 29, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    Only you can turn potty training into a metaphor and have it make sense! This was such a fun post! I’m still chuckling over the comment, “I want the train on your butt!” hee hee! 🙂

  • Reply Katie C February 2, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    Your post made me laugh, as I recently potty trained my daughter (and I’m proud to say we have been diaper free for about a week!). I love the comparison. Thanks for sharing!

  • I love comments!