He Called Me UNIVAC

My ex-husband called me UNIVAC. Although I found it immensely unflattering at the time, in retrospect he probably had a point. I liked accounting, and tended to be organized; thus, I handled all the household and business bookkeeping, including keeping track of our bank balances. And therein was the problem. He scattered checks around town like confetti at a parade. Every couple of days I would try to jog his memory–how many had he’d written, to whom, and where–so I could enter them in the check register and, hopefully, keep enough money in the bank to avoid an overdraft. It was daunting.

But, this really isn’t about my ex-husband; that was a long time ago.

What it is about is how we view ourselves, and how we view the nature and content of our writing.

Expectations, ours and those of others, can lock us into a pattern where we think, “I only write nonfiction; I wouldn’t be any good at writing a novel,” or “I’m too whimsical to write serious articles.”

At one time, during and after college, (where I’d specialized in political science, history, and English), I concentrated on research. I liked digging for facts, and writing what I hoped were halfway scholarly papers. Writing anything else never entered my mind. I still love the research facet of writing, but now I see it’s application for fiction as well as nonfiction.

Old habits do die hard, and a simple line in my novel about a baby being both with a caul led me to a full day of reading about the superstitions surrounding that amniotic membrane. A 1,200 words article for a true crime ezine had me digging into not just the spate of bank robberies in 1937, but the social fabric of the Great Depression.

There is a blogger I follow who never fails to interest me. He is a retired oncologist, and from time to time addresses scientific and/or philosophical issues related to science. But his next post might be an imaginative, entertaining science-fiction piece or–just today–a children’s story. All are thought provoking and worth the read. It was his blogs that made me think about how versatile we can be in our writing if we don’t stereotype ourselves.

Suppose you write nonfiction on crucial, but distressing subjects. It’s important work, but it can become draining after a time.That’s when writing a one-act play, a poem, a short story, or a flash fiction piece might provide a new perspective–as well as a much-needed respite. Conversely, a comedy writer might discover a new angle on social issues if he or she wrote a thoughtful article on a current concern.

Writing can be a lonely endeavor–just us and a blank screen or tablet. While some people write in teams, most of us sequester ourselves and try to produce a few pages at a time. That’s why trying something different can help us remember why we fell in love with writing in the first place–writing can be fun.

Perhaps our basic nature doesn’t change all that much, but our writing universe certainly can, and, from both a creative and a good mental health standpoint, probably should. Exploring a new genre can brighten every aspect of your writing. It’s worth a try.

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