Welcome to So Relatable, a bi-weekly newsletter featuring conversations about the creative process, suggestions for nourishing yourself, and inspiring links.
Back in March, we brought home seven baby chicks. We already had six older hens (I mean really old—half of them are eight, which is practically ancient!) and we wanted to add some youth and vitality to the flock. The timing was perfect, too. They could spend those first vulnerable few weeks in our guest bathroom, I could easily keep an eye on them while I worked from home, and they would be a fun distraction as I waited for full immunity to kick in. What could go wrong?
As it turns out: a lot!!! For six weeks, these chickens and I went on a journey. I forgot that they cheep and peep constantly, whether they’re happy or sad, and that working from home meant the sound would slowly drive me insane. The chicks decided to cannibalize one of their own, ripping out her tail feathers in the middle of the night and sending me on a 3am rescue mission. They got big fast, and by the third week they were leaping out of the shower in which I had sequestered them, wrecking havoc in my bathroom. There’s a reason people don’t keep livestock in the home, and oh, I learned it.
As the chicks peeped incessantly, made a mess, and staged elaborate escapes, I began to question my life decisions. Why couldn’t I just buy eggs like a normal person? Why did I insist on spending my precious time shoveling poop out of a shower? And what on earth does all this have to do with writing, with creativity, with art? (That last one is supposed to be your question, and I have to admit—it’s a good one.)
Shortly after we brought the chicks home, I dove into the third draft of my novel. As the tiny birds rested in the warmth of their heat lamp, I decided to switch the entire book from third person to first. As the chicks began to grow feathers, rocking what looked like alarmingly bad haircuts, I took a hard look at my characters, clarified their driving desires, and made them slightly more sympathetic (despite the name of this newsletter, I love an unlikeable character).
Then, about two weeks ago, the chicks were finally big enough to hold their own with the hens. We moved them to the coop, and the integration went miraculously well. When I sit outside and watch them frolic in the run, scratching the dirt and chasing bugs, I can finally appreciate how far we’ve come.
At the same time, I’m about a third of the way into this draft. When I sit at my desk and write, I can see the road ahead of me, the shape of the story I’m telling.
It’ll be a while before the new girls give us eggs, and longer still until I’m finished writing this book, but I’ve already forgiven the chicks those terrible early weeks, am already thinking about when we’ll do it again. (With one change—next time, we’ll keep the babies in the shed.) The easiest part of anything is forgetting how hard it was. The part I remember is this:
For the first few weeks of their lives, chickens need to maintain a temperature of around 90 degrees. This requires the constant glow of a heat lamp, which means the birds do not experience darkness until the moment you switch the light off. When that happens, they’re terrified. The world has ended, as far as they know, and I’m honestly surprised they don’t drop dead from shock. Because this experience is so traumatic, chicken-keepers are advised to introduce the chicks to darkness slowly—to turn off the light for five minutes a day, then ten, then twenty, so the birds begin to understand that the light always comes back. That the sun, if you will, also rises.
It’s a lot of responsibility, and it reminds me of the power we wield as writers. We’re creating a world, filling it with characters, developing a plot, raising the stakes. We have the power to plunge the reader into darkness and shine a light on what matters. To crack open an egg and let the yolk spill out, golden as the sun.
Snack of the Week
A few weeks ago, I watched my friends’ cats while they were out of town. One of the cats has diabetes, and I had to take his glucose reading once a day and give him shots of insulin. I like cats but I’m a dog-person through and through, so it was a little nerve-racking! Luckily we all survived and, as a thank you, my wonderful friends gave me two gift cards, one to Sealevel City Vegan Diner, my favorite restaurant in Wilmington. As I was picking up our takeout, I also grabbed an oatmeal cream pie because you only live once. I’m happy to report it would have been worth it even if it wasn’t technically free! A clear winner for snack of the week.
Stop Spending Time on Things You Hate, The Atlantic. “If we train ourselves to avoid wasting our minutes, we will have discovered a new reservoir of time that we can use in joyful and productive ways.” A new reservoir of time!?! I’ll take it! ⏰
How to Name Your Book: Insights on Titling Strategies From a Corporate Namer, Blank Page. “Your book’s title is a crucial selling tool. Supported by the cover art, it is a potential reader’s first impression of what your book is about, and—more importantly to the reader—how the book will make them feel.” This article has some great, concrete tips for finding the perfect name for your project. Side note: the working title of my book is The Delinquent, and not to brag but I think it checks all the boxes. ✅
What Is ‘Cheugy’? You Know It When You See It, NY Times. Is it cheugy to learn about hip new slang via a New York Times explainer? If so, I am extremely cheugy. 💋
Why Can't We Stop Sharing Our Reading Lists Online? Penguin. I’ve been tracking the books I read in a Google Spreadsheet since 2013, but I don’t set numerical reading goals. Mostly my list comes in handy when someone asks for a recommendation and I inevitably cannot remember the name of a single book I’ve ever read. 📚
The Hardest Ending I Ever Wrote, As Told by Six Screenwriters, Vulture. I haven’t seen most of these movies but I don’t mind spoilers, so I read it anyway and I’m glad I did! There’s nothing better than a glimpse at an artist’s process. 🎬
Thank you to Emily MRE for filling my cup last week! It was the light at the end of the tunnel.
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