Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Making the Magic

Thanksgiving is amazing, right?

It's a magical week where Wednesday is like Friday, but really people stop working so hard mid-Monday. Everyone travels to hang out in someone's warm, cozy, welcoming house, there's an amazing dinner with all the trimmings, then everyone piles onto couches or stretches out on the floor just to fall into a turkey coma.

Yeah. Thanksgiving is the best. So relaxing, so effortless. Travel, eat, and snooze. Maybe play football, or video games. No gifts, no church, no hassle. Ahhhh.

Unless. are the hostess.

If you are the hostess, Thanksgiving starts at least two weeks before the actual holiday. Its onset may be marked by anxiety, cold sweats, and disturbed sleep.

You must plan a menu so that you can start to shop. You buy an eight pound bag of russets for $2.49 twelve days before the holiday, and then nearly bust a vein in your neck when you see a ten pound bag for two bucks on the Monday of Thanksgiving week.

You must make a prep/cooking schedule so that all your food will be cooked, warm, and ready to serve at the exact time that everyone is sitting at the dinner table. You will prep cranberry sauce and bake rolls at six o'clock in the morning the Monday before Thanksgiving because those things can be stored and/or frozen while the sweet potatoes/mashed potatoes/green bean casserole/turkey/gravy/stuffing cannot. You will scream, then throw a turkey breast, then assume a fetal position when there is just no more room in the freezer.

Your house must be clean and ready for guests. Since you will be in the kitchen for 48 continuous hours before the holiday, you must accomplish this thorough deep-clean and massive Washing of All the Linens the weekend before Thanksgiving. You will spend the three and a half days between this cleaning and Turkey Day screaming at your four year old that YOU KNOW HE HAS TO USE THE POTTY BUT IT HAS TO STAY CLEAN FOR FOUR MORE DAYS SO JUST HOLD IT GEEZ. (Bonus points if you have three children under five. Triple bonus points if they're all potty training.)

On the day of Thanksgiving, your guests will try to be helpful by puttering around your kitchen and asking vague questions like, "Are there any tupperware containers?" or "What do you use to clean these counters?" They will think they are helping but really they are pushing you one step closer to the straight jacket with every step they take. (There may be one family member who knows your kitchen inside and out, shuts her mouth, puts her head down, and CLEANS. This person will be invaluable to you. Never let her have Thanksgiving dinner anywhere else. NO MATTER WHAT.)

At Thanksgiving dinner, someone will do one of the following:

  • Insult your personal religious or political beliefs.
  • Comment that the turkey is dry.
  • Ask why you didn't cook that dish again that only they ate last year.
  • Make an inappropriate comment about your choice of career, sex life, or reproductive status.
  • Engage in a marital spat - or worse.
  • Get completely wasted.
  • Throw up.
After dinner, there will be approximately three hours worth of cleanup. Your guests will be snoozing in the living room. You will curse their names in a continuous loop until you collapse next to them, only to have one of them ask you whether there is leftover pie.

Yeah. Very relaxing.

One year, my dear sister and I were co-hostessing (she is that invaluable relative I told you about up there.) We paused during our second hour of preparing food to serve and setting the table to gaze at the rest of our family, happily chatting, laughing, and relaxing in the other room. They were completely in love with Thanksgiving. She was sweating up a storm and I had pregnancy-induced sciatica like you wouldn't believe.

"What are we doing?" she asked me.
"We're making the magic," I said. 
She nodded, we looked at each other, and got back to work.

Writers. Does all of this sound familiar?

When we write a story, it starts with a mere list, maybe a few words, maybe a character profile, maybe a photograph. We painstakingly plot, outline, and dream, switching out elements that don't make sense for others that might work better. We carefully lay everything out so that something in the Rising Action foreshadows the Climax in the subtlest way, and hopefully all comes to a gorgeous, sweeping, stunning head that leaves readers delighted and breathless.

Will there be unhelpful comments? Yeah. Blog contest participants to nitpick for the sake of saying anything nitpicky? Absolutely. Agents who will bring the snark and make fun of your query or even *gasp* concept on Twitter? Oh goodness yes. Will there be people who slam your story because there is a typo, or a shallow character, or because you are Mormon, or female, or Russian, or black, or gay? Even if that has nothing to do with your book? Uh huh.

See, to readers, our book lasts six to ten hours. To agents, it lasts maybe a few seconds (before they form R the query.) But to us, it is a year or more in the making. It's easy for others to take the giant turkey dinner and clean house gorgeously plotted book and sweet characters for granted when it doesn't mean nearly as much to them. When they haven't worked their fingers to the bone for it, lost sleep over it, cried over it.

So, what do we do to overcome this inevitable gloom slump of writing stories? We find those gems of supportive crit partners, writing buddies, and author luminaries. We stick to them like glue and hold on to their advice and inspiration like precious jewels. We count on them to feel assured and not so alone, and above all, we use their words to grow.

And then? We keep making the magic.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. Don't forget to hug your hostess, compliment the gravy, towel off the bathroom sink, and maybe even take out the trash. But if you do that, don't forget to replace the garbage bag - and find the damn thing yourself.


  1. This is so very true!!!!! *LOVE* Your last paragraph is killer (and since I am not the hostess this year, I shall remember it)!!

  2. Aww, Leigh Ann! I absolutely LOVE this post. I love it how you tied in Thanksgiving dinner prep to writing; it was so true and inspiring. Good luck with this year's Thanksgiving and also with the MSFV contest (and submissions in general), you awesome lady, you. This year, I'm thankful to have met such amazing people like you. <3

  3. This. THIS.

    "And then? We keep making the magic."

    I swear, when you get published, people will be quoting you left and right. You'll be like the Albert Einstein of writing.

  4. You do all this and still have the time to write a seriously inspirational blog post? YOU are inspirational. And I know you're just going to roll your eyes at me, but it's true. <3333333333

    I hope your Thanksgiving turns out wonderfully.

  5. Such a great post! I've been the hostess before and YES, it's stressful! So glad it's not me again this year. (And I'll be sure to thank her.)
    And thanks for the reminder on writing. Lost sleep over my WIP just last night, in fact. :)
    Happy Thanksgiving!!

  6. I LOVE this post. Though maybe I shouldn't have read it just before dinner. Now I'm hungry.

    Fortunately my husband and I don't have tons of people over for thanksgiving. None of our relatives (except my parents 6 months of the year) live nearby. Trust me, that's plenty enough.

    We always have turkey disasters. Lucky for us, my parents come back to Canada in time for Christmas and my mom makes the dinner. :D

    Have an awesome Thanksgiving, Leigh Ann. And good luck with the magic.

  7. Best Thanksgiving post I've ever read, even if I've never hosted a Thanksgiving dinner myself.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  8. OH I LOVE THAT YOU MENTIONED TOWELING OFF THE BATHROOM SINK! I can not tell you how it peeves me when I go and buy Christmas-y guest napkins for the bathroom, and people still touch my hand towels. One year, someone helped themselves to my blue mouthwash and then smeared it all over my white hand towel. Who does that at someone else's house??

    I'm finding I love the writing magic a whole lot more than the hosting a holiday magic. Have a great Thanksgiving <333

  9. I live in the UK so we don't celebrate Thanksgiving, but it's such an important part of the year in the US that we are always aware of it. I found this an excellent Thanksgiving post XD and also felt that your comparison from the preparation and experience, to writing, was very spot on.

    I hope you and your family had a lovely day :)

  10. I LOVE this. We make the magic. I loved it doubly-- with the Thanksgiving and with the writing! Nice job tying those two together, girl! And I ditto Francesca.

  11. OMG I LOVE THIS!!!!! this is too, too funny! No, no one ever thinks about what goes into making the holiday so awesome if they are not the ones doing it. I love the bullet points of the things that someone is going to do in your house throughout the course of the day. Too, too funny. THANKS for the shout out! :) AWESOME writing!