Writing Advice in Old Fashioned Dishwashing

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by Tamara D. Fickas

Today my sweet grandmother is having a birthday. Grandma is an amazing woman. Early in life, she married a farming man, and together they raised thirteen children in a three-bedroom farmhouse. Life wasn’t easy for them and with that many kids, money was always tight, but they made the best of everything.

They didn’t have all the fancy appliances in their kitchen. This meant a lot of hand washing dishes. One summer while I was visiting she taught me her method for washing dishes. I learned a lot from Grandma and surprisingly enough, I gleaned some bits of writing wisdom from her lesson on dishwashing.

When the meal is over, Grandma will take any unused dishes and return them to the cabinet. There’s just no sense in washing something that wasn’t used. While writing, I find myself putting lots of stuff on the dining room table of my story. It all looks good, sounds good, and you never know when you might need it.

Just like the unused dishes, during the editing process, not everything really has a purpose in what I’ve written. The temptation is to keep everything simply because it’s there. Keeping Grandma in mind, I carefully choose those parts of my story that really haven’t been used, and I put them back in the cabinet for another time.

After the clean dishes have been stowed away, it’s time to get serious about dealing with the rest. Have you seen commercials or shows where someone is in the kitchen with a sink full of suds? Well, Grandma knows the suds are important, and the way to make your soap work is to add good hot water, then swirl it and the soap vigorously together.

My stories are no different. In order to tell the best story, I need to add a little, or even a lot, of hot water. Once my character is in good, hot water, it comes time for a little agitation. Giving my character a hard time is my goal. The more conflict I create for my character, the better my story will be.

The final thing I learned from my grandmother is that there is more to washing dishes than just getting the dishes clean. Rinsing out the sink and wiping down the counters completes the process. You just cannot leave the kitchen half done after a meal.

Writing a good story is only part of the battle. At the finale, you need to put everything in their place and leave everything neat. Water spots in the sink and towels just thrown on the counter are as disconcerting as a story that has loose ends and unfinished business.

Yes, Grandma has truly blessed me. I’m sure she had no idea when she taught me how to clean up after a meal that one day those same lessons would make their way into my writing.

Tamara FickasTamara is an employee at a local hospital by day and freelance writer by night. She is momma to a very spoiled kitty cat named Wilson. Stories have enthralled her since she was a child, and she enjoys finding the stories in everyday life. You can visit her blog at www.rockymountainwriter.com.

Comments 0

  1. Wow, not only was this great writing advice, it brought back vivid memories of my great-grandmother’s kitchen and of washing dishes growing up. Wonder if you can work my brother’s killer towel-snapping into the lesson? Maybe that’s what it feels like to have professional editing?

  2. Thank you ladies for your lovely comments.

    Lori, I love the analogy between the snapping towel and professional editing. My brother was good with the towel-snapping also!

  3. Fantastic analogy! My grandmother used hot, soapy water, too. When I was little, it burned me. But she got used to it. Guess we have to get used to the hot water process in our writing! 🙂

  4. I could smell my Grandmama’s kitchen as I read this great analogy. Thanks for two things: 1) Bringing me memories of my own Grandmama’s sweet, knobbly hands. 2) This: “Giving my character a hard time is my goal.” Sage advice, Tammie!

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