Nina Badzin, “I Need to Write That Down”

Badzin200I’m a worrier, through and through, always fretting the “what if?” It’s not my best quality. But it also draws me toward writers who ask a different sort of question, those who wonder “why not?”

Sometimes, I think we have to learn our bravery, like a lesson or a song. I’ve learned a lot from Nina Badzin. She makes an art of courage. Her essays mark out paths toward a full and balanced life. A life of voice, and truth, and zest. A life that doesn’t cower.

I love Nina’s posts on sloughing off the guilt that weaves, insidious, through parenting, all that motherhood anxiety. She takes on the cultural drift towards over-scheduling our kids, toy shop madness, and the push towards perfectionism and permissiveness. In its place, she argues eloquently for raising children who are good, rather than just good at something. In my favorite-ever essay on marriage, Nina calls for a realistic give-and-take, a shifting balance.

Our lives are shaped by habits, and Nina’s writing highlights the patterns that sustain us — and the ones that don’t. In her own life, she’s replaced too much tv and cell phone use with more satisfying essentials like clean eating, exercise, and books.

And writing. I hope you’ll read the story of her return to words, her husband’s injunction to “Start. Just Start. What are you waiting for?” Nina find balance here as well, a mix of perseverance (“This is how it works. It takes a long time.”) and joy (“If we don’t derive some joy from the process, then why are we writing at all?”).  In her writing life, she describes her willingness to change, to shift course as needed, to redefine herself and her goals, to stretch her boundaries, even when she’d rather not.

I have gathered much from Nina’s writing, from her voice, her bravery. Thank you Nina, and welcome to The Hatchery.

~~~

I Need to Write That Down,

by Nina Badzin

I’m not a poetic writer. I love words, sentences, rhythm and sound, but language does not inspire me as a writer. Language doesn’t even inspire me as a reader. I can’t, for example, read a paragraph that exists only to describe one person’s impression of a tree. I don’t have the patience for murky metaphors all trying to tell me that a character cried. Just tell me she cried, or better yet, make me understand why this person has a good reason to feel sad. That’s the kind of reader I am. It’s the kind of writer I strive to be, too.

I like a good story. I like getting swept up in what’s happening on the page. But ultimately I like for a writer to just spit it out already, which might be why I read less fiction now. It’s also why I stopped writing fiction. I don’t have the chops for it. I don’t have the patience.

So what does inspire me to write? How does my process work?

I’m so grateful for this series on Lisa’s blog where I’ve learned how much the answers to these questions vary from writer to writer. I’m grateful Lisa asked me to answer them, too, because for the first time I had to think about how I approach this world of writing where I spend so much of my free time.

As for inspiration and process, here’s what I have to offer:

I can be in the middle of a conversation with a friend and I’ll realize an idea has floated to the surface. I need to write that down, I’ll think. I have no faith in my memory so most of the time I actually do stop and write down (or, more likely, tap into my phone) a quick note about whatever seemed like a kernel of an issue I might want to explore later.

These lists of ideas are more than basic observations and less than precise opinions. It’s this gray area in the middle that becomes the inspiration for everything I write. The process of writing (brainstorming, drafting, revising) is the method by which I make sense of whatever issue I felt compelled to jot down on my list in the first place.

Right now I have exactly 40 ideas on my phone’s handy notes application. These ideas range from the somewhat philosophical (“the misnomer of living on in someone’s memory”) to the totally random (“my kids will never know the sound of film loading in a camera”) to the seemingly shallow (“Am I getting too old for long hair?”). Every article and blog post I have ever written started on the list. Even the sound of film in a camera could inspire a piece of writing somewhere some time.

I have another 30 or so half-written essays on my hard drive that made it to the beginning of a rough draft. Perhaps I didn’t have as much to say about the idea as I thought when I deemed it worthy of a place on the list. Or maybe I got to what I thought was the middle of what I wanted to say and realized it was only the beginning.

Something happens before the moment I think “I should write that down.” I am questioning something. I’m struggling with an issue and hoping that by writing about it I will come to a conclusion of some kind.

I have three half-written essays about Hebrew school, for example. I can’t get to the bottom of any of them. Not yet.

When I look at my list of 40 ideas and my 30 or so half-written essays, I do notice one trend. I seem to be asking myself why I do things the way I do. Or why we as a society do things a certain way. Sometimes I’m simply thinking through a discussion I’m having with my husband, who makes proclamations out of the blue like, “I think the kids should start calling people Ma’am and Sir.” (I have a half-written answer to that and before I even finished it, he met in the middle on using Mr. and Mrs. instead.) So as it turns out, sometimes when I say, “I need to write that down,” I really need to write it down to figure out where I stand.

One of the most rewarding things about writing the kinds of essays I do is that my real life friends bring me their ideas. They tell me their personal frustrations and the questions they’re having about motherhood, marriage, friendship, Judaism, and changing their habits–all of the topics I tend to cover when I write. More often than not, my friends say from the get-go, “You should write this down.” And I always do.

~~~

Nina Badzin is a freelance writer and blogger living in Minneapolis with her husband and four children. Her essays on parenting, marriage, friendship, social media etiquette, Jewish life and more appear in the Huffington Post, Kveller.com, The Jewish Daily Forward and on numerous other sites. She co-leads the book review site GreatNewBooks.org and was a cast member of Listen to Your Mother in the Twin Cities. 

I’m often driven by “what if” and Nina finds that her ideas revolve around a “why”? What questions compel you to mark them down in explorations? And where will they lead you today?

67 thoughts on “Nina Badzin, “I Need to Write That Down”

  1. Hi Lisa. What fun to see Nina here today. I think I’m a combination of both of you: what if? seems to be the kernel of my fiction ideas, but so do “why?” and “how?” Why did the character react as she did? How does one establish a healthy nursery, run a ranch, deal with childhood trauma?

    So interesting your take on language, Nina. I am the complete opposite of you; I read for beautifully crafted metaphor and description– which, for me, is part of the fun of reading. When that kind of sensory and metaphorical language can be woven together with an unforgettable story and three-dimensional characters, I feel fiction perfection has been achieved. It’s what I strive for in my writing as well.

    I think it’s great that you’ve found the kind of writing and reading that resonate with you!

    • Melissa, I also get caught up in language. I’ve loved reading all these comments, seeing how many different approaches and responses writers have to language.

  2. I’m like you – I don’t get drawn into the language of writing. I find that too many unnecessary words bog down the writing, and bore me as a reader. So I always keep that in mind when I write.

    I do love how you write, Nina. Your process sounds similar to mine, though I don’t have even half as many ideas or half-written drafts as you do. When I get an idea, I usually write it all down. I free write. I get back to it later to edit. If I don’t, I tend to lose my train of thought.

    Great post as always!

    • Alison, I would like to free write more. I think I got a big bogged down myself–not in language–but it worrying what others will think. Not a thing to be worrying about WHILE writing.

  3. For the record, I want to read all of those half-written essays you mentioned here.
    And probably most of the “ideas” on your list, too.

    You make EVERY topic interesting, Nina, because you infuse a humanness to the topic. You take out the sentiment but leave emotion. You’re practical and yet you feel things deeply.

    In my opinion, that’s the best kind of writer to be.

  4. I always enjoy Nina’s writing, and it probably precisely for the reasons she stated – she gets to the point. I like the idea of keeping a list in the iPhone – I tend to write things on scraps of paper or note cards, which I sometimes can’t locate later. In terms of how I like to write, I think I get to the point with non-fiction, and I tend to use more figurative language with fiction (although I am never a fan of long, drawn out descriptions). I appreciate a well written sentence, metaphor, and/or simile. I underline all of my books when I come to content that strikes me. One of my favorite exercises for inspiration involves returning to books I read just to read the content I underlined.

    • Only problem with the iPhone thing was is having my phone around TOO much (as I’ve been writing about lately). Anyway, I do the scrap of paper thing at night since I no longer bring my phone in my bedroom.

      I love going back to stuff I’ve underlined, too, which is MUCH less enjoyable on a Kindle by the way.

    • Hi Cindy,
      I write on scraps and lose them too. They’re all over the house. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  5. I’m always fascinated by how writers get and develop their ideas. Not being much of an essay / memoir writer, I never think to mine my own life (or those of my friends) for material. I admire writers like you, Nina, and David Sedaris (he’s been on my mind lately, you know!) who can do that with honesty and usually a bit of humor, making us nod our heads in agreement and understanding.

    Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, the question is always “how”. How would a character respond to this situation? How would the events unfold if that happened? Then I try to find the universality of the underlying emotion.

    I’m glad to be introduced to Lisa’s blog on The Hatchery!

    • I’m going to go ahead and assume that my name and David Sedaris’s will never be used in the same sentence like that again. I love you for doing that Jackie!

      Oh! You’ll love Lisa’s blog!

      • Jackie, I love your description of the “how” questions that are important in writing. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  6. Nina, I have two questions that your post made me think about.

    1. When I write essays for our blog, I always wonder why I am the authority on one issue or another. Sure, I have many ideas that I find interesting, but why should anyone choose to read and think about my way of looking at life? You say that you no longer have the patience to read and write fiction. But don’t you find it comforting to be able to express your thoughts behind “this isn’t real” curtain? I guess I do.

    As a side note, I think there are many authors who do “just say it” and are able to carry the reader through a book. Hemingway is a good example.

    2. I’ve had a couple of situations when a friend had come forth with an idea and said, “you should write about this”. But then I wasn’t able to. Partly because I felt like I was taking someone else’s thought. Partly because I didn’t have a personal experience behind it. I didn’t have that moment when “I had to write this down” and so the words, the thought, the idea didn’t have any inspiration to turn into a post. Do you ever struggle with this?

    Sorry, I guess it’s more than two questions. Like I’ve told you before, you always come up with topics I want to talk for hours about -;))

    • Olga! I LOVE your questions. (I always do!)

      #1. I have that same thought all the time. I often ask myself, “Who am I?” And I worry/wonder/assume that others, like maybe family members etc, are thinking it, too. As in, “Who is SHE?” I just force myself to ignore that voice. I’m also careful not to CLAIM to be an expert on anything (even Twitter, really!) I’m upfront that everything I write is opinion. It’s non-fiction, but I never claim to be a journalist. I’m just writing personal essays. And since I’m the person writing it, I get to say what I want about my own life. That’s how I figure it at least.

      Totally agree there are many writers of fiction who write spare. I still read a lot of fiction–at least two novels a month. I didn’t meant to make it sound like I can’t find books I like. (Though it is harder now than it used to be. I’ll say that.)

      #2. Yes, I’ve absolutely had that problem too if the idea in question is more an issue for my friend than for me. Those ideas might be the ones that sit there for year or never get written. But I still write it down if it hits me in some way. I never know what will work its way into something I want to write.

      Thanks for the great conversation starters here, Olga!

  7. Nina,
    I love reading your words here. It’s so helpful to hear that even a writer I admire as much as you struggles with inspiration – or, maybe, more with finishing things. I write things down too, and have jotted notes on the pad of paper beside my bed, on my iphone and, often, on my palm. Translating that to an essay or blog post, however, can be a long journey! xox

    • Yes! That’s well said. It can be a long journey from idea to essay. I think I worry ALL THE TIME about running out of ideas, which is sort of why I hoard them.

  8. I never thought about why one really needs to write something down. I suppose you’re right. It’s more about trying to find the deeper meaning behind something than to just merely remember it.

    BTW: I loved the sentiment in the intro to Nina’s piece. What true sentiments!

  9. First, no you are not too old for long hair. And second, love your point about figuring out where you stand through writing. I love this about writing. Free therapy!

    I also feel the same about language–I’m a very spare writer and I like to get to the point (so much so that I’ve wondered if I should write screenplays instead of novels). I love finding the most concise yet moving way to say something, to really hit at the core truth of something without a lot of words.

    • You should for sure try screenplays! I think I would like that format too but I seriously am all OUT of fiction ideas.

    • I never thought of writing as free therapy before, but it makes total sense. I suppose that’s why I’m always at the computer . . . and eating M&Ms (!)

  10. I can really relate to your comments about the kind of writer you want to be. Me too. As for ideas, my friends are used to me whipping out the iphone or my small notebook and writing things down for future stories. It seems like life provides a never-ending supply of them, doesn’t it? And you always make them interesting and engaging when you write them — which is the most important element, to me — figuring out how to engage readers to care as much as we care ourselves. You’re so good at it, and it’s great to get a look behind the words of Nina Badzin! Thank you and Lisa, too!

    • I’m just following in your fabulous footsteps here, Julia. Thank you for visiting me here. 🙂

  11. I’m constantly writing things down on my phone, post-it notes, anywhere I can find pen and paper. However, I don’t always go back to them or forget where I’m going with it if I wait too long. Funny, in the middle of conversations with friends, they’ll blurt out, “Oh, you have to blog about this!”, but it’s not always a good fix for my blog.

    • I think you make a good point about losing the steam of an idea when you wait to long. That happens to me often!

  12. Language might not do it for you, but the words you choose and the way you string them together do it for me! I must say I grinned like an idiot when you mentioned the sound of film loading. I had to sit there and concentrate on recreating that sound in my head. Which is sad because just 7 years ago I was still using film cameras!
    I think beyond your style of writing what you choose to write about is what draws me to you. Not enough people question why we do the things we do in the way we do them (and by we I mean individuals, communities and cultures). And as I grow as a woman and a mother I’m starting to see just how important asking these questions are and I love that there are others out there doing the same.

    • Tanya,

      Your words mean so much to me! Ultimately, yes, I am still a writer and of course want my words and language to make an impact. I’m glad to hear they do for you. Really. That’s such a major compliment. I think I’m more focused on ideas over language these days because I’m irrationally worried about running out of ideas or my ideas being too trite.

      I really appreciate you taking the time to leave me a comment here. Was thinking about you the other day when I had this thought: Only 6 more months until the next Hunger Games movie is out!

    • Tanya, I so agree that we need those writers, like Nina, who ask why, who make us think. Thank you.

  13. Nina, I actually hate writing down flashes of things as they come to me. I don’t know why. That description of the dedicated writer who puts down plot ideas on the backs of matchbooks? Those who wake from a dream and rush to write it down? Nope. The chaotic calamity of confused cock-eyed characters who occupy the frontal lobal or other parts of my brain only get my full attention when I am in the mood … the rest of the time I keep them under lock and key. And do I really care if I am a left or right brain thinker? Thoughts some to me and I let them find a place to sit inside my head and wait their turn. Or I might ignore them for a few months or years and let them stew, ferment, and like me … become vintage.

    What was the question?

    • I think we approach things the same way! I’m just afraid I’ll lose the thought so I make sure to jot it down. But really, it can be a few years before I do anything with it. Or in most cases, never.

  14. Nina- I feel like you crawled inside my brain for a moment before writing this post. I write and read in the same exact way. I’m not sure I’ve ever admitted to not loving language for language sake- it feels like heresy for a reader and writer, doesn’t it? But it is true. I am pretty sparse in my writing as a result and am just now making it goal to ‘write longer.’ Thank you for sharing so many interesting thoughts.

  15. Great that you had Nina here today, Lisa. 
    I have the shoddy memory too, Nina. Everything must be written down, or it disappears like smoke! I’m fairly literary in my leanings, both as a reader, and as a writer. What I usually do is get the plot down, then go back and work on making the language fun. But I do love a good ripping tale that grips me and won’t let go. Gotta agree with you there!!
    If you have 30 essays in progress that’s impressive in and of itself. I’m sure you’ll get the bottom of each in due time.

    • Thanks for that vote of confidence! And thanks for visiting me here. Enjoyed our Twitter conversations this week re: likable characters.

  16. I love that, Nina! I have found myself searching for a better “system” for organizing my thoughts. I only recently started using the Notes on my iPhone to record those “I have to write that down!” moments that happen so frequently, and it’s been a life saver! It seems that if I don’t write my idea down immediately, I will likely be unable to remember it later. I always think in the moment that I can count on myself not to forget something so *brilliant* or life-altering….but I always do. So enjoyable learning a little more about your process! And thanks so much for your thoughtful comment on my blog today- it really boosted my spirits! 🙂

    • Meanwhile, as I’m trying to spend LESS time on my phone I have been using random scraps of paper again. I prefer the phone though!

  17. While I can appreciate a good metaphor, I find it hard to write one that doesn’t seem forced. I have to admit that I am a skimmer, especially with fiction. If the author spends the whole page describing the room, I always skim ahead to the action or dialogue.
    I’m trying to be better about jotting down ideas, but those ideas so often come in the shower or while I’m driving and then they are gone.
    Thanks for sharing your process. i love to read about writing!

  18. Fantastic pic, Lisa – Nina inspires me, too!

    This is a great point, Nina – that these kinds of writing ideas are often us working out how we feel about that particular notion. I feel the same way about long, flowery descriptions. I love words, and poetry, but any language that ‘stands out’ too much in a story is, to me, flawed. It’s like filmmaking. If you’re watching a movie to watch a movie, and you’re noticing the lighting or shot composition, something is wrong. I think in most crafts, the true artistry is in making it look effortless. Hey, I think that’s why WordPress likes to tell you, in their grammar/spell check, if you’re using a “complex expression.” ;o)

    P.S. – You are so not too old for long hair.

  19. “And I always do.” The rhythm and closure of that end note is perfection.

    And what a wonderful and inspiring essay. I’ve already started a list of ideas. Reading this made me realize how important that is since things just slip away otherwise.

    • Also, I love your notes about the plain language. I used to be pretty tolerant of prose that veered towards purple. And my own fiction was *very* much that way (I could spend pages on the sky or yes, that tree you mention).
      Not so much anymore.

    • They really do slip away. It’s kind of scary actually! Thanks so much for all your thoughts on this post HERE and on email! 🙂

  20. Nina–I loved reading about your process. I didn’t realize until I read your essay that I had a process and that it’s very similar to yours. However, I stand to learn from you and your precise style. I love words so much that I often put WAY too many in–I have a hard time letting a word go. I become attached to them.

    I asked a poet (for whom I have a ton of respect) to review a piece that I’d written. She kindly taught me the beauty and power of letting one well-chosen word do the heavy-lifting of description rather than sounding like a run-on thesaurus entry.

    Great series–look forward to reading more, Lisa!

    • What a good idea to have a poet edit an essay! Seriously, that’s a great to get down to the essence of a point.

      • Denise,
        Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. My critique partner is a poet too — so, so helpful. (I’ll admit to a sometimes-addiction to strings of dependent clauses.)

  21. Found my way here after you commented on my blog…glad to be here and read this! I think I come up with a lot of my ideas for writing in a similar way…it could be something small and seemingly trivial, but I’ll find it interesting or amusing and want to write a post or essay about it. My friends do feed me ideas too and tell me I should write about such and such topic. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

    • Thanks for coming all the over here! Hope you discover some of Lisa’s posts, too. She’s AMAZING.

  22. Nina, I love your writing style. Your work is always a pleasure to read, and it’s so great to hear about your process. I especially love what you said about the moment before you feel compelled to write something down–that feeling of questioning, which for me feels more like a gentle push.

  23. Great post, Nina, and thank you, Lisa, for such a wonderful introduction and recap of my favorite posts as well! Sometimes I struggle with seeing strangers as people but as characters instead. I listen in on their conversations and try to figure out the “story” behind them. My husband doesn’t mind too much, though, when I get distracted on “date night.”

    • Oh my goodness- was that not THE MOST GENEROUS intro ever. I want Lisa to just follow me around forever being my PR person. 😉 Really, I feel so lucky to be writing on her blog!

      I love your point of view as a novelist on seeing strangers as characters!

      • Jolina — I do that all the time, seeing people as characters, imagining the how, and why, and what if. It’s hard not to, once you’re writing. 🙂

        Nina — I’ll follow you and do PR, if you take me to a Pure Barre class. Deal?

  24. It’s so nice to see Nina here! I love it when one blogger I know hosts another blogger I know. =)

    I do a lot of what if’s too, along with the why’s, how’s, and even the occasional when. Lovely post!

  25. What a gem to find Nina’s post and your blog, Lisa. And what timing. I’m noticing lately that when I don’t take the time to jot down an idea, that ‘should’ turn into a post, that ‘should’ help quiet the writer in me for some hours, I get jittery–maybe it’s anxiety. I’ve found here some new inspiration to just do it. How many times have I thanked you, Nina, for this? I need to send you some flowers. (I’d ask for your address, but then I fear you’d think I’m stalking you. But really, please live closer.) Lisa, you have a new fan.

    • Yay! I love making a blogging shiddach (Lisa, that’s Yiddish for a match!) And thank for your kind words, Monica!

    • Thank you Monica. It’s so nice to see you here. I also find that I get anxious when I let the writing slide too long. Maybe it’s that “free therapy” aspect that Jessica mentions above.

  26. I’m a sucker for poetic language, but I do have a breaking point where I need to get to the plot, to the story, to the meat of things. My love of writing/reading is all about character development though. I will turn page by page of seemingly nothing happening if I’m watching the character live, go through life. Maybe that’s why my (blog) writing often feels so purposeless because at this point I’m not entirely certain with the purpose of my character’s (me) life is.

    (I also write down blog ideas all the time, I wish I had started doing it sooner I know I lost so many ideas!)

    • I like your concept as yourself as the blog “character.” I think most of us feel that way, but I’ve never used those words to describe it. It’s perfect!

  27. I love this, Nina– and thanks for hosting this series, Lisa. I sometimes wake in the night and am unable to get back to sleep until I get out of bed and make a list. It can be ideas about a book or a piece I’m writing, or mundane info I need to send out in an email. I’m a big believer in the list. I think you’ve also hit on what I enjoy about your writing, Nina: examining what we as a society think about things through the lens of how you, Nina, think about them. A lot of my work is about this core idea, but how I approach it is different. Keep up the inspiring work!

  28. This has been fun to read. My ideas for a topic tend to simmer slowly inside without my writing anything down – they metamorphose in the process. However, when I’m editing something I’ve written in my head, I can’t wait to write it down for fear I’ll lose that “perfect way” to say something.

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