In our rural community there is no free garbage pickup. We either pay private contractors for trash removal or take it ourselves to the Town Recycling and Disposal Center, aka “The Dump.” Doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs — and writers – nearly all of us opt to do it on our own. We stuff the bags and boxes of garbage in our cars and trucks and haul it down the country roads, windows open if the air inside smells nasty.

The dump is closed on most major holidays and over two years ago, for budget reasons, the Town Board decided to close it on Wednesdays. This week and how many other times, dear God, have I forgotten what day it is, loaded up the trunk and back seat of my car – kitchen and bathroom trash, office and bedroom baskets, newspapers and magazines, empty plastic bottles – and driven purposefully down Springs Fireplace Road to the entrance on Wednesdays? Six? Eight? How about 12, a dirty dozen or more times? And that’s probably a low figure. The trash, the car, me – all must return home, and the garbage must be unloaded from the car.

Is it just me, the writer and multitasker, taking a break from the desk and computer, doing this? Am I ADHD? Definition found online: “Inability to pay close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in everyday activities. I’ve asked around, and apparently many normal-thinking citizens like real estate brokers, inn keepers, shop owners (more normal thinking than writers and artists, anyhow) make this mistake as well.

What’s my point in telling you this? Simply to remind you, me, and my adult and senior writing students: pay more attention. Remember what day it is, in real time and when writing your stories and essays. Don’t go to the doctor’s on Tuesday if your appointment is actually on Thursday. Don’t show up for a lecture on Sunday if it was scheduled for Saturday, the day before.

In your story, don’t have Mary go to the hair salon on Monday when Monday is the day the salon is closed. Don’t say, in your essay, that Joe went to the post office on Sunday when everyone knows the post office is closed on Sundays.

If your character’s name is Cindy, don’t change it to Claire midway, since that’s the name you were going to call her. And if she’s wearing a red dress while she’s at the supermarket, don’t change it to pink while she’s on her way home. Just because we’re distracted in our busy, artistic, productive lives doesn’t mean we should inflict this on our stories and our readers. We all know how important it is to edit. Maybe Claire will win out over Cindy during the editing process. Maybe she’ll look better, after all, in pink. That’s the beauty of the time we put into our editing, making changes, repairing errors, being sure it all fit together before we send it off into the world.

I leave you then, with these thoughts or, better still, with these lessons learned from going to the dump.

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Please visit my website: www.eileenobser.com and see my new Book page, which gives information about Only You, my memoir, to be released in January by Oak Tree Press.

18 Responses to Going to the Dump

  1. janet berg says:

    Good blog, Eileen. Witty and catchy and oh, so true. TGIF – almost.

  2. Maria Ruiz says:

    So true, both the forgetting what day it is but also, changing a character’s name midway through the story. I wonder, did I always forget or is it a function of age?

    • Eileen Obser says:

      Personally, I think it’s a function of creativity. Younger writers make these errors — names, dates, other details — in their writing. But getting older doesn’t help. Wait — did I just write that?

  3. The dump has another important meaning to writers: remember that not everything you write is perfect, so when you revise and rewrite, be willing to dump some passages, even ones you love, if they’re not working. As for keeping track of details, I keep a style sheet, timeline, and synopsis going, and growing, alongside my manuscript as I write.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      Oh yes, John, I agree about dumping those passages. But I often cut and paste and save elsewhere on the computer — or in a folder, if it’s handwritten — just in case I want to use that brilliant scene, or memory, somewhere else, sometime. God help the people who have to throw out our “stuff” one day.

  4. pat shevlin says:

    Eileen, I think this blog is a perfect metaphor for an ADHD condition! We need to locate our brain’s dump! I’m sure it’s in there somewhere. And, yes, I have made the Wednesday dump run myself!

    • Eileen Obser says:

      Have the residents in town probably show up on one Wednesday or another. I think I’d rather pay more taxes and have that day restored. Ditto, the stop and shop section where used goods could be left. Thanks for the comment!

  5. I’m always going back over my work and noting that I said five days passed since something happened only to note that I had it occur on Monday and only three days have passed. Time sequencing is troublesome especially if, like me, you don’t want to interrupt the flow of your writing by keeping a timetable. How many hours have passed is also something to keep an eye on. She got up, went to the post office and now it’s already evening? I like your “going to the dump” analogy.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      You’re right about the time problem, Lesley. I check so thoroughly to make sure I have my dates right, but I still make mistakes. Usually, I catch them before showing the work to another writer or editor. In my memoir, I have so many songs from the late 1950s, and have caught myself several times naming a song in a scene, to find out that the song wasn’t released until months afterward. Thanks for your reply.

  6. Eileen,
    That’s one of my biggest “writing” fears. That I will make one of those small – but potentially lethal – mistakes. Which is why I’ve created my “Characters and Chronology” outline. On it, I list all of the character in my series with full descriptions, birth dates, etc. and each event with any pertinent information. Nothing is too trivial. When I’ve finished writing and editing a book, I use the “find” feature in Word to double/triple check names, etc. Paranoia? Possibly. 🙂

    • Eileen Obser says:

      You have a sensible routine, Pat, with the Characters and Chronology outline. I’ve kept records like that when writing fiction, but with memoir writing, when I’m changing names, I keep a detailed list of who’s who – real names and not. Sometimes I change the names during the story, so I have to be darned sure to be consistent with that change throughout. I’d be lost without the “find” feature. I use it constantly to check myself for names, word usage. I don’t think it’s paranoia at all!

  7. Yes. We can all say, been there, done that. A style sheet, timeline, etc. can save us some embarrassment. If we don’t remember the color of Claire’s dress, be assured some sharp reader down the line will remind us.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      Thanks for the comment, John. You’re right about the sharp reader. I’ve had it happen, unfortunately. When I published what was once the first chapter of Only You in a Sunday news magazine, I called it The Leader of the Pack, a song from 1964. It was the perfect title. However, the action — my first boyfriend asking me to go steady — took place in 1956. I don’t know why Newsday, a large New York newspaper, didn’t catch that error, but readers did — a lot more, certainly, than the few who “reminded” me about it.

  8. Arlene SanMiguel says:

    Wow that’s funny Eileen. I get frustrated when I bring our can to the curb and realize the garbage men already passed. Grrr, lol

    Actually our sanitation men are Saints, they take anything we put out there. My husband puts a lot of construction items like wood with nails in them etc. (I place it so they will see the nails and not get hurt) Love them!

    I see the relationship with writing that you are talking about and how changing things in the story can confuse the reader 🙂

    • Eileen Obser says:

      I appreciate your comments, Arlene. I’ve seen writers in the workshops, colleagues, and myself make those changes and, yes, they do confuse the reader!

  9. Ed Hannibal says:

    YOU LEFT OUT THE PART WHERE YOU LEAVE THE GATED DUMP AND ZIP TO DESOLATE GERARD POINT AND THE MARINE PATROL CATCHES YOU TRYING TO STUFF YOUR CRAP INTO THE ALREADY FULL TRASH BARREL. OH WAIT, THAT WAS ME.

  10. Eileen Obser says:

    Thanks for the laugh, Ed. You’ve painted a scene worthy of a story for The Star! I’m sure not every town resident returns home with the garbage. You may be the only good(?) citizen who knows where the more secluded barrels can be found. I think you should share the news via a short story — but you may want to use a pen name.

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