Question of the Month: 5 Things

by Susan Henderson on November 7, 2011

Tell me 5 things you can see or touch at this very moment that make you happy.

I was having lunch at Panera the other day and found myself seated next to a whole table full of cancer survivors. They were clearly rallying around a woman who was just at the start of her treatment, sharing tears, laughter, practical tips, and a meal. It was an incredibly moving experience—a reminder of what we can and can’t control, a reminder of the role of friends and balance in our lives, a reminder to regard the moment we’re in rather than looking too far beyond it.

It’s a lesson that applies to our writing, as well—staying in the moment and keeping the support system close by—because it’s overwhelming to look too far ahead. There are so many chapters to write, so many hoops to jump through, so many people to please, so many opportunities for failure or disappointment. I recently got caught up in this mindset and all it created was a sense that I needed to hurry my writing and seek too-early feedback. A number of things brought me back to my senses, including the women in Panera.

When I forget all that’s down the road and remember where I am and what’s right in front of me, the joy is there. I am at a stage of writing that I love—time alone in my office with my grandmother’s typewriter, scented candles, heart-shaped rocks, rattlesnake tails, creepy research books, and a cat in my lap. I love the privacy of the first draft, the discovery of a new set of characters, the dance of figuring out where I want to take them and where they want to take me. I won’t rush this process.


So, back to our 5 things. Why not bring them into our writing spaces, or if they’re already there, display them more prominently? And maybe it’s time to upgrade our 5 things—buy  ourselves flowers, bring the Halloween pumpkins inside, replace the lights with colored bulbs. Who knows? But let’s do something that reminds us to honor and find joy in whatever phase of our writing we’re in right now.


Before I go, I’d like to say thank you to Graeme Daniels and Wayetu Moore for the thoughtful discussions of my book. I hope folks here take some time to check out these fascinating blogs.

One last thing: I’m doing a reading at The Huntington Book Revue, my favorite indie bookstore on Long Island. Wednesday, Dec. 7th, 7pm. Would love to see you there!

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Nathalie (@spacedlaw) November 7, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Sunshine (although – and possibly because – it rains too right now) – it warms my back.
Tea (both in my mug and loose leaves in containers) – it warms my tired inside bits.
Pictures of my Love and cats all over my office – they warm by heart
A Lullaby card – friendship also warms my heart
Galleys for the next anthology I am contributing to (140 and Counting) – because I love when something I write ends up out there.


Susan Henderson November 7, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Your post just made my morning a little nicer. And I think you might be the Queen of Anthologies–amazing and looking forward to the latest!


Billy Bones November 7, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Long shadows lying across Minneapolis’s golden light, the doodles on my wall, your tiny icon picture (and Nathalie’s too), a WIP on my laptop screen, and my bust of Dante who is currently wearing a Peruvian ski cap.


Susan Henderson November 7, 2011 at 5:39 pm

You have a bust of Dante? I love that. I have a painting of Dante and Beatrice over my bedroom dresser, but I think it needs a Peruvian ski cap.


Susan Henderson November 7, 2011 at 7:08 pm
Billy Bones November 7, 2011 at 7:40 pm

That’s lovely.


Jessica Keener November 7, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Love this question, Susan. Love imagining you in your writing space with so many good talisman and objects of protection surrounding you. Can’t wait to see what ends up on your pages.

My five things: One of my affirmations (meditations I do every morning) has to do with living in the present. That’s helped me feel happier in general. My son spending his final high school year at home (he’s been away for 2 years) fills me with joy and gratitude; my husband baking homemade pizza, bread, and pasta–something so earthy and satisfying about this; having good friends over for dinner this past weekend and spending most of the evening discussing a book we all read or tried to read; my debut novel coming out in Jan.

(On my desk: several, hand-picked stones. Each stone represents something very specific and positive; plus 2 tiny glass animals that my son gave me; plus a vase of carnations that have lasted for weeks that my husband gave me; and then there’s the paper mess, boxes of books, stacks of manuscript revisions surrounding my desk, framed photo of my beloved dog.)


Susan Henderson November 7, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Amazing feeling to sort of see your writing spaces and the things that make it warm and personal. Also so glad to hear the senior year’s working out so well, and that he’s able to join in on the homemade pizza.


Susan Henderson November 7, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Just got news that two entire book clubs are coming to my reading. Hooray! And thank you!


Darlin' Neal November 7, 2011 at 8:57 pm

That’s terrific, Sue!


Susan Henderson November 7, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Thanks! I’m so thrilled!


Sheri A. (Sheri in Reho) November 15, 2011 at 10:40 pm

WOOHOO! How marvelous for you!


Susan Henderson November 16, 2011 at 2:02 am

Thanks, Sheri!


Darlin' Neal November 7, 2011 at 8:55 pm

My dog Catfish’s ears, nose.

And this New Mexico sky with my friends just right here giving me this space so I can be close to my mother.

Things my friend, Toni, put in the guesthouse–this Turkish rug beneath my feet, this comfortable writing chair, lamps for soft light.

I’m going to get some flowers and candles now. I think I’ve made a space in all the teaching where I can start writing again.


Susan Henderson November 7, 2011 at 11:51 pm

This sounds like absolute heaven, especially Catfish’s nose.


Mary Akers November 7, 2011 at 9:12 pm

1) A green rock/crystal. No idea where it came from (my son’s rock collection?), but it soothes me. It almost glows and green is my favorite color. Hey, maybe it’s kryptonite!

2) A clay bird sculpture made by my daughter when she was much younger.

3) As many plants as I can cram around me.

4) A smorkin labbit that reminds me of my family because my sister brought wrapped ones for everyone at our family reunion and we all unwrapped them together, having great fun seeing who got what, like a fortune cookie.

5) A mock-up cover for my novel (which hasn’t sold yet) that I created so I could visualize it as a book and bring it into reality.


Susan Henderson November 7, 2011 at 11:54 pm

That’s a wonderful list. I always want a million plants around me but I’m no good at keeping them alive. I think the mock-up cover is essential to the journey. Not only visualizing publication, but choosing the cover helps you focus the core of the book and stay focused on it. I would suggest you add mock blurbs and awards because why not? 🙂 And what is a smorkin labbit??


Mary Akers November 8, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Oh, what a great idea. Hmmm, what shall I award myself? 🙂
And these are smorkin labbits:
Truly, just collectable silliness. But a fun memory for our family.


Susan Henderson November 8, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Give yourself the award and the blurb you’ve always dreamed of… and then read those words and look at your book cover before you sit down to write. Makes you write without all that self-doubt holding you back so you take more risks.

Your rabbits totally crack me up!


Robin Slick November 7, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Funny. I’ve been blocked on and off for months, and I realize it’s because my dog isn’t stretched out on my feet anymore, even though he is still with us though spends most of the day sleeping on a blanket. There was something about the warmth of his body, the frequent kisses, and my even reading scenes out loud to him….ugh, tears coming.

But you’ve made me think. I have been threatening to turn my daughter’s former bedroom into a private haven for 3 years (yes, she moved out that long ago and her father still insists she’s moving back so I haven’t touched anything) and I think the time has finally come. I have more artwork than I have walls, I have beautiful treasures that mean a lot to me that can’t necessarily be displayed in the living room…and best of all, there is a desk in there and a four poster bed so I could really make it something gorgeous and extraordinary once I take down the Smashing Pumpkins and Bush posters from 20 years ago and throw out all of the clothing she didn’t take with her. Maybe that’s all I need to get the creative sparks flying again.

Well, they’ve been flying and I’ve been writing, but there are always so many interruptions including a significant other who insists on blasting our one TV behind my head and it’s especially bad during sports season. And then there’s the little matter of the job I had to take to pay for the dog’s medication which is both interesting and sucking the life out of me.

Wow. Serious vent here. But I miss our interaction and I promise to take a photo of my “new digs” once I get them together. Starting this weekend. I must and I will.



Susan Henderson November 7, 2011 at 11:56 pm

Oh, Robin, I’ve only read the first two sentences of your post and just thinking of you reading aloud to Monty makes me have to stop and pet this dog I have next to me. xo


Susan Henderson November 8, 2011 at 12:00 am

Now reading the rest of your post with Jack’s head in my lap. I think the idea of creating a room of your own is brilliant. Julie may even help you paint it. I’m actually so into this idea I’m going to insist you document the changeover in photos.

Love to you and Monty. You know how much I love that dog.


Raima November 7, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Good question! (As always…) Here are 5 things I love that I can see & touch right now:
1. My iPhone (yes, sorry, but I LOVE my iPhone)
2. My cat Cricket (kind of a miracle she’s sitting still, actually)
3. Colored paper clips (they just make me feel good)
4. Pictures of my kids and husband (self-explanatory, right?)
5. Printed pages from my work-in-progress (which actually sound pretty good! I love to read them out loud after they’ve come out of the printer)


Susan Henderson November 8, 2011 at 12:03 am

Oh, I’m so glad someone else gets as happy about colored paper clips as I do! And I always read my work out loud, too. I make completely different edits when I hear it out loud. Do you pin the pages up so you can see your progress? I’m all about the pinboard:


Joni Rodgers November 7, 2011 at 11:51 pm

1) Office mascot, a little limestone Venus de Willendorf from a shop in France
2) Manny the Uncanny, my Boston terrier
3) Shakespeare tattoo on my shoulder, keeping me true
4) Vitamin C, self-explanatory
5) The end of this novel I’m writing. Yes, it is close enough to touch!


Susan Henderson November 8, 2011 at 12:13 am

Joni, How thrilling that you are right there in the homestretch with your novel. It’s a golden time, an amazing feeling, don’t you think? And I’m absolutely loving the chance to connect each of you to particular spaces and particular objects. Funny how many of us write with animals around! 🙂


Raima November 8, 2011 at 12:12 am

I’m going to need to do the pinboard thing soon – right now the pages are getting holes punched in them and going into a three ring binder. I like watching the binder get full, but to make sure there’s actually a coherent story there I need to do what you show in your pics – lots of highlighter markings and everything spread out. Usually on the floor!


Susan Henderson November 8, 2011 at 12:23 am

Sometimes I just pin up a particular arc or character or theme so I can visually track the weight I’ve given it throughout the story. Visual clues help so much with everything from chapter length to pacing out the climax of the book… for me anyway. Oh, and I go nuts with highlighting. Pink means it doesn’t belong in this section. Yellow means it’s nearly done except for nailing the rhythm and word choice, and so on.


billie hinton November 9, 2011 at 2:43 pm

This one is too easy:

Apache Moon
Rafer Johnson
Keil Bay

These are the QH, painted pony, miniature donkey, black Hannoverian mare, and my big bay Hanoverian gelding who are standing in the front pasture this morning, in the brilliant sunshine underneath various trees that are all at their peak autumn color. There’s a little red sorrel donkey named Redford out there too but at this moment he’s not in my sight. 🙂


Susan Henderson November 9, 2011 at 2:46 pm

I can’t even imagine what that must be like to have your view out the window. I love the smell of horses and pastures and am really jealous right now.


billie hinton November 9, 2011 at 4:12 pm

You are welcome anytime. 🙂 I can always use some writing/mucking companions when the rest of the clan go away!


Susan Henderson November 10, 2011 at 2:44 pm

I just might!


Seré November 15, 2011 at 6:51 pm

I am sitting in my new writing studio — definitely a dream come true. My husband and I recently downsized, and while our place is quaint and cozy, there was absolutely no space to call my own. While I was away for a few weeks, he and all my in-laws worked like crazy to build me THE sweetest writing cottage. It was a complete surprise and I still tear up thinking about it.

I’m going to blog about it soon, but for now, here are my five things: 1) My Lab, Stuart, stretched out at my feet, snoring. 2) Cup of English Breakfast tea with whipped milk. 3) View of sunlit vineyard and redwoods. (Life hasn’t always been like this!) 4) One wall that’s a bulletin board. (I’m a pinner-upper too…) 5) Plus more messy piles of manuscript pages. Wait, I have to add one more: 6) My fingerless gloves for those cold mornings before the heater kicks in.


Susan Henderson November 16, 2011 at 2:06 am

What a gorgeous story, Seré. You are seriously loved! And I kind of wonder if we might be long-lost twins because I write with a dog, tea, fingerless gloves, pinboards, messy piles, and a view of the woods (although a view of a sunlit vineyard and redwoods would be a great upgrade).


Sheri A. (Sheri in Reho) November 15, 2011 at 10:55 pm

1) My Shih Tzu, Missy, who is always laying next to me when I’m at the PC. Her fur is deliciously soft…it is lovely to reach over and give her a pat now and then. Calming on the mind and spirit.

2) Facebook–I’m quite addicted. (Love the current conversation, Susan.)

3) My desk calendar – it lays here in front of my monitor and reminds me:
a) That I’m no longer a slave to the daily grind of a full-time job (whee!);
b) That I now have lots of time to help others through volunteering; and
c) How incredibly blessed I am in this time of economic hardship.

4) My totem. I bought it years ago in Hawaii. There has always been something kind of magical about it. When I worked, it sat off to the side of my desk reminding me of the place I love most on Earth besides where I’m living now. It now sits on top of my computer hutch with some other little treasures. Always near.

5) The odd but wonderful shade of blue on my home office walls. It’s like a lovely wedgewood blue and an almost-lavendar got married and had a baby. 🙂 It is so calming and special. I guess that’s why I spend so much time in here! haha


Susan Henderson November 16, 2011 at 2:15 am

So thrilled with all of these animals! Don’t they make life a million times better. I’ve got Steve here with me now. And color is important to me when I’m writing, too. I have a weird shade of green in my office that just makes me happy whenever I’m there.

Thanks for making the FB conversation so interesting. It really is a fascinating talk! The funny thing, and my husband understands, is the days I’m posting a lot on FB are the days I’m getting lots of writing done. It doesn’t work as a distraction for me so much as an energizer. The conversations and different personalities and opinions wake my brain up and get the ideas flowing!


Sheri A. (Sheri in Reho) November 16, 2011 at 3:47 pm

I completely understand! While I was constantly checking back for the latest additions to the conversation, I was thinking “I feel like writing.” 🙂


Susan Henderson November 16, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Who would have guessed that question would have opened up such a conversation! Last I checked the thread was 84 comments long. Fascinating stuff and I’m working away at a new chapter at the same time. Glad you’re writing, too!


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