It’s the beginning of a new year. A time for reflecting on what’s past and preparing for what’s to come. A time of transition.
My husband and I are in a very clear state of transition right now. We are going from being a childless couple to brand-new parents. Our baby girl is due February 4th. Among many other preparations (taking an infant CPR class, gathering supplies, creating a birth playlist), we are currently transitioning my office into the nursery.
Although, as it turns out, we don’t have enough space in the living room for my desk and filing cabinet and book shelf, so the room will have to be office on one side and nursery on the other. We’ll see how that goes. I don’t picture myself doing a lot of work at my desk for the first few months anyway.
As a person who loves order, it’s a little maddening to live in this state of transition. On the nursery side of the room, there are baby things in boxes and storage crates that need to be sorted and washed. We need to figure out where to put everything and how to decorate. I’m still doing work at my desk, but I’m hyper aware of the baby clothes and children’s books on the other side of the room.
A few years ago my friends Rob and Edith, who I hadn’t talked to in a long time, called me and said, “we did something interesting the other day… We had a baby.” I hadn’t even known that Edith was pregnant, and I sat there sputtering on the phone for a few seconds trying to decide whether or not they were joking (they weren’t). To me this is proof that there’s a good reason to post a few pregnant photos of yourself on facebook– so that people don’t go into shock when you one day show up with a baby in your arms.
Rob and Edith recently had another baby, but this time they told me about the pregnancy several months beforehand, and then I actually saw Edith when she was eight and a half months pregnant. When their birth announcement came in the mail, it was a lot easier to comprehend. I didn’t need week-by-week belly pictures or anything, but knowing Edith was pregnant was helpful.
In other words, we need time to transition so that we can understand that things are changing, that we are moving on to something new and different. This is helpful, both in our lives, and in our writing. You don’t want to jump forward in time or skip to a new topic in your writing without giving the reader any warning. It’s as jarring as being presented with a baby when you didn’t even know the mother was pregnant.
I recently read the book Losing It by Emma Rathbone and was particularly impressed by a simple transition in Chapter One.
The main character, Julia, decides to quit her job in D.C. and take some time off. Her father suggests she go to North Carolina and stay with her eccentric Aunt Vivienne for the summer. Julia thinks this is absurd. “No. Nope. I’m not going there,” she says to her mother on the phone. “There’s no way I’m doing that.”
Then there’s a space break, and the very next line is, “One month later I drove down a thin driveway, gravel popping beneath the tires, towards a house with white columns in the distance…. I looked at the piece of paper on which I’d written Vivienne’s address: 2705 Three Notched Lane.”
I LOVE this transition because it’s very clear what’s happened, and yet we don’t know exactly how it happened. In that one month, Julia has obviously changed her mind about Aunt Vivienne’s, but we don’t really need to know the nitty gritty of her decision-making process. I love that Rathbone cuts out everything else and hops us right to the catalyst moment. She bridges the gap from Julia quitting her job to Julia arriving in North Carolina with nothing more than a space break and the words “one month later.” Transitions are important, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be short and sweet.
This also shows us that a transition can be used to skip over trivial information. We don’t need to know what Julia did in that one month because it’s not part of the story Rathbone is telling, which is the story of Julia’s summer with her Aunt Vivienne. Good storytelling means skipping over all the boring and non-important parts, and good transitioning is what makes that possible.
In real life, we can’t skip over all the boring/messy/difficult in-between stuff. We’ve got to handle the decision-making and the organizing and the to-do lists before we can get across the bridge from one thing to the next. The story of how I sorted and washed baby clothes might not be a compelling one, but I don’t mind doing it. It’s helping me with my own emotional transition. Handling these little baby things, finding a place for them in my home – maybe that will make it easier to comprehend that there’s a freaking baby in my belly and that in one month she’s going to be in my arms.
If I were writing a book, here’s how it would go: At the end of December, my husband and I started turning my office into an office/nursery. One month later, the drawers were filled with clean clothes and diapers, the books were lined up neatly on the shelf, and the walls were decorated with circus-themed art. We were ready to meet our new baby.