Kath here.  Today’s post is by our new contributor Jan O’Hara!  Therese and I are so pleased that she’s beginning her journey with Writer Unboxed.  Jan, welcome!

Look for some changes in the upcoming days as we finally tackle our neglected sidebar and do some reorganizing.  In the meantime, enjoy Jan’s inaugural post!

It was cleaning the sink that invited this blog post to be written, and not only because I’d unplugged from the Internet and finally allowed my subconscious to work. Let me explain.

I’d gone to housecleaning, fresh from a message board where another writer had written the equivalent of, “Help. I’m getting no agent love and I think I want to quit writing.” Though I had already provided a response, that interaction remained very much on my mind.

As I wiped away the detritus of my husband’s morning shave, and evidence my kids finally understand toothpaste’s purpose, words formed in my brain: “Tell Anonymous Writer you don’t stop scrubbing the porcelain just because you don’t expect company.”

“Yes,” I thought. “That’s right. Unless you’re the owner of the 7-11 on 48th Avenue, you’d probably agree there’s a point to sink-polishing and good workmanship. It’s a sign of respect for oneself and others; it’s healthful. When seen with the right eyes, it’s even a thing of beauty. Writing without promise of public recognition is exactly like cleaning a sink when only one’s family might use it.”

Now right here’s where this post gets weird: This kind of experience – where the universe speaks in metaphoric language – is no longer unusual. Similes find me wherever I go. They’re particularly fond of bumping into me when my shopping cart is full and I lack paper and pencil.

I first noticed it a few months ago while blogging, when I sought a way to describe my frustration with a difficult scene. It accelerated when I went through a stage where I wrote bad, rhyming poetry and needed access to the density of symbolism. All of a sudden, four pages became a torrential river to cross; my muse a maturing child with whom I negotiated a new relationship; my synopsis a —

No. I don’t think we know each other well enough for me to go there just yet. ;)

To tell you the truth, I’m kind of entranced with this worldview. It’s as if I’ve lived in a land with fantastical creatures my entire life, yet it took the lens of writing to permit me the ability to see them. It’s akin to what I imagine I’d feel if, in the process of buttering my Texas toast one morning, I lifted a slice of bread and found a fairy.*

“Good mornin’, darlin’,” he might say, pressing his cowboy hat to his chest while favouring me with a lazy smile. “Unless you have that generous heart of yours set on peanut butter, the strawberry jam looks mighty appealin’.”

See? There I go again. I can’t help myself. As I type this, I’m imagining my toast fairy crossing his little cowboy boots at the ankles as his wings lift him into the air. I’m thinking I’ll never look at a PBJ the same way again. What’s more, I bet neither will you.

So am I alone in this experience? Do you seek symbolism in the world? Has writing changed you so that metaphors find you without conscious effort on your part? Have you already met my toast fairy and been charmed?

*I don’t recommend interacting with the white-bread Texas-toast fairies. They’re constipated and subsequently cranky. In my opinion, you’re better off with their whole-grain, whole-wheat counterparts.


About Jan O'Hara

Jan O'Hara left her writing dreams behind for years to practice family medicine, but has found her way back to the world of fiction. Currently the voice of the Unpublished Writer here at Writer Unboxed, she hopes one day soon to become unqualified for the position.


  1. Sharon Bially says

    Jan – So glad to read your delightful first post! And to answer your question: yes. Metaphors find me, too. Constantly. Recently a neighbor of mine was out walking with her seeing-eye-dog. When my son stopped her to ask some questions, we learned that this pooch knows that as a “working dog” he cannot stop to play with other dogs or roll around in the grass, no matter how much he’d like to. Made me think about how in some ways, we’re all like dogs, with our fates — which we embrace for better or for worse — determined at some level by an invisible hand at the end of a leash. Arf arf.

  2. says

    Can’t say as I’ve met any toast fairies, but I like your sink analogy. Perhaps because I’m one of those people who tidies up (bathroom, kitchen, etc.) even when no one’s coming over. And I can see how that applies to writing: you do your best work even when no one might read it but you.

    Thanks for that food for thought! :)
    .-= Kristan´s last blog ..Friday is for smiling =-.

  3. says

    Jan, congrats, and what a wonderful essay! I know exactly what you mean: the longer I write, the more I see the world through metaphor –and the more I realize I’ve been seeing it that way all my life, wandering through experience after experience in a sort of perpetual free-association mode, but until now I never had the language to express it.
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..Ta-DAAAAAAAAAAAA! (or: hey, look, I did it) =-.

  4. sue says

    Ugh, sink cleaning.

    It’s a brilliant metaphor. Oddly enough, my Dad phoned and said he was going to stop by and drop off a book for my son (he’s racing through the Percy Jackson novels. Given that Dad likes to drop in the occasional sly dig at my appalling housekeeping skills, I decided to get my arse off the sofa and do some cleaning. So, I cleaned and cleaned and cleaned and Dad arrived. He parked his arse on the sofa for a few minutes…did NOT use the bathroom I’d laboriously scrubbed to a blinding white shine…did NOT venture into the kitchen and, thus, missed the brilliant gleaming countertops and range. Nope, he chatted for a few minutes, made a fuss of Big Brown Slobbery Dog and left.

    So, bugger…I did all that cleaning for nowt. Well, no, not really, Hubby was all soppy with admiration for my hard work.

    Sorry, that’s a really long-winded way of me saying you’re absolutely spot-on.

    I’ll crawl back into my pit now. :D

  5. says

    I am a writer as well, and the world as metaphor has only occurred to me a few times, as in my dog as my personal trainer, or Jimmy Choo as a reincarnated foot binder. I loved this post. You are obviously very talented.

  6. says

    Oh, Jan, I do empathize! I read a post where someone said figurative language was to be used sparinging, like seasoning on a chicken breast. And I thought–maybe that’s good advice, but UGH what a miserable writing diet. I mean, who likes naked chicken????

    Now all I want to do is go home and make cowboy faerie toat (my new code word for “brilliant new scene”). Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. says

    Jan, you’re a fun new voice here at WU. Sounds like, for you, life’s metaphors seem to fall from the sky and you have to dodge them, lest you get hit on the head once too often. I’m afraid I have to go looking for them. But they do seem to pop up in the most unexpected places, now that I’m actively on the prowl. Thanks for the virtual nudge.

  8. says

    Awesome essay, Jan! The more I write, the more I see metaphor everywhere. Yet worse – the more I use it (and simile) in my writing. Oops!

  9. says

    Jan, what a lovely post. You have a strong voice and I look forward to reading more from you.

    And yes. I see everything through my writing lens, and probably attribute meaning where I shouldn’t necessarily do so, but I can’t help myself. Dreams, songs, overheard interactions–I find so much symbolism, so much affirmation, and so much for the taking. I feel like when you open yourself up to getting messages from the universe, you’ll see so much more than you did before.

    I know, I sound loopy, but I feel comfortable sharing this with someone who sees toast fairies. :)
    .-= Erika Robuck´s last blog ..Musings on Revision (aka:Whining about Revision) =-.

  10. says

    Great first post, Jan!

    I have to admit, I had a little trouble relating to the sink-cleaning metaphor, because house-cleaning is something I do pretty much only when the dust bunnies get big enough to become animated characters in their own short stories. But yes, I love the way metaphors and similes sometimes appear without warning like ghostly butterflies and challenge me to catch them and pin them to the paper before they disappear.

    On the other hand, it’s not always so automatic and I have to do some serious brain-scouring to find them. Or worse, I put simile in a character’s mouth and he spits it back out and asks me how I could feed him such tripe. But it’s part of the process, and I wouldn’t give back any of the pictures I never knew my brain could create–even the ugly ones.

  11. Dara-Lee says

    Great post, Jan! I too am bombarded by metaphors and similes at the most inopportune times. I have even been known to chant things while driving so I don’t forget before I get a chance to jot it down.

    I love your sink metaphor, though must admit, I am guilty of only cleaning for company (and yes, like Sue, I am extremely disappointed if my hard work goes unnoticed). For me, writing is NOT like sink cleaning. I hate cleaning bathrooms, loathe it. Cleaning bathrooms is akin to paying bills – don’t enjoy it but must be done on the first and third MOnday of the month.

    To me, writing is like gardening in my backyard where no one sees. I do it because I have to and I love it. We have the shortest growing season and most of the plants I carefully start from seed (indoors) die before they blossom yet I do it again year after year. And with every new shoot I rub my hands in anticipation about the beautiful plant it may become!

  12. says

    I too love seeing those parallels between the writing life and everything outside of the bubble. And I don’t know how you’ve done it, but you’ve made a Texan toast fairy seem like someone I might want to meet.

    Welcome to WU, Jan!

  13. Kellion says

    All this talk about sinks has me thinking about my actual sink, which is in need of a good bleaching. I’ll avert my eyes instead. Hey, who is that hiding behind the toaster?

  14. says

    I’m heartened none of you have seen fit to debate me on the benefits of whole-grain, whole-wheat bread. Of all the things I worried about, this was my biggest concern: the need to fight the junk food battle on two fronts. ;)

    The interesting thing about writing for me is that I’ve had to get both better at noticing at what is, while keeping an eye open to what might yet be.

    Thank you so much for playing along with your own metaphors! As my toast fairy might say, “Y’all are a friendly crowd.”
    .-= Jan O’Hara´s last blog ..The “It’s Up, It’s Up!” Post =-.

  15. says

    It’s not just metaphors though. For me, it’s like seeing things and immediately in my head comes the description in words. Whenever an original or interesting description comes out, I have to tell somebody just so I won’t forget it.

    Good post. It makes me feel like I’m not alone.

  16. says

    Jan, I think you’re exactly right about being smack dab in the middle of this exciting stuff, but not really noticing it before. I used to sit back and watch the world, waiting for something to happen, so I could capture it with my pen and paper. And it seemed like I always worried about missing out on something important.

    Now I’m just always wading right through it, and taking what I find that will work at that moment. I also don’t worry anymore that there won’t be more, or enough. There’s plenty of toast fairies to go around. :)
    .-= Donna C.´s last blog ..I’d Avoid That If I Were You =-.

  17. says

    Lovely post, Jan!

    I’d write more but I have a cat pinning one arm…not sure what sort of metaphor this is, other than a very furry one…

  18. says

    By far my fav line: It’s as if I’ve lived in a land with fantastical creatures my entire life, yet it took the lens of writing to permit me the ability to see them.

    Yes, yes, yes! Loved this post. I, too, don’t clean unless I have to (well, the sinks anyway). But I loved this post and am right there with you.
    .-= ChristaCarol Jones´s last blog ..Still Coming Off My High =-.

  19. says

    It’s not that I like your writing, it’s just that it throws me over its shoulder and carries me away. I’m sure you can appreciate how embarrassing that is because men don’t generally enjoy being carried off by cowboys. But I have to say, if I can let go of my ego for a minute…it’s not that bad a ride.
    .-= Siddhartha´s last blog ..Do You Have a Phone? I Need to Take a Picture =-.

  20. EllaQ says

    We don’t have toast fairies in this house, but the wine pixies are everywhere. They come out at night and swig the last little bit in the open bottle.

  21. says

    Gotta love that universal voice that drops in and out. Mine’s not big on ‘poor babies’ and is always a truthsayer, even when the truth isn’t warm and fuzzy.

  22. says

    Hi Jan, great to read your first post. I LOVE symbolism. I am always deciphering things that might be a sign from the Universe. Life is much more interesting when you take the time to do this.

    A few years back someone mentioned the book Animal Speak to me. At first, I didn’t think much of it, a week later I was on a site (My Inner Journey) and I wandered into their library. The virtual library has a bookshelf filled of books. You cannot see the titles of the book, you are supposed to click on a random one and that is supposed to be the one you are meant to read. Imagine my surprise when I clicked on it and up came Animal Speak. Twice in one week a book I had never heard about prior was introducing itself to me.

    I am glad that I decided to purchase it because it is filled with symbolism. Animals can represent many things and when they come into your life they are sending you a message. Symbolism makes writing fun and it makes reading interesting.

    Congratulations on a great first post!
    .-= Maribetth´s last blog ..Can You Hear Me? =-.

  23. says

    I don’t have a Toast Fairy, but I do have an Oatmeal Fairy, and he better show up every morning, or there will be trouble! Oh, and the Coffee Elves really need to move a bit quicker in the morning, worthless layabouts! ;)

    Jan, all I can say to you…it’s about time, Tarty! :)

    xoxo — Hilary

  24. MJ says

    Off to a great start, Jan. And how nice your nephew dropped by.

    Yes, writing reminds me to open myself to the layers of life around me–some gritty and sink-real, some startling and fairy-fantastic.

    But wait…you eat BUTTER?

    Have fun with your cowboy!

  25. says

    Yay, Jan! I need to remember the line about the sink not for my writing but for, well, my sink.

    My morning pumpernickel toast comes with a nifty fairy: she wears patterned tights, slouchy boots, has blue hair and can whistle anything. I think I’ll keep her.
    .-= Jess´s last blog ..HEIST SOCIETY, Ally Carter =-.

  26. Kymber says

    Hey Jan,

    Awesome post! It’s so nice to know that my Electrolux vacuum elf has a counterpart somewhere and that I’m not alone in finding great meaning (at least to me) in the bottom of a sink – mine however is usually the kitchen variety filled with soapy water. Looking forward to more of your posts!


  27. says

    Jan, great post . . . what a kindred spirit you are. Not only do you write, but you clean, love metaphors and you believe in faeries.
    AND you have a FANTASTIC sense of humour which is sadly lacking in this world of ours and stops the writing bogies from getting big and keeps the writing world in perspective. Can’t wait till your next post!

  28. says

    Okay, I know I’m late to the party, but…. Great first post!

    Of course, now, in my mind at least, you are forever linked to that de-cluttering expert, The Flylady. The basis of her whole cleaning program is cleaning the kitchen sink.

    I am looking forward to what’s to come. Maybe how to clean your way to a best selling novel?
    .-= Glinda´s last blog ..Tears for Giovanni: The too short life of a special dog =-.

  29. Suzanne says

    Great post Jan!
    and Glinda – I know FlyLady too. I just wish she worked for me . . .
    I don’t think I’ll pick up any stray metaphors around my sink :o(

  30. says

    Congrats, Jan. Great to know others care about their porcelain.

    My equivalent metaphor comes from my brother who reattached the tether to my gas cap without being asked. When I thanked him he said a lot of things a person does never get noticed. Of course I had to thank him again when this ‘trivial’ favor thwarted the theft of the gas cap. (My car screams nasty things when the gas cap isn’t on properly.)

    To sum it up: trivialities can prevent nasty consequences.

  31. says

    This is so true! I did stop trying to get published for a long time, not out of frustration as much as working eighteen-hour days starting my own business. But I found that the writer’s habit of looking at things in metaphors and similes, and making the connections between different aspects of life, stayed with me. My life is much richer because I write, whether that writing ultimately goes on paper or remains in my head and heart.

    Thanks for giving me a smile to start the day!
    .-= Adventures in Children’s Publishing´s last blog ..A Simple Trick to Inspire an Entire Story =-.

  32. CBlaire says

    You’re doing what you love best and it shows! What a wonderful personality shines through your writing. You’re making the Tarts proud!