Bett Norris


In Between

In between Thanksgiving and my mother’s birthday, I find myself in  a reflective mood. Looking back, wondering how I got here and to whom I owe thanks.

Before I began, I never thought of writing as a collaborative effort. Instead I pictured the lone and lonely writer hidden away in the dark of the night, in a single room, in front of a blank page, pen in hand, lost in thought, closed off from the world until the thing was finished, the ‘thing’ in my mind being a tome of heft and value and deep conclusions.

Before my own effort, I thought of writing as inspirational and sporadic, a thing that flowed except when it dried up and blew away, a free thing that came to one who sat prepared to receive, to capture the ideas and words as they magically occurred, rather like flying a kite, a matter of waiting for the wind, with very little expended by the person holding the string, the tail doing more real work than the handler, who simply served to gently guide the apparition in flight as one would a well-trained horse.

I imagined all others as real writers to whom craft simply came. I thought real writers drank a lot, talked a lot, and were at all times very witty.

I have been brought to earth, not unlike the fox who ran long and hard, with more natural intelligence and cunning than the horses, dogs and riders of the pack, but who at last gave out, all energy spent, and turned at bay to survey the horde.

To my surprise, writing required much more from me than I required from it. It called up and exercised all those qualities mothers and teachers like to extol such as dedication, perseverance, and agreement of subject and verb.

Instead of writing in a fevered pitch of inspiration, where the words come so quickly I could not get them all on the page, I have found that words are sluggish dullards, rather devilish imps, drunken gnomes who sit under toadstools belching none too politely while laughing at how easily they evade my clumsy efforts to pin them down with choice and precision.

In my frustration about this not going the way my foolish daydreams had led me to believe, where words poured out like a stream, easily, without strain or furrowed brow, like water from a spout, I sometimes slipped away, left it alone, gathering dust, sulky and angry and convinced that since it didn’t come easily, I must not be a writer. Where I had imagined the ideas and images and words and form and style and structure simply appearing before the real writer, for me it was as if I was engaged in an unending safari of continuous unforeseen calamity, hacking my way through dense, impenetrable entanglements, convoluted pathways that only got more confusing, winding around but never reaching a destination, where I stumbled over the right words, literally tripping myself with them, and they were never where I thought they’d be.

Rather than the isolation of the garret, I found I need more help than perhaps my fantasized creative genius at work requires.

And so, having disabused myself of several mistaken ideas about this process, I humbly now thank those who inspired, taught, listened, encouraged, supported and believed.

Harper Lee falls into the first category, and also into the second.

Harper Lee, Monroeville county courthouse, 1961









Cynn Chadwick belongs in the first three categories. See this post:

Chawick, author and teacher









Jane Rule’s writing inspired, taught, and encouraged me.

Jane Rule












Katherine V. Forrest was more helpful and generous than an unknown and unpublished writer should have expected.

Katherine V. Forrest

My mother was not a writer. She was a reader. She inspired, encouraged, supported, and believed in me.

Mother, with her coffee, cigarette, and reading material.

I should be grateful to all these women, and I am. There are others, many, in fact. I don’t know why these women who have helped me so much weigh on my thoughts this morning. I suppose there is nothing wrong in giving thanks whenever one is moved to do so, for whatever reason.

2 responses to “In Between

  1. Cynn Chadwick November 29, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Bett…you are so very kind, and very astute about writing. Please take me out from between Harper Lee and Jane Rule…I do not believe I should be on the same page, never mind between them. I love your writing and your thinking.


    • bettnorris November 30, 2009 at 5:21 am

      But you do belong on this page, in this essay. I hope that readers go to the link I provided to find out why. Of all the many people I could list who have helped, you have possibly helped the most, and in the best, most practical way.

      Next May, coffee and beignets.


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