life with curly hair

Writing Lessons from Life with Curly Hair

Unless you’ve seen pictures of me, you may not know that I have curly hair. And unless you also have curly hair, you may not know that it’s a thing for people with curly hair to wash their hair only once or twice a week. Really.

I’m a once-a-week curly girl, myself. (By the way “curly girl” is a whole thing on Instagram, if you’re interested in the rabbit hole, just search for the hashtags #curlygirl or #curlygirlmethod.)

I don’t want to get off on a tangent about curly hair, so I’ll just say that I pride myself on being pretty low-maintenance. But taking care of curly hair never quite feels “low-maintenance,” and during the pandemic I went deep into the curly girl world and started experimenting. It was the perfect time to do it, because if my hair looked crappy, well, it didn’t matter because I wasn’t leaving the house anyway!

All that to say, I feel satisfied with the medium-maintenance routine I’ve found for my hair and that even involves what’s called “refreshing” in curly girl language. Refreshing for me serves one of two purposes: one, to refresh curls daily, between wash days, so that my hair is styled and presentable; and two, to do what I call “spot treating” for sections of hair that are wonky for whatever reason (going the wrong direction, too frizzy, too straight, etc.).

The other day, after I had washed my hair, I was refreshing a wonky section and realized something: I have a pretty basic process for dealing with wonky curl clumps (“curl clump” is also curly girl lingo).

For wonky a curl I do the following:

  1. Tuck it out of the way.
  2. Walk away and let it settle.
  3. Come back later to see how it’s changed.

I did a silly post about this in my Instagram stories and as soon as I added that text I realized: It’s exactly how I deal with a writing clump that won’t cooperate.

Tuck It Out of the Way

When I hit a section of writing that is particularly sticky or challenging for whatever reason, I will copy/paste it into its own document, separate from the master document of the full essay or book manuscript.

This does a couple of things. First, it allows me to see it differently, on its own. Second, it gives me space to break it up. Sometimes I’ll do a hard return after each sentence, and look at them individually. Sometimes I’ll reorder the sentences. Sometimes I’ll write new sentences and work them in. Regardless of what I do, it’s easier to be bold and even rough with the material because I know I’m not messing anything up in my master document.

By tucking it out of the way, I’ve basically created a sandbox just for that one section that’s giving me a hard time and that gives me permission to do whatever I want with it.

Walk Away and Let It Settle

Sometimes I do this before tucking it away. Sometimes I tuck it away, play in the sandbox for a little while, and then walk away. Either way, this step is important because no matter what I’m doing, my subconscious brain is still processing, reworking, stewing on the problem of the sticky writing clump. So I go do something else knowing that giving my brain space and time to percolate will let me see the problem differently when I return to it.

Come Back to It and See How It’s Changed

Now it’s probably pretty obvious that words and sentences do not rearrange themselves on the page while you are off doing something else, giving your brain a break. But that doesn’t matter, because a more important change will have occurred—that change is in you.

How often have you experienced getting so frustrated with your writing or creative work that you’ve thrown your hands up, walked away in a huff, and didn’t come back to it for a day or two, or maybe even a week if you’re really fed up? And when you finally do return to it, it’s different? Or, you see something new?

The reality is that it’s not different, but your perspective is. There isn’t anything new, you just couldn’t see it before. This is my favorite part, because often what happens for me is that while I’m off letting it settle, I see something, or hear something, or experience something that is completely unrelated to my work, but my brain makes a connection and it’s like something clicks into place. Like when you find the puzzle piece that fits perfectly, and you press it in, feeling that satisfactory micro movement of it sinking into its rightful spot.

You’ve just witnessed exactly that happening for me with this very email. It’s Sunday afternoon as I write this. I had a goal to write one email this week, and as of this morning not only had I not written it, but I had no idea what I was going to write about. I mentioned to my husband Jeremy this morning over breakfast that I needed a prompt for my email this week. We didn’t come up with anything, so I went about the day. Jeremy left for work. I kissed him goodbye and told him to have a good day. I jumped in the shower to wash my hair.

After I was done styling my hair, there was this one wonky curl clump right in front. So I did the silly Instagram post, making an annoyed face, pointing at the curl sticking up from my forehead, using the Boomerang feature (where the action repeats over and over on a loop).

I added the text about how I deal with wonky curls, and there was that click: I can write this week’s email about that three-step process and how the way I deal with wonky curls is exactly the same as how I deal with wonky words.

How do you deal with your wonky words?

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