Friday, June 12, 2009

Fuse Beads, a Metaphor for Writing

My kids are gung-ho these days for an arts-and-craft activity called fuse beads. This involves a tub of 10,000 multi-colored plastic beads that the kids meticulously place on forms to create rainbow colored dogs, fish, or other designs of their choice.

I have mixed feelings about this craft. When the kids are using them, the beads inevitably roll en masse onto my kitchen floor and scatter, creating a spectacular mess that apparently disturbs only me. Worse, no fuse bead creation is complete until it has been covered with wax paper and ironed. The heat melts the beads together so that each lovely creation can be preserved forever. That’s nice and everything, but kids can’t iron so we all know who gets this job.

I tolerate these inconveniences because as a mother and a writer, I believe it’s important to foster creativity in kids. It takes my three-year-old son about a half hour to complete a design. His intense concentration during this time is incredible and when I watch him dig for the right color, or move a bead from one peg to another because the first choice wasn’t satisfactory, I know I’ve chosen a good use for his time. It’s great for his coordination and imagination and beats the heck out of watching TV.

The other day we sat at opposite ends of our kitchen table. My son worked on a multi-colored bead fish while I caught up on bills and letters. A 10,000 Maniacs CD played on the stereo and each of us worked without talking, both concentrating. Then he looked up and said, “Mom, want to see my fish?” It was barely started, but I told him how nice it looked and we returned to our work.

A few minutes later, he broke his silence again, wanting only my approval and encouragement before carrying on. It occurred to me then that, except for the mess involved, my little boy and his beads are much like me and my writing. We both have an idea how we want our project to turn out. We’re willing to spend the time it takes. Rearranging pieces to get the right effect is not only necessary, but fun. And we both want an outside opinion partway through, just to be sure.

Usually, I feel what I call “Mom Guilt” where my writing is concerned. My kids are still young (ages 3, 7, and 8) and even if I’m not at my laptop writing, I’m frequently away somewhere in my thoughts, plotting. Since my mental energy is often divided between my children and my work-in-progress, I sometimes feel I’m letting the kids down. This exchange at the table was the first time I recognized that being a writer had the potential to improve my ability to parent.

In the half hour we sat together, he must have asked my thoughts on his fish at least a half a dozen times. Having the same conversation with a three-year-old every few minutes is tedious. There are only so many ways I can express that a fish is pretty or colorful or awesome or cool. What previously would have been a repetitive exchange became meaningful when I finally made the connection between his pursuit and mine. Empathizing with his need for input, I became more patient, encouraging, and sincere. It felt really good to have an old conversation in a new way with my little boy.

The revelation helped with the Mom Guilt issue, but didn’t address the gazillion fuse bead creations overrunning my house. It was here I found the second parallel between fuse beads and writing. With three kids, all craft zealots, artwork piles up around my house all the time. I save my favorites but have to remind myself as I’m clearing out paintings, sketches, or bead creations, that there’s simply not enough room to keep it all. “It was the experience that mattered,” I tell myself, anytime I’m gathering up craft shrapnel for covert disposal. The value is not always in the art itself but in the time spent making it—the exercise in creativity, constructive use of their time, and the satisfaction of bringing a mental image to physical form.

I’m beginning to view my scenes like my kids’ copious artwork—as creative exercises, constructive uses of my time, and a physical manifestation of something imagined. Whether I use those scenes or cut them, the time spent exploring ideas is golden. I learned a lot from those obnoxious little beads.

Rachel Brady

Rachel Brady’s debut suspense novel, Final Approach, will be released in October or can be pre-ordered from Amazon. A graduate of Wright State University and The Ohio State University, Rachel works as a biomedical engineer when she’s not writing mystery and suspense fiction. Her interests include health and fitness, acoustic guitar, and books of all kinds. She lives outside of Houston, Texas, with her husband and their three children. Visit her on-line at or read about her experiences as a new author at her blog, Write It Anyway. Fellow internet junkies can follow her on Twitter or add her as a friend on Goodreads.


  1. Great blog, Rachel. I had the mom guilt once but it didn't last since my kids were older when I started writing. I so appreciate your insights on this. Makes perfect sense to me!


  2. You're amazing to even try writing with a three-year-old in the house. I waited until my five kids were much older before I did any serious writing.

    However, I did do a lot of writing on my first book that sold while babysitting three grandkids, five years old and under. Must admit, I pretty much let them do what they wanted while I sat at the end of the dining room table working. I cleaned up the mess after they went home. (Yes, I did take time out for potty time, diaper changes, lunch, snacks, walking the 5 year old to and from kindergarten with the other two in tow, and lots of hugs.)

    a.k.a. F. M. Meredith

  3. Thanks, Leann and Meredith. Meredith, my outpost is the end of the dining room table also. I'm glad to hear how other moms and grandmas have made it happen. Where there's a will, there's a way, right?

    And now my random despair: Got the whole family up at 2AM for the launch of Endeavour, pulled up to the meeting spot at KSC, and saw the big sign: LAUNCH POSTPONED. NO NEW DATE SET. There's blog material in here somewhere.

  4. Ah! As I feared. I was getting on I-10 this morning around 5AM when I thought... Did I call her Meredith?

    I'm sorry, MARILYN! I know who you are! I could blame my mistake on the early hour, but the real truth is, I've always liked the name Meredith and I think my brain looks for excuses to type it!