This Thing Called the Future made the ALA 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults list! Whoo-hoo! Party tonight!
Madeleine L’Engle was one of my favorite writers as a child, and I remember being startled by an excerpt in her memoirs when she remembers the time her family gave her a standing ovation when she actually cleaned the kitchen floor.
This made a huge impression on me–the knowledge that one thing (writing) could be more important than another thing (a clean house). It was Madeleine L’Engle’s ability to prioritize and let some things go that allowed her to write through years of rejection letters when she had three kids and she and her husband were running a country store. She worked full-time, she was a full-time mom, and she wrote. Her husband was the one who got up early with the kids and got them off to school so she could stay up late and write.
I could tick off a whole list of things I’ve given up, partly for my writing career and also partly because these things happen naturally when you dedicate yourself to a life of the mind, to a life of creativity. It’s all part of carving out more time for myself and also carving out a life of stillness amidst the noise of modern life and motherhood.
- Without a doubt, housework suffers. While I would love to be more organized, I am not willing to spend my writing hours keeping the clutter at bay or cleaning toilets. My house isn’t a wreck but Martha Stewart would definitely have a heart attack.
- I do not go to parties. I will not use the word “never” here but it is just about. The last party I went to was over a year ago, and it was a gathering of writers, so I can justify it as work. But I am selective about those types of parties, too. Networking is important, and having good writing friends is also important, but most good writing friends understand when you beg off the party in order to write.
- On the weekends, when my husband is home and hanging out with the baby, I catch up with writing–not with housework and not with friends.
- I watch very little television and we don’t go to the movies.
- Most significant, I have given up a full-time job with health benefits, job security, and a good salary. I might add that, until this year, my husband didn’t have those things either.
The hardest thing I’ve had to give up is more recent, and it has everything to do with being a writing mom. A nightly glass of wine has been my habit for the last decade but recently I have given it up. Why? Because I need to work after my son goes to bed, and I don’t feel like working after a glass of wine.
Most of this happened gradually. I used to go to parties, but over time, it got easier to say no, until that was just second nature. I used to be more organized, but then I married Chris and he isn’t the most organized of people. I quickly decided that I could spend all my time picking up after him…or I could let it go. I chose the latter. This has translated into laxness with housework overall, and it has bought me more time to focus on writing.
I don’t think you have to give up everything to be a writer. And I don’t think everybody has to give up the same things. This is what has worked for me. But what about you? What have you given up for your art? Or what is one thing you are willing to give up?
Before I became a mother, I had carved out a pretty cushy writing life for myself. I teach college writing classes online and I do freelance writing and editorial work, so my job was extremely flexible. In the morning when I woke up, I made myself some coffee and sat down to write for four or five hours. Then I would go for a walk or the gym, take a shower, and spend the afternoon grading papers or doing other bill-paying work. If the morning’s writing session had gone particularly well and I didn’t have a lot of pressing “other” work, I might spend the afternoon writing as well. I took weekends “off” but usually spent a couple of hours on the weekend writing anyway.
Writing-wise, I got a lot done. And I could justify the small amount of money the writing actually brought to the household budget because I was getting published and was becoming recognized as a young adult writer of some talent. Costs were minimal and I brought in enough money through teaching and editorial work to make up for what I wasn’t bringing in through writing.
Enter the birth of my son 15 months ago and I was ushered into an entirely different reality. When I wake up in the morning, I still make coffee–but now I hang out with the baby while he plays. I work hard to check my email and get a shower before his morning nap so that I can hit the ground running as soon as his head hits the pillow. I’m still juggling the bill-paying work with my writing career, and it seems like that money doesn’t stretch as far as it did before, so I’m always drumming up new ways to make money, which eats into the writing time even more. I do have a babysitter, but I need her to get the bill-paying work done, especially since my son is a poor sleeper and rarely takes naps longer than an hour. (Hour long naps happen only when I’m lucky!)
I’ve lost the luxury of time, something any mother knows all about.
So I’ve been learning to write in increments. The best advice I’ve received all year came from another writing mother who also juggles a demanding full-time faculty position at a community college. Her kids are older but she knows what writing moms deal with. I was making an appearance at a literary festival and fielding audience questions and her question was this: “How do you balance it all?” I laughed and said, “Not very well!” Afterward, she came over and told me that the year before, she’d started her new job and was wondering how she would keep writing and still keep up with her workload. She’d noticed–as I’ve noticed–that many of the other full-time English faculty “used to write.” She didn’t want her writing to be a casulty of the job. So she asked another faculty member with a strong publishing record in poetry how he managed.
And this is what he told her: “Do a little bit of everything every day.” Do a little bit of grading…do a little bit of writing…do a little bit of committee work…
Her advice hit me like a ton of bricks. My strategy up to that point had been to clear my plate of everything else and then try to get a morning to write. I was always frustrated, though, because I’d get my grading done (it had to get done, after all) and I’d get the editorial work done (I was on deadline, after all) but when I sat down to write, inevitably, that would be the morning when my son wouldn’t take a nap. Or he’d be sick. Or I’d sit at the computer with nothing to write because I wasn’t in the mode for it. I’d never had that problem before–the writing always flowed. And it always flowed because I sat down every day and what I was working on was always in the back of my mind. Take a week or two weeks off and then try to write for several hours–uh-uh, wasn’t happening. The juices take a while to flow and you have to keep them flowing. So writing just a little bit every day makes total sense. If all you have is 15 minutes, do it. If you’re lucky enough to have an hour, take it.
That advice isn’t just for writing, by the way. If you’re anything like me, you battle daily with Creep and Clutter. I’m learning to attack one thing every day. That means I’m not trying to keep everything bright and shiny, but if I can clean one drawer in 15 minutes, at least that one drawer is better. I’m hoping that this will help me get and stay organized over all.
And as for the writing, it’s happening. It’s just a whole lot slower than it used to be….