Saturday, August 17, 2013

It's Not Always About the Writing

There was an interesting post the other day over at Writer Unboxed on "The Dreaded Solitude of Writing" by Porter Anderson. I found it fascinating how some writers are so consumed by writing that even if they wanted to take a walk while in the midst of creating, they can't because it would interrupt the work. They are so disciplined that the writing comes first. Self-isolation and solitude are necessarily a part of such a committed writing life.

But when I read this writer's quote, about not being able to take a walk even if they wanted to, it made me feel, well...rather sad.

Now understand that I know how important discipline is to the writing life. Writers are world-class procrastinators, and if we let ourselves do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted to, we'd never get anything done.

But there's discipline, and then there's...dare I say it...selfishness.

We writers are really good at not writing. That's why there are endless books, internet memes, and articles on how we should just write, darn it, and quit messing around. The writing is the be all, end all of our lives and we need to start ignoring those dirty dishes in the sink and the piles of laundry and just get the words down.

Yes, we need those books, internet memes, and articles to help us put aside our procrastinating ways and get to work. But I also think we're in need of something to balance things out a little more, something to show us that while writing is important, there are other things that sometimes should come first.

Here's an example.

My daughter is in her last year of middle school (which means high school is next year...gulp.). As a teenager, she's going through an absolute mishmash of changes - emotionally, physically, socially, etc. She has questions and concerns. And, thank the Lord above, we have the type of relationship where she comes and talks to me about them.

(As a slight tangent, I would say that teenagers need their parents more now than they do at any other age. They need us to be there for them in every way imaginable to help them navigate this confusing obstacle course of adolescence. But that's another topic for another post.)

I've noticed that she wants to hang out with me more now than she did a few years ago. This would seem to be the opposite of the typical teenage view that all parents are dorks and dumb and can't possibly understand what they're going through and should be avoided at all costs. So I'm rather glad that she enjoys spending time with me.

But sometimes, this cuts into the writing time. There are evenings where I'll be working away and she'll come up to my office with something that's bothering her and wants to talk. Or she just wants to hang out. And even though I have a deadline that I'm trying to meet, I put aside the writing and I listen to her.

Because the writing, though important, is nowhere near as important as my daughter.

The same goes for the rest of my family. If I haven't had a chance to catch up with my husband all day and I have to choose between either an hour of writing time or an hour with him, what do you think I'm going to pick? My husband. Every. Time.

Does this mean I'm not committed enough to the writing craft? Some might say yes. They are perfectly entitled to those beliefs. I don't share them, however.

But here is what I wrote in my comment over at Writer Unboxed: "I could have ten New York Times bestsellers to my name, but if I don’t have my family to share in my success, it will mean exactly nothing."

I firmly believe that.

We can become too obsessed with the writing, to the detriment of all else. We can become so obsessed that we forget to take a walk and see the beauty of God's creation, that we can forget to enjoy time with our family, that we can forget to experience life.

Because if you don't experience life, how in the heck are you going to write about it?

I propose a balance, a sort of triage system.

Each situation is unique; each moment is unique. If you're writing, or you need to write, and something else is competing for your time, evaluate which is more important at that moment. Sometimes it really is the dishes (especially if they have started to spill over onto the counter). Sometimes it really is taking a walk. Sometimes it really is listening to your daughter share a problem from school.

And sometimes, it's the writing. The dishes don't need to be done because, well, there's only a bowl in the sink and you're just procrastinating. And you don't need to take a walk because you've got to submit your freelance article in exactly one hour and you're not finished yet. And your daughter isn't sharing a problem at all, but has determined to tell you every last detail about the new rock band she likes and won't you just listen to their song and watch this video, and then maybe go to their website and see this cute picture of the bass player and....(look, it's always good to take an interest in what our children are involved in, but if this is the same rock band she told you all about last week, you have my permission to smile and nod and say, "honey, I would love to talk to you about the bass player's latest tweet about his love for peanut butter and how you love peanut butter and wouldn't the two of you make a perfect couple, but I need to get this finished up, okay?")


So. What say you? How do you balance life with writing?


  1. I loved this post, Melissa--beautifully articulated.
    My husband and I are both writers, which means there are twice the opportunities for distractions during our day (even though it is nice to sit side by side and work together). But we also firmly believe that writing is a way of using gifts that God gave us--and thus he is a part of our writing as well. It takes a little effort sometimes, but we've made the decision to step away from the writing gladly whenever life demands it--because that is a sign that God needs us to step back. There have been weeks when neither of us wrote because our toddler daughters were sick with colds and needed us to wipe their noses every minute or so...or a dozen other similar instances. But we've usually been able to see that our writing benefited from the break...that it came at just the perfect time, when we never would have imagined that we needed to reassess our writing decisions, but the books were obviously stronger as a result.
    That said, one of the best things about being married to another writer is that he won't let me get away with distracting myself with things like scrubbing the kitchen floor (or organizing my yarn...or alphabetizing my spice cupboard...) when I just don't FEEL like writing! :)

    1. Faith, I loved reading your reply. I think you're absolutely right that we MUST step away from the writing at times. It's imperative. I think writing can become an idol just like so many other things in life that overtake our time. Thanks for sharing a slice of your life. And how cool that you and your husband keep each other on track! :-) That is a wonderful partnership.

  2. I'm right with you, family and LIFE come first for me. There's actually plenty of time for both to co-exist... and where I think the discipline comes in is managing time so both can happen. But if I'm writing and my 5-year-old nephew comes over and wants to play with me, it won't matter how well the writing's going, or if I have just a bit to go to finish the scene... he's only going to be five once, and I can finish the scene later that night after he's gone to bed, even if it cuts into my sleeptime. That's an easy choice.

    1. So agree with you, DK! There is definitely enough time for both, even though there are days it feels like there isn't. I'm all about the balance thing.

  3. This is so close to my heart right now - this balance of seeing writing as a job, and knowing mothering is still my main priority. Working (writing) from home makes this all the harder, because it means I have to literally say no if I need to get something done, rather than having the distance of a road between us to do that saying. Being in the house is like saying I'm available, but if I never said, "I really need a little time alone," I'd never, ever get anything done. I face a constant shift of guilt from not taking my writing seriously enough to not paying enough attention to my kids. Each hour is like choosing which I want to live with.

    Like you said, they won't be around forever, so for now, I'm tending towards being with them, and being much less productive as a writer. It's still crazy how hard that is to say, though. Like it makes me less serious a writer.

    1. I have felt that way so many times, Heidi - guilt over not writing enough, guilt over not spending enough time with my family because I'm writing. It's so hard. Striking a balance isn't easy, either, but I also think that if your family sees that you are trying to spend time with them AND write, they will respect you for it and understand. If you were ignoring them all the time in favor of writing, I would think they'd naturally start to resent you and the writing. So having them involved in the process of trying to make time for both is a good thing.

  4. It's different when you earn money from it as well, but either way you have to keep a balance. I have a dog who needs walking, I sing in a choir and I'm also a keen sailor - and write about that too, and all those activities keep me away from my desk!

    1. Flower, I think you're absolutely right. It DOES make a difference when you earn your living from it. Keeping it all in balance is what life is all about, I suppose. :)

  5. I love this post. I feel the same way and I have a daughter in 8th grade, too! You are an inspiration. It's kind of the old conundrum, if a building was burning and you could only save one thing, and one was a cat and one was a priceless piece of art, which one would you save. I'd pick the cat every time. I too, pick my kids and husband every time. Wonderful post. Thank you!

    1. Thanks for the kind words! I'm glad you enjoyed the post - and that you can totally relate to having an 8th grade daughter. =D (And I love your screen name, too!).


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