How to chose a non-traditional writer’s life and be ok with it…

standard September 10, 2013 4 responses

A while back I read a book called Chapter After Chapter, by Heather Sellers. So much about that book inspired me to keep pushing through the chaos and actually write the book that was in my head and my heart. Much about that book also frustrated me to no end.

In one chapter, the author, a writing teacher, urged the reader/wannabe writer to give up everything that wasn’t about the writing. No more book club, no more volunteering at the church soup kitchen, no more going out with friends after work or at lunch. Basically, she said, the writing has to be your everything and if you’re not willing to give up everything else, then maybe you’re not really meant to be a writer.

I hated that premise back then and I still hate it today. When I read that chapter I decided to just ignore that tidbit and get on with my writer’s life as it was – living my life to the fullest and writing when I could.

I still live like that.

True, I don’t get a ton of writing done (see: piss-poor posting schedule on this here blog). True, it’s taken me many, many years to get to the point where I can say my book is being published in January. True, my next book might well take just as long to make it to the public eye.

So be it.  I have a book club I love. Friends who lift me up and fill my heart with joy. Well adjusted children who are happy at school. And a thriving relationship with my husband. (The house is still a mess. I do have some priorities.)

But every so often, I hear a little voice in the back of my head that whispers “You should be writing now instead of doing this. You don’t really need to take on another project…” Then the guilt comes.

Yesterday another mom at school, successfully published author of many books, asked me how my new book was coming along. I cringed and had to answer truthfully that, since our last chat two weeks ago, I’d been caught up in a maelstrom of volunteer committee prep for the school year.

“Oh,” she said with a little shrug. “That’s funny. I chose to put my writing before all the volunteering stuff. I guess I’ll be in the classroom when I’m done with my book.”

There wasn’t an ounce of judgement in her voice. It was pure observation. But I walked away feeling awed by her dedication to her craft. She was putting the writing first and everything else second. And, if ever there was a case of the proof being in the pudding, she’s working on her eighth book, while I’ve barely finished the first third of the first draft of my second book.

I walked my kids to the car listening to them chatter about their day and pondering how the exchange had made me feel. I’d spent the whole morning and a good chunk of the afternoon working on volunteer stuff and if I was honest ab out it I was feeling pretty darn good about myself. The program I had worked on is one I truly believe in and one I’m proud to be spearheading at school.

Turns out, I didn’t feel any guilt about not having written anything yet that day.

We drove home and I made the kids and their play date friends some snacks and then I sat down at my computer… to do a little more volunteer work. I hesitated for a minute and thought about the writing again. And then I thought about the kids.

This year I’m going to be the “party mom” in both of their classrooms and I’m going to be a lead on the Project Cornerstone team (a YMCA lead anti bullying and self esteem building program). I’m pretty sure I’ll get involved with the book fair in some capacity or another. And, while I’m at it, I agreed to run local mother’s group again.

Yes, it’s a lot of volunteer work, no doubt about it. Add to that the hours that I have to spend on work for clients and it leaves precious little time to work out let alone write.

But I think I’m OK with that.

My kids are going to be “little” for a really, relatively speaking, short amount of time. In our district parents are only invited into the classroom to volunteer through 6th grade. After that, there’s very little cause to even be on campus much. Soon enough everyone will be in middle school and I’ll find that my volunteer opportunities are few and far between.

Sure, I could spend the next 6 years holed up in my office, keyboard under my fingers, computer screen in front of my face, cranking out novel after novel. I bet I could have a nice little collection of books on my shelf before Little L starts 7th grade if I did that.

But I don’t think that’s how I want to live my life.

There are mom writers who write every moment they can, who spend their days living and breathing their stories. In many ways I envy their focus and their drive. But I don’t believe that that’s the only way to be a successful writer.

When I was a kid I dreamed of the day I’d be a mom. I didn’t decide I also wanted to be a writer until after I had C. I know I’ll be writing for the rest of my life. There’s going to be plenty of time to eventually devote hours on end to my craft. And while I know I’ll also be a mom for the rest of my life, my role as leading player in my children’s lives isn’t a forever thing. I’m very conscious of this.

Last year I shared with you how Disney urged us all to remember that we only get 18 summers. I’m trying to remember that I only get 6 years. In the grand scheme of things, that’s really nothing.

So for now, I’ll volunteer as much as I can, be as engaged as possible, and write when I can. I’ll journal, blog, write and store up all the stories I gather as I live my life to the fullest rather than just observing everyone else live theirs. It’s not how every writer works and it’s definitely not the quick path to success, but it’s the right path for me and my family and I’m more than happy to live with that.

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4 responses

  • I can relate. I had similar thoughts when I heard about Diana Nyad, the 60-something year old woman who devoted much (all?) of her life to achieving a difficult goal. Her story of determination is inspiring and yet I can’t help but wonder what she’s missed along the way due to her single-minded dedication to her goal.

    But then I wondered if maybe I’m just lazy and making excuses for not achieving MY goals.

  • I have no idea why, but this premise of “the thing must be your all” reminds me of athletes who only think of food as fuel. I see the packets of goo (gu?) in the bike shop and I think, “Oh how sad. You’re missing the whole point of living”. Like Kim said above, I admire the dedication, but why can’t I be polyamorous in my “passions” 🙂

  • We really are young women! It may not feel like it but we are. And we can by polyamorous;). But only 1 love can win at a time! And since out children will get old and leave us, they win for right now;). Such is life! I will be 50 when my baby is 18, that leaves me a lot of years to conquer the world! Join me;).

  • Just came up for air and had a chance to read this and I love it. I struggle with this balance constantly. I am happiest when I can contribute to my kid’s school, and I’m now working part time to accommodate that happiness. But I am left haunted by a subtle sense that I’m letting someone down (myself? My feminist mommy comrades?) by no longer working toward any sort of career advancement.

    Oh well. Life is just too exciting and interesting and wonderful for there to be only 24 hours in the day!

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