Writing Despite It All

I spent the afternoon in Narnia.

This is actually my third post in a row on being an introvert. The first was “On Withdrawing,” the second was “Introversion,” and this is the third one.

But yesterday, Jason posted the following in the comment section:

“Okay, here’s another question (whether you choose to devote another blog post to it or not): With all the demands that teaching full-time entails, what have you done to establish time for your creative writing? (Because I can tell you, mine has suffered quite a lot; I’ve got 40,000 words of a novel languishing on my hard drive for years.)”

And I know exactly what he means. Although to be honest, teaching is not the problem. It’s teaching plus. This year, the plus has included writing the dissertation, and I imagine that if I can write a dissertation while teaching, I can certainly write a novel, which is much easier for me. The plus also includes my personal obligations, including taking care of Ophelia, which is what I was doing today.

Her last day of school was Friday, and so today she was home with me. She’ll be home with me tomorrow as well, and then tomorrow night Kendrick will take her to Colorado, where her grandparents have a vacation house. She’ll stay with them for two weeks, swimming and riding.

Spending two days watching her is not a problem, or shouldn’t be, except that my Folkroots column is due on the 29th. I would have gotten it closer to done earlier but the semester ended  and my grades were due, and then there was Wiscon, and then I got sick, and then I needed to do the emergency revising that I mentioned a while back, and then there was Odyssey, and now here I am. Scrambling, as I almost never used to, but as I have so often this year. Writing a 4000 word column while watching a seven-year-old.

So what did I do today? Well first, I told her that if she finished her first set of ten hours in the Reading Challenge, we could go to the library and pick up a prize. She had picked up the challenge less than a week ago, but was already close to her first ten hours. So I spent some time this morning doing research while she read. When she was done, we went to the library to pick up her prize (a water pistol, about which we made one rule: no shooting me), and then of course we got ice cream and ate it on the Battle Green. When we got home, we discussed the fact that I needed to get work done. She had taken out some Shaun the Sheep videos, so she watched those while I worked (more research, and of course typing). When she was tired of the videos, we went to the park, but I’d been able to work for several hours. (I know, videos. But she’s going to spend a very active two weeks in Colorado, so I don’t think a few videos about stop-motion sheep are going to hurt her. And they’re very clever videos. British humor, you know.)

How do you write despite it all? Well, first, you need to decide that writing is a priority. This is where the arrogance and ruthlessness come in, I suppose. I’m arrogant in that I’ve decided my writing is important enough to prioritize. Important enough that I insist on space and time for myself. Going to Wiscon, teaching at Odyssey, writing my column: those are all parts of my career. And I’m ruthless enough to say, I’m going to do them. Even if I have to say, “I can’t play right now because I need to finish my column, all right?”

But you know what? I want Ophelia to grow up watching me set goals for myself, accomplish them, and gain recognition for my work. I grew up with parents who traveled all over the world, had multiple degrees, were accomplished in their fields. And that made a significant difference in my life. I grew up assuming I could do the same.

I don’t know how to give anyone specific advice on making time for writing. So much depends on individual circumstances. But I think the first step is to make writing a priority. Many people don’t do that. They try to fit it in where they can, rather than fitting everything else around it. I used to do that too. But this year, specifically, my perspective changed. I think my perspective on myself changed, as well as on my writing. And I started to think of the writing as what I knew I was going to do. Then I thought, how can I fit in everything else?

My posts have rambled lately! I get to the end of them and realize that what I’ve said wasn’t at all what I meant to say. I think it’s because I’m still tired. What was I talking about, anyway? Prioritizing your writing. Being an introvert in a society that doesn’t value introversion. Which I’ve actually said nothing about, except implicitly: you need to make time for yourself. You need to insist on space. Ruthlessly, otherwise you will not be the person you want to be, which means you can’t be the parent your child needs either. I believe strongly that in order to be good parents, in order to be role models for our children, we need to be fulfilled as individuals. We need to follow our own destinies, so they can see us doing so, and do so in their own lives.

Am I tying all this together? Perhaps if I introduce a quotation from C.S. Lewis: “I am sure that some are born to write as trees are born to bear leaves.” If you’re one of those who are born to write, you need to create the space and time. Otherwise, you will continue to have that vague feeling of discontent. You know what I mean, don’t you? The feeling that lets you know you’re not doing what you should be.

As I write this, Ophelia is standing at my shoulder, squirting water into her mouth from her water pistol. I ask her if she likes that I’m a writer. She says yes. I ask her why, and she says, “Remember when you wrote about me?” I’ve written about her many times, so I’m not sure which time she means. I say, “I’ll write about you right now.” She says, “Then I’ll be famous!” And then I get some very wet goodnight kisses. (Another one of our rules: after bedtime, she has to be in her room, but she can decide to stay up and play for a while. She usually puts herself to bed fairly quickly. But it’s another rule that avoids unnecessary fuss.)

So, on the 29th I’ll turn in my Folkroots column, and then I’ll have two solid weeks with absolutely no distractions. To do nothing but work on the dissertation. It’s going to be exhausting, and I’m going to hate it. But at least it will get done. And then, after I’ve defended in the fall – well. Just wait and see the magnificent things I’ll do.

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2 Responses to Writing Despite It All

  1. dayya says:

    I always enjoy your posts. This one’s particularly on the nose because it’s a great big struggle to create space and time to write while dealing with the many ambushes of living day to day. Since I have a long commute–I call it the zombie run–I rise early, get to the office very early, and write until the work day starts. It keeps me on track. Thanks for your inspiring words. d:)

  2. Tim Pratt says:

    I always feel bad for ignoring my kid for a while to write on the days we spend together. Fortunately, at 3.5 years old he’s getting more into independent, imagination-centric play, so it’s a bit easier than it used to be. But that hopeful tone when he says “You all done working daddy?” just kills me.

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