The Not-Writing Life

I haven’t written anything but blogs since early February. As someone who recently left a 9-to-5 job intending to focus on my writing career, this is a really tough admission.

Plenty of blogs and workshop teachers and well intentioned fellow writers with their lives in order will tell you that there’s no good excuse. You’re writer when you write. You’re a writer when you’re incapable of not writing.

Sometimes they’re right. Sometimes we writers aren’t writing because we’re avoiding the grueling, lonely work. Sometimes we are procrastinating. Sometimes we’re mismanaging our time.

But I am the primary caregiver of an active, happy, almost-walking, still-nursing 8-month-old. To say that my time is not my own is cruel. Of course it isn’t. Saying it doesn’t make it easier for me to digest; it just makes it feel insurmountable.

And since February, I’ve been struggling with the idea that this is how life will be forever. My edges and corners will fade and soften and my dimensions will flatten and I’ll become nothing but a mom. I’ll embody the paper-doll image kids have of their parents and teachers: that the role they fill in kids’ lives is the only thing they are. If I don’t write, if all I have time for is mom-stuff, how am I any thing more than a mom?

The panic has been crippling.

But here’s my truth. I am a writer. I am not writing now because I have priorities that have to come first. If you’ve had any writing mentors worth their salt, they’ve stressed self-care. Sure, you’re a writer, but you need to shower and eat right and exercise and see people. You have to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally. When that stuff is right, your writing is stronger.

Right now, I also need to mother. And right now that means nursing her on demand, chasing her around the house, changing her diapers, keeping good food on the table for the whole family, getting outside regularly, and making sure I continue beating back the horror of a mess that I have allowed to grow in my house.

So, no, I don’t have an hour to write every day. No, I don’t get to write when she naps. No, extra help really isn’t going to remarkably change how much I’m able to do right now.

The really important thing is that I’m getting to be okay with that and I’m focusing on what I CAN do.

I can’t reasonably finish my current WIP in 15-minute spurts or while an endless stream of Sesame Street episodes plays or while I’m doing dishes/laundry/diaper duty. But I can read: I’ve been tanking up on great stories and craft to make sure I am not writing in a vacuum. And I can blog (and as a few friends have reminded me, that is writing, even if it’s not my book).

I can’t stay up extra late or wake up extra early and get words in. Right now there are other things I’d need to accomplish with those waking hours. But if I choose sleep, I’ll be healthy and centered when the time comes.

And I can’t just give up and say I’m not a writer. I’m no less compelled to put word on a page. I’m no less devoted to the stories in my head. I am just not writing right now.

I’m far from the only one with this experience. Life can and does take precedent sometimes. I have friends who have had to take care of loved ones, whose day jobs must come first, whose own health must be addressed. Life doesn’t make them less writerly. It might force them to press pause, to produce more slowly, to change their habits, but it does not take from them their passion.

Listen, if an athlete took a season off due to injury, illness, or to be someone’s caretaker, they wouldn’t be less of an athlete. They’d need to get back into shape before their return, sure, but we wouldn’t say they were no longer a football/baseball/basketball/etc. player if they just took some time off. And we wouldn’t be shocked to hear that they were exercising as best as they could, playing pick-up games casually, or attending games as a spectator.

I am a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a hiker, a knitter, a gardener, a terrible housekeeper, and a writer. If you disagree, you’ll just have to be shocked when I finish my book. And I’ll be very pleased to prove you wrong.

Now if you’ll excuse me, ELF needs a nap.


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