I had one of those chance conversations today that start small and finish really big. A friend and I were chatting about plants and about pools and about travel, when we got onto the subject of writing. I know that she has writing dreams, so I asked how they were going.
“Not well,” she admitted, before confessing that she had trouble finding the time to write.
(We have discussed before my thoughts on making time, but stay with me here – I’m branching out, I promise.)
We went through a whole range of variations of how busy life is and how hard it is to find the time to do the things we want. But there was more to it. There’s always more to it.
Like many women, many mothers, she’s struggling to fit the thing she wants to do in around the things she feels she has to do. The things that other people expect her to do. Writing, particularly when it’s not paid, looks like a colossal waste of time to non-writers – particularly to those people who might be working long hours to keep the family afloat financially.
Writing eats up hours. It is the kind of thing that can take you far away from the dirty dishes in the sink and the unmade beds and the general detritus of daily life. Right up until the point where the family comes home and you find yourself rushing around, trying to make up for lost time.
“There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.”
I was surprised to find that the architect of this very well-known quote was a man (US literary critic Cyril Connolly to be precise). To me, it is something a female writer might have come up with after the sleepless nights and interrupted thought patterns that accompany the newborn infant. Or perhaps even about the overriding sense of responsibility and selflessness that accompanies being a parent. A mother.
Writing is a selfish task. It is all about you. Most women I know find that particular concept very, very difficult to put into practice once they have children. I know that I have. My freelance writing is one thing – it’s my job, it’s paid, it helps with family income. But the fiction? Colossal gamble. Hours and hours and hours of my life in pursuit of a dream. Making myself sit down at 10pm at night. Getting up early (okay, once).
I know female authors who can’t work in school holidays, no matter where they’re at with their latest project. I know female authors who tuck their writing away from their families, hiding it from husbands who don’t like the impact it has on family life. Compartmentalising.
Like a cuckoo in the nest, writing is viewed as a voracious beast that has the potential to disrupt familiar routines and interfere with family time.
Babies do not get that you have a deadline and you need them to sleep, right NOW, for at least two hours.
Children do not understand that you are in full flight, on a roll, chasing down the most glorious idea that you’ve ever had. They want their afternoon snack, right NOW, and it’s time for swimming lessons, thanks.
Partners sometimes don’t get why you’d want to give up quality tele time with them to get back to your computer and the particular juicy subplot that came to you in the shower.
Houses do not clean themselves.
I understand it. Family units work best when each family member is present. When I’m writing something, I spend a lot of time in my head. I can be reading a bedtime story to my boys while busily devising my own quite different plot point at the same time. After I walk the boys to school, I meander home in the sunshine, deep in my own thoughts. This is not always ideal in a smallish town where people wonder why you look straight through them on the street.
Most female writers I know have learnt to manage without the long stretches of writing time that is the ‘ideal’ for creating great work. They write in snatches, when they can. They work hard to get the writing done without inconveniencing anyone else.
But they still write.
What am I saying here?
If you’re struggling, like my friend, with this notion that your writing is somehow inconvenient, that you should be spending your time doing more worthwhile things, find a way. Do it at a time when it affects no-one at all, be that 5am or midnight or during your lunch hour at work.
If you have stories to write, then write them.
You only get one crack at this life. Don’t let dirty dishes and expectations stand between you and your writing dream.
To steal a catchphrase: You’re worth it.
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