Sunday, November 14, 2010

When Life Intervenes

I have a feeling that Stephen King doesn’t clean toilets or drive carpool or host Thanksgiving dinner for 14 people. Maybe I’m wrong. Before he had his big breakthrough with his novel Carrie, he was a high school teacher and the father of young children. I’m sure there were days when he had a hard time getting his 2000 words written. In his book On Writing he says empathically that he writes 2000 words a day every day—whether it takes him two hours to do it. Or ten.

People who don’t write probably think that’s crazy. No one is going to know, after all, whether or not you get your writing done. If you’re making millions of dollars a year, of course, it probably seems worth it, but when you’re just starting out and not getting paid for your efforts, it’s kind of hard to justify the amount of time and work involved in writing a book. At some point you recognize, though, that you feel better when you write and you feel cruddy when you don’t. And that’s that.

I didn’t write much at all when I was teaching and when my kids were little. I know there are writers who do this (ie. Stephen King) but apparently I’m not one of them. Teaching sapped the life out of me and now that I think about it, my young kids did too. I don’t regret this, by the way, even though it meant I had a late start with my writing career. I’m glad I was able to give my job and later my family my undivided attention. There was a nice bonus for them too, in that I had all this untapped creativity that pretty much had nowhere to go. For example, my four year old son and I made a to-scale model of a Viking ship complete with 50 toothpick oars poking out of the sides. When my daughter turned eight I threw her the coolest (if I do say so myself) Harry Potter birthday party. The guests had a potions lesson and drank homemade butter beer and ran around in the backyard on brooms playing a game of quidditch while I pelted them with water balloons (which were supposed to be the bludgers).

When I quit work to write full time my biggest hurdle was figuring out how to manage my time. It was easy to start the day off with the best of intentions and slowly slip off course. Once I started recording how many words I wrote, it got easier. Well, not exactly easier, but I found that I had something concrete to measure. Using this method I’ve been able to write two novels a year and still have time left over to revise. Now my biggest hurdle is figuring out how to take time off. I’ve developed such strict work habits over the years I’m afraid that if I cut myself too much slack next thing I know I’ll be sacked out in front of the TV watching a Jersey Shore marathon. Not that I’ve ever done this, but…

What I need to remember is that I’m not Stephen King (Haha, in case anyone was wondering) and some days I’m not going to be able to write my words. Sometimes life is going to intervene. I’m a writer. But I’m also a person. And people have lives to live which include doing mundane tasks like laundry but also important valuable things like reading a book to your daughter’s class or baking someone’s birthday cake. Or hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for 14.

I’m not worried. Really. November 29 I’ll be at my desk (or at my assigned comfy chair in the library) plugging away on my words. I can’t promise you my house will be clean though. Some things you really have to let slide.

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