My mother (Suzanne Newton) is a writer, author of nine novels for young adults published by Westminster Press and Viking. Her first book came out in 1970 when I was six. My mother was thirty-four and had four children under the age of eleven, yet somehow she succeeded in doing something I still haven’t mastered. She knew how to claim her writing time.
My mom wrote in my parents’ bedroom, the only room with a window-unit air conditioner. She went in there every morning and stayed until lunch time, banging out prose on a manual Hermes typewriter that kept her fingers strong for piano-playing and opening pickle jars. From her room she could hear us playing outside, and come out if necessary, say, to wash our mouths out with soap for saying bad words like “pee pee head.” She rarely came out. This was the 1970s, before hover-craft parenting was the norm, and mothers could get away with raising children by means of benign neglect. My siblings and I pretty much ran wild. While we were roaming as far as we could pedal on our bikes, eating all the candy our allowance would purchase at the local mini-mart, bathing every other night and only occasionally washing our hair, my mom was writing.
I have been far less successful than my mom at claiming my writing time. I try to carve out Fridays from 8:30 to 2 to write, but far too often it doesn’t happen. For me, the issue isn’t “time thieves” like television, video games, Facebook (or writing blog pieces for the Flatiron writers!). If these were the problems I could drop them cold turkey. The three things that most often shove writing off my agenda are 1) my child, 2) my law practice, and 3) church work. These are all good things that are important and that sometimes legitimately demand that I give them priority. Sometimes, though, I let them claim more of me than I should.
I love my kid to distraction, and perhaps because my parents were so hands-off, I’ve made a conscious decision to parent differently, to show up at every game and performance, to notice what she’s up to, to make sure she bathes and brushes her hair! But my child wouldn’t suffer if I chauffeured her fewer places or supervised fewer play dates. Heck, she might like me to leave her alone a bit more.
And then there’s work. When I was young I had my palm read twice. One psychic told me I was going to be a lawyer, the other said I would be a cosmetologist. (They both told me I would have five children, but that’s another story). I sometimes think it would have been better if I had gone to beauty school. Cosmetology is a career that you can leave at the salon when you go home. Clients come in to get their hair cut and then leave–their cases don’t drag on for months and years, with crises on Fridays. In many ways my legal career has been very rewarding, but someone told me recently you have to devote 10,000 hours to something to become really good at it. The career I’ve chosen has definitely stood in the way of my accruing 10,000 hours as a writer.
Finally, church work. It’s one thing to say “no” to my child or to work obligations. It’s another to say “no” to God! I’m involved in my church because I love it, but in the last few years church work has become almost another part time job. I don’t mind the meetings (I’m Baptist, we do everything by committee and you would not believe the number of meetings) because they happen at night when I wouldn’t be writing anyway. What bumps my writing time is preparing to teach adult Sunday School every week. I can never seem to get it done before Friday, so on Fridays when I’m supposed to be writing fiction, quite often instead I’m preparing Sunday’s lesson. Right now I’m finishing up an eight-week teaching commitment, and I think I’m just going to have to say “no” to any more teaching for the rest of this year so I can make some headway on the short stories I’m supposed to be writing. Sorry, God!
I don’t blame anyone but myself when a week (or more) passes with no time spent writing. I believe fundamentally that people make time for the things they really care about. In addition to writing during the day while her urchin children roamed the neighborhood, I remember my mother standing over her ironing board late at night after she had put us to bed, with an iron in one hand and her pen and writing notebook in the other. Real writers don’t moan about lack of writing time. Real writers write.
Copyright 2009 Heather Newton
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