Or, Write For Your Life
I took this photo yesterday, after I made a gigantic breakfast before sending five kids (two of my own and three who are at the house all the time) off to school. That's my laptop, mid-manuscript, on the left. I've been asked how I manage to write in such circumstances, so here goes.
Our literary hero Stephen King says that writing should be a private experience, and ought to be conducted behind a closed door. I wanted to try this. So I did. And it absolutely sucked. I am WAY too social to be shut away, and being a single mama of busy (and also social) kids, a whole lot of solitude for writing wasn't going to happen.
"Can Be" Solitary
I realize that I am giving the British two-finger salute to most advice that we should (must?) write in solitude. This might be an unpopular opinion, though I suggest that it really doesn't have to be that way. I taught myself to focus in the company of others, think in the midst of peripheral conversations, and write in the context of chaos. That means writing at home when the kids are around, being part of a campus writing group, and (my nerdy fav!) Skypeing with a friend and writing with them via video on the side (glorified babysitting).
Kids And Company Create Simplicity
William Zinsser suggests that we streamline our writing. He also demands a realness from writing that lets others connect with us. For me, this sincerity is created by having my family, pets, and the general madness of life around. The practice of focus, mindfulness, or meditation in motion helps me to stay true to my argument, research question, theory, or conclusions. My yoga and mindfulness practice help with this, I'm sure.
Two Solutions: Early Writing and Consistency
I get up early to write. Pretty much no matter what. I stay up late, too bad for me, I get up and write anyway. I've got to a point where not writing causes me more anxiety than doing the writing. If I don't write, grade, revise, and give feedback to students, my teaching and scholarship suffer. So as Maya Angelou said, nothing works unless I do. For my family, that means that even though I write in the morning, I can still write or work when everyone and their friends are all home. I have never once asked my kids to leave the house, vacate the premises, or leave me the F alone while I get stuff done. I’m not sure if that’s because they’re all awesome or because I have developed tunnel vision. Either way, I’m living proof that it’s possible.
It would be very easy to say look, I have kids, I'm a single parent, I can't manage to publish more than two academic papers a year (for the last five years, I have published 7 or more refereed articles annually). Instead, I have learned to focus and be present even in the throes of a storm around me. It didn’t happen overnight, though it was a conscious decision and active practice on my part. I decided to learn to write while in the literal and physical fray of daily life, and it has worked well for me.
I like having a busy house, loads of kids around, and a general sense of wild hearts in Our House (in the middle of our street). It is true that my laptop has a quasi-permanent place on the table. However, it doesn’t mean that I work 24 hours a day. Jake Tapper advises that if you want to write (or accomplish anything professional, really) and have kids, when you have 15 minutes, you gotta take it. This focused practice helps to do just that. Working 24 hours a day -- that's real Madness and isn't for me.