Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Balancing act

MJ asked in a comment to my last post how I juggle writing, being a wife, homeschooling, homemaking and breathing. (O.k., I added the breathing part.) It’s a fairly common question, and one I’ve put a lot of effort into answering in my own life. Like most answers, though, it needs a little backstory to tie up the loose ends that you see in the (never) final product.

First, I have to explain that if I am not writing, I am not a balanced person. I have tried at various points in my life to squash the urge to write, and have found that it brings me a level of misery that only a masochist could revel in. Clearly, God gave me a desire to write, and while He has not as of yet revealed His purpose for doing so, I assume that at some point it will be made clear to me. Until then ... I must write.

This is easier than it sounds. Since anyone with children knows that carving out an entire hour of time to devote to a solitary pursuit is near to impossible, it doesn’t sound that easy at all. Add to that homeschooling, housekeeping, ministry and the children’s extracurriculars, and you can see that full plates are my specialty. Having said all of that, however, I refer you to my earlier comment: If I am not writing, I am not a balanced person. Perhaps that explains why I keep writing on my list of priorities.

On to the nitty-gritty. How do I get that time? First and foremost, I have trained my children that rest time is an absolute law in my home. Everyone needs--and gets--a rest time. This started out as Jo’s nap time all those years ago, and has morphed into a time after lunch when all three children are tucked into their own beds, propped up with a book and surrounded by quiet play options. At this point in our family’s life, the sacred rest time is easy to maintain because everyone looks forward to it. Of course, it wasn’t always this way. When each of my children hit the end of their nap-time years, there was a definite training curve that ate into my writing time. Trust me, all that work has paid off.

Nowadays, I take that hour and a half as uninterrupted writing time. And I write something every day. Some days, I sit down and begin laying out the opening line that has been bouncing in my mind. (Almost all of my stories start with one line that sets up the voice in my head.) Sometimes it is simply a blog entry where I unload my brain. Other times, I edit a previously finished short story. Maybe I have a new idea that I jot ideas down for. Or, of course, I can always keep going on an existing in-progress piece.

My own preferred genre makes it easy to write in fits and starts. I have always loved short stories, and have made them my mainstay. I also love cataloging and expanding on the rich stories passed down to me through my eclectic family. These things “keep” better than other, more intricate styles of writing, which demand an increasing attention to detail as you grow the tale. I have attempted a piece longer than a novella only once, and it was clearly not my forte.

People ask me if it isn’t frustrating to have an uncertain amount of time to set aside for writing. It took me literally having a long, dry spell of not writing at all before I realized that it was better to take the time I could squirrel away than to live in that desert. This particular patch I am speaking of started when Logan was having a hard time napping and I had to accompany him to bed each afternoon to make sure he actually slept. Guess who was out first more often that not? Yep--Momma. Contributing to all of this was the fact that my new friends and neighbors (this was shortly after our move to WA) place no value on writing beyond the grades that their own children bring home from freshman composition. To say, “I didn’t answer the phone because I was writing,” was something akin to announcing that I had just dyed my hair bright pink. (And while I have also been known to dabble in the dye in my lifetime, I certainly wouldn’t admit that little nugget to them, either!)

I still do not have an extended network of support for my work here in this area. A friend has invited me multiple times to a Christian Writer’s Group, but I am not a joiner in general, and the idea intimidates me. I have one very old friend who asks from time to time what I am working on (God bless him!) as well as a brother who wants to know when I will singlehandedly revolutionize the publishing industry and put a halt to the production of the smarm that often passes as Christian literature. I don’t talk about my writing with anyone outside of my husband, children and the aforementioned friend. That’s clearly not a huge system of encouragement, but at this point, I don't let a lack of understanding or interest on behalf of others stop me.

I have to admit that at this point, I only submit a handful of my stories for publication each year. I continue to edit, rewrite and refine, but I do not currently have the time to maintain a database of submissions. I’m sure that that season will come.

I also admit that my writing time is sacrificed at least once a week to a phone call, a book I’m reading, research, ministry, quiet snuggle time with an especially needy child, or whatever else God has put on my plate for that day. The key for me is not letting it happen two days in a row; if it does, it becomes a habit quite quickly for me.

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