This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a writer’s conference and spent a big chunk of the day in the company of two younger women who between them have seven children under the age of nine. I applaud these brave women who, despite their young families, are still working hard at their craft. I know when my three children were little I neither read nor wrote for fifteen years. It is no small feat juggling work, family and a passion. My hat is off to you ladies and your commitment.
So the question is how does a writer (or any artist for that matter) balance a writing life with the rest of their life?
The first thing I would suggest is, if you live with a lot of people, buy yourself some good earplugs. Although my children are now grown, they haven’t all left the nest and my house is packed to the rafters. I know with 100% certainty that I would never have written a single word over the last ten years if it weren’t for earplugs. Earplugs and a commitment to make my life work are what help me survive the mayhem.
I live in a 2,000 sq. foot house with six other people (three generations ranging in age from 62 yrs – 2 yrs), a sixteen-year-old, ailing dog and four cats. (Some days I peer around my noisy, nuthouse and honestly wonder whether I’m in fact, living in a displaced person’s camp or maybe an animal rescue shelter.) We have a suburban sized lot and at present five people are sharing my car. Lucky me. Well yeah, I am lucky. Although it often (very often) doesn’t feel like a good thing to have so much activity swirling around me, I think my art benefits from our offbeat life.
I strongly suggest that whatever your current living arrangements are, steal from your own life. The craziness of my house provides me with endless story ideas and plot twists. If last night’s brouhaha over wet rags left in a toddler’s bicycle basket vs. abandoned pop cans, juice glasses and coffee mugs on a workbench is any indication, I will never run out of material.
I envy writers who are able to write anywhere, coffee shops, food courts, but I’m not one of them. I need a designated writing space. Never having had the luxury of spreading my family out over a 10,000 sq foot mansion or 50 acres of land, I’ve had to be creative when it comes to creating a writing space for myself. When I was a teenager my mother moved us (herself and four kids) to a three bedroom apartment. Finding space to steal away and write seemed impossible until I discovered our walk-in closet. I pushed my desk into the closet and pulled the door closed. In creating my closet office, I’d found a safe place to pour my teenage heart out onto the page. Today, I still have limited space to call my own and have once again created a closet office. Five years ago, I turned the smallest room in the house into my office and in an attempt to maximize the space, pushed my desk into the closet. TaDa!
Seems like a pretty simple suggestion and we all know what we have to do, but most of us are not always strong enough to do it. So I implore you, please help yourself by reducing your opportunities to diddle. Disconnect (or at very least shut off) Facebook, Google and your email account. If you are really good, and manage to get a lot done in the allotted time you’ve set aside for writing, reward yourself with an hour of playtime on your computer, but not until you are satisfied with your writing efforts. No cheating.
Do not have a TV in your writing room. If you have a favourite show and it airs during your writing time, watch it later on cable on demand, or on the internet (to be considered your computer playtime) once you’ve finished work. Simple but true.
If you allow it to, life will suck the artist right out of you. But…if you embrace your wild and crazy life, I promise you, your art will become a living, breathing wonder.