A Time to Write

By Allison Brennan

I made someone cry last week.

I didn’t mean to. I went to speak to the Yosemite Romance Writers last Saturday and I gave a variation on my workshop “Breaking Rules to Break In or Break Out” which is about shucking the so-called “rules” that we allow others to impose on our creativity. (Many of these “rules” apply to romance only, but some are cross-genre—such as never write a prologue or don’t use flashbacks. For those Murderati readers who are going to the RWA conference in Orlando, Toni, JT and I will be joined by Random House editor Shauna Summers to present this workshop on Saturday afternoon.)

Inevitably, when I open the floor to questions, one question is always asked: how do I find the time to write while being a wife and mother to five kids.

Writing has always been extremely important in my life. When I hit thirty, I realized I wasn’t completely happy, but didn’t know why. Then it hit me: I’d stopped writing when I got married. I went from writing almost every day to writing a couple days a month. Or less.

So I started writing again. Every day. It wasn’t easy. I had to make sacrifices, and so did my husband. I gave up television to make the time to write. Three hours every night, after the kids were in bed, I sat at the computer and wrote. Every night. (Except one night a week as a compromise to my husband who didn’t like the new schedule.) I couldn’t write during the day because I had a full-time job. I couldn’t write in the evenings because I had children to care for who hadn’t seen me all day. So nine to midnight was my writing time.

Now, I write full time. Anyone who works from home knows that working from home is still WORKING. But many who don’t work from home think that it’s easy for us to “just” do one thing—make calls for a church rummage sale, volunteer at the school, coach the kids soccer team, pick up the dry cleaning, run elderly mom to the doctor—the list goes on.

I think I’m more sensitive to this because I’ve been on both sides. I worked full-time outside of the house—thirteen years as a consultant in the California State Legislature. Yet I was the one who took the kids to the doctor; if someone was sick I stayed home; I had to leave exactly at five to get the kids before the school or day care closed at six; I made dinner, gave baths, did the laundry, made lunches, and got the kids ready for school in the morning.

Just because now I work from home (the emphasis on WORK) doesn’t mean that I suddenly have all this free time and can add more to my full plate.

It wasn’t easy to get to this point. I told the group that each one of them had to learn to say “NO.” Whether they work full-time or are a SAHM, whether they are married or not, have kids or not, have elderly parents or not, they need to understand that if they want to write—if writing fulfills them, completes them, is something they love to do and makes them happy—they have to make sacrifices to find the time to write.

But what do you do when your spouse or family ridicules your dream? What do you do when they are passive-aggressive, letting you “do your little thing” without understanding that the way the talk about it demoralizes you?

It’s worse for stay-at-home-moms. I’ve talked to women who love being a wife and mother and keeping a house, but they also have a hobby or dream of their own. Yet they have no support from their families for their “little hobby.” Whoever said that when we become a wife and mother that suddenly our personal pleasures are not important? We already put everyone else’s needs before our own, can’t we do whatever we want with that sliver of time left over for us? We make sacrifices for our families, and there’s no reason our families can’t make sacrifices for us. Because in the end, a happier mother means a happier family.

And this is when one of the writers—a SAHM of two–got teary-eyed. She tried not to, and I tried to be positive, but what got to her (and me) was that she had no support for her dream.

A good friend of mine, a SAHM-turned-successful published author, emailed me a couple weeks ago because she’d gotten to a crisis point in her career. She was juggling multiple contracts, was late on her current book, and had a husband and three kids who expected her to do everything she did before she sold, as well as now being the major breadwinner in the household. Her husband had always been supportive of her writing—before and after she sold—but at the same time expected a certain level of accessibility. Ditto her kids. And she was trying to do it all because of mommy guilt. Her boys play baseball and I asked her how many games she missed. One. And she felt awful about it. She admitted that, while they understand she has to write and meet deadlines and can’t do everything she used to, her family still expects it and she feels bad when she can’t do everything. It’s the unspoken sighs and passive-aggressive guilt families heap on their loved ones.

I helped my friend come up with a strategy for managing her schedule, all stuff she knew she had to do but when it comes from the outside, it seems more doable (it helps that I’ve gone through everything she was going through.) And I offered advice: don’t sweat the small stuff. Do what you can, but both your stories and your family will suffer if you don’t cut back on commitments.

I, too, go to almost every sporting event, drama performance, art show, and other events for my kids, but sometimes I can’t make it. I tell the kids I’ll take them on one field trip during the year, but not the three or four they go on. (Hence this last week I went to the zoo, and then to six flags—though I was just a driver on the latter and spent eight hours at Starbucks writing.) I do what I can, not because I have to but because I want to. I enjoy my children, and my kids know that. Just because I have to say no to something doesn’t mean that I love writing more than them—it means that mom has a job and there are some things I can’t do.

It may sound like I’m dissing men, but I’m not. I know there are a lot of dads out there who are active in their kids lives. I know there are a lot of husbands who are supportive of their wives dreams. And sometimes it isn’t the spouse, but parents or siblings or children who are undermining the writer. It’s sometimes hard for people to unconditionally support someone else’s dream—especially when we don’t share it or understand it.

But it isn’t lost on me that in all the speakers I’ve listened to over the last few years, I have never heard a male author asked, “How do you find the time to write, while also being a husband and father?”

On a completely different note, I posted my original short story “Ghostly Vengeance” to my Seven Deadly Sins website. It’s a ghost story that takes place between ORIGINAL SIN and CARNAL SIN. I’ll be posting additional bonus content to this site over the next month in anticipation of the release of CARNAL SIN on June 22.

I’ll leave with one of my favorite quotes by Edward Everett Hale, which pretty much sums up my life motto and seems appropriate:

 

I am only one,

But still I am one.

I cannot do everything,

But still I can do something.

And because I cannot do everything,

I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

 

Do you have a favorite inspirational quote or advice that someone has given you that helps you get through the tough times when everyone seems to be dead-set against your dream?

32 thoughts on “A Time to Write

  1. David

    Allison, you write: But it isn’t lost on me that in all the speakers I’ve listened to over the last few years, I have never heard a male author asked, “How do you find the time to write, while also being a husband and father?”

    Let me be the first. (and I mean no disrespect). I am a male writer (several short stories professionally published, no novels yet), the stay-at-home-dad with two kids who I pick up at school and take to sporting events and to get their haircut and to buy school supplies and work on school projects and fix their after school snacks, dinner, etc, etc, etc. And I have a wife — whom I love — who would like nothing better than to be the wife of a bestselling author so she could quit her job, but who sees herself over the last six years as ‘wife-to-a-starving-artist’ instead and struggles with accepting that my writing will one day pay off.

    IMO, this is not a gender issue — its a relationship and role issue. How my wife and I came to this arrangement involves many elements; her better paying job, a relocation, difficult adjustments for the children, an attempt at a failed business, and re-discovery of a love for writing and storytelling.

    My struggle to find time and understanding and acceptance for my need and desire to write and to make a living from writing has been as hard as every stay-at-home mom I read about. One I dare say might be harder when you throw in the guilt a working mom feels for working and missing out on time with her kids and believing the stay-at-home dad has the better end of the deal because he gets to "be with the kids AND is free to pursue his dream."

    What I think this boils down to is understanding, communication and personality type — not gender. It has taken time — and hard work — to make my wife, and my kids, understand how much work and time goes into running a household, running the family errands, getting to and from the sporting events and daily practices, preparing meals and how little time that leaves for writing and pursuing a writing career, and how important it is to me — on several levels — and that I’m not sitting at home watching baseball and On Demand movies.

    My wife is starting to come around — most days anyway — to the fact that this is important to me, that there is business and financial opportunity to a writing career, and that its not a waste-of-time pipe dream.

    Gender isn’t the issue here, its a lack of understanding for the role of stay-at-PARENT and lack of communication and respect for a spouse’s needs and wants, regardless of gender.

    Reply
  2. Maribeth

    "Go for the moon. If you don’t get it, you’ll still be heading for a star." Willis Reed
    In other words, I can’t lose unless I don’t try.
    Recently I was shall we say forced into retirement and began to do what I always wanted –WRITE. Some folks understand the "time block" I have in place. Some dismiss it as folly and still try to control "all this free time." Still others encourage me to pursue my dream. (One daughter checks to see if I’ve written each day and I love her for it.)
    I always try to fit in my grandkids and great-grandson but the other things I let fall where they may.
    PS–Same DD swiped my copy of Original Sin. She says she’s loving it. Hope I find out SOON that I do too. *sigh*
    Maribeth
    Giggles and Guns

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  3. JD Rhoades

    I have never heard a male author asked, “How do you find the time to write, while also being a husband and father?”

    Add "and practice law", and I get asked this quite a lot.

    And the answer is: sometimes I don’t. I just try to make the best of the times I do. But it’s a strain.

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  4. PK the Bookeemonster

    Quote and motto I’ve lived by: Follow your enthusiasm – Jim Henson, Muppet creator.
    I think no matter the gender (though it does fall mostly on women), when the role is assigned to be THE ONE to care for household, it is difficult to do anything for oneself outside that role. I don’t have children but it still seems like I have maybe 90 minutes for myself by the end of the day (if I want to get a decent amount of sleep so I can be coherent at work at 6:15). In the past, I managed it by being firm about that time when I got my two masters degrees. I will have to do it again with my new project.
    Allison, you’ve been a great example of that kind of personal management, and I think it is good that you could help a friend in need find the way. 🙂

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  5. tess gerritsen

    Allison, I can SO relate to this post. I went through the same thing you did — working as a doctor, two young kids at home, and a husband who didn’t quite get why I needed to stay up late at night with my typewriter. Until we actually make a living at this gig, many spouses (male or female) have a hard time understanding why we do this. There’s resentment. There’s "why aren’t you here with me when you’re here with me?" It wasn’t until I landed my first big contract that my husband really understood — hey, it’s really a career, not a hobby.

    Some writers solve the issue by renting an office away from home, and go there as if they’re going to a "real" job. That gets you away from the day to day mayhem of ringing telephones, Fedex deliveries and neighbors dropping by.

    But sometimes, a spouse just never understands. And then it comes down to the heartbreaking choice of either giving up your marriage — or giving up your dream.

    Maribeth, my dad used to quote a variation of that Reed quote: "Shoot for the stars, and if you miss, at least you’ll get to the moon."

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  6. Allison Brennan

    David, you make an excellent point, and my point was lost because I didn’t explain it well 🙂 . . . it’s that no one would THINK to ask you how you do it because they wouldn’t EXPECT you to be a SAHD. (And I was thinking about you when I wrote part of this!) So if you’re at Thrillerfest talking about writing, when Q&A comes up you would get different questions than me. If my husband was a published author and asked questions, he wouldn’t be asked how he could find the time with five kids. Stereotypes exist for a reason, and even now in 2010 most people "expect" that the mom is the one who has to juggle.

    Hi Maribeth! You and your daughter will be bonded for life because she understands. My oldest–who doesn’t write and only reads if she has to–still understands my dream. When I quit my day job in 2005, we were extremely tight on money. I’d sold, but I didn’t know if my books would be successful. I pulled the little kids out of day care and budgeted my advance as a monthly "salary." So even with all the financial stress, the time stress (writing with three kids under 5 is almost impossible, at least for me), my daughter told me, "Mom, I’ve never seen you happier."

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  7. Allison Brennan

    Dusty, good point! But when I worked full-time in the legislature, I didn’t get asked about balancing the day job and writing. Just the kids. Sigh. Maybe it’s the nature of romance writers (which I joined before ITW.) Just like I’ve found that women tend to be the worst critics of other female writers (i.e. some women who don’t like romance novels will absolutely trash the genre and the people who write it, more so than men who generally just ignore us); women also make the assumption that if a woman has kids, she’s the one mostly responsible for their care.

    BTW David–one more point I just remembered. I used you as an example to the YRW group. You’ll have 25 women all buying your first book when it’s published!

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  8. Allison Brennan

    PK–my mom isn’t of the age yet where she needs my help, but I have lots of friends with very elderly parents and they have a role reversal of sorts there, too. Then there are careers that are hugely demanding. And parents of special needs kids. And small business people (my mom used to have a retail store–that took more than eight hours a day!) We are all suffering from lack of time. Because I love writing however, I don’t consider my "job" to be a sacrifice. I truly love what I do. I’m hoping to raise my kids to find a career that is fulfilling so that they look forward to going to work every day. (Two masters! Amazing. I’m a college drop-out.)

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  9. Allison Brennan

    Well said, Tess. And it’s something I think most of us go through. When you’re unpublished and have a dream it’s that much harder to convince your loved ones that the dream matters to you. They don’t get it. the book THE WAR OF ART by Steven Pressfield helped me understand why this is, and I wanted to quote from it last night when I wrote the blog, but I gave my copy to someone who needed it more than I did at the time.

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  10. JT Ellison

    Allison, I still don’t know how you do it – I have a cat to manage and sometimes that feels like too much.
    I think my favorite conversation ever was recently, at a party-

    What do you do?
    I’m a writer.
    Oh, that’s cool. But what do you DO?
    Um, I’m a full-time writer.
    Oh. No kids?

    People have this strange idea of who you should be based on who they are. It’s something that I mine for characters all the time.

    And I hate that so many writers dreams are quashed because a spouse has some sort of expectation that their dreams are more important, or better, or worthier in some way. I’ve got non-pubbed writer friends who don’t have their spouse’s support and it’s like watching a caged lion. You know it’s a lion. It looks like, sounds like and acts like a lion. But there’s something missing, a sense of defeat, that can’t be fixed outside of letting the lion out of the cage.

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  11. Allison Brennan

    JT, in THE WAR OF ART Pressfield explains that unsupportive loved ones (friends, family, etc) are scared. That we, as writers, have a fear of success and allow the passive-aggressive behavior to impact us (because of our fear.) That success = change, and most people are scared of change because it’s the unknown (I’m totally simplifying this.) Then there’s the unspoken fear: if my spouse succeeds without me, will they still need me/want me?

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  12. Louise Ure

    "Whoever said that when we become a wife and mother that suddenly our personal pleasures are not important? We already put everyone else’s needs before our own, can’t we do whatever we want with that sliver of time left over for us?" This continues to be one of the saddest comments made about American life.

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  13. Doug Riddle

    Interesting post Allison.

    But as with all things "writing", you either do it or you don’t. No one else in the world really cares if you write or not…..just you.

    And I say this from the prespective of a single dad who raised four children on his own while holding down a fulltime job and trying to write . My work schedule was never flexable, and vacation time has always been used for when someone was sick or had a field trip.

    Though I have written 4 novels and a slew of short stories which have gone unpublished……..my oldest daughter has just graduated from the Univ. of Mich with a Masters at 23…….the middle son and daughter will be juniors in college in the fall……….and my youngest son will be a freshman at Michigan State in the fall ( football season is ugly at our house). And since I live and work in the same towns where they go to college, it is not like they have ever really left home. I see them more now at my dinner table then I think I did when they were in high school.

    So I will tell you the same thing I tell people when they find out I am a single guy who raised four kids on his own…….as a guy they think I am DNA changled for the job…………..I tell them….You just do it, it is not like you have a choice. And the same applies to writng. If you want to do it, then do it. It is not like you have a choice, and if you do, then don’t, it is not for you. If it is important enough to you, you will find a way.

    There were lots of days over the years when I wrote one page and I was thankful to get that much done. But it was a page I didn’t have written when I got up that morning.

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  14. Barbie

    Allison, I REALLY admire your dedication to your family and your writing. I think it’s amazing all you do with them and all these great books you write. I’m glad you have the support to pull it off. Your children are so very lucky to have a parent like you 🙂 Like I said, I really, REALLY admire you!!!

    No one takes my dream of being a writer seriously. My parents listen to it and genuinely smile about it, as if I was five and dreamed of being a princess, but I can tell they believe I’ll grow out of it. My friends? When I quit Law School to study Language because I thought Law School was boring I got more than my fair share of arched brows and shake of heads. Once I was with my mom at the supermarket and we ran into a friend’s parents and, while they were asking about my "career" they looked down at my mom in such a way, like "WHY are you letting your child do this with her life?" I wanted to throttle them. When I say I want to be a writer people just nod and give me that smile. You authors surely know which one I’m talking about. I just think: "Yup, I’ll show them.)

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  15. Allison Brennan

    Doug, I completely agree with you–I tell people all the time that no one in the world cares if you get published–except you. But when you’ve made a commitment to marriage or having children or caring for your elderly parents, you can’t extricate yourself from negativity about your dream. I know many people who have been marginalized by their spouses, their dreams ridiculed. Women tend to take that to heart. I’ve heard stories where husbands have told their wives they can’t write, or they can’t go to conferences, or they can write only after they do A, B, C. Outdated perhaps, but we’ve been conditioned to think that we can do everything for everyone else, and our wants are relegated to the bottom.

    There are always exceptions. You and David are two, and there are many supportive husbands in this business, and wives who don’t support their husband’s dreams. I’m just sharing my experiences in RWA listening to dozens of women talk about their personal stories. And I think that women, in general, tend to feel a lot guiltier about pursuing their dreams when they think (or are made to think) that they are sacrificing their families for their "selfish" pursuits.

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  16. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Beautiful post, Allison. I’ve posted this before, but I’ll post it again here. It’s something I keep on my computer desktop:

    AIR AND LIGHT AND TIME AND SPACE

    By Charles Bukowski

    “-you know, I’ve either had a family, a job, something
    has always been in the
    way
    but now
    I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this
    place, a large studio, you should see the space and
    the light.
    For the first time in my life I’m going to have a place and the time to
    create.”

    No baby, if you’re going to create
    you’re going to create whether you work
    16 hours a day in a coal mine
    or
    you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
    while you’re on
    welfare,
    you’re going to create with part of your mind and your
    body blown
    away,
    you’re going to create blind
    crippled
    demented,
    you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
    back while
    the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment,
    flood and fire.

    Baby, air and light and time and space
    have nothing to do with it
    and don’t create anything
    except maybe a longer life to find
    new excuses
    for.

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  17. Paula R.

    Allison, this is a great post. Every now and then I need a reminder, and you always deliver. I am always amazed at how much you get accomplished, but the key factor is doing it despite all the "distractions" around. You are an inspiration to me. Thanks!

    Peace and love,
    Paula R.

    Reply
  18. pari noskin taichert

    I may have gotten this here on Murderati — maybe from you, Allison? — but it’s one I’m living by now:
    "It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, if he wins, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat." — Teddy Roosevelt

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  19. Allison Brennan

    Pari, it wasn’t me but I love that quote! Teddy Roosevelt is one of my favorite presidents.

    Stephen, I hadn’t seen that here before (but I tend to go into hibernation with I’m on deadline) but thank you for sharing it again! I had that yesterday afternoon when I went to the birthday party for a 3 year old and just watched the kids play at the lake and fly kites. The song from Mary Poppins kept running through my head–"Let’s go fly a kite . . . "

    Toni, I love Yoda. I remember once when Luke was 6 or 7 and asked Dan to play Stratego, Dan said he’d "try" later. Luke said, "Do, or do not. There is no try!" I couldn’t believe he’d remembered that from the movie. Needless to say, Dan put down everything and played Stratego.

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  20. Sylvia

    Allison, I’m with you on this. It’s not just the judgement inside the home, but outside as well. Heaven forbid you work from home and can’t do EVERY field trip.

    I work from home – it’s all my kids have ever known – and I’m the breadwinner (and meat, veggies, fruit…) They respect a closed door, headsets on and me taking a conference call at all hours. That said, I’m still woefully behind on laundry (isn’t everyone?), have to grab the b-day present on the way to the party for their friends and more than once I’ve spaced on everything from school pickup to god knows what else.

    Here’s an article I did on telecommuting… http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/18/jobs/18pre.html

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  21. KDJames / BCB

    There is never enough time. Or energy, or money, or support. The only things I seem to have in excess are distractions and excuses. You have to re-order priorities and do what matters to you, invest time in what you believe is important.

    Might be slightly off topic, but I have come to love this quote:

    You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do. -Eleanor Roosevelt

    And also this one, which I think applies to every writer I know:

    Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal. -Albert Camus

    Allison, I’ve got that short story bookmarked and will read it after I read ORIGINAL SIN. Soon. 😉

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  22. Alafair Burke

    This subject is only the beginning of the many inequities that exist still in our world and particularly in the writing world. When I am on the "circuit" and am asked for advice, my biggie is the same as yours: see yourself as a writer, treat yourself as a writer, and insist others do the same. That means not apologizing to your family for your JOB, which is not a cute little hobby. I’m always amazed to see all of the bobbing heads in the audience, always female.

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  23. Spencer Seidel

    Can’t speak for the SAHM aspect as I am a man with a full-time day job (yick), but I do know quite a bit about struggling before being published, toiling away on a novel with a skeptical significant other not understanding the commitment. It’s tough! On the flip side, writers are a funny bunch. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live with one 🙂

    Here’s a great post on this from author Neil Cross.

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  24. Catherine

    I’ve mangled/customised something Clementine Paddleford said to suit me.

    Her words,’ Never grow a wishbone, daughter where your backbone ought to be.’

    Mine…stop messing about wishing for things when you just need to grow a spine and act.

    These words tend to focus me and get me moving from musing to doing. Finding a path to make my dreams real.

    I found myself tangled up years ago by pursuing a study path while married, raising children and balancing contract work where I could. I was verbally supported …however underlying it was a growing resentment from my husband that I was able to have the flexibility to explore.

    We tried balancing out time where he still went off surfing and fishing, playing tennis and golf…so it’s not like he just had his nose to the grind stone to the exclusion of solo things or combined family/partner fun….but it seemed that the more joy I found in learning, the more certain I was in myself in following my dreams the more he felt his own life was mundane.Each time I achieved something he seemed to focus more on why he wasn’t able to imagine a dream of his own. I tried to support him in anything he wanted. I do know that a large part of him did support me pursuing my path. Yet somehow my successes worked away at him like sandpaper.

    I think a lot of this came down to mindset and maybe some of his frustration came about as I was able to communicate my dreams when he was not. I still delight in learning and finding new ways of doing things. I also still feel sad for him that he struggled so hard to imagine and follow through.

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  25. Jake Nantz

    Having been born and raised an NC State fan, I can’t think of a better quote to get me, or anyone else, through the tough times than one by the late Jimmy V:

    "Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up."

    RIP Coach

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  26. Allison Brennan

    Spencer, thank you so much for that great, great article. I read it twice. It’s worth reading again. I didn’t quit my day job until I had a contract, but can relate to writing early in the morning and late at night. And being distracted. And writing late into the night. And writing at basketball games during half-time. And it doesn’t change. My kids–especially my older two who remember "before" and "after"–are my rocks. They make it possible. Writers are not normal. But that’s okay 🙂

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  27. Spencer Seidel

    Allison —

    I agree. That article is very inspiring! He had a lot of nerve to do that. I’m fortunate in the sense that I spent the better part of my 20’s practicing guitar 4 to 6 hours a day (often in a closet or a bathroom), so my family and friends had become quite used to my peculiar obsessiveness about creativity. Writing just flowed naturally from that, I suppose.

    Anyway, I admire your ability to write between the cracks. I don’t do that well. I need to write at the same time every day, sadly.

    Spence

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  28. Christi Craig

    What a powerful post! I can’t begin to tell you how much I relate, but I can say that I end up writing from 9 to midnight as well. And, what’s TV?

    But, seriously, the biggest punch in your essay comes at the end when you say you never hear a male author express the same concerns. Granted there are a few – like David in the comments above – but I think the point is that society tends to question a man’s pursuits outside of family less than a woman’s.

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  29. AnappyCasseda

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