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?