I’m right now in the midst of battling my way back to fiction writing and I say battle because that’s what it feels like. Writing is fun, or at least, it’s supposed to be fun, but tearing my conscious thoughts, my constant conscious awareness from motherhood and back into storytelling… that is my battle. It’s like, there’s this switch in my brain that has to go to ‘off’ before I can start saying hello to my characters, before my creative voice can poke it’s head and say, “Oh, hey, the story’s over this way… boy, wouldn’t it be fun if we did that.”
And then, like a dog, I run after and chase that squirrel.
But here’s the problem. The only way I can get to my creative voice, the only way I can get to all the stories that are bubbling inside me, stories that really, really want to come out… I need to feel safe.
Or, I should say, my children need to be safe.
I know. That sounded confusing, but hear me out. And right here, I’m going to say I am truly envious of all the dad writers. Truly. Now, I usually try to write these blog posts as mother-father neutral, because really, parenthood is just hard and wonderful and you never get a break until your tiny bundle of joy turns six (and even then it changes into a different kind of ‘hard’). However, I’ve realized there’s this difference in our brains, from mothers and fathers, when it comes to our children. How easy it is for dads to tune out the noise and cries (and if tune out isn’t the right word, they can definitely tune down). I’m not at all saying this is a bad thing, in fact, I’m positive it was an evolutionary necessity that when a baby cries, all mothers become hyper aware and hyper focused.
It’s important to keep our little ones alive, after all.
What it’s not so helpful is when I’m trying to get down deep and to lose myself in a story. I can’t do that when my children need me. Or when I hear Kate opening the fridge door from two rooms away. Or when Eric gives this frustrated whine-cry as he attempts to climb onto a chair (which he can do just fine, just not as fast as he wants).
You better believe that my brain considers this as: Emergency!!
It’s like there’s this wall between me and my stories, and it’s the part of me that’s the mother. And if I’m being really honest here, it’s hard not to feel frustrated at times. Sometimes I am. Sometimes it’s okay I can shrug off those feelings. But I want to write. I need to write. When I do I’m a better person, I’m a better mother (patient, understanding, kinder… all because I’m taking the time to fill up my own cup, all because I’m taking care of myself). It’s harder too because I’ve realized I’ve been in this pseudo-writing state for five years (including my pregnancy with Kate). I also have gotten a true decent night’s sleep (or at least a week’s worth) in over five years.
All that takes it’s toll, especially on the part of you that’s a storyteller.
There are times when I get back into the writing, I’ve battled my way back to the stories, have convinced my creative voice, “Hey! It’s okay. It’s safe, you can come out and play.” Only to then have another life event disrupt the process and I feel like I’m smack-dab at square one again.
It’s hard not to feel frustrated. It’s hard to remember that yes, this is such a short time in your life, that your writing is forever and these young years of our kids are not (and please, truly, stop reminding me random people who I meet at Lowes or Costco or farmers market… I know these years are short. I also know I haven’t slept four hours in a row in at least two years and I’m doing my best here).
And that’s why I mean it’s a battle.
One day, it’s all good and I’m accepting and okay with where we’re at. Other days I have this deep, deep ache in me to do more, to tell bigger and deeper stories that I had to stop mid-series because my brain and all my focus were on my two children. I always come back to the same feeling though: acceptance.
Even if that acceptance isn’t always easy.
I just sent off an email to Dean Wesley Smith to pull my reservation for the amazing Anthology Workshop they host every year on the Oregon Coast. I’d known it was a gamble when I signed up. I knew it would be hard to write seven stories in seven weeks. I knew that, even taking my children with me, my being off and in the workshop all day, for seven days, would be brutal on them. But… I missed it. The writing. The company of other professional writers (although, it’s a double-edged sword because I would love to put all my effort and focus into writing as many of them can). But most of all, I wanted to try, I wanted to see that maybe this year, I could go back.
And, ultimately, I couldn’t.
Believe it or not, the writing deadlines weren’t the issue. I knew I could make the hour I needed to write, every day, happen. I might have needed my mother’s helper more, I might have needed to call in favors of grandparents and dear friends, but I could do it. I had control over that after all, just like I have control of when I go to bed and when I wake up (sneaking in the writing before my little ones wake up and need to be fed and loved and changed). But what I couldn’t control was the actual quality of my sleep.
Or when Eric decides his second set of molars should start. And end.
(Yeah… the timing of the workshop timed perfectly with Eric getting his molars in. And teething, especially molars, usually means that I don’t sleep. Like, at all.)
So, sleep was a huge concern.
Also, Eric being away from me all day and being okay with it was a huge, huge concern. Now, I took Kate to this workshop when she was 17 months old and she was totally fine hanging out with Daddy. Totally fine. Eric is a different kid. He would not be fine. So I needed to ask myself, would Eric be okay? He would be only be two. Just barely two years.
I realized that no, he wouldn’t.
So, I could either battle my way through the workshops, fighting this pull of wanting to connect and help my children through a week-long workshop, with my coming and going, and Grandma watching them… or I could give next year a try.
I decided to wait.
It was a decision I’d been thinking about for a few months now, and it was just going to a local homeschool conference and how difficult it was with both kids, that sealed my decision. I needed to wait. I need to wait until Eric’s a little it older, maybe three, maybe four, before I can go back to the coast and all the other professional writers there. I need to be able to separate myself, at least partly, from the needs of motherhood, to say, “It’s okay. They’re safe.”
And to have it be true.
That will come with time. I know it, though it’s not always easy to accept. Saying no now, doesn’t mean it’s forever. It just means until Eric has been potty trained, until he’s comfortable and safe enough with himself, and independent enough and ready to be away from me. And Kate too. The older she gets, the more language she understands, the more words she has. And the more trust she has with the people watching her (which isn’t something to be taken lightly, especially for my little girl).
And it doesn’t mean that I can’t do my own learning. It just means that I need to focus on online workshops right now. Ones that can go with the flow of motherhood where if I don’t sleep one night I can’t do the assignment or the reading the next day, it’s okay. I can adjust. Because I have the leeway, I have the time, to do that.
So maybe it’s not really a battle. Maybe what this is, is actually a river. Sometimes it’s moving fast, sometimes it’s moving slow. Sometimes there’s rapids and everything feels like it’s going wrong or crashing all around me, and other times it’s calm and tranquil and it feels like I can take on the world. But there’s definitely a flow. There’s a flow to our energy, mine and the kids, and what we can each handle in our lives. That flow is a bit off right now because the kids are hitting developmental milestones. Kate and Eric are at the stage where one wants to play with the other, and the other doesn’t, so resorts to shoving. Then there’s crying. Then there’s trying to take the toy away from the other.
I need to figure out this new flow, this new stage in our lives as a family, the outings we go on and identifying when it becomes too much (homeschooling for us means there’s so many choices and friends, from spending the day at Disneyland to going to the tide pools where I slipped off a wobbly rock and somehow managed to save the phone and Eric but not more poor knees )… but through all that, through all the speech play I put in with Kate, my writing it still there.
My stories are coming back, even if really, really slowly. But it’ll get there. I know it will.
My writing, my storytelling, will keep getting easier. My creative voice will learn that when I sit down to write it means that we’re safe, that the children are safe, and we can turn off that part of ourselves long enough to go deep, to find the characters and see where they take us. Because it’s time again.
(Although, as I’ve taken the two minutes from writing this blog to throw another load of laundry in, I heard the distinct squeak as Eric climbed (successfully) onto my chair and reaches for the laptop. Apparently, the time to write is not at this exact moment. But thankfully, he takes huge naps and Kate likes playing video games. I’ll get my quiet and my writing in. I’m getting to be a master at finding all these stolen bits of time.)
So, for me, it’s time to write again. It may not always be easy, and I may have to keep working and trying at stories until finally my creative voice gives up and says, “Okay, fine. Here’s the story. This is where you want to go.”
(I also need to be okay tossing out all those extra words… and all those hours I’d put in that now got smacked out of the way by the ‘delete’ key. And it’s not easy, but I do it. All those extra words were not wasted – never wasted. They convinced my creative voice it was safe. They brought me to the real story and when I feel it, I feel it. And that, this almost pulsing excitement, feels really, really good.)
So, it’s time. Time to have fun. Time to see where these stories take me… as both a writer and a mother, and I really, really can’t wait to get started.