Writing As Life

What’s on the iPod: Carrickfergus by Loudon Wainwright III

Today I expected to be sitting in my office sorting through conference papers, business cards, and notes. As organized as I was in the months and weeks prior to the conference I just attended, I wasn’t prepared for a shortened conference attendance and a trip to Phoenix.

My mother-in-law is ill. Quite ill. Having just entered her 93rd year, she had her relatively good health pulled from her by a failing heart that has her convalescing at home. She’s weak, confused, and above all, tired. Her 92 years were mobile ones, and only the last few have seen her slow considerably. The sudden, jerking halt may be too much for her. But we pray and hope.

Her days are mostly sleep right now, so we covet the waking moments. Reading, music from her childhood, songs we think she’d like (even a sing-along rendition of I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas) are the tools we use to keep her buoyant, to keep us buoyant, to maybe create that space that makes her soul want to set up residence and not reach beyond this life. We do what most people do– deny the obvious and look for signs.

But this post isn’t about that.

It’s about writing as life. See, I sit here with a tablet attached to a keyboard and I’m doing what I would do if I were at home at my desk with all my usual things around.

I’m writing.

Something Devon said on a comment yesterday struck a chord with me. She was talking about her cats having boundaries and of how animals do need them. We’re animals. So where are our boundaries, especially around our work?

We don’t allow people to discipline our children, take our car keys without permission, steal from our wallets. But we allow our time to be manipulated and our writing to come after everything that is supposedly more important.

In cases where grave illness is prevalent, it’s obvious that the precedent is on the who’s in our lives, not the what’s. But even in those moments where rest comes for the weary, there’s space to get back to the page and to organize thoughts, to create.

Here are some ways to make your writing a priority:

Enforce boundaries. It’s not enough to say “I’m not going to let anyone interrupt my work today!” It’s quite another to ignore a ringing phone or a doorbell or that request from family for something mundane. Instead of getting up or answering or doing, prioritize the requests. Can that phone call wait? Most likely, yes. Can the doorbell be someone important? In the eight years I’ve lived in that house, only once was it someone NOT attempting to sell me something during my work day. Can the personal request wait? Usually. Ask to put it off for an hour or so. And ignore the guilt — just because you require time for yourself doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother/daughter/son/friend.

Have a plan in mind. I woke up today knowing I wanted to write something, knowing this blog would be updated and I would get some poetry on paper. I set two goals — post and poetry. Given the up-and-down situation here, that’s enough. I have other things in mind, such as beginning the responses to all those people I met at the conference or starting the queries for the myriad of ideas I now have. But these aren’t today’s goals. They’re just the things I’ll start on should I manage to meet both set goals.

Give yourself space. It’s very easy to get caught up in new surroundings, especially if family is around. But even conversations dwindle and people wander in and out of conversation, and surroundings are just the wrapper around your existence. Take advantage of lulls in your day to get to that writing list.

Come equipped. I went out and bought a Windows Surface Pro (and I’m in LOVE), but I could have done with a notebook, a laptop, a computer connection at a coffee shop, anything really. The point is I had a plan for how I would write as well as what I want to accomplish. Make sure you have those pens, paper, electronics….whatever you need to make sticking to your goals easier.

Put yourself in a “work” mindset. Know how hard it is to write instead of talk to my MIL’s housekeeper, whom I haven’t seen in a year? I could be chatting her up right now, or I could be visiting with my in-laws. Instead, I’m right here, checking that first writing item off my list.

One down. One to go.

How do you integrate your writing into your life? What are your biggest boundary issues? How have you solved some of them?

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Comments

  • Paula April 25, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    Despite her illness, your mother-in-law is lucky to have family with her when she needs you – even if she doesn't realize she needs you.

    Priorities can be fluid, especially in trying times. Right now, family and "life stuff" needs to be your priority, and you'll fit in as much work as you can.

    I know how strong and stubborn 90-somethings can be, so I hope your mother-in-law recovers and regains her previous good health.

    Given the regulars here, I can safely say: If there's anything we can do, let us know. With Writers Worth Week(s) around the corner, just tell us how we can pitch in to help you plan it.

    Reply
  • Lori April 25, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    Thanks, Paula. 🙂

    Actually, I would love to hear from ANY of you who want to post something about how you find or assert your value and worth in the market. Please send an email. Paula, thanks for getting the ball rolling. Again. I swear you get more excited about it than I do sometimes. 🙂

    Reply
  • EP April 25, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    That was a very good poing you made here:

    "We don't allow people to discipline our children, take our car keys without permission, steal from our wallets. But we allow our time to be manipulated and our writing to come after everything that is supposedly more important."

    That really hits home, too. It seems so simple but why is it so hard to get those priorities straight?

    Reply
  • Cathy Miller April 25, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    You got that right, Paula. I am so sorry, Lori, that your mother-in-law is ill. My Mom just turned 90 last month and she is so healthy it's surreal. I try not to think about when that will change. Treasure your time (as I know you will, Lori).

    You know I am always happy to submit to Writers Worth. Just tell me when & where.

    Virtual hugs, my friend.

    Reply
  • Anne Wayman April 25, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    Bless your MIL, your husband, you, etc.

    Hugs

    Reply
  • Lori April 25, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    EP, I get a little profound when I'm exhausted. 🙂 But we don't really take what we need without guilt or some form of shame — why is that? So much healthier to take care of our needs first sometimes.

    Cathy, I'd love your wisdom to be part of this year's Writers Worth. Please. 🙂 And thanks for the hugs. I appreciate them. Tough watching someone you love struggle with life.

    Reply
  • Yo April 25, 2013 at 11:33 pm

    I never know what to say in situations like these. I hope you get to enjoy a lot more time with her, and hope everyone is comfortable. Let me know if you need anything! I'll go all cro magnon style for you.

    Reply
  • Lori April 26, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    Yo, I would LOVE your cro magnon style. Yes, please.

    And thank you. I never know what to say in these situations, either. Now I know that any words of comfort are appreciated. Love seeing you here.

    Reply
  • Devon Ellington April 29, 2013 at 11:58 am

    Best wishes to you and your mother-in-law. I'm thinking of you. My 96 year-old great uncle is in bad shape right now, so I'm plugging along, knowing at any moment that I might have to drop everything and head to Maine.

    It's even more important to keep up the writing boundaries during difficult times, because the time writing winds up being your sanctuary and your rest space from the stress of dealing with the family crisis. I find that when I hold my boundaries, I am able to handle everything else in life with a clearer head and more grace. When I let the boundaries get breached, everything goes to heck.

    As I tell my students, no matter what is going on in your life, there is always "time" to write. Writing is ALWAYS a choice. Not writing is ALWAYS a choice.

    Writers choose to write. Those who like the idea of writing rather than the writing itself choose to make excuses.

    I know many successful writers who also have full, demanding personal lives full of families and caretaking duties — but they don't stop writing.

    The writing helps them keep perspective and gives them the strength to deal with the rest.

    Reply