ROW80 is “The Writing Challenge That Knows You Have a Life.”
In my case, life isn’t compartmentalized, with labeled dividers for every area. It’s lovely chaos, an untidy weaving of children, husband, unschooling, chronically disheveled house, rotating cast of pets and passions, friends, bills, stuffy noses, and more – much much, more. It’s a life that works better with a rhythm than a schedule.
And I write – quite a lot, these days.
But there are those times when all of my writing goals seem to stall out, feel pointless, or suddenly grow as tricky to summit as Mount Everest. Sometimes, there’s only enough energy to live, and none left to set words to paper or screen.
So then what?
I used to feel like a failure at those times. I’d look guiltily at every moment, and ridicule myself for the time I was “wasting” on other things. Too many of the moments I spent relaxing, sleeping, watching TV, or dealing with “distractions” like dishes, laundry, or just hanging out with my husband or kids, I counted as “stolen” from writing. I was intended to be sitting at the computer, or with a notebook, opening veins and pouring out words.
That guilt, like cheating on a diet, led me to avoid writing far past the time when circumstances shifted, and I might have returned to it.
And then I had a paradigm shift.
Writing isn’t a separate part of my life. Like being a wife and a mother, like unschooling and hometending, it is woven into the pattern of everything I do.
I don’t need to be sitting at a laptop to be writing. The most important thing is to be present in my life, and with the ideas that dance, dart, or linger in my mind while I ‘m focused on other things.
Interruptions and pauses in my writing are a part of the life I’ve chosen. Holding grudges against those I love when they take precedence is not only unpleasant for everyone, it also wastes energy that I could be using for living, and writing when life has space for that. It won’t be that many more years before my children are grown, and then there will be more space for writing – and likely less spontaneous joy in my days, too.
When I allow myself the full weaving of my life, even when it takes me away from writing, I write more. Maybe that seems paradoxical, but forcing a schedule that doesn’t play well with the other threads of my life takes energy from writing. Flowing with the wholeness of my life feels like floating. There’s writing time, hometending time, family time, time to renew, learning time – and it all blends together, always shifting, always alive.
Giving myself the space to live fully, and without guilt when writing isn’t at the forefront, also gives me plenty to write about, when the time, energy, and focus return.
The trick, for me, is to pay attention, to tap into the writing going on already as chatter or narration in my mind, and then to slip in some time – even a few minutes here and there – to jot down what is there.
This isn’t something new and untried. William Carlos Williams, who was also a doctor, often
jotted very short poems on his prescription pad. The Gettysburg Address, one of the shortest and most powerful speeches in American history, was said to have been written on the train ride to the battlefield.
What is deep and powerful within me is what I most want to write and share. There’s no need to make time for it, because it’s always there – part of everything I do, think, and feel, always. It wants to be known, and it’s waiting for me to discover it. Already, though, it’s there, and it’s mine, woven into every part of my living..
When I began to understand that I am always writing, even when I’m not, physically, I started to shock myself when I had the moments to set things down. Releasing the thought that writing is something I must fight for or force, and instead see that I’m already nearly there, frees all the energy I used to give to policing that sacred time and space. Now, my time and energy are given to living – and many of the threads of that living, as I weave it, are writing threads.
And, in those times when the well of words and ideas seems to run dry, there is solace and peace in knowing that living attentively will prime that pump again, because I’m a writer, and I can’t write in a vacuum.
So, rather than trying to find writing time, this quarter, I am challenging myself to live – with presence and engagement, and attention to the threads used in the weaving, the patterns that emerge, and how writing dances through and around, over and under, the other threads… Join me, and let’s all weave our way to our goals, together!