The Lovely Chaos of Writing: Weaving a Writing Life by Shan Jeniah Burton

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!


Shan Jeniah Burton

12 thoughts on “The Lovely Chaos of Writing: Weaving a Writing Life by Shan Jeniah Burton

    1. Lisa,

      I love knowing these posts touch people. This is an idea I’ve wanted to express for a long time. I’m happy the words came. It was a lot of fun to write! =)

  1. Just this morning, I wrote in response to someone, ‘when my life gets back to normal.’ But your post embraces what I would like to know fully — that THIS is normal. I appreciate how you’ve so integrated writing that it happens even when you don’t write. “Flowing with the wholeness of life . . .” Thank you for an inspirational post. “Attentiveness to what IS” will challenge that old warrior image, that we battle on. Instead we ‘open ourselves’ to the beauty of each day and cherish each moment. OK, maybe not all of the moments, but more on the ‘flow’ and less on the ‘flight’ or ‘fight’. A wonderful post.

    1. Beth,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts – they make the post better!

      In the end, I’m a pacifist. Fighting just doesn’t appeal to me, any more than force does – I’ve had more than enough of both to last a lifetime. But throwing my arms an soul wide and inviting in what brings me joy – that I can do forever! I’m a happiness hedonist! =D

      On my way out of the gym this afternoon, I was thinking that this can apply to working out, too. I used to drive myself toward goals – now I go because it feels good, and I do as much or as little as my body and soul seem to want.

      It feels much better!

  2. Thank you for this beautiful post and I do understand that, yes life intrudes and we use those intrusions, more as threads to weave into our writing. My yesterday’s Check in was deliberately NOT a check in, but a sweeping out of the past. As my health has returned after 10 years, and after revelations made to me by my own neurologist that allowed me to patch together some more pieces of that quilt, I put it behind me, with that post.

    My mother was such an integral part of my life and as it was her 83rd birthday, what I had to say, reflected not only back on our relationship, but my own with others. But this is the last time I will use #ROW80 for this type of writing. It is here that I have come to be among the creative warmth and fun, and now that I have rid myself of a lifetime of poison and malice, I am ready to move on, to more #ROW80 and #NaNoWriMo. Thank you!

    1. Mary,

      I missed your post in my NaNo prepping binge, but I will go back and read it. Even without that, I understand about the need to shed past toxicity, in order to find peace and move forward.

      If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be posting this now.

      I’m glad you had the purge, and now have open space inside you for your passions. How exciting! =D

      Thank you for your lovely and honest comment.

      I’ll see you here, and in NaNo Land!

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